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the American colonies were beginning to assume a serious aspect. The imposition of the famous stamp tax in 1765 had excited great indignation among the colonists, and its repeal in the following year was celebrated with proportionate rejoicings. At Salem, where the commercial interest predominated, it was determined that there should be a great display of fireworks on the occasion; and as the town did not possess a professional pyrotechnist, Mr Appleby's clerk contrived to get his services in that capacity accepted. Unluckily, while preparing some detonating mixture, he handled the pestle so as to cause an explosion, by which he was so severely burnt that his life was despaired of. At length he was able to remove from his mother's house at Woburn, to which he had been carried after the accident, and resume his employment at Salem. The renewed attempts of the mother country, however, to impose taxes upon the colonies, followed as they were by the resolution of the merchants in the colonies not to import any of the products of the mother country, produced such a stagnation of trade in Salem, as at other towns, that Mr Appleby, having no occasion for the further services of a clerk, was glad to give young Thompson up his indentures, and allow him to return to Woburn.
This happened apparently in 1767 or 1768; and for a year or two afterwards, Thompson's course of life seems to have been wavering and undecided. In the winter of 1769 he taught a school at Wilmington; and some time in the same year he seems to have had thoughts of pursuing the medical profession, for which purpose he placed himself under Dr Hay, a physician in Woburn, and entered zealously upon the study of anatomy and physiology. While with Dr Hay, he is said to have exhibited greater fondness for the mechanical than for other parts of the profession, and to have amused himself by making surgical instruments. How long Thompson pursued his medical studies is uncertain; in 1770, however, we find him resuming his mercantile avocations, in the capacity of a clerk in a dry-goods store at Boston, kept by a Mr Capen. He was in Boston during the famous riots which took place on the attempt to land a cargo of tea from a British vessel contrary to the resolution of the colonists against admitting British goods. Mr Capen's business seems to have declined in the critical circumstances of the colony, as Mr Appleby's had formerly done; and Thompson was again obliged to return to Woburn. During the summer of 1770, he attended, in company with his friend Baldwin, a course of lectures on experimental philosophy delivered in Harvard College; and at no time of his life does he seem to have been so busily intent upon the acquisition of knowledge. Besides attending the lectures of the professor, he instituted experiments of his own of various kinds, some of which were the germs of valuable conclusions which he published in after-life. In particular, we may mention a course of experiments which he
began for ascertaining and measuring the projectile force of gunpowder.
Thompson, though still only in his seventeenth year, had acquired that degree and kind of reputation which it is usual for youths of his stamp to obtain among intelligent acquaintances; and late in 1770, he was invited by Colonel Timothy Walker, one of the most important residents in the thriving village of Rumford, now Concord, in New Hampshire, to take charge of an academy in that place. Accepting the invitation, Thompson, says his American biographer, Dr Renwick," found himself caressed and welcomed by a society not wanting in refinement or pretensions to fashion. His grace and personal advantages, which afterwards gained him access to the proudest circles of Europe, were already developed. His stature of nearly six feet, his erect figure, his finely-formed limbs, his bright blue eyes, his features chiselled in the Roman mould, and his dark auburn hair, rendered him a model of manly beauty. He had acquired an address in the highest degree prepossessing; and at the counter of the Boston retailer, had learnt, from its fashionable customers, that polish of manner and dialect which obliterates all peculiarities that are provincial, and many of those that are national. He possessed solid acquirements far beyond the standard of the day, and had attained already the last and highest requisite for society--that of conversing with ease, and in a pure language, upon all the subjects with a knowledge of which his mind was stored. addition, he possessed the most fascinating of all accomplishments, for he had a fine voice; and although far from a proficient in music as a science, sang with much taste, and performed on several instruments.” With such advantages, the young schoolmaster appears to have made an impression on not a few female hearts in the country village where he shone; on none, however, so decidedly as on that of Mrs Rolfe, a colonel's widow, possessed of what was then considered a large fortune, and although considerably older than himself, still young and handsome enough, according to his biographer, " to render it probable that a feeling more creditable than one arising from interested motives led him to seek her hand.” However this may be, the affair was soon brought to a happy conclusion. On giving out his vacation for the year 1772, the young schoolmaster stepped into the widow's carriage, and they drove together to Boston, where he fitted himself with a dress in the extreme of the fashion of the day, scarlet being then a favourite colour. Clad anew from top to toe, he re-entered the equipage, which whirled away towards Woburn. The astonishment of the villagers at seeing their young townsman in such a guise, and in such company, was past description. “Why, Ben, my child,” said his mother, gazing at his splendid outfit as he dismounted at the door, “how could you spend your whole winter's earnings in this way?" In the presence of his fair companion the youth could hardly explain,
and he was obliged to employ a friend to break the subject of his intended marriage to his mother. No objections were offered on her part, although she took twenty-four hours to deliberate on the matter; and the happy pair drove back to Rumford, where the wedding was forth with celebrated, the bridegroom being then in his twentieth year.
