Bedford Engine Company had entertained the visiting company from Lexington at the Bedford House, where a very fine repast was served in the dance-hall, [*1][*2] and the excellent and generous dinner provided by Caterer Tufts at the tent, in his best style, had been partaken of by nearly five hundred people, when the president, at about four o’clock, called the assembly to order for after-dinner speeches. There was music by the band, and then the toastmaster, Rev. John F. Gleason, of Norfolk, Conn., a native of Bedford, announced the first toast, “The Commonwealth.” Three cheers were given for Gov. Talbot, and His Excellency spoke as follows: —
Gov. Talbot’s speech.
Mr. President, — As chief magistrate of the Commonwealth, I bring you her congratulations upon this high festival of Bedford’s loyal children. Let me offer with those congratulations, my own hearty personal greeting as a citizen of the mother town of Billerica, as a neighbor and a friend. I deem the presence of the executive peculiarly fitting on occasions like this, when the people of our ancient towns meet to celebrate their anniversaries, rehearse their inspiring history, revive the memory of their founders, and contemplate the simple, sturdy qualities of character, in which the very basis of our Commonwealth is laid. We read in the Massachusetts Bill of Rights, that —
“A frequent recurrence to the fundamental principles of the Constitution, and a constant adherence to those of piety, justice,
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moderation, temperance, industry, and frugality, are absolutely necessary to preserve the advantages of liberty and to maintain a free government.” [*3]
It is because events like this recall to us the principles of the Constitution, and that piety, justice, moderation, temperance, industry, and frugality so necessary to their conservation, that the Commonwealth may well give them her official countenance and encouragement. Upon an adherence to these virtues depends the welfare of the towns; upon the welfare of the towns rests the prosperity, nay, the very perpetuity of the State. We owe to the towns what is distinctively the Massachusetts character. It is the product of the red school-house, the village church, and the town meeting. Preserve these nurseries of popular education, of religious freedom, and of pure democracy, and we need fear none of the dangers which may seem to menace the future of the Republic. Now, Mr. President, the borough of Bedford passes into the venerable company of municipal corporations which have numbered one hundred and fifty years or more. Nearly sixscore of those in our borders have preceded her, and others will follow soon. [*4] Westford reaches her sesqui-centennial less than a month hence; Wilmington, a year later; Tewksbury, in three years; and half a dozen others in different parts of the State within five years. Among her new companions, Bedford stands the peer of any. She cannot boast, as can her more ancient and famous neighbor, of sons who have made themselves conspicuous in the councils of the State and nation, who have worn the judicial ermine, or led eager disciples along philosophic mazes of which no man can discern the beginning or the end. [*5] But she points with just pride to accomplished and devoted scholars who, like the late President Stearns, gave the best fruit of their talent and culture to the cause of sound education. [*6] She displays, too, a long record of Bedford men, standing in the front ranks of business and the learned professions; enterprising, successful merchants at the centres of trade, and at home, a sturdy, prosperous yeomanry, the sinew and muscle of the town. It is often said that, go where you will, in whatever part of the world you may travel, you will find our old Commonwealth represented in every vocation calling for skill, brains, or self-sacrifice. You find everywhere the New England missionary, lawyer, doctor, merchant, manufacturer, and navigator. In all this the little town of Bedford has borne her full part.
Mr. President, I wish to express once more the pleasure it gives
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me to take part in these festivities, and the personal interest I feel in all of you as neighbors and friends. Let us not forget in our rejoicing, that this day, like all others, brings us a duty. That duty, as I read it, is to adhere more closely to the principles on which our fathers founded this government, and transmit them to posterity in all their purity and strength. Do this, and as we honor the memory of our fathers, so will our children, when we have passed away, “rise up and call us blessed.” [*7]
The Hon. William A. Russell.
