University of Virginia Library


Page 55


1. I.

A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments
and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women,
some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was
assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of
which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with
iron spikes.

The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of
human virtue and happiness they might originally project,
have invariably recognized it among their earliest
practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil
as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a
prison. In accordance with this rule, it may safely be
assumed that the forefathers of Boston had built the
first prison-house, somewhere in the vicinity of Cornhill,
almost as seasonably as they marked out the first
burial-ground, on Isaac Johnson's lot, and round about
his grave, which subsequently became the nucleus of


Page 56
all the congregated sepulchres in the old church-yard
of King's Chapel. Certain it is, that, some fifteen or
twenty years after the settlement of the town, the
wooden jail was already marked with weather-stains
and other indications of age, which gave a yet darker
aspect to its beetle-browed and gloomy front. The
rust on the ponderous iron-work of its oaken door
looked more antique than any thing else in the new
world. Like all that pertains to crime, it seemed never
to have known a youthful era. Before this ugly edifice,
and between it and the wheel-track of the street, was a
grass-plot, much overgrown with burdock, pig-weed,
apple-peru, and such unsightly vegetation, which evidently
found something congenial in the soil that had
so early borne the black flower of civilized society, a
prison. But, on one side of the portal, and rooted
almost at the threshold, was a wild rose-bush, covered,
in this month of June, with its delicate gems, which
might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile
beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned
criminal as he came forth to his doom, in
token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be
kind to him.

This rose-bush, by a strange chance, has been kept
alive in history; but whether it had merely survived
out of the stern old wilderness, so long after the fall of
the gigantic pines and oaks that originally overshadowed
it,—or whether, as there is fair authority for believing,
it had sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted
Ann Hutchinson, as she entered the prison-door,—we
shall not take upon us to determine. Finding it so


Page 57
directly on the threshold of our narrative, which is now
about to issue from that inauspicious portal, we could
hardly do otherwise than pluck one of its flowers and
present it to the reader. It may serve, let us hope, to
symbolize some sweet moral blossom, that may be
found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of
a tale of human frailty and sorrow.