AS I KNEW HIM
Our family Bible, in the record just between the Old and the New Testaments, has this entry: “Thomas DeWitt, Born January 7, 1832.” I was the youngest of a family of twelve children, all of whom lived to grow up except the first, and she was an invalid child.
I was the child of old age. My nativity, I am told, was not heartily welcomed, for the family was already within one of a dozen, and the means of support were not superabundant. I arrived at Middlebrook, New Jersey, while my father kept the toll-gate, at which business the older children helped him, but I was too small to be of service. I have no memory of residence there, except the day of departure, and that only emphasised by the fact that we left an old cat which had purred her way into my affections, and separation from her was my first sorrow, so far as I can remember.
In that home at Middlebrook, and in the few years after, I went through the entire curriculum of infantile ailments. The first of these was scarlet fever, which so nearly consummated its fell work on me that I was given up by the doctors as doomed to die, and, according to custom in those times in such a case, my grave clothes were completed, the neighbours gathering for that purpose. During those early years I took such a large share of epidemics that I have never been sick since with anything worthy of being called illness. I never knew or heard of anyone who has had such remarkable and unvarying health as I have had, and I mention it with gratitude to God, in whose “hand our breath is, and all our ways.”
The “grippe,” as it is called, touched me at Vienna when on my way from the Holy Land, but I felt it only half a day, and never again since.
I often wonder what has become of our old cradle in which all of us children were rocked! We were a large family, and that old cradle was going a good many years. I remember just how it looked. It was old-fashioned and had no tapestry. Its two sides and canopy were of plain wood, but there was a great deal of sound sleeping in that cradle, and many aches and pains were soothed in it. Most vividly I remember that the rockers, which came out from under the cradle, were on the top and side very smooth, so smooth that they actually glistened. But it went right on and rocked for Phoebe the first, and for DeWitt the last.
There were no lords or baronets or princes in our ancestral line. None wore stars, cockade, or crest. There was once a family coat-of-arms, but we were none of us wise enough to tell its meaning. Do our best, we cannot find anything about our forerunners except that they behaved well, came over from Wales or Holland a good while ago, and died when their time came. Some of them may have had fine equipages and postilions, but the most of them were sure only of footmen. My father started in life belonging to the aristocracy of hard knuckles and homespun, but had this high honour that no one could despise: he was the son of a father who loved God and kept His commandments. Two eyes, two hands, and two feet were the capital my father started with.