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THE MODEL MERCHANT AND CHRISTIAN PHILANTHROPIST, WHO, FROM AN HUMBLE BE
GINNING, BECAME ONE OF THE WEALTHIEST MEN IN AMERICA, AND REMARKABLE FOR HIS ENLARGED BENEVOLENCE-HE HAVING GIVEN AWAY, IN THE COURSE OF HIS
LIFE, MORE THAN SEVEN HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS,
FOR THE BENEFIT OF MANKIND.
It sometimes happens that the death of a good man, instead of bringing his usefulness to an end, as is commonly the case, only serves to augment that usefulness, by greatly enlarging the number of those whose characters are formed upon the model his life has presented. While men, whoso chief distinctions lie in their goodness, remain among the living, their influence is ordinarily limited within the sphere of their personal associations; but when such men die, if the story of their usefulness has been at all a memorable one, its publication at once, and largely, widens their field of influence. Their example is no longer bounded by the narrow limits of their parish or town, but extends often to distant countries, to places the most remote, to hearts everywhere that can be moved by the narration of simple and single-hearted goodness, of unostentatious benevolence, or of munificent generosity.
The life of Amos Lawrence is illustrative of this truth. Few men have ever used their stewardship more wisely than he ; few or none, whose fortunes were wholly the fruit of their own enterprise and labor, ever gave away so much in charities, both public and private, as Mr. Lawrence; and yet, the good he did with his abundant means, while living, is probably much less than the good which will result, now that he is departed, from the recorded probity, conscientiousness and goodness of his daily life.
On the 22d of July, 1775, Samuel Lawrence, the father of Amos, was married at Groton, a small village thirty or forty miles from Boston, to Susannah Parker. The young bridegroom was then a soldier in the army of the Revolution, and his marriage was necessarily a hasty one. When hostilities first commenced, he was a subaltern officer in the Groton company of minute men. The morning of the 19th of April, 1775, General Prescott, whose residence was in the town, rode rapidly down the street of Groton to the homestead of the Lawrences, crying out, “Samuel, notify your menthe British are coming!” In three hours, these minute men, scattered over seven miles of country, were on their march to Cambridge. At the battle of Bunker Hill, these Groton men gave a good account of themselves, particularly their veteran captain, Farwell, who was shot through the body and taken off for dead. When the indignant captain heard himself so reported by those who were bearing him from the field, he broke out, “ It aint true !-dont let my poor wife hear of this ; I shall live to see my country free,” and so he did. Young Lawrence carried off, as his trophies from the battle-field, two holes in his beaver hat, drilled by the same bullet which plowed a furrow, from front to rear, through his hair, beside a contusion on his arm from a spent grape-shot. He afterward served as adjutant to General Sullivan, who was in command in Rhode Island ; was next in service near New York, and subsequently returned with his regiment to Cambridge, in Massachusetts.
While on a short leave of absence, from this latter station, his marriage took place; his mother having given it as her opinion that in the event of anything fatal happening to her son, "it would be better for the youthful Susannah to be Sam's widow, rather than Sam's forlorn damsel."
While the marriage ceremony was in progress, the half-wedded husband was summoned by the clangor of the alarm-bell, to join his regiment. Within the hour, he was hastened away from his wife to fulfill his military duties. His case was certainly a hard one, and so his colonel seemed to have thought, for he allowed him to return to Groton to his wife, to rejoin his regiment within three days, at Rhode Island. After this short furlough, husband and wife saw nothing more of each other for the next half year. Once after a battle, in which his friends knew he must have been engaged, but before it was known who had been killed or who had escaped, the anxious mother said to the agitated wife, “She did not know but Sam was killed.” The possibility of such an event took away her strength, and she fell prostrate upon the floor. He had indeed been in great peril, but the desperate efforts of a company of blacks, together with the fleetness and strength of his horse, had saved him from capture. Soon after this, he passed a few days with his friends, not to be with them again till the autumn of the next year, when he retired from the army to be with his Susannah in her first confinement. This was the termination of his military services.
