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MOST EMINENT PERSONS IN NORTH AMERICA FROM ITS FIRST SETTLEMENT,
AND A SUMMARY OF THE
HISTORY OF THE SEVERAL COLONIES
AND OF THE
BY WILLIAM ALLEN, D. D.,
PRESIDENT OF BOWDOIN COLLEGE ;
Soc., and of the list. Soc. of Maine, N.Ilampshire, and N. York.
Entereil, according to the Act of Congress, in the year 1982, by WILLIAM ALLEN, in the Clerk's office of the District court of Maine.
To the First Edition.
The following work presents itself to the public with no claims to attention, but such, as are founded upon the interest, which may be felt in the lives of Americans. Finding himself a few years ago in a literary retirement, with no important duties, which pressed immediately upon him, the author conceived the plan of this Dictionary. He was desirous of bringing to the citizens of the United States more information, than was generally possessed, respecting the illustrious men of former times, the benefactors and ornaments of this country, who have passed away. He persuaded himself, that if he could collect the fragments of biography, which were buried in the mass of American history, or scattered amidst a multitude of tracts of various kinds, and could fashion these materials into a regular form, so as to place before the eye our great and good men, if not in their full dimensions, yet in their true shape, he should render an acceptable service to his countrymen. This work with no little labor he has now completed ; and the inexperienced artist, in his first essay, can hope only, that his design will be commended. He wishes chiefly, that as the images of departed excellence are surveyed, the spirit, which animated them, may be caught by the beholder. .
As an apology however for the deficiences and errors of various kinds, which may be found in the work, a full exposition of his plan and some representation of the difficulty of executing it seem to be necessary.
It was proposed to give some account of the persons, who first discovered the new world ; of those, who had a principal agency in laying the foundations of the several colonies ; of those, who have held important offices and discharged the duties of them with ability and integrity ; of those, who have been conspicuous in the learned professions ; of those, who have been remarkable for genius and knowledge, or who have written any thing, deserving of remembrance; of the distinguished friends of literature and science ; of the statesmen, the patriots, and heroes, who have contended for American liberty, or aided in the establishment of our civil institutions; and of all, whose lives, bright with Christian virtue, might furnish examples, which should be worthy of imitation. It was determined to enlarge
this wide field by giving as complete a list, as could be made, of the writings of each person, and by introducing the first ministers of the principal towns for the purpose of illustrating the history of this country. The design included also a very compendious history of the United States, as well as of each separate colony and state, for the satisfaction of the reader, who might wish to view the subjects of the biographical sketches in connexion with the most prominent facts relating to the country, in which they lived. In addition to all this, it was intended to annex such references, as would point out the sources, from which information should be derived, and as might direct to more copious intelligence, than could be contained in this work.
Such were the objects, which the author had in view, when he commenced an enterprise, of whose magnitude and difficulty he was not sufficiently sensible, before he had advanced too far to be able to retreat. The modern compilers of similar works in Europe have little else to do but to combine or abridge the labors of their predecessors, and employ the materials, previously collected to their hands. But in the compilation of this work a new and untrodden field was to be explored. It became necessary not only to examine the whole of American history, in order to know who have taken a conspicuous part in the transactions of this country ; but to supply from other sources the imperfect accounts of general historical writers. By a recurrence to the references it will be seen, that much toil has been encountered. But, although the authorities may seem to be unnecessarily multiplied, there has been some moderation in introducing them, for in many instances they do not by any means exhibit the extent of the researches, which have been made. It could not be expected or wished, that newspapers, pamphlets, and other productions should be referred to for undisputed dates and single facts, which they have afforded, and which have been imbodied with regular accounts. The labor however of searching for information has frequently been less, than that of comparing different statements, endeavoring to reconcile them when they disagreed, adjusting the chronology, combining the independent facts, and forming a consistent whole of what existed only in disjointed parts. Sometimes the mind has been overwhelmed by the variety and abundance of intelligence; and sometimes the author has prosecuted his inquiries in every direction, and found only a barren waste.• For the large space, which is sometimes occupied in describing the last hours of the persons, of whom a sketch is given, the following reasons are assigned. In the lives of our fellow men there is no period, so important to them and so interesting to us, as the period, which immediately precedes their dissolution. To see one of our brethren at a point of his existence, beyond which the next step will either plunge him down a precipice into an abyss, from which he will never rise, or will elevate him to everlasting glory,is a spectacle, which attracts us not merely by its sublimity, but because we know, that the flight of time is rapidly hastening us to the same crisis. We wish to see men in the terrible situation, which inevitably awaits us ; to learn what it is, that can support them, and can secure them. The gratification of this desire to behold what is great and awful, and the communication of the aids, which may be derived from the conduct of dying men, have accordingly been combined in the objects of this work. After recounting the vicissitudes, attending the affairs of men, the author was irresistibly inclined to turn from the fluctuations of human life, and to dwell, when his subject would give him an opportunity, upon the calm and firm hopes of the Christian, and the sure propects of eternity. While he thus soothed his own mind, he also believed, that he should afford a resting place to the minds of others, fatigued with following their brethren amidst their transient occupations, their successes, their disappointments, and their afflictions.
Some terms are used, which relate to local circumstances, and wbich require those circumstances to be pointed out. In several of the New England states, when the annual election of the several branches of the legislature is completed, and the government is organized, it has been an ancient practice to have a sermon preached in the audience of the newly elected rulers, which is called the election sermon. This phrase would not need an explanation to an inbabitant of New England. The names of pastor and teacher as distinct officers in the church frequently occur. Soon after the first settlement of this country, when some societies enjoyed the labors of two ministers, they bore the titles of teacher and pastor, of which it was the duty of the former to attend particularly to doctrine, and of the latter to exhortation ; the one was to instruct and the other to persuade. But the boundary between these two offices was not well defined, and was in fact very little regarded. The distinction of the name itself did not exist long.
Great care has been taken to render the dates accurate, and to avoid the mistakes, which have been made from inattention to the former method of reckoning time, when March was the first month of the year. If any one, ignorant of this circumstance, should look into Dr. Mather's Magnalia, or ecclesiastical history of New England, he would sometimes wonder at the absurdity of the writer. He would read, for instance, in the life of president Chauncy, that he died in February 1671, and will find it previously said, that he attended the commencement in the same year, which was in July. Thus too Peter Hobart is said to have died in Jan., and yet to have been infirm in the summer of 1678. When it is remembered, that March was the first month, these accounts are easy to be reconciled. There seems not however to have been any uniformity in