Reminiscences of a Long Life
By James M. Pendleton
My information concerning my ancestors goes back no farther than to my grandfathers, who were natives of Virginia and of English descent. They were worthy citizens and honorable men, on whose characters there rests no blemish. My maternal grandfather was Charles Thompson, who had a number of children, the most prominent of whom was William M. Thompson, who, for some years, filled official positions, at Washington, under the Government of the United States. He was the father of Hon. Richard W. Thompson, for many years a member of Congress from Indiana, and Secretary of the Navy under the Presidency of Mr. Hayes. He is now an old man and the most conspicuous member of the Thompson family. In his palmy days he was a captivating orator and a special friend of Hon. Henry Clay.
My paternal grandfather was Henry Pendleton, whose name is mentioned in connection with an important meeting of the freeholders of Culpeper County, Virginia. I quote as follows:
“At a meeting of the freeholders and other inhabitants of the County of Culpeper, in Virginia, assembled at the Court House of the said county, on Thursday, the 7th of July, 1774, to consider of the most effective method to preserve the rights and liberties of America.”
“Resolved, That importing slaves and convict servants is injurious to this colony, as it obstructs the population of it with freemen and useful manufacturers; and that we will not buy any such slave or convict servant hereafter to be imported. HENRY PENDLETON, Esq., Moderator.”
I make this extract, second-hand, from in the first volume, 4th Series of American Archives, published by order of Congress. “It shows that there was in Virginia, in 1774, a decided anti-slavery feeling and a purpose to oppose the policy of the British Government in the matter referred to. It is to the credit of my grandfather that he presided over the Culpeper meeting and gave his influence in condemnation of the wrong and in approval of the right.
My grandfather afterward became a soldier in the Revolutionary War, and I have before me a letter written by him, dated “Oct. 2, 1780, Guilford, North Carolina.” The beginning of the letter is in these words: “My ever Dear and Loving Wife,” showing that the spirit of the soldier did not interfere with the affection of the husband. He expresses his gratitude to God that while others had fallen he had been preserved, and he says to his wife, “I hope the Lord has heard your prayers for me.” This is a suitable recognition of dependence on God, and there is something beautiful in the thought that while the husband was fighting in the cause of liberty the wife was at home, not only caring for small children, but praying for the success of that cause and the safe return of her husband. Many wives in times of war have done the same thing, and we shall never know our full indebtedness to their prayers. At what time my grandfather returned to his home I am not able to say, but it was an occasion of great joy to himself and family. He then devoted his attention to the pursuits of agriculture during the remainder of his life, and died an honest farmer and a devout Christian. His posterity need not blush in thinking of his name, but should strive to be like him in his patriotism and in his piety. When such men die ea’rth suffers loss, but they are infinitely better off. They are “taken from the evil to come ” and enter into the blessedness of “the dead who die in the Lord.” My grandfather had four children, one daughter, Mary, and three sons, Benjamin, Henry and John, the last of whom was my father. While his brothers devoted themselves to the occupation of farmers, he had literary aspirations and resolved to acquire an education. He became a pupil of the celebrated.
As the letter to which I have referred is signed Henry Pendleton, Jr., and the signature to the Culpeper meeting has not this distinction, It is possible that it was my great grandfather who presided at this meeting. It cannot certainly be known.
Andrew Broaddus, of Caroline County, Va. Mr. B. was a popular teacher and the most distinguished pulpit orator of his time. His eloquence was often charming and irresistible. His sermons were long remembered by his hearers and regarded as precious treasures.
My father ever felt his indebtedness to Mr. Broaddus for the assistance he received from him in his educational pursuits. He learned from him to appreciate knowledge more highly than ever before and became a respectable scholar for that day, though education was not then what it is now. His intelligence gained at school and from diligent reading in subsequent years gave him an influence far greater than that of most of his associates. This influence is no doubt felt by his posterity and has had a beneficial effect on their destiny.