“The President of the United States” was the next toast, and the Hon. William A. Russell, member of the national legislature, responded. Mentioning his lack of acquaintance with the town, he contrasted the virtue of the small towns with the vicious tendencies of large cities. In this connection, he spoke with praise of the action of President Hayes in obstructing the attempts to give the cities power to offset the vote of the towns in the country. His mention of the character of President Hayes was applauded by his listeners, and he said that the Southern policy of conciliation, though not entirely successful, would doubtless become so. The United States having ceased its hostilities, proceeded to the honest payment of her debts with a fixed currency, in accord with other nations of the globe, and is now to enter upon a career of industrial and commercial prosperity which seems to be a fitting supplement to her recent heroic deeds. The President is in sympathy with the best interests of the whole country. With returning prosperity and the firmness of the President, our nation will maintain its integrity, and all its people will be protected, at home and abroad.
”Middlesex County” was toasted next, and as a representative of not only the county, but also the State, [^1] Ex-Gov. Rice was called upon, and as he rose he was greeted with cheers, which bore witness to the popular esteem in which he is held. The substance of his speech follows: —
Mr. Chairman and Ladies and Gentlemen, — I have been trying to discover what fortunate incident or circumstance brought me within the circle of your kind remembrance, and extended to me the privilege and the courtesy of coming up here to Bedford to see how you would celebrate this notable and interesting anniversary. I have been enjoying the day without any limitation and without any
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restraint, though I confess to you, sir, that when I saw that ponderous numerical adjective which preceded the announcement of your celebration [laughter], I thought there must be something crooked and sinister about the occasion. [Laughter.] “Sesqui-centennial,” thinks I to myself, and I began to rub up all the ancient Latin in the primers and in the small dictionaries containing phrases of various languages, to see whether I could find any interpretation of that long-tailed and mysterious word. [Laughter.] Now the whole thing is explained. You invited me to come up here and listen to an oration and eat a dinner with you, and now you impose upon me your sesqui-centennial. [Laughter.] You have asked me to say something in regard to the county of Middlesex. I am a native of the county of Middlesex, and am glad to be here because I am thus linked to the town of Bedford, and therefore I was brought into your celebration. The county is not so important in our State as it is in some other States, or in other countries, where it forms a little sovereignty by itself. With us it seems to amount to little more than geographical boundaries with judicial limitations and a few secondary powers, while the city and the town appear to us of greater prominence. I agree most heartily with what the orator said about the importance of the towns, and also with what was said about Jefferson and Tocqueville. [^2] As His Excellency, the governor, has well said, so long as we preserve these little municipalities, the State will be safe, and as long as the States are safe, the country will be safe. But, sir, what the great Webster said of Massachusetts on a notable occasion, may be said of Middlesex County: “There are Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill,” there they will be forever; they are here in our glorious old county of Middlesex. It was here in Concord that “the embattled farmers stood and fired the shot heard round the world.” [Applause.] The echoes of that shot have not yet ceased their reverberations. They come back to us on the wings of the air. They are gathered into the life of every day. They have entered into the civilization of our country and of the world. Liberty has taken from them new life. It was fired in the hope of a higher and purer manhood.
But we need not go back to Revolutionary days for praises for the county of Middlesex. In the recent war of the rebellion, who answered first to the call? From what county in Massachusetts were the men first in line? Who first shed their blood to maintain in its integrity the morality which their fathers saved, but men who
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went from the old county of Middlesex? It seems to me that much of the historic greatness of Massachusetts may be traced back to Middlesex, and that she has contributed more to inspire patriotism and the hope of the world than any other community of her size on the face of the earth. [Applause.] She is an important division of our Commonwealth. She is the largest county in territorial extent save one. [*8] She has a population of nearly 300,000 people, and her wealth amounts, I believe, to something like $300,000,000. She is a community in herself, and if she be called upon to do her duty in the present, as her representatives have always done in the past, I know that she is prepared to answer any reasonable expectation. I rejoice in American prosperity and in the present revival of business, and in the full share which Middlesex County bears in the maintenance of American industry.
