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MASTER JOHN SULLIVAN AND SONS
IMPORTANT MEN OF COLONIAL DAYS
By ELOISE M. JORDAN
An Irish gentleman and a scholar, even a Prince of Ardea in disguise was Master John Sullivan, the exile, of old Berwick, Maine, the father of two governors, one of whom was a general in the Revolutionary army.
The early history of this schoolmaster who came to America in the first quarter of the 18th century, is obscured in the romantic myths of the emerald island in the Irish Sea. An ivied castle mirrored in a reeded lake with its clustering white-washed village, might well be the legendary home of Master Sullivan.
Surely Paris knew him in the gay and comely days of his youth, when as a student at the College Louis-le-Grand, he consorted with and shared the escapades of the great names of French history -- Fenelon and Voltaire and the Duke de Boufflers. But all is shrouded in historic mists, and the real reason why this learned aristocrat sailed for America to bury himself in a seeming wilderness may never be divulged, although it had to do with the plots of the old Pretender.
The Jewett Story
Sarah Orne Jewett in her novel of a Revolutionary Maine, "The Torey Lover," published by Houghton Mifflin and Company in 1901, weaves a particularly fascinating story of Master Sullivan. Her skill of delineation is akin to a Vermeer painting, with its careful attention to the minute beauties which, in their sum, total the masterpiece. With affection and a real knowledge of her background and subject, Miss Jewett suggests, but never reveals, the plots of the 17th century Ireland, and the Paris of the old regime in which Master Sullivan grew to manhood.
Where Master Sullivan's birthplace was, no one seemed exactly to know. Varying reports would place it in Limerick, Berlin and Ardea. From the death notice published in the "Oracle of the Day," a Portsmouth newspaper of June 30, 1795, one gleans the information, incorrect as it may be, that he was born in Ardea in the County of Kerry and Kingdom of Ireland. This announcement throws out of focus all other statements. But wherever he was born it matters little, since his life was more important than the facts concerning his birth.
From Miss Jewett's novel the following is quoted with the publisher's permission:
"'They say that he had four countesses to his grandmothers, and that his grandfathers were lords of Beare and Bantry, and princes of Ireland. His father was banished to France by the Stuarts, and died from a duel there, and the master was brought up in one of their great colleges in Paris where his house held a scholarship. He was reared among the best Frenchmen of his time. As for his coming here, some say 'twas being found in a treasonable plot, and some that 'twas for the sake of a lady whom his mother would not let him stoop to marry. He vowed that she should never see his face again; all his fortunes depended on his mother, so he fled the country.'"
And again: " 'There was an old woman lately come over from Ireland . . . who remembered things in Charles the Second's time. James Sullivan, the judge, thinking to amuse his father, stopped before the house, and out came the old creature, and fell upon her knees. "My God! 'tis the young Prince of Ardea!" says she. The old man burst into tears. "Let us go, James," says he, "or this will break my heart.' "
Gay Times In Paris
Intriguing indeed are the glimpses of a lusty Dublin where a boy with lace at his wrists and a rapier on his hip consorted with link boys and young bloods. In Paris the student emerges, but the heart is high, and if revelry closes the books a grace and a steadfastness to the ideals of friendship is engendered, and a "character of honor" emerges.
The courtly old man, exiled for a lifetime among the hills of a virgin country, shared a secret with great men of France and England, and sacrificed the things most men prize too highly for renunciation. Plots hinted at close to the English throne, are by the very fact of their secrecy, made monstrous and mysterious. King James, the Prince of Conti and Louis Quatorze were as familiar to the Maine Master as his Horace or his Virgil.
Even the tales of Master Sullivan's arrival in America are as obscure and varied, authorities giving widely different accounts. Unable to determine which may be the true version, evidence usually carries the weight of the most frequently quoted.
Arrived at York
An account of the Master's arrival, purported to be in his own words, stated that he sailed from Limerick, Ireland, for New England in 1723, and was obliged to land at York, Maine, driven there by severe gales -- the desired harbor being Newburyport. Another account states that the landing was made at Belfast, Maine, and that the master worked in a sawmill there. One must discount this tale, however, for he was working at the McIntire farm in the Scotland Parish of York during the same year of his arrival.
Unaccustomed to manual labor he soon grew tired of the work, and wishing to better his condition, he applied to Rev. Dr. Moody, pastor of the parish, for assistance, in a long since celebrated letter written in seven languages to show that he was a scholar. Erudition such as this must have been unknown in the Maine community, and indeed, one is greatly fascinated by this display of knowledge. Some authorities say that the Master knew the English language only well enough to misspell many words.
What were the seven languages in which great proficiency was manifest? English, of course, Irish, French (from his student days in Paris, although his obituary states that he learned the language in his old age), Latin (for he read and revered Horace), Greek, German and probably Spanish. Certainly this would be a large order for savants today.
There is evidence that a "Sullefund" taught school in Dover, New Hampshire in 1723, but one jumps at too hasty conclusions, for in the published Province Papers of New Hampshire, Humphry Sullivan petitioned the Town of Dover for his school teaching services.
Also refuted is the glory of Margery Browne, whom Master Sullivan took to wife sometime after his arrival in this country. Of unequal birth and education, this pretty child never attained the stature of her husband, but it was she who kept the home together, and her drudgery and skill reared a large family of children when the Master was teaching in hamlet and city, absent from the familiar Berwick and Rollingsford fields and hills.
When Margery Browne set sail for the new world she was asked why she was going, and she replied that she was "going to raise governors for them."