After leaving the Academy of Mr. Broaddus my father taught school for some years, and in teaching others added to his stores of knowledge. Tuition fees were then meager, but by rigid economy he saved some money every year, which he invested as judiciously as possible. He looked to that period in the future when his expenses would be necessarily increased; for he had decided that it was not best for ” man to be alone.”
It was while my father was teaching that he became acquainted with Miss Frances J. Thompson and was enamored of her charms. She was an orphan and was living in the family of relatives. She had a bright, active mind, but her education was imperfect, for she labored under the disadvantages of orphanage. These disadvantages, however, did not eclipse her excellences of character, and her amiable qualities strongly attracted the admiration of her suitor. Admiration ripened into love and proposals of marriage were made. Judging from some things in a diary kept by my father at the time, I may say that he was greatly troubled with doubt and fear as to the acceptance of his offer. The question he had submitted to her was, “Will you marry me? ” and when the time for the answer came, he said, ” Is your response favorable or not?” She timidly, and with a throbbing heart, replied, ” Favorable.” He was thrown into such ecstasy that he wrote in his diary the word “FAVORABLE” in glowing capitals. It was, as subsequent years indicated, favorable for him and for her.
In “the course of human events,” John Pendleton and Frances J. Thompson were united in marriage in the year 1806. They were very happy in their new relation, and hope painted the future in roseate colors. It is a significant fact that marriage was instituted in Eden before the Fall. It was therefore, in the judgment of God, essential to the perfection of human blessedness ere sin cursed the earth. He said, “It is not good that the man should be alone: I will make a help meet for him.” Man was alone among animals of beauteous form and birds of brightest plumage and sweetest voice. Alone amid thornless flowers and richest fruits, shady bowers and limpid waters! Yes, alone, and why? Because woman was not there. There was a vacuum which neither the inanimate nor the animate creation could fill. There was a want to be supplied.
“Still slowly passed the melancholy day,
And still the stranger wist not where to stray –
The world was sad; the garden was a wild!
And man the hermit sighed – till woman smiled.
Conjugal bliss was no doubt enjoyed in its highest perfection by Adam and Eve in their state of innocence; but their descendants may well rejoice that while it was diminished it was not destroyed by the Fall. There has been much domestic happiness in all the centuries, and still conjugal joy cheers the family circle and brightens the world. The marriage union between my father and mother was a happy one in its beginning, and so it con- tinned for many years till sundered by the hand of death. Each was specially concerned for the comfort of the other, and this is the best recipe for happiness in married life. Why my father abandoned teaching after his marriage, I do not know, but he engaged in mercantile pursuits. He rented what was then known, and, I am told, is still known, as “Twyman’s Store,” in Spottsylvania County, Va. He bought his goods in Baltimore and Philadelphia, and I have the impression that he sometimes rode to those cities on horseback. There were few traveling facilities in those days, and the present generation does not sufficiently appreciate its advantages.
My father’s success as a merchant was encouraging, but after a few years he sold his stock of goods, and decided to seek his fortune in what was then the new State of Kentucky. By this time (1812) there were three children around the hearth-stone, and their presence no doubt suggested the necessity of providing better for his family than he could do in Virginia. He and my mother consulted on the subject, deliberated long, but finally concluded it was best to seek a new home. They had many sad thoughts about leaving their native State. They loved Virginia, considered the best place to be born, and wished it could be the best place in which to live and die. It was painful to leave their many friends and the graves of their ancestors.
“Breathes there a man with soul so dead
That never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land.”
When I remember that my parents left the land of their birth, encountered the perils of what was then called the “wilderness” on their way to Kentucky, suffered the inconveniences and hardships of a sort of pioneer life – all this that their children might enjoy better advantages than they had enjoyed – no language can express the grateful admiration I feel for them. If it is unmanly for the heart to palpitate with emotion, then I am unmanly, and make no apology for it, but rather glory in it.
If I forget those to whom I owe so much, may “my right hand forget her cunning, my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,” and my name be blotted from the recollections of men.