His religious character may be inferred from the fact, that for many years, and until his death, he was a deacon in the Congregational Church, in Groton. As a citizen, he discharged the duties of the magistracy with fidelity and
For thirty-three years, he was trustee of the academy in his native town, which, in gratitude to him and his son, now bears the family
Such was the father of Amos Lawrence. Of his mother, Mr. Lawrence always spoke in the strongest terms of veneration and love. Her form, bending over the bed of her children in silent prayer, when about leaving them for the night, was among their earliest recollections. She was a woman well fitted to rear a family through the troubled times in which she lived. To the kindest affection, she united energy and decision of character, and in her household enforced that strict and unhesitating obedience, which she regarded as lying at the foundation of all success in the education of children. Her hands were never idle, as may be supposed, when it is remembered that in those days, throughout New England, in addition to the cares of a farming establishment, much of the material for clothing was manufactured by the inmates of the family.
Amos Lawrence, the second son of his parents, was born at Groton, the
22d day of April, 1786. His constitution was naturally a feeble one, which in childhood, often kept him from the district school, near his father's house, where he acquired the first rudiments of knowledge. From this small vestibule of learning, he was transferred to the academy not far distant, where he concluded, at the rather premature age of thirteen, his school education.
He then went from learning to trading, and soon penetrated the mystery of a New England country store. He learned to sell rum and brandy by the puncheon and by the pint; cloth by the bale and the yard ; tobacco in kegs and tobacco in plugs; together with tea-kettles, molasses, silks, gimblets, indigo, grindstones, rhubarb, school-books, etc. Superadded to these multifarious duties, was that of acting as a kind of a dispensatory clerk, to the medical profession of Groton, and the neighboring towns, who looked to this store of James Brazier for the replenishment of their exhausted saddlebags.
During this apprenticeship of young Lawrence, and for many years after it was customary, throughout New England, for clerks and apprentices, journeymen and employers, to prepare ardent spirits in some form, to be drank in the middle of the afternoon. In common with the other clerks of the establishment, he partook of the pleasant beverage, until he found himself longing for the stimulus, as the hour for serving it approached, when he had the resolution to abandoned the dangerous habit. Many years afterward, he wrote to a young friend, respecting this incident in his life, as follows : “In the first place, take this for your motto, at the commencement of your journey, that the difference of going just right, or a little wrong, will be the difference of finding yourself in good quarters, or in a miserable bog or slough at the end of it. Of the whole number educated in the Groton stores, for some years before and after myself, no one else, to my knowledge, escaped the bog or slough; and my escape, I trace to the simple fact of my having put a restraint upon my appetite.
We five boys were in the habit, every forenoon, of making a drink compounded of rum, raisins, sugar, nutmeg, etc., with biscuit--all palatable to eat and drink. After being in the store four weeks, I found myself admonished, by my appetite, of the approach of the hour for indulgence. Thinking the habit might make trouble, if allowed to grow stronger, without further apology to my seniors, I declined partaking with them. My first resolution was to abstain for a week, and then for a year. Finally, I resolved to abstain for the rest of my apprenticeship, which was for five years longer. During that whole period, I never drank a spoonful, though I mixed gallons daily for my old master and his customers.
I decided not to be a slave to tobacco in any form, though I loved the odor of it then, and even now have in my drawer a superior Havana cigar, given me, not long since, by a friend, but only to smell of. I have never in my life smoked a cigar; never chewed but one quid, and that was before I was fifteen; and never took an ounce of snuff, though the scented rappeo of forty years ago had great charms for me. Now, I say, to this simple fact of starting just right, am I indebted, with God's blessing on my labors, for my present position, as well as that of numerous connectious sprung up around me."
After leaving school and going into the store, he writes on another occasion: “There was not a month passed before I became impressed with the opinion, that restraint upon appetite was necessary to prevent the slavery I saw destroying numbers around me. Many and many of the farmers, me. chanics, and apprentices, of that day, have filled drunkards' graves, and have left destitute families and friends."
Few other details of his seven years' apprenticeship can now be gathered. On the 22d of April, 1807, Mr. Lawrence became of age. One week later, he was seen on his way to Boston, with twenty dollars in his pocket, his seven years' experience, and his good principles, as his only capital with which to begin the business of life. After a brief clerkship in Boston, he commenced business for himself, in December, 1807, in a small store, in what was then known as Cornhill, having a Lancaster youth, by the name of Henry Whiting, for his only clerk. This lad afterward became better known as Brigadier-General Whiting, of the United States Army. The pecuniary condition of the Lawrence family, at this time, was not promising. Speaking of this period, he says: “I was then, in the matter of property, not worth a dollar. My father was comfortably off as a farmer, somewhat in debt; with, perhaps, four thousand dollars. My brother, Luther, was in the practice of law, getting forward, but not worth two thousand dollars; William had nothing; Abbott, a lad just fifteen years old, at school; and Samuel, a child seven years old.”