UNPOPULARITY AMONG THE AMERICANS-FLIGHT TO
After his marriage, Thompson took his place as one of the wealthiest inhabitants of the district in which he resided, and mixed in the best society which the colony afforded. It was not long before he made the acquaintance of his Excellency John Wentworth, the governor of the colony, who, anxious, no doubt, in the critical circumstances in which the American dependencies of Great Britain were then placed, to attach to the party which sided with the mother country as many influential colonists as he was able, lost no time in endeavouring to gain over so promising a man as Thompson. A vacancy having occurred in a regiment of the New Hampshire militia, Governor Wentworth gave the commission, which was that of major, to his new friend: an act of attention which, while it seems to have been gratifying to Thompson, did not fail to procure him much ill-will from the officers already in the service, over whose heads he had been promoted. From this period Thompson began to be unpopular in his native province. He was represented as a friend of Great Britain, and an enemy to the interests of the colonies; and this charge was the more readily believed, on account of the marked kindness with which he continued to be treated by the governor, and the indifference which he exhibited to those political questions which were agitating all around him. The truth seems to be, that not only was Thompson, as a man in comfortable circumstances, and fond of the consideration and opportunities of enjoyment which they afforded him, averse to any disturbance, such as a war between the colonies and the mother country would cause, but that his constitution and temperament, his liking for calm intellectual pursuits, disqualified him from taking part in political agitation. Many men who have distinguished themselves in literature and science have, as a matter of principle, kept themselves aloof from the controversies and political dissensions of their time, alleging that, however important such questions might be, it was not in discussing them that their powers could be employed to most advantage. In the case of Thompson, however, who as yet had not begun to lay claim to the character of a man devoted to scientific pursuits, his countrymen thought, not altogether unreasonably, that they had grounds of complaint. What employment was he engaged in, that he ought to be exempted from the duty of a citizen—that of taking an interest in public affairs ? So, probably, the most candid and considerate of the American
patriots reasoned ; and as for the great mass of the populace, they condemned him in the usual summary manner in which the public judges. Not a name was more detested in Massachusets than that of Benjamin Thompson. He was denounced as a sycophant of the British-a traitor to the interests of the coloniesan enemy of liberty. To such a length did the public hatred of him proceed, that at length, in the month of November 1774, the mob of Concord had resolved to inflict on him the punishment which several other unpopular persons had already experiencedthat of being tarred and feathered in the open streets. Receiving intelligence of the design of the mob before it could be carried into execution, Thompson had no alternative but to withdraw from Concord to some other part of the provinces where political excitement did not run so high. Accordingly, he quitted his wife and an infant daughter, who had been born in the previous year, and took refuge first in his native town of Woburn, from which he afterwards removed to Charleston. From Charleston, after a few months' residence, he went to Boston, which was then garrisoned by a British army commanded by General Gage.
Thompson was well received by Gene Gage and the officers of the British army; and his intercourse with them, while it probably gave him a stronger bias towards the side of the mother country than he had yet exhibited, did not contribute to remove the bad opinion his countrymen had formed of his patriotism. Having returned in the spring of 1775 to his native town of Woburn, where he was joined by his wife and daughter, he again ran the risk of being tarred and feathered. The mob surrounded the house where he resided early one morning, armed with guns and sticks, and but for the interference of his old friend Loammi Baldwin, who arrived at the spot in time to use his influence with the crowd, serious consequences might have ensued.
The commencement of open hostilities between the colonists and the British troops in May 1775 made Thompson's position still more critical. As a major in the militia of the province, he would probably have acted on the side of the patriots, obeying the orders of the Provincial Congress, which had superseded the old
government; but the odium attached to his name was such, that his very zeal on the patriotic side would have been mis-, represented. In order, therefore, to clear himself of all suspicion, and that he might thenceforth live on good terms with his countrymen, he demanded a trial before the Committee of Correspondence established at Woburn by authority of the new power. The trial was granted; he was put under arrest; and an advertisement was inserted in the newspapers for all who had charges to prefer against his patriotism to come forward. Besides the general allegation of his being a Tory, and a friend and correspondent of Governor Wentworth and General Gage, the only charge made against him on his trial was, that he had been in
strumental in sending back to their colours two British deserters, having procured their pardon from General Gage during his residence in Boston. This, which ought properly to have been regarded as a mere act of mercy, was construed in a less favourable manner by Thompson's judges; and although, on the conclusion of his trial, the court declared that he had done nothing which could legally be considered as a crime, he was set at liberty without the satisfaction of a full and formal acquittal. Against this treatment he protested in the strongest manner, insisting that he should either be punished as guilty, or declared innocent; but his protests were unheeded.
With a view, apparently, to convince his countrymen of his patriotism by actual service, or possibly because he could enjoy more quiet in the army than the ill-will of his fellow-citizens would allow him in his own house, Thompson, as soon as his trial was over, joined a detachment of the troops of Congress stationed at Chelsea. “In the hopes of obtaining a commission,” says his biographer," he paid great attention to tactics, and assisted at the drills of the yet undisciplined forces. He also took up the study of fortification, which he pursued with his usual ardour. Towards the close, however, of the summer of 1775, his position had become irksome, and even dangerous. Suspicions, which it seemed impossible to allay, shut against him all access to military rank in the continental army. He now could not go from place to place within the lines of the army, without being pointed at as the famous Tory Thompson; and though military discipline sheltered him from actual violence, he was exposed to insults that a man of spirit could not brook, and which his position prevented him from resenting. If thus treated within the army, he might infer what awaited him when he should emerge from the outposts of the camp.” In these circumstances, he came to the desperate resolution of leaving his native country.
“ I cannot any longer,” he writes to his father-in-law on the 14th of August 1775, bear the insults that are daily offered to me. I cannot bear to be looked upon and treated as the Achan of society. I have done nothing that can deserve this cruel usage. And notwithstanding I have the tenderest regard for my wife and family, and really believe I have an equal return of love and affection from them, though I feel the keenest distress at the thoughts of what Mrs Thompson and my parents and friends will suffer on my account, and though I foresee and realise the distress, poverty, and wretchedness that must attend my pilgrimage in unknown lands, destitute of fortune, friends, and acquaintances, yet all these evils appear to me more tolerable than the treatment which I meet with at the hands of my ungrateful countrymen.”
Two months after writing the above, he carried his resolution into effect. Paying off his debts, and converting some of his property into cash, with the expressed intention of removing to some of the southern states, where he might live in greater