Tradition says that Margery Browne came alone in the same ship with Master Sullivan, which is doubtful, since she was said to be but nine at the time, and children did not travel unaccompanied in those days. Other accounts state that she came many years later as a pretty girl of nineteen. Some say that John Sullivan paid her passage money in shingles which he made and carried down the river to sell at Portsmouth.
No record of his marriage has ever been found. A granddaughter wrote in after years that her grandfather was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1691, and that Margery Browne was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1705. According to her statement they were married just previous to their departure for America, or during the passage in 1723.
Lived at Somersworth
That they lived at Somersworth, New Hampshire, now Rollingsford Junction, from 1736 to 1747 is testified to by the fact that John Sullivan was janitor of the old Somersworth Church in 1737, and was voted sixty pounds for his salary as schoolmaster in that same year. His services for sweeping and caring for ye meeting house were thirty shillings.
"John Sullevant" was mustered into the militia under Captain Thomas Wallingford of Somersworth in 1746. His sons, Benjamin, Daniel, John and James were all New Hampshire born. The Sullivans were living back in Berwick, York County, in 1748 when the Master witnessed several papers of a legal nature. It is believed that he may taught in the vicinity of Biddeford, for he once witnessed the will of a Biddeford resident.
Always the Master, wherever he chanced to be, "set the humblest children their copies, and taught them to read and spell, and shared his St. Augustine and Homer and Horace with those few who could claim the right." The rolling hills of Berwick drew forth his affection as the Sabine Hills had known the love of Horace, and the comparison between the two was indeed apparent, for Master Sullivan was a great student of the Latin poet.
The story is told that Mrs. Sullivan in sudden anger at her husband's seeming lack of interest in his family, threw one of his few treasured books into the fire in rage, but she repented in telling the story, and finished with "Himself cried," in a rush of affection.
Told of Earlier Days
The Master was not adverse to relating the misadventures of his youth, and hidden away on his hillside farm, was occasionally [occasionnally] visited by friends eager to learn of the old days in a gallant France. But he lived more in the future of his sons whose "Irish veins were full of soldier's blood." Inheriting their mother's energy and their father's intellect, they were among the outstanding men of Revolutionary New England.
General John Sullivan was probably born at Somersworth, New Hampshire, in 1740. His education was largely obtained from his father, and he studied law in Portsmouth, settling in Durham, New Hampshire as its first lawyer about 1760. From the heirs of Dr. Samuel Adams he purchased the house which is still known as the Sullivan House, a dignified Colonial mansion. Appointed a general of the American army in 1775, he was held in great respect by George Washington, taking part in the siege of Boston. That same year in command of the American army in Canada he exhibited great skill in effecting a retreat from the province.
At the battle of Long Island the general was taken prisoner, but was released in an exchange of prisoners, and became the leader of the right wing of Washington's army.
The battles of Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine and Germantown were all fought under his expert command.
With 4,000 men he led the attacks on the Iroquois and their Loyalist allies at Newtown, New York, in retaliation for the atrocities in the Wyoming and Cherry Valley raids. For this expedition the general received the thanks of Congress. He was at Valley Forge and also commanded the expedition to Rhode Island.
The general was a member of the Continental Congresses of 1774 and 1775, urging the Declaration of Independence. Again in 1780-81 he served another term with that illustrious house. He helped form the Constitution of New Hampshire, being three times elected Governor of the state, in 1786-1787 and 1789. Previous to that he had been attorney general. An insurrection at Exeter immediately preceding the Shays Rebellion in Massachusetts was suppressed by the able commander.General Sullivan died in 1795 while holding the office of Judge of the United States District Court of New Hampshire.
Surely this is a record that few men can hope to achieve, for General Sullivan participated in some of the greatest events in American history and was a prime factor in the establishment of the state in which he spent the greater portion of his life. Harvard University bestowed upon him the honorary degree of Master of Arts, while Dartmouth College made him a Doctor of Law during his lifetime.
James Sullivan, Governor
A second son, James, if not so outstanding as John, was a man to be reckoned with. Born, it is believed, at Berwick in 1744 , he, too, was educated by his father and became a lawyer, serving as the King's attorney of York County at Biddeford, Maine. He had been destined for a military career, but an injury sustained when felling a tree was instrumental in turning him into a man of letters.
The highest judicial position in the colony was offered to and accepted by him. He was also a member of the Continental Congress of 1776, and an attorney general of Massachusetts. Washington appointed him to be one of the commissioners to establish the boundary line between the United States and Canada. At one time he was the acknowledged leader of the Massachusetts bar and the most noted jury lawyer of his day.
James Sullivan became a prime factor in the establishment of the Middlesex Canal linking the Merrimack with the Charles River at Cambridge, of which he was president during his lifetime.
In 1807 and again in 1808 he was chosen Governor of Massachusetts, but died soon after his election for a second term. He was one of the ten original members, and long president of the Mass. Historical Society, and was a member of the American Society of Arts and Science. In 1780 Harvard conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws.
Wrote A History of MaineDeeply interested in historical subjects he is remembered as the author of the first history of Maine. A "History of the Penobscot Indians" was published in the Massachusetts Historical Collections.
NotesOriginally published in the Lewiston Journal Magazine January 4, 1947, p. A4. Some errors have been corrected, with the original text indicated in brackets. This link to the original takes one to page one of this issue; the text begins on page nine.
link boy: A boy who carries a torch to light pedestrians in cities at night.
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