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Calvin may be regarded as the great founder and exemplar, — of which Gaspard de Coligny, the generous and gallant admiral, who “ filled the kingdom of France with the glory and terror of his name for the space of twelve years,” was one of the most devoted disciples and one of the most lamented martyrs, and which has furnished to our own land blood every way worthy of being mingled with the best that has ever flowed in the veins either of southern Cavalier or northern Puritan.
He was of that same noble stock which gave three Presidents out of nine to the old Congress of the Confederation; which gave her Laurenses and Marions, her Hugers and Manigaults, her Prioleaus and Gaillards and Legarés to South Carolina; which gave her Jays to New York, her Boudinots to New Jersey, her Brimmers, her Dexters, and her Peter Faneuil, with the Cradle of Liberty, to Massachusetts.
He came from the famous town of Rochelle, which was for so many years the very stronghold and rallying point of Protestantism in France, and which, in 1629, held out so long and so heroically against the siege, which Richelieu himself thought it no shame to conduct in person.
He is said to have been a physician by profession. The mere internal evidence of the paper which I have produced, though the idiom may not be altogether of the latest Parisian, shows him to have been a man of education. While, without insisting on tracing back his pedigree, as others have done, either to Baldwin, Count of Flanders in 862, or to Baldwin the chivalrous King of Jerusalem in 1143, both of whom, it seems, spelled their names precisely as he did, there is ample testimony that he was a man both of family and fortune in his own land.
“I am the eldest descendant," wrote James Bowdoin, the patron of the College within whose precincts we are assembled, “ from one of those unfortunate families which was obliged to fly their native country on account of religion;-a family, which, as I understand, lived in affluence, perhaps elegance, upon a handsome estate in the neighborhood of Rochelle, which at that time (1685) yielded the considerable income of 700 louis d'ors per annum."
This estate was, of course, irrecoverably forfeited by his flight, and at the end of two years of painful and perilous adventure, he landed upon the shores of New England, with no other wealth but a wife and four children, and the freedom to worship God after the dictates of his own conscience.
His petition, which has no date of its own, but which is endorsed 2d August, 1687, was favorably received by Sir Edmund Andros, and the public records in the State department of Massachusetts contain a warrant, signed by Sir Edmund, and directed to Mr. Richard Clements, deputy surveyor, authorizing and requiring him to lay out one hundred acres of vacant land in Casco Bay for Pierre Baudouin, in such place as he should be directed by Edward Tyng, Esq., one of his majesty's council. The warrant bears date October 8, 1687.
Before this warrant was executed, however, Pierre Baudouin had obtained possession of a few acres of land on what is now the high road from Portland to Vaughan's Bridge, a few rods northerly of the house of the Hon. Nicholas Emery. A solitary apple tree, and a few rocks which apparently formed the curbing of a well, were all that remained about twenty years ago, to mark the site of this original dwelling-place of the Bowdoins in America. I know not whether even these could now be found.
In this original dwelling-place, Pierre and his family remained only about two years and a half. He had probably heard of the successful establishment in Boston, a year or two previously, of a Protestant church by some of his fellow fugitives from France. He is likely to have been still more strongly prompted to an early abandonment of this residence, by its extreme exposure to the hostile incursions and depredations of the French and Indians, who were leagued together, at this time, in an attempt to break up the British settlements on this part of the North American continent. And most narrowly, and most providentially, did he escape this peril. On the 17th of May, 1690, the fort at Casco was attacked and destroyed, and a general massacre of the settlers was perpetrated by the Indians. On the 16th, just twentyfour hours previously, Pierre Baudouin and his family had plucked up their stakes and departed for Boston. A race which had survived the Massacre of St. Bartholomew's, and the siege of Rochelle, was not destined to perish thus ignobly in the wilderness! Pierre himself, however, lived but a short time after his arrival at Boston, and his eldest son, James, was left at the age of seventeen years, with the charge of maintaining a mother, a younger brother, and two sisters, in a strange land.
The energy, perseverance, and success with which this trying responsibility was met and was discharged by James Bowdoin (the first of that name in America,) is sufficiently attested by the fact, that he soon rose to the very first rank among the merchants of Boston, that he was chosen a member of the Colonial Council for several years before his death, and that he left to his children, as the fruit of a long life of industry and integrity, the greatest estate which had ever been possessed, at that day, by any one person in Massachusetts ; an estate which I have seen estimated at from fifty to one hundred thousand pounds sterling
Of the two sons, who succeeded equally to the largest part of this estate, James Bowdoin, who will form the principal subject of this discourse, was the youngest.
