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Monday, March 4, 2019

St. John Honeywood
Salem Poet, Artist, Lawyer, Educator

Author photo
By William A. Cormier
Salem Historian

History in Stone

In 1976, the year of our country’s Bicentennial, I wrote a short biography about St. John Honeywood, Salem’s poet laureate. A recently published book in which he is mentioned has rekindled my interest in telling the rest of the story.

In an unheralded grave in the Salem Revolutionary War Cemetery lies the body of Salem’s finest 18thcentury poet, artist, intellectual, educator, politician, lawyer, and newspaper editor. His gravestone speaks these words: “In Memory of St. John Honeywood, Esq., Who Died Sept. 1, 1798, Aged 36 yrs.” The epitaph on the stone is a poem written by Scottish poet, James Thomson. It reads: “The wintry blast of death, Kills not the buds of virtue, No—they spread beneath the heavenly beam, Of brighter suns thro’ endless ages, Into higher powers.” These few short words do not give the casual visitor to his grave a full understanding of St. John Honeywood’s life. On this the two hundred and twentieth anniversary of his death, his importance, not only to Salem but to the entire country, deserves to “spread thro’ endless ages.


St. John Honeywood was born in Leicester, Massachusetts on February 1, 1763, to “Dr. John Honeywood, a respectable physician in that town, of English Birth. His mother was Elizabeth, daughter of Judge Thomas Steele (Harvard 1730) and Mary of Leicester. In the record of his birth, he is named John.” According to a history paper presented by the Salem Historical Society in 1955, Dr. Honeywood, initially a Tory sympathizing with England, later became a surgeon in the Continental Army, dying at Fort Ticonderoga in November of 1776. The history paper makes no mention of his mother, but other sources tell us that his mother died in 1768, Honeywood becoming “an orphan at age thirteen.” Also, it appears that Honeywood was not taken in by his maternal grandfather Judge Steele whose wife Mary had died on January 28, 1768. A sympathetic aunt in Leicester took him in and appears to have had his education at heart. His Yale biography states that he was “prepared for college at the famous school of Master Tisdale, in Lebanon, Connecticut.” Could Judge Steele have fulfilled his family obligation by financially helping Honeywood’s aunt to raise him and to pay the tuition?


A note of interest is that later in his life at Yale he is listed as Sanctus-Johannes Honeywood, perhaps an indication of his love for Latin, in the Class of 1782 in Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College. Here he became the favorite of Rev. Dr. Ezra Stiles, President of Yale College, and lived with Dr. Stiles and his children, Style’s wife having died in 1775. As a favorite of Styles, Honeywood’s college life is noted in the Diary of Dr. Ezra Stiles. The following is attributed to Salem research historian Harry E. Cole, who had at least one relative who related her knowledge about Honeywood to him. Cole addressed the Salem Woman’s Club on February 27, 1935:

Rev. Ezra Stiles
Samuel King
Courtesy Yale Library Digital Collection

“First mention: Dr. Ezra Stiles in his diary, under the date Oct. 26, 1779, says he appointed Honeywood as waiter in the Hall for last half of year. Second, Honeywood had room No. 8, back, in what is known as South Middle College—this was his sophomore year and there were 30 members in the class. Third, The Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles by Dexter contains a pencil sketch of President Stiles by Honeywood, Dec. 30, 1780—used as frontispiece; also to face page 353 a full-page portrait of George Welles, Captain of Students’ Company at the invasion of New Haven (with view of college buildings then standing) this was by Honeywood and done in watercolors."

In 1780 again Honeywood is appointed as waiter in Hall—there were 44 commons and three waiters. Dr. Stiles sets down 23 November 1786 that Honeywood of the junior class received his share of the Latin and Greek classics in full of his part of Dean Berkeley’s premiums for declamation. In June 1781 Honeywood had room No. 1 W. in south Middle college. May 3d, 1782 Dr. Stiles appointed Honeywood to be valedictorian of his class. July 19, 1782, Honeywood delivered his valedictory oration in Latin. A note says that ‘a beautifully written copy of the oration is preserved among Dr. Stiles’ papers.’” It has as frontispiece an elaborate drawing in India ink of the collage buildings and portraits of Dr. Stiles and the author. Sept. 11, 1782 Dr. Stiles conferred the degree of Bachelor of Arts upon 36 persons—the graduating class. ‘The candidates paid me about 4 Dolls. Each, one or two short. Among them were 30 Guineas & a half Joe. I conferred 53 degrees in the Arts, of which gratis.’ Honeywood was one of the gratis ones.”