The next toast was “Jonathan Bacon, a principal inhabitant of Bedford, directed by the General Court to assemble the citizens of the town for their first town meeting.”
This called up Mr. Albert Bacon, who said he “supposed he was the oldest Bacon in town,” when, the audience perceiving a joke, and beginning to make merry, the president responded, “Oh, never mind the age, we all love the Bacon that is so well preserved.” Mr. Bacon, recovering himself immediately, went on with a very interesting account of his illustrious ancestor, and of the Bacon family generally, that has played a conspicuous part in the history of the town.
“Our chaplain, — coming to us weekly in the spirit of concord, he proclaims peace and good-will among men,” [^3] elicited a response from the Rev. Grindall Reynolds of Concord, who also fills the Unitarian pulpit of Bedford at the present time.
Rev. Grindall Reynolds’ response. [^4]
I should hardly have been willing to occupy your time had I not wished to express the satisfaction I feel in being, through this office with which you have honored me, connected with this celebration; one which must be pleasant to remember and full of good influence in the town for many years to come, — for all years to come. You have kindly said that I come in the spirit of concord. [^5] I shall leave my friend, Judge Hoar, to say what the spirit of the town of Concord is; but if our chairman refers to the kindly quality of concord,
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how could I come to a centennial and to this sesqui-centennial in any other spirit? For what is a town celebration but the remembrance of love and good-will enacted into practical facts? What is the life of a town but the drawing of its people out of separation, out of isolation, into relations of the most satisfactory and helpful character? What is a town meeting, with all its varied interests, what is the church, what are schools, what even are all such material things as the very pathways and roads through our villages, but so many bonds to unite those who otherwise would be separated, each man caring for his own business, without thinking much of other people’s interests and needs? And especially how could I come with anything but the spirit of concord to a town whose very soil keeps in memory a great act of concord? [^6] You go to the banks of the Concord River, and there are two stones named the “Two Brothers,” which celebrate and keep vivid in memory the kindly and friendly action of Gov. John Winthrop and Lieut.-Gov. Thomas Dudley. And so in truth the first land in this region of Bedford, which was dedicated to the occupation of the white man and to the uses of civilization, was thus dedicated through a great and beautiful act of concord.
You have heard the admirable address of this morning, and from it you can see what one little town can bring of great and honorable import from the storehouse of its memories, from the ample storehouse of its history. And it seems to me that the best influence and the most useful result of a centennial celebration is that it thus engages all the people of a town (and I may say all the people of neighboring towns) in common interests and common thoughts of a noble and strengthening character. And so I believe that when the pleasantries of this hour shall have passed, when all that has been done so well shall be simply a thing of memory, still, after all, it will be the memory of your common interests in something noble and good, and that this town will always be a better town, with higher feelings and especially with more love and good-will and concord, for such a memory. [Applause.]
“Billerica, the loving mother who endowed her daughter Bedford with more than half her present territory,” called out the Rev. H. A. Hazen, historian of Billerica, who said: Bedford represents the first dismemberment of Billerica. Since then, Tewksbury, Lowell, Wilmington, and Carlisle have each taken a slice of Billerica. [*9]
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Every town has its own peculiar history. You can’t put it all into the census returns. It is character in the men and women that counts. He regretted that the “Two Brothers” rocks had not been made the boundary between the two towns, and thought a permanent inscription should be placed on these stones as a memorial of interest to the people who are to come after us. [*10]
“Concord and Bedford was given. Their intimate relations are fitly represented by Concord’s distinguished son, the grand-nephew of Bedford’s second minister, Nathaniel Sherman.” Hon. Judge E. R. Hoar replied: —
Mr. President, and Ladies and Gentlemen, — Considering it for the time being as the principal distinction of my life that I had one of the ministers of Bedford for an uncle [laughter], though on pausing to think of it for a moment, I do not see that it was a distinction that I myself achieved, still, I am very much gratified at being called upon by you to express to this town, on this delightful occasion, the feelings of the town of Concord towards the town of Bedford.
