The Gray Champion
 
 

          THERE WAS ONCE a time, when New-England groaned under the
          actual pressure of heavier wrongs, than those threatened ones which
          brought on the Revolution. James II, the bigoted successor of Charles the
          Voluptuous, had annulled tile charters of all the colonies, and sent a harsh
          and unprincipled soldier to take away our liberties and endanger our
          religion. The administration of Sir Edmund Andros lacked scarcely a
          single characteristic of tyranny: a Governor and Council, holding office
          from the King, and wholly independent of the country; laws made and
          taxes levied without concurrence of the people, immediate or by their
          representatives; the rights of private citizens violated, and the titles of all
          landed property declared void; the voice of complaint stifled by
          restrictions on the press; and, finally, disaffection overawed by the first
          band of mercenary troops that ever marched on our free soil. For two
          years, our ancestors were kept in sullen submission, by that filial love
          which had invariably secured their allegiance to the mother country,
          whether its head chanced to be a Parliament, Protector, or popish
          Monarch. Till these evil times, however, such allegiance had been merely
          nominal, and the colonists had ruled themselves, enjoying far more
          freedom, than is even yet the privilege of the native subjects of Great
          Britain.

          At length, a rumor reached our shores, that the Prince of Orange had
          ventured on an enterprise, the success of which would be the triumph of
          civil and religious rights and the salvation of New-England. It was but a
          doubtful whisper; it might be false, or the attempt might fail; and, in either
          case, the man, that stirred against King James, would lose his head. Still
          the intelligence produced a marked effect. The people smiled mysteriously
          in the streets, and threw bold glances at their oppressors; while, far and
          wide, there was a subdued and silent agitation, as if the slightest signal
          would rouse the whole land from its sluggish despondency. Aware of their
          danger, the rulers resolved to avert it by an imposing display of strength,
          and perhaps to confirm their despotism by yet harsher measures. One
          afternoon in April, 1689, Sir Edmund Andros and his favorite councillors,
          being warm with wine, assembled the red-coats of the Governor's Guard,
          and made their appearance in the streets of Boston. The sun was near
          setting when the march commenced.

          The roll of the drum, at that unquiet crisis, seemed to go through the
          streets, less as the martial music of the soldiers, than as a muster-call to
          the inhabitants themselves. A multitude, by various avenues, assembled in
          King-street, which was destined to be the scene, nearly a century
          afterwards, of another encounter between the troops of Britain, and a
          people struggling against her tyranny. Though more than sixty years had
          elapsed, since the Pilgrims came, this crowd of their descendants still
          showed the strong and sombre features of their character, perhaps more
          strikingly in such a stern emergency than on happier occasions. There was
          the sober garb, the general severity of mien, the gloomy but undismayed
          expression, the scriptural forms of speech, and the confidence in Heaven's
          blessing on a righteous cause, which would have marked a band of the
          original Puritans, when threatened by some peril of the wilderness.
          Indeed, it was not yet time for the old spirit to be extinct; since there were
          men in the street, that day, who had worshipped there beneath the trees,
          before a house was reared to the God, for whom they had become exiles.
          Old soldiers of the Parliament were here too, smiling grimly at the thought,
          that their aged arms might strike another blow against the house of Stuart.
          Here also, were the veterans of King Philip's war, who had burnt villages
          and slaughtered young and old, with pious fierceness, while the godly
          souls throughout the land were helping them with prayer. Several ministers
          were scattered among the crowd, which, unlike all other mobs, regarded
          them with such reverence, as if there were sanctity in their very garments.
          These holy men exerted their influence to quiet the people, but not to
          disperse them. Meantime, the purpose of the Governor, in disturbing the
          peace of the town, at a period when the slightest commotion might throw
          the country into a ferment, was almost the universal subject of inquiry, and
          variously explained.

          "Satan will strike his master-stroke presently," cried some, "because he
          knoweth that his time is short. All our godly pastors are to be dragged to
          prison! We shall see them at a Smithfield fire in King-street!"

          Hereupon, the people of each parish gathered closer round their minister,
          who looked calmly upwards and assumed a more apostolic dignity, as
          well befitted a candidate for the highest honor of his profession, the crown
          of martyrdom. It was actually fancied, at that period, that New-England
          might have a John Rogers of her own, to take the place of that worthy in
          the Primer.

          "The Pope of Rome has given orders for a new St. Bartholomew!" cried
          others. "We are to be massacred, man and male child!"

          Neither was this rumor wholly discredited, although the wiser class
          believed the Governor's object somewhat less atrocious. His predecessor
          under the old charter, Bradstreet, a venerable companion of the first
          settlers, was known to be in town. There were grounds for conjecturing,
          that Sir Edmund Andros intended, at once, to strike terror, by a parade of
          military force, and to confound the opposite faction, by possessing himself
          of their chief.

          "Stand firm for the old charter Governor!" shouted the crowd, seizing
          upon the idea. "The good old Governor Bradstreet!"