He was born in Boston on the 7th of August, 1726, and after receiving the rudiments of his education at the South Grammar School of that town, under Master Lovell, he was sent to Harvard College, where he was graduated a Bachelor of Arts in 1745. The death of his father occurred about two years later, and he was thus left with an independent estate just as he had attained to his majority,
It is hardly to be presumed that a young man of twenty-one years of age, of a liberal education, and an ample fortune, would devote himself at once and exclusively to mere mercantile pursuits. Nor am I inclined to believe that he ever gave much practical attention to them. But the earliest letter directed to him, which I find among the family papers, proves that he must have been, at least nominally, engaged in commercial business. It is directed to " Mr. James Bowdoin, Merchant."
This letter, however, has a far higher interest than as merely designating an address. It is dated Philadelphia, Oct. 25, 1750, and is in the following words:
“Sir, — Enclosed with this I send you all my Electrical papers fairly transcribed, and I have, as you desired, examined the copy, and find it correct. I shall be glad to have your observations on them; and if in any part I have not made myself well understood, I will no notice endeavor to explain the obscure passages by letter.
"My compliments to Mr. Cooper and the other gentleman who were with you here. I hope you all got safe home. “I am, Sir, your most humble servant,
The young Bowdoin, it seems, — who at the date of this letter was but four-and-twenty years old, - had made a journey to Philadelphia, (a journey at that day almost equal to a voyage to London at this,) in company with his friend and pastor, the Reverend Samuel Cooper, afterwards the celebrated Dr. Cooper of Brattle Street Church, and having there sought the acquaintance of Dr. Franklin, had so impressed himself upon his regard and respect, that Franklin, in transmitting to him his electrical papers, takes occasion to invite his observations upon them.
Franklin was then at the age of forty-four years, and in the very maturity of his powers. Although he was at this time holding an office connected with the post-office department of the Colonies, as the frank on the cover of this letter indicates, he was already deeply engaged in those great philosophical inquiries and experiments which were soon to place him on the highest pinnacle of fame.
The acquaintance between Franklin and Bowdoin, which had thus been formed at Philadelphia, was rapidly ripened into a most intimate and enduring friendship; and with this letter commenced a correspondence which terminated only with their lives,
At the outset of this correspondence, Bowdoin appears to have availed himself of the invitation to make observations on Franklin's theories and speculations, with somewhat more of independence of opinion than might have been expected from the disparity of their ages. One of his earliest letters (21st Dec. 1751) suggested such forcible objections to the hypothesis, that the sea was the grand source of electricity, that Franklin was led to say in his reply, (24th January, 1752,) —"I grow more doubtful of my former supposition, and more ready to allow weight to that objection, (drawn from the activity of the electric fluid and the readiness of water to conduct) which you have indeed stated with great strength and clearness.” In the following year Franklin retracted this hypothesis altogether. The same letter of Bowdoin's contained an elaborate explication of the cause of the crooked direction of lightning, which Franklin pronounced, in his reply, to be “ both ingenious and solid," adding, “ when we can account as satisfactorily for the electrification of clouds, I think that branch of natural philosophy will be nearly complete.”
In a subsequent letter, Bowdoin suggested a theory in regard to the luminousness of water under certain circumstances, ascribing it to the presence of minute phosphorescent animals, of which Franklin said, in his reply, (13th Dec. 1753,) —“The observations you made of the sea water emitting more or less light in different tracts passed through by your boat, is new, and your mode of accounting for it ingenious. It is, indeed, very possible, that an extremely small animalcule, too small to be visible even by our best glasses, may yet give a visible light.” This theory has since been very generally received.
Franklin soon after paid our young philosopher the more substantial and unequivocal compliment of sending his letters to London, where they were read at the Royal Society, and published in a volume with his own. The Royal Society, at a later day, made Bowdoin one of their fellows; and Franklin, writing to Bowdoin from London, Jan. 13, 1772, says : “ It gives me great pleasure that my book afforded any to my friends. I esteem those letters of yours among its brightest ornaments, and have the satisfaction to find that they add greatly to the reputation of American philosophy.”
But the sympathies of Franklin and Bowdoin were not destined to be long confined to philosophical inquiries. There were other clouds than those of the sky, gathering thickly and darkly around them, and which were about to require another and more practical sort of science, to break their force and rob them of their fires. “ Eripuit cælo fulmen, sceptrumque tyrannis” is the proud motto upon one of the medals which were struck in honor of Franklin. Bowdoin, we shall see, was one of his counsellors and coadjutors in both the processes which secured for him this enviable ascription.