MADE FAMOUS BY GEORGE WASHINGTON AND HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW
“Somewhat back from the village street Stands the old-fashioned country seat. Across its antique portico Tall poplar-trees their shadows throw; And from its station in the hall An ancient timepiece says to all, ‘Forever, never! Neverforever.’”
The clock of which Longfellow wrote stood on the stair-landing of the old Craigie House, Cambridge, Massachusetts, which he bought in 1843, after having occupied it a number of years. Here he wrote the majority of his poems. Here, one June day, Nathaniel Hawthorne dined with the poet. In the course of conversation, the author of ” The House of Seven Gables ” told Longfellow the heart-moving story of the Acadian maiden who was separated from her lover by the cruel mandate of the conquerors of Acadia, and here the poem was written that told the story. Here were spent days of gladness with friends who delighted to enter the hospitable door. Here the poet rejoiced in his home with the children of whom he wrote in ” The Children’s Hour ” :
” Between the dark and the daylight, When the night is beginning to lower, Comes a pause in the day’s occupations, That is known as the Children’s Hour.”
And here, one sad day in July, 1861, Mrs. Long-fellow was so severely burned that she died the next day. This great sorrow bore rich fruit for those who loved the poet. ” Above the grave the strong man sowed his thoughts, and they ripened like the corn in autumn,” one of his biographers has said.
The house was named for Andrew Craigie, who be-came the owner of the property in 1793. He had given valuable service during the Revolutionary War, acting as an ” apothecary-general ” in the Continental Army. He was a man of wealth, and his home was the popular resort for people of note from all parts of the country. During his later years he lost all his money, and his widow was compelled to rent rooms to Harvard students. In this way Edward Everett became a resident of the house.
The builder of the mansion was John Vassall. In 1760, when he occupied the house, it was surrounded by a park of one hundred and fifty acres. Soon after the beginning of the war he went to Boston, and later he removed to England, for his sympathies were with the Crown. Accordingly, in 1778, the property was declared forfeited to the State.
But the estate really became public property three years before this, when a regiment, under the command of Colonel Glover, pitched its tents in the park. In July, 1775, Washington made the house his headquarters, remaining until April 4, 1776.
During these months the house was a busy place. Officers gathered here both for business, and for pleasure. Military conferences and court-martials were held in the large room in the second story which was later used by Longfellow as a study. Dinners and entertainments were frequent; these provided a needed safety valve during the weeks of anxious waiting near the British line. Mrs. Washington was a visitor here, thus giving to her husband the taste of home life which he was unwilling to take during the Revolution by making a visit to his estate at Mt. Vernon.
On one of the early days of the Commander-in-Chief’s occupancy of the house, he wrote this entry in his carefully-kept account book :
” July 15, 1775, Paid for cleaning the House which was provided for my Quarters, and which had been occupied by the Marblehead regiment, .£2 10s. 9d.”
The day before this entry was made General Green wrote to Samuel Ward :
His Excellency, General Washington, has arrived amongst us, universally admired. Joy was visible in every countenance, and it seemed as if the spirit of conquest breathed through the whole army. I hope I shall be taught, to copy his example, and to prefer the love of liberty, in this time of public danger to all the soft pleasures of domestic life, and support ourselves with manly fortitude amidst all the dangers and hardships that attend a state of war. And I doubt not, under the General’s wise direction, we shall establish such excellent order and strictness of discipline as to invite victory to attend him wherever he goes.”
A council of war was held in the upstairs room on August 3, 1775. After this council General Sullivan wrote to the New Hampshire Committee of Safety :
” To our great surprise, discovered that we had not powder enough to furnish half a pound a man, exclusive of what the people have in their homes and cartridge boxes. The General was so struck that he did not utter a word for half as hour.”
Further hints of the serious straits caused by the lack of ammunition were contained in a letter of Elias Boudinot. He said that at the time there were fourteen miles of line to guard, so that Washington did not dare fire an Evening or Morning Gun. ” In this situation one of the Committee of Safety for Massachusetts . . . deserted and went over to General Gage, and discovered our poverty to him. The fact was so incredible, that General Gage treated it as a stratagem of war, and the informant as a Spy, or coming with the express purpose of deceiving him & drawing his Army into a Snare, by which means we were saved from having our Quarters beaten up. . . ”
The strange inactivity of the British in the face of the unpreparedness of the Continental troops was remarked in a letter written to Congress on January 4, from Headquarters :
” It is not in the pages of history, perhaps, to furnish a case like ours. To maintain a post within musket shot of the enemy, for six months together, without [powder], and at the same time to disband one army, and recruit another, within that distance of twenty odd British regiments, is more, probably, than was ever attempted.”
Today visitors are free to roam through the rooms that echoed to the tread of Washington and his generals, in which the children played in Longfellow’s day, and where the poet wrote so many of his messages that have gone straight to the hearts of millions.