          While this cry was at the loudest, the people were surprised by the well
          known figure of Governor Bradstreet himself, a patriarch of nearly ninety,
          who appeared on the elevated steps of a door, and, with characteristic
          mildness, besought them to submit to the constituted authorities.

          "My children," concluded this venerable person, "do nothing rashly. Cry
          not aloud, but pray for the welfare of New-England, and expect patiently
          what the Lord will do in this matter!"

          The event was soon to be decided. All this time, the roll of the drum had
          been approaching through Cornhill, louder and deeper, till, with
          reverberations from house to house, and the regular tramp of martial
          footsteps, it burst into the street. A double rank of soldiers made their
          appearance, occupying the whole breadth of the passage, with shouldered
          matchlocks, and matches burning, so as to present a row of fires in the
          dusk. Their steady march was like the progress of a machine, that would
          roll irresistibly over every thing in its way. Next, moving slowly, with a
          confused clatter of hoofs on the pavement, rode a party of mounted
          gentlemen, the central figure being Sir Edmund Andros, elderly, but erect
          and soldier-like. Those around him were his favorite councillors, and the
          bitterest foes of New-England. At his right hand rode Edward Randolph,
          our arch enemy, that "blasted wretch," as Cotton Mather calls him, who
          achieved the downfall of our ancient government, and was followed with a
          sensible curse, through life and to his grave. On the other side was
          Bullivant, scattering jests and mockery as he rode along. Dudley came
          behind, with a downcast look, dreading, as well he might, to meet the
          indignant gaze of the people, who beheld him, their only countryman by
          birth, among the oppressors of his native land. The captain of a frigate in
          the harbor, and two or three civil officers under the Crown, were also
          there. But the figure which most attracted the public eye, and stirred up
          the deepest feeling, was the Episcopal clergyman of King's Chapel, riding
          haughtily among the magistrates in his priestly vestments, the fitting
          representative of prelacy and persecution, the union of church and state,
          and all those abominations which had driven the Puritans to the
          wilderness. Another guard of soldiers, in double rank, brought up the
          rear.

          The whole scene was a picture of the condition of New-England, and its
          moral, the deformity of any government that does not grow out of the
          nature of things and the character of the people. On one side the religious
          multitude, with their sad visages and dark attire, and on the other, the
          group of despotic rulers, with the high churchman in the midst, and here
          and there a crucifix at their bosoms, all magnificently clad, flushed with
          wine, proud of unjust authority, and scoffing at the universal groan. And
          the mercenary soldiers, waiting but the word to deluge the street with
          blood, shewed the only means by which obedience could be secured.

          "Oh! Lord of Hosts," cried a voice among the crowd, "provide a
          Champion for thy people!"

          This ejaculation was loudly uttered, and served as a herald's cry, to
          introduce a remarkable personage. The crowd had rolled back, and were
          now huddled together nearly at the extremity of the street, while the
          soldiers had advanced no more than a third of its length. The intervening
          space was empty--a paved solitude, between lofty edifices, which threw
          almost a twilight shadow over it. Suddenly, there was seen the figure of an
          ancient man, who seemed to have emerged from among the people, and
          was walking by himself along the centre of the street, to confront the
          armed band. He wore the old Puritan dress, a dark cloak and a
          steeple-crowned hat, in the fashion of at least fifty years before, with a
          heavy sword upon his thigh, but a staff in his hand, to assist the tremulous
          gait of age.

          When at some distance from the multitude, the old man turned slowly
          round, displaying a face of antique majesty, rendered doubly venerable by
          the hoary beard that descended on his breast. He made a gesture at once
          of encouragement and warning, then turned again, and resumed his way.

          "Who is this gray patriarch?" asked the young men of their sires.

          "Who is this venerable brother?" asked the old men among themselves.

          But none could make reply. The fathers of the people, those of four-score
          years and upwards, were disturbed, deeming it strange that they should
          forget one of such evident authority, whom they must have known in their
          early days, the associate of Winthrop and all the old Councillors, giving
          laws, and making prayers, and leading them against the savage. The
          elderly men ought to have remembered him, too, with locks as gray in
          their youth, as their own were now. And the young! How could he have
          passed so utterly from their memories--that hoary sire, the relic of long
          departed times, whose awful benediction had surely been bestowed on
          their uncovered heads, in childhood?

          "Whence did he come? What is his purpose? Who can this old man be?"
          whispered the wondering crowd.

          Meanwhile, the venerable stranger, staff in hand, was pursuing his solitary
          walk along the centre of the street. As he drew near the advancing
          soldiers, and as the roll of their drum came full upon his ear, the old man
          raised himself to a loftier mien, while the decrepitude of age seemed to fall
          from his shoulders, leaving him in gray, but unbroken dignity. Now, he
          marched onward with a warrior's step, keeping time to the military music.
          Thus the aged form advanced on one side, and the whole parade of
          soldiers and magistrates on the other, till, when scarcely twenty yards
          remained between, the old man grasped his staff by the middle, and held it
          before him like a leader's truncheon.

          "Stand!" cried he.