I speak, sir, with a certain distrust, because, with that care which the town of Concord always takes that any of her children who are liable to go astray shall be looked after, I find myself seated with the town-clerk of Concord on my right, and three of the selectmen immediately before me [laughter and applause], and if I do not say exactly what Concord would like to have said on this occasion, you see I am in a fair way to be stopped. [*11] [Laughter and applause.] Now, the relations of Concord and Bedford have always, I believe, been intimate and affectionate.
When I heard or read, rather, that this was to be a “sesqui-centennial” performance, I went to the dictionary like Gov. Rice [laughter], but not being so modest a man as he is, I did not come to the conclusion that it referred to my speech. [Laughter.] But I saw through it at once, when I came to find what the meaning was in the dictionary. I found this “sesqui” to be a thing and a half. As I say, I saw through it at once; the natural instinct of the town of Concord would enable me to do so. [Applause.] Why, these Bedford people, knowing that we are some on the centennial up there, are going to get up a centennial and a half. [Laughter and applause.] As they say in the game of poker, “I see you, and go you one better.” [Laughter.] I call upon heaven and earth to witness that I know nothing about the game of poker, so you will
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pardon the quotation. [Laughter and applause.] But, on contemplating what you were to celebrate, I thought, “What is it that our Bedford friends and neighbors are going to celebrate on this occasion?” [^7] There are various ways of looking at it.
The first view that occurred to me was this, — that one hundred and fifty years ago there were a people that were discontented at having so far to go to meeting, and they concluded not to go so far any longer; and now here is this great audience and this immense procession coming together one hundred and fifty years after, to commemorate that event. The question would at once be raised, “Why didn’t they adopt the remedy that would occur to a very large portion of people nowadays and stay at home?” [^8] [Laughter and applause.] Well, in the next place, being excellent, pious folks, these Bedford people at that time, why didn’t they think of the remedy which has occurred to their successors in this pleasant town, that if the mountain could not go to Mahomet, why, have Mahomet come some Sunday afternoon over to the mountain, dividing one minister between them, the way we have done since? [Laughter.] Well, there is another fact, a thing that makes the proceeding seem singular, and that is, that now, when you are celebrating their refusing to go so far to meeting, I believe that at this moment a majority of the church-going population in the town of Bedford go regularly up to Concord to meeting every Sunday to the Catholic Church, which I suspect their pious fathers would willingly have seen located a great deal farther away, so that it shows that the mere fact of adopting some method to avoid going to meeting at a distance is of such temporary interest that it would scarcely be considered of great moment on this occasion.
My friend from Billerica has said “that Bedford people did not do any pioneer work.” Why, yes, they did: they were a part of Concord, our flesh and blood, until they left us; [^9] they were a part of the family, and have fought it out on the same line as the rest of us.
The way we look at it up there is, that this is the oldest daughter of the family, setting up housekeeping, marrying into a Billerica connection. [Laughter.] Bedford was the oldest daughter, the first that was taken off from the old town of Concord. They have since chopped off several portions of her. “Nine Acre Corner” once petitioned to be made into a separate town. If the petition had been granted, we could not have gone out of doors without stepping upon some one of the family, like the “Old Woman in
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her Shoe.” Of course, then, we have always been affectionate. There is a neighborhood in towns and a friendliness in towns, just as in families and individuals, and we have always counted on you.