The Cole paper, capturing entries from Abiel Holmes’ book The Life of Stiles, continued to summarize entries relating Stiles’ visit to the Washington County area a few years later. Dr. Stiles, as a missionary attempting to convert the Indians to Christianity, often visited the local Indian tribes. One event is mentioned in the following text.

Sunday Oct. 8th, 1786, Honeywood met Dr. Stiles at Fort Edward where Dr. Stiles preached. ‘Mr. Honeywood took picture of the Grasshopper, Sachem of the Onayda Nation: who solemnly & publickly adopted Mr. Honeywood into the Oneida & Tuscarara Nations by the Name of Yohowaunha—a great Rode[road]—by which Indians might travel into Immortality, by Painting.’ Oct. 10, 1786, Mr. Stiles was a guest of Mr. Honeywoods’ at White Creek or Salem. 11th, spent day with Mr. Honeywood and Mr. Savages [Hon. Edward and family. His son, John, later became Chief Justice of New York State Supreme Court]. 12th, to Cambridge, 13thwith Mr. Honeywood visited Bennington Battlefield [Walloomsac, NY]. 14th, parted with Mr. Honeywood. Honeywood wrote his recollections of this journey and they are given in Holmes’ Life of Stiles, pp. 296-301.”

The Cole paper goes on to note that Honeywood was in college with some notable graduates: “Chancellor of New York James Kent, Class of 1781; Israel Smith, Class of 1781, United States Senator and Governor of Vermont; Roger Griswold, Class of 1780, Governor of Connecticut; David Daggett, United States Senator; and John cotton Smith, Supreme Court Justice and Governor of Connecticut.” But, Honeywood was not to be left off the list of notables.

While a student at Yale, and later in his career, Honeywood showed his artistic sketching and oil painting talent. While at Yale he completed pen and ink sketches of Dr. Ezra Stiles and his daughter Elizabeth, and at least one of the Yale buildings; his artwork in addition to his Valedictorian speech are held in the Yale Library. After graduation in 1782, his intellectual talents led to the position of principal of the Schenectady Academy that later in 1795 would become Union College. He left the Academy after two years, becoming a law student and working in the law office of Judge Peter Waldron Yates, from 1784-1786. During this time, he completed a watercolor of the Yates house that was built adjacent to the mansions of Col. Philip Van Rensselaer and General Philip Schuyler. Over the ensuing years, the ownership of the Yates’ mansion changed often, and due to neglect, most likely, the house was razed in 1864—a Methodist Church erected on the site. In 1913, the church, in turn, was razed and the Philip Schuyler High School built on the site. When Honeywood completed his law apprenticeship, with Judge Yates, he moved to Salem.


Harry Cole in his continuing talk to the Woman’s Club told of St. John Honeywood’s 1786 arrival in Salem where he would practice law for the rest of his life. Cole went on to say, “His personality, charm, and intellect soon made him friends with Salem’s prestigious families: the Williams, the Savages, the Russells, the Turners, the Fitches, and the Proudfits, and to become a member of the New England Church, the Brick Church, where he took advantage of the social life.” Told to Cole was this tale by his Great Aunt Archibald:

“Delighting in the society of the young ladies, he was an ever welcome guest at their homes. One young lady particularly engaged his fancy and one summer’s evening the young people returning from a stroll entered the dining room of the fair one’s home—both hungry. The young lady brought forth a wheaten loaf and knife, and handed them to Mr. Honeywood; but said he, ‘I do not know how to slice the loaf; neither do I returned the fair one’—whereupon each gazed at the other and the realization come to both that two such impracticable persons had best see but little of each other and the promising romance was all off—so it would seem both were practical people—in one way.”