          The eye, the face, and attitude of command; the solemn, yet warlike peal
          of that voice, fit either to rule a host in the battle-field or be raised to God
          in prayer, were irresistible. At the old man's word and outstretched arm,
          the roll of the drum was hushed at once, and the advancing line stood still.
          A tremulous enthusiasm seized upon the multitude. That stately form,
          combining the leader and the saint, so gray, so dimly seen, in such an
          ancient garb, could only belong to some old champion of the righteous
          cause, whom the oppressor's drum had summoned from his grave. They
          raised a shout of awe and exultation, and looked for the deliverance of
          New-England.

          The Governor, and the gentlemen of his party, perceiving themselves
          brought to an unexpected stand, rode hastily forward, as if they would
          have pressed their snorting and affrighted horses right against the hoary
          apparition. He, however, blenched not a step, but glancing his severe eye
          round the group, which half encompassed him, at last bent it sternly on Sir
          Edmund Andros. One would have thought that the dark old man was
          chief ruler there, and that the Governor and Council, with soldiers at their
          back, representing the whole power and authority of the Crown, had no
          alternative but obedience.

          "What does this old fellow here?" cried Edward Randolph, fiercely. "On,
          Sir Edmund! Bid the soldiers forward, and give the dotard the same
          choice that you give all his countrymen--to stand aside or be trampled
          on!"

          "Nay, nay, let us show respect to the good grandsire," said Bullivant,
          laughing. "See you not, he is some old roundheaded dignitary, who hath
          lain asleep these thirty years, and knows nothing of the change of times?
          Doubtless, he thinks to put us down with a proclamation in Old Noll's
          name!"

          "Are you mad, old man?" demanded Sir Edmund Andros, in loud and
          harsh tones. "How dare you stay the march of King James's Governor?"

          "I have staid the march of a King himself, ere now," replied the gray
          figure, with stern composure. "I am here, Sir Governor, because the cry
          of an oppressed people hath disturbed me in my secret place; and
          beseeching this favor earnestly of the Lord, it was vouchsafed me to
          appear once again on earth, in the good old cause of his Saints. And what
          speak ye of James? There is no longer a popish tyrant on the throne of
          England, and by to-morrow noon, his name shall be a by-word in this
          very street, where ye would make it a word of terror. Back, thou that
          wast a Governor, back! With this night, thy power is ended--to-morrow,
          the prison!--back, lest I foretell the scaffold!"

          The people had been drawing nearer and nearer, and drinking in the
          words of their champion, who spoke in accents long disused, like one
          unaccustomed to converse, except with the dead of many years ago. But
          his voice stirred their souls. They confronted the soldiers, not wholly
          without arms, and ready to convert the very stones of the street into
          deadly weapons. Sir Edmund Andros looked at the old man; then he cast
          his hard and cruel eye over the multitude, and beheld them burning with
          that lurid wrath, so difficult to kindle or to quench; and again he fixed his
          gaze on the aged form, which stood obscurely in an open space, where
          neither friend nor foe had thrust himself. What were his thoughts, he
          uttered no word which might discover. But whether the oppressor were
          overawed by the Gray Champion's look, or perceived his peril in the
          threatening attitude of the people, it is certain that he gave back, and
          ordered his soldiers to commence a slow and guarded retreat. Before
          another sunset, the Governor, and all that rode so proudly with him, were
          prisoners, and long ere it was known that James had abdicated, King
          William was proclaimed throughout New-England.

          But where was the Gray Champion? Some reported, that when the
          troops had gone from King-street, and the people were thronging
          tumultuously in their rear, Bradstreet, the aged Governor, was seen to
          embrace a form more aged than his own. Others soberly affirmed, that
          while they marvelled at the venerable grandeur of his aspect, the old man
          had faded from their eyes, melting slowly into the hues of twilight, till,
          where he stood, there was an empty space. But all agreed, that the hoary
          shape was gone. The men of that generation watched for his
          re-appearance, in sunshine and in twilight, but never saw him more, nor
          knew when his funeral passed, nor where his grave-stone was.

          And who was the Gray Champion? Perhaps his name might be found in
          the records of that stern Court of Justice, which passed a sentence, too
          mighty for the age, but glorious in all after times, for its humbling lesson to
          the monarch and its high example to the subject. I have heard, that,
          whenever the descendants of the Puritans are to show the spirit of their
          sires, the old man appears again. When eighty years had passed, he
          walked once more in King-street. Five years later, in the twilight of an
          April morning, he stood on the green, beside the meeting-house, at
          Lexington, where now the obelisk of granite, with a slab of slate inlaid,
          commemorates the first fallen of the Revolution. And when our fathers
          were toiling at the breast-work on Bunker's Hill, all through that night, the
          old warrior walked his rounds. Long, long may it be, ere he comes again!
          His hour is one of darkness, and adversity, and peril. But should domestic
          tyranny oppress us, or the invader's step pollute our soil, still may the
          Gray Champion come; for he is the type of New-England's hereditary
          spirit; and his shadowy march, on the eve of danger, must ever be the
          pledge, that New-England's sons will vindicate their ancestry.