One curious thing occurred to me during the delivery of the oration (if His Excellency will excuse my referring to it). When I heard it stated that Concord gave its hearty and willing assent to Bedford’s incorporation as a separate town, and that Billerica opposed it until after the General Court had ordered it (they made the best of what they could not help), I noticed that, in the recital of the act of the incorporation it says, “And it was enacted by the lieutenant-governor and council,” etc. And I wondered whether they might not have had some Billerica gentleman as governor at the time, and the town was so much opposed to it that the lieutenant-governor had to see the thing through. [Great laughter and applause.] It looked very probable. [Renewed laughter.] Well now, in thus making up two towns, and joining yourselves to Billerica, you have undoubtedly escaped some things which you would have had if attached to Concord. In the first place, you have escaped the State Prison [great laughter and applause], by which, I mean collectively, in your municipal capacity [renewed laughter]; your individual chances are not at all impaired. [Uproarious laughter.]
But I notice that whether on any Scriptural basis or not, in your railroad system in this town, you have a broad road that leads to Concord and you have a straight and narrow gauge that leads to Billerica. [Hilarious mirth.] But I do not want to disregard the fact that the orator of the day rehearsed to us, that one hundred years ago the people of this town disapproved of all levity. I trust they still continue to; perhaps they do, perhaps they do not. But to leave all levity aside, what you here celebrate to-day is the establishment of a New England town, and the importance and value of such an occurrence cannot, in my judgment, be overestimated. One of those communities which, as John Adams said, “rested upon the meeting-house, the school-house, the town meeting and the training-field,” [*12] being the four elements of the man and citizen which have produced consequences in the government of the country which no other system of popular government has ever approached.
“Men that stir senates with a statesman’s words and look on armies with a leader’s eye,” have been the men, in our country’s history, who were trained up in these little democracies. [*13]
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What makes a town in some parts of our country is a tavern and a blacksmith’s shop; what made a town in Massachusetts, from the beginning, was a meeting-house and a school-house. [Applause.] It is well that you come together and remember from what fathers you are descended, what honest power and conduct marked their lives and the history of your town. It is for us to remember with pleasure and pride that you are a part of Concord, you were with us in the Revolution.
We remember that this little town of eight hundred inhabitants sent to the late civil war its eighty-two soldiers, of whom eighteen never returned; we remember that Bedford has been true to the principles upon which it is founded, — [^10] on the principles to which, we trust, every town in Massachusetts, in all trial, will be found adhering. [Tremendous applause.]
- “A sketch of the celebration” (1879)
in Bedford sesqui-centennial celebration (pp 70-79)
- not only the county,
∨ the county not only,
- Tocqueville ∨ De Tocqueville
- concord, ∨ Concord,
- Reynolds’ ∨ Reynolds’s
- concord. ∨ Concord.
- concord? ∨ concord_
- “What . . . occasion?”
∨ What . . . occasion?
- “Why . . . home?”
∨ Why . . . home?
- they did: ∨ they did;
- founded, — ∨ founded;
- “the Bedford House”: the Bedford House hotel
Formerly Page Tavern, the Bedford House later became Grange Hall, which was purchased by the Town in 1941 and demolished soon thereafter. (HPN) p 249
Stood on the site of the Fire Station: 55 Great Road (HPN) p 249
- “repast”: meal
- Governor Talbot is quoting Part the First: Article XVIII.
cf. A constitution or frame of government (1780) p 12
- “sixscore”: 120
- “her more ancient and famous neighbor”: Concord
- “the late President Stearns”: William A. Stearns: b. 1805 – d. 1876 (BHB) II: p 37
- cf. KJV’s Proverbs 31:28
- Governor Rice presumably had in mind (the much larger) Worcester County;
however, Middlesex County is, in fact, also smaller than Berkshire County.
- cf. Hazen’s “Dismemberment” (1883)
in his History of Billerica (pp 217-225)
- Fifteen years later, “1638” was engraved on each boulder. (BS1) p 138
- “in a fair way”: likely
- cf. Adams’ diary entry (21 July 1786), as published
in The works of John Adams: Vol III (1851) p 400
- cf. Halleck’s “Connecticut” (1827)
in his Alnwick Castle (pp 53-57)