[Note.—In preparing this volume I have carefully examined all the literature contemporary and posthumous relating to Mr. Webster. I have not gone beyond the printed material, of which there is a vast mass, much of it of no value, but which contains all and more than is needed to obtain a correct understanding of the man and of his public and private life. No one can pretend to write a life of Webster without following in large measure the narrative of events as given in the elaborate, careful, and scholarly biography which we owe to Mr. George T. Curtis. In many of my conclusions I have differed widely from those of Mr. Curtis, but I desire at the outset to acknowledge fully my obligations to him. I have sought information in all directions, and have obtained some fresh material, and, as I believe, have thrown a new light upon certain points, but this does not in the least diminish the debt which I owe to the ample biography of Mr. Curtis in regard to the details as well as the general outline of Mr. Webster’s public and private life.]
CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH.
No sooner was the stout Puritan Commonwealth of Massachusetts firmly planted than it began rapidly to throw out branches in all directions. With every succeeding year the long, thin, sinuous line of settlements stretched farther and farther away to the northeast, fringing the wild shores of the Atlantic with houses and farms gathered together at the mouths or on the banks of the rivers, and with the homes of hardy fishermen which clustered in little groups beneath the shelter of the rocky headlands. The extension of these plantations was chiefly along the coast, but there was also a movement up the river courses toward the west and into the interior. The line of northeastern settlements began first to broaden in this way very slowly but still steadily from the plantations at Portsmouth and Dover, which were nearly coeval with the flourishing towns of the Bay. These settlements beyond the Massachusetts line all had one common and marked characteristic. They were all exposed to Indian attack from the earliest days down to the period of the Revolution. Long after the dangers of Indian raids had become little more than a tradition to the populous and flourishing communities of Massachusetts Bay, the towns and villages of Maine and New Hampshire continued to be the outposts of a dark and bloody border land. French and Indian warfare with all its attendant horrors was the normal condition during the latter part of the seventeenth and the first quarter of the eighteenth century. Even after the destruction of the Jesuit missions, every war in Europe was the signal for the appearance of Frenchmen and savages in northeastern New England, where their course was marked by rapine and slaughter, and lighted by the flames of burning villages. The people thus assailed were not slow in taking frequent and thorough vengeance, and so the conflict, with rare intermissions, went on until the power of France was destroyed, and the awful danger from the north, which had hung over the land for nearly a century, was finally extinguished.