It was but a short time before my father and mother left Virginia that they made a public profession of their faith in Christ and were baptized by Elder Zachary Billingsley. They had been led to see their lost condition as sinners against God, they repented of their sins, trusted for salvation in the Lord Jesus, and openly espoused his cause.
My father sometimes doubted his acceptance with God, but my mother was not troubled with doubts. She could say, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that day.” Her Christian confidence and cheerfulness had much to do with her usefulness in the cause of God. She was an unspeakable blessing to her husband and to her children.
As already stated, my parents before their removal from Virginia, had three children, two daughters, Mary and Frances, and one son, and I was the son, born at “Twyman’s Store,” November 20, 1811. It was during Mr. Madison’s Presidency, and as my father greatly admired him as a statesman I was named for him. Whether the name has been of any advantage to me I am not able to say, but probably not, as there is not much in a name. After their removal to Kentucky there were born to my parents seven children, namely: John, Caroline, Juliet, William, Waller, Emily, and Cyrus.
It was during Mr. Madison’s first term that the encroachments of England on American rights became too flagrant to be borne, and Congress, under the leadership of Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, declared war. The British government claimed what was called “the right of search” – the right to search American vessels on the high seas, to see if British subjects were on board; and, it is said, that American seamen were sometimes “impressed.” This was regarded an indignity to which American self-respect and honor could not submit. War was waged for two years, from 1812 to 1814, when, on December 24th, a treaty of peace was concluded at Ghent. There were no telegraphs and steamships then, and it required a long time to receive news from the other side of the Atlantic. It therefore so happened that General Jackson fought his celebrated battle in New Orleans, January 8, 1815, lfter the treaty of peace was made. Men are, in some respects, very much like children. This is seen in connection with the war under consideration. England claimed ” the right of search;” we denied it, and the issue was joined. After two years’ fighting peace was agreed upon, but the question which brought on the war was ignored in the treaty of peace. England did not relinquish the right she claimed, and the United States did not insist that she should. This was like children’s play. “The pen is mightier than the sword.” In the correspondence connected with the treaty of Washington, negotiated in 1842 by Lord Ashburton and Daniel Webster, the latter so exposed “the right of search” theory that British statesmen have said that it can be plausibly advocated no longer. The matter stood thus: England claimed the right to exercise jurisdiction over her subjects. The United States acquiesced, but said the jurisdiction could not extend beyond British territory. England, however, insisted that the high seas were embraced in her jurisdiction. Webster said no, but that the high seas are the property of all nations, and “the flag of a vessel is the protection of the crew.” England does not, of course, in time of peace, claim the right to invade the territory of the United States in pursuit of her subjects. The existence of an extradition treaty shows this; but every part of the high seas covered by vessels floating the United States’ flag is, for the time being, as much the territory of the United States as is the soil of any State in the Union. It follows, therefore, that as England has no right to invade our permanent territory on the land, she has no right to invade our protempore territory on the sea. This is the way I argue the case, not pretending to give Mr. Webster’s argument, for I have not seen the Ashburton treaty for more than forty years.
England must have modified her views in regard to “the right of search,” and hence, in the beginning of the late civil war, when the Captain of a United States’ vessel took from a British ship Messrs. Mason and Slidell, agents of the Southern Confederacy, it was regarded by the British government as a flagrant outrage on its dignity. The release of the two captured gentlemen was at once called for, and a suitable apology demanded. That is to say, England wished the United States to apologize for doing what she had often done without making any apology. Secretary Seward, supreme in diplomatic skill, was equal to the occasion. He said, in substance, that in accordance with the English doctrine of “the right of search,” Messrs. Mason and Slidell had been taken from a British ship, and in accordance with the American doctrine they would be surrendered.
This may be thought a digression, and so it is, but it has been suggested by my reference to the war with England during Mr. Madison’s Presidency. Then, too, as I am writing for my children and grandchildren, I have attempted to place in small compass facts with which they could not become acquainted without examining many pages of history.