This stout-hearted father, with “perhaps four thousand dollars," but s somewhat in debt,” with four other sons and three daughters to provide for, voluntarily mortgaged his small farm, that he might loan the proceeds to his son. The history of this transaction is creditable to both. Forty years afterward, Mr. Lawrence wrote as follows upon the back of the original mortgage deed : “My honored father brought to me the one thousand dollars, and asked me to give him my note for it. I told him he did wrong to place himself in a situation to be made unhappy, if I lost the money. He told me he guessed I would'nt lose it, and I gave him my note. The first thing I did was to take four per cent. premium on my Boston bills (the difference then between passable and Boston money), and sent a thousand dollars in bills of the Hillsborough Bank to Amherst, New Hampshire, by my father, to my brother Luther, to carry to the bank and get specie, as he was going there to attend court that week. My brother succeeded in getting specie, principally in silver change, for the bills, and returned it to me in a few days. In the meantime, or shortly after, the bank had been sued, the bills discredited, and in the end, proved nearly worthless. I determined not to use the money except in the safest way; and therefore loaned it to Messrs. Parkman, in whom I had entire confidence. After I had been in business, and had made more than a thousand dollars, I felt I could repay the money, come what would of it; being insured against fire, and trusting nobody for goods. I used it in my business, but took care to pay off the mortgage as soon as it would be received. This incident shows how dangerous it is to the independence and comfort of families, for parents to take pecuniary responsibilities for their sons in trade, beyond their power of meeting them without embarrassment. Had my Hillsborough bank notes not been paid as they were, nearly the whole amount would have been lost, and myself and family might probably have been ruined. The incident was so striking, that I have uniformly discouraged young men, who have applied to me for credit, offering their fathers as bondsmen; and, by doing so, I have, I believe, saved some respectable families from ruin. A young man who cannot get along without such aid, will not be likely to get along with it."
How the young merchant got on in his new business, without capital, may, in part, be guessed at from what he wrote years afterward to a friend : 'I practiced upon the maxim, ' Business before friends," from the commencenent of my course. During the first seven years of my business in this city, I never allowed a bill against me to stand unsettled over the Sabbath. If the purchase of goods was made at auction on Saturday, and delivered to me, I always examined and settled the bill by note or by crediting it, and having it clear, so that, in case I was not on duty on Monday, there would be no trouble for any boys; thus keeping the business before me, instead of allowing it to drive me."
Another extract referring to certain regulations adopted in the house where he boarded, may also throw some light upon his early course as a successful business man. “The only rule I ever made was, that after supJer, all the boarders who remained in the public room should remain quiet at least one hour, to give those who chose to study or read, an opportunity of doing so without disturbance. The consequence was, that we had the most quiet and improving set of young men in the town. The few who did not wish to comply with the regulation, went abroad after tea, sometimes to the theater, sometimes to other places, but, to a man, became bankrupt in after life, not only in fortune, but in reputation ; while a majority of the other class sustained good characters, and some are now living who are ornaments to society, and fill important stations."
Certain other principles by which Mr. Lawrence governed his conduct in business, are worthy the notice and imitation of young men. He writes : "I adopted a plan of keeping an accurate account of merchandise bought and sold each day, with the profit as far as practicable. This plan was pursued for a number of years, and I never found my merchandise fall short in taking an account of stock, which I did as often, at least, as once in each year. I was thus enabled to form an opinion of my actual state as a business man. I adopted, also, the rule always to have property, after my second year's business, to represent forty per cent. at least more than I owed ; that is, never to be in debt more than two and a half times my capital. This caution saved me from ever getting embarrassed. If it wero more generally adopted, we should see fewer failures in business. Excessive credit is the rock on which so many business men are broken. I made about fifteen hundred dollars the first year, and more than four thousand the second. Probably, had I made four thousand the first year, I should have failed the second or third year. I practiced a system of rigid economy, and never allowed myself to spend a fourpence for unnecessary objects until I had acquired it.”
In rather less than a year after the name of Amos Lawrence had appeared in Cornhill, his young clerk, whose vocation seemed to lie in the direction of gunpowder and musketry, rather than in that of Manchester goods, left his clerkship vacant for a successor, whose vocation, after events went to show,