Practicality was what he needed and practicality was what he found in 1788 when he met and “married Clarissa, the daughter of Colonel and Hannah Mosely of Westfield, Massachusetts.” Cole quoted Great Aunt Archibald again: “And I am sure from little things I have learned that Clarissa was ‘practical’ and as the sixth daughter in a large family was doubtless well versed in all housewife duties.” “Their Salem home,” according to the notes of Dr. Asa Fitch Jr., was “first a plank house between John Farrar & the Red House” at Fitch’s Point [on State Route 29].

“Honeywood then had a house built on property situated near a crossroad going west through the now Albert Sheldon Potato Farm from State Route 22.” The road ran across White Creek toward the lower base of the existing Evergreen Cemetery. This road no longer exists but can be seen on the map of Salem in the Atlas of Washington County, 1866. According to an Indenture filed in Book C-2 and D in the Real Property Office and a mortgage document held in the County Archives of Washington County, Honeywood purchased a half-acre of land in Lot 191 from Andrew Lytaal (Lytle) in 1792. At the same time, he took out a mortgage on the house built on this parcel. Since Honeywood lacked manual skills, Andrew’s son, Andrew Jr., who was a carpenter and built the large tavern known as the Pines. most likely built the house on the property. South of the former road is the Hon. Edward Savage old brick house. “Cordial visits with the nearby Savages and other families most likely made the newcomers welcomed.”

Honeywood died on September 1, 1798, at his home and Widow Clarissa, whom it appears also went by the name of Sally, a name used in his May 30, 1798 will. Sally married two years later according to the Town and Vital Records of Massachusetts; the marriage record shows a Sally [Clarissa] Honeywood marrying a Thomas Moore, Esq. at Westfield on December 10, 1800.

Public Servant

In addition to Honeywood’s law practice, he had many other accomplishments while living in Salem. A Classical Academy had been organized in 1780 under the leadership of Rev. Thomas Watson, and shortly after Honeywood arrive in Salem, he became the second principal of the Classical Academy and was in charge in 1790. According to Dr. A. C. Abbott, using the notes of an interview between Dr. Asa Fitch Jr. and John Savage II, dated April 17, 1849, John Savage II was taught by Honeywood in his own house located a quarter mile south of the Savage home on the turnpike. Under the leadership of General John Williams, Honeywood was one of the signers on the petition to the New York Board of Regents to charter the academy. On February 15, 1791, the Salem Washington Academy became the fourth incorporated academy in New York State.

Salem Washington Academy 1789
Courtesy Salem Archives
The Salem town officials appointed him as one of its Wardens in 1792, and in 1796 he was elected by the New York Legislature as one of 12 Federalist Presidential Electors, casting a ballot for John Adams and Thomas Pinckney. John Adams became the second president of the United States, but Thomas Jefferson, based on the election rules at that time, became the vice president by winning the second most electoral votes. Honeywood’s legal prowess resulted in his being appointed a Master of the Chancery of the New York State Chancery Court (today’s Court of Appeals). On February 24, 1797, he resigned his Chancery position when the “Governor and Council of New York State appointed him county clerk.” He held that position until October 9, 1798, less than one year—a term perhaps cut short by ill health. Among his clerking duties, he, on May 2, 1798, clerked the county court proceedings that launched the Union Library, the first library in Fort Edward, and the second in Washington County.

The Press

A strong advocate of the political written word, he was in full support of George Gerrish who published Salem’s first newspaper, named The Times or National Courier on June 18, 1794. Honeywood sent an article to the newspaper for its first issue that read in part, “The citizen’s address to his countrymen on the opening of the first printing press in the County of Washington.” It continued, “It is with great satisfaction, I congratulate you, my worthy fellow-citizens, on the establishment of a printing press in this place.” In Honeywood’s typical Latin flourish, he added a Latin phrase: Quis novus hic hospes? Virgil. (Who is this new host?) The article ends optimistically with, “We wish to see him as our printer, rise superior to all local and partial considerations and pursue, as the object of his labors, the instruction, and happiness of mankind.” Honeywood’s support and wishes went for naught; the National Courier, the county’s first newspaper, failed in January 1795.

