Under that cloud of doom the sunshine grew dark, and I did not dare to move until a cheery voice called out something about my pretty bonnet, and gave me a sense of companionship in this dreadful, dreadful world. Rose, a large native African, had spoken to me from her place in Squire Horner’s kitchen, and I went home full of solemn resolves and sad forebodings.
This is probably what evangelists would call my conversion, and it came in my third summer. There was a fire in the grate when mother showed Dr. Robt. Wilson, our family physician, a pair of wristbands and collar I had stitched for father, and when they spoke of me as not being three years old—but then I had in my mind the marks of that “great awakening.”
To me, no childhood was possible under the training this indicates, yet in giving that training, my parents were loving and gentle as they were faithful. Believing in the danger of eternal death, they could but guard me from it, by the only means of which they had any knowledge.
Before the completion of that momentous third year of life, I had learned to read the New Testament readily, and was deeply grieved that our pastor played “patty cake” with my hands, instead of hearing me recite my catechism, and talking of original sin. During that winter I went regularly to school, where I was kept at the head of a spelling-class, in which were young men and women. One of these, Wilkins McNair, used to carry me home, much amused, no doubt, by my supremacy. His father, Col. Dunning McNair, was proprietor of the village, and had been ridiculed for predicting that, in the course of human events, there would be a graded, McAdamized road, all the way from Philadelphia to Pittsburg, and that if he did not live to see it his children would. He was a neighbor and friend of Wm. Wilkins, afterwards Judge, Secretary of War, and Minister to Russia, and had named his son for him. When his prediction was fulfilled and the road made, it ran through his land, and on it he laid out the village and called it Wilkinsburg. Mr. McNair lived south of it in a rough stone house—the manor of the neighborhood—with half a dozen slave huts ranged before the kitchen door, and the gateway between his grounds and the village, as seen from the upper windows of our house, was, to me, the boundary between the known and the unknown, the dread portal through which came Adam, the poor old ragged slave, with whom my nurse threatened me when I did not do as she wished. He was a wretched creature, who made and sold hickory brooms, as he dragged his rheumatic limbs on the down grade of life, until he found rest by freezing to death in the woods, where he had gone for saplings.
I was born on the 6th of December, 1815, in Pittsburg, on the bank of the Monongahela, near its confluence with the Allegheny. My father was Thomas Cannon, and my mother Mary Scott. They were both Scotch-Irish and descended from the Scotch Reformers. On my mother’s side were several men and women who signed the “Solemn League and Covenant,” and defended it to the loss of livings, lauds and life. Her mother, Jane Grey, was of that family which was allied to royalty, and gave to England her nine day’s queen.