John and Mary Lawton Babcock

John and Mary Lawton Babcock

George and his brother Thomas Lawton were among the earliest colonists on Aquidneck Island, later to become Portsmouth, Rhode Island in 1639. In 1645 George and his wife, the former Elizabeth Hazard, had their third child a girl named Mary, their first two being sons.

By 1662, when Mary was 17, John Babcock was working for her father. John asked for Mary’s hand in marriage, but George thought him to not be a suitable husband for his eldest daughter, and answered in the negative. One night Mary and John eloped in a “borrowed” canoe, and set a course south and west. Finally they came to a river outlet far to the west of their starting point. They proceeded north up the river and came ashore on the east side of it. There they married themselves and settled in as friends of the local Native Americans. This spot ultimately became known as Westerly, Rhode Island on the Connecticut River.

It was several years later that George and Elizabeth heard through Native Americans where their daughter was. George set out, located them, and amends were in order. John died in 1685 after fathering 10 children with Mary. In 1689 she remarried Erasmus Babitt. There are many descendants of this first union alive and well today.

The below poem was written about this.

How oft the scenes of humble suit,

in native beauty bound,

remind us of the golden fruit

set forth on silver ground.

Of genuine love, the mystic bar

since all our hearts are kin,

by setting golden gates ajar,

lets pleasing visions in;

As shell on margin of the mere

will wake a broad refrain,

recalling on the listening ear

the music of the main.

‘Tis thus tradition, by her care,

has fondly handed down

the story of a loving pair,

the founders of a twon.

In summer evenings wont to meet,

they oft were seen to stray

where Newport’s half-cleared single street

led downward to the bay.

Delightful trysts they held about

Aquidneck’s ancient trees,

and oak-browned headlands reaching out

to drink the ocean breeze.

By spray-wet cliff they sauntered long,

or round the elm-clad hill

their thoughts accordant with the song

of wooing whip-or-will.

The outer like the inner calm,

all nature joined their song;

and every object swelled the psalm

their hearts would fain prolong.

Sweet thoughts had they they dared not speak; as flowers by dews caressed,

so moistened was a blooming cheek

by lover’s lips impressed.

E’en common scenes to eyes of love

as blissful visions rise;

all things their forms of beauty prove,

and speak in sweet surprise.

As thus they talked, the mystic tie,

deep felt by all mankind,

warm in the bond of destiny

their hearts together twined.

How wonderfully blind is love

to think itself concealed,

meanwhile in every look and move

the passion is revealed.

But blinder they who do not know

it never makes its trade

by what men’s hands alone bestow,

in scales of traffic weighed.

Nor yet decides from qualities

of face or voice or eye,

but by such hid affinities

as hearts alone descry.

In the devine economy

what secret laws combine,

in happy mystic harmony,

to answer ends divine.

The gaurdians of the gentle maid

dissuasive logic tried,

and, finding this for nothing weighed,

the legal bans denied.

The sire averred, “Except with gain,

with ample deeds of land,

and noble name, ‘tis worse than vain

to seek my daughter’s hand.”

“Let lowly men retain their place,

nor think to rise, in pride,

to those whom fortune by her grace

has nobler rank supplied.”

But otherwise had heaven decreed,

that guides the sparrow’s fall;

the twain would no decision heed

except love’s perfect thrall.

“My all I pledge,” said John, “for thee;

no price I count too great,

that we henceforth as one may be,

ourselves our rich estate;

”Nor Lordly name, nor castles fair,

can life’s best dower control;

God’s will requires us but to share

the gift of soul for soul.”

As face is mirrored true to face

in placid lakelet’s breast,

so answered Mary in her grace,

and both were doubly blest.

The bans were said spite legal bar;

when, harshly shut from home,

they planned their love-lit way afar,

nor wrecked of storm or gloom.

The pinnace sped the bay-shore down,

the rock-fringed isles were passed,

while on the gables of the town

a final look was cast.

By oar and sail, in due relief,

they braved Point Judith’s waves,

on-gliding fearless by the reefs

the wild Atlantic waves.

The bark rode on the ocean lone,

and precious was the freight,

two loving souls transfused in one

with bounding hope elate.

The sea-gull, curving in her flight,

lent her approving lay;

the porpoise, gallant as a knight,

advanced to mark the way.

To southward, swelling billows o’er,

the noonday sunbeams flashed;

to northward, on the beaten shore,

the sounding breakers dashed.

As beauteous as Calypso’s Isle,

Manisses’ Strand appeared,

whose green banks on them cast a smile,

as westward still they steered.

Superior to the waves they met,

they rode the billowy sea,

till, doubling Cape Misquamicut,

they hailed a land-locked lea.

The placid harbor quite unfamed

till opened to voyager’s ken

by Adrian Block, who saw and named

it Oester Riviertjem.

Adown the heavens the weary sun

was bowing to his rest;

along the hills the splendor shone,

the evening’s golden crest.

As sentinels against alarms

the hoary forests stood,

wide stretching out their leafy arms

to shade the tranquil flood.

Far winding down from hill and lea,

from glen and mountain-side,

the Pawcatuck here gave the sea

its sweet and laughing tide.

The fearless eagles sailing high

above the peaceful bay,

beheld with predatory eye

the nimble salmon play.

Amid the rocks that graced the marge,

the otter looked amazed;

upon the bank a stag moose large

his antlered forehead raised.

Upon the stream the wanderers move

past cape and bluff and rock,

attracted to a sheltered cove

that drank Mastuxet Brook;

Where rounded knoll and curving vale

and winding currents meet,

delightful scene of stream and dale,

the red man’s fond retreat.

The safe and famous rendezvous

red warriors chose of yore,

fit harbor for the war canoes,

when battle days were o’er.

The painted wild men on the strand,

alive to love’s soft charm,

extend the hospitable hand,

allaying all alarm.

“Stay, friends,” says the Niantic chief;

“free to our valley come;

my wigwam offers you relief,

nor think to farther roam.”

“Here rear your hut, here bend your bow,

here join us in the chase;

my tribe will only kindness show

the bride of pallid face.”

“Your welcome we accept,” said John;

“We happy here would stay;

for what of favor you have shown,

with hooks and beads we pay.”

“Alike your words are kind and brave,

a solace to the ear;

your heart is kin to him who gave

to Roger Williams cheer.”

Thus rest the wanderers obtained

from royal Ninigret,

whose steadfast service ne’er profaned

the sacred calumet.

Along the hills the aged wood

bowed to the settler’s stroke,

and forth a rude log cabin stood

that upward curled its smoke.

Down mid the cedars, winding slow,

‘neath cooling canopy,

round roots and rocks, the brook hummed low

its soothing minstrelsy.

At hand the native eglantine

and lily breathed perfume;

while o’er the door the fruitful vine

put forth its virgin bloom.

Beneath the eaves the swallow hung

her moss-lined house of clay;

the robin on the maple sung

the rosy peep of day.

Clad in the robes the wild beasts wore,

stern bowmen left their trail

to wondering view the cabin door

that smiled upon the vale.

Thus lengthened months rolled by, while not

the voice of kin or friend

was heard to cheer the lonely cot,

or Christian counsel lend.

At last the sire dim understood,

through hunters of the moose,

of strangers in the distant wood

“who had a white papoose”;

When, hastening with an Indian brave

across the wilderness,

he to his exiled daughter gave

A reconciling kiss.

“Forgive the harsh, imperious speech

that drove you from my door;

may heaven your love-lit house enrich

with blessings evermore.”

Though not in pride of outward view,

or inward pomp arrayed,

the smiles of heaven the cabin knew,

and children round it played.

Though in a wild, the child-songs sweet

made every season bright;

the patter of the little feet

made every labor light.

When winter wrapped the woods in snow,

log fires lit up the walls,

to cheeks imparting healthier glow

than known in royal halls.

Secure from the marauding feet

of panther and of bear,

the trap and firelock gave them meat

that barons proud would share.

They borrowed hoods of beaver warm,

while wolf and fox supplied

such robes as met the driving storm,

and biting frosts defied.

At eve and sabbath hours, by choice

the book of books was read;

with humble trust was heard the voice

the present spirit said.

New settlers dared the wild to break;

and build on neighboring height,

whose glowing hearth-fires joined to make

the pagan region light.

But all a suited deference bore

before the pioneers,

who proved that bonds of heart and more

than overmatch for fears;

That love can make a desert bloom,

and ever win its way,

from every spot dispelling gloom

by its enkindling ray.

So heaven upon the lovers smiled,

far in their forest home,

the first to plant the savage wild,

and bid the desert bloom.

From service true in humblest place

what consequences flow,

to give the world new life and grace,

the toilers may not know.

The fields of life the sowers tread

with open, trustful hand;

in season due the seed will spread

its harvests o’er the land.

Two hundred years have sped apace,

and wrought in man’s behoof;

and thousands now their lineage trace

to John and Mary’s roof.

What though no marbles greet our eyes

to speak in their behalf,

the hand of history supplies

their shining epitaph.

Through patient trust and toilsome care

earth’s highest prize is gained;

amid the labors that we bear

is virtue’s strength attained.

To sandaled or unsandaled feet

life’s every path will prove

both smooth and bright, if warmly beat

within us hearts of love.