Undaunted, Honeywood took on the challenge and with William W. Wands, the former publisher of the American Spy printed in Lansingburg, published the Washington Patrolon May 27, 1796. Again a Latin motto graced the newspaper: “Nullius addictus jurare in verba jagistri,” (Horace Epistola 1, 14) or “Impartial and uninfluenced.” Honeywood’s optimistic philosophy as a newspaperman became obvious in a long poem he printed in the first issue of the “Washington Patrol.” The last three lines of the poem sum up his plea: “Co-patriots dear! of every sex and age, Whom chance may lead to view this humble page, Protect our press—expose a stranger’s part, And deign to foster Learning’s favorite art; With candor read, nor too severely blame—is all we ask, who dare not hope for fame.” But fate was not friendly to Honeywood any more than it was to Gerrish. According to a historical article written by Larry-House in 2001 about William W. Wands, “the paper was discontinued because of a fire that destroyed the office.” The second effort to establish a newspaper in the county had failed within a year. Despite this failure, Honeywood’s intellectual stature was not diminished.

Religious Affiliation

The strong Presbyterian influence on religious life in Salem did not by-pass St. John Honeywood. He and his wife were members of the First Incorporated Presbyterian Congregation, known locally as the New England Church. Two church structures had been built on West Broadway; the first wooden structure, unfinished, became Fort Salem and was burned by British Tories and Indians in the late summer or early fall of 1777 when the town was vacated in fear of English General John Burgoyne’s army. The second wooden church was built around 1784. Honeywood was one of the signers calling Rev. John Warford to Salem in 1787. Up to this time, no ordained minister led the congregation. The Barrow engraving shows the orientation of the wooden New England Presbyterian Church, left center its entrance facing North Main Street; Salem Washington Academy on the far left; the Washington County Courthouse, upper center; and the General John Williams estate on the right. This was Honeywood’s Salem.
View of Salem in 1793 
Thomas Barrow
Courtesy Salem Archives  

Correspondingly, after the war, Free Masonry in Washington County took root. St. John Honeywood became the Master of Rural Lodge No. 32 on September 4, 1793, in neighboring Cambridge where he was Master for one year. By 1796, he had become a member of the North Star Lodge, No 51 that had been organized on September 7, 1796. The lodge was located in Salem and its membership was made up of Salem’s most prestigious men. Among them were General John Williams, Abram Allen, M.D., Hon. Asa Fitch Sr., Hon. James Savage, and Hon. Cornelius L. Allen among others.

Honeywood was also among the early buyers in 1792 of Brown’s Family Bible printed in English and the first Bible printed in the State of New York. The title page described the Bible thus: “The Self-Interpreting Bible, containing the sacred text of the Old and New Testaments translated from the Original Tongues, and with former translations diligently compared and Revised.” The book contained a list of 1,500 subscribers of which “George Washington, Esq. President of the United States” was first on the list. In addition to St. John Honeywood Esq. Attorney at Law, other notable Salem subscribers were “Mrs. Mary Collins, John Conger, Alexander Gault, John Lytle, Daniel Mattison, Moses Martin, Alexander Matthews, Adam Mitchel, John McAllister, Nathan Morgan, Rev. James Proudfit, Edward Savage, Col. David Thomas, and General John Williams.

The Artist

St. John Honeywood’s love of Latin, poetry, and art was a gift to him and to the public. His artwork, pen and ink sketches and paintings, captured people and scenes dear to him. Among the artwork held in the town of Salem archives is a facsimile of a 1786 sketch identifying Dr. Ezra Stiles and his first wife Elizabeth. I believe this Elizabeth to be misidentified. His first wife Elizabeth died in 1775, and this woman, I think is Ezra’s daughter, Elizabeth. Artwork housed at Yale are sketches of Ezra Stiles dated 1780, of Rabbi Issac Kerigal, of a college building, of a chart of Delaware Bay, an allegorical sketch of the Stiles’ family with caption, “While Faith with lifted hand Points to my Kindred in yon blissful skies;” of a medallion portrait of Ezra Stiles at age 59, and of a vignette of one of Stiles’ son. Found in the Literary Diary of Dr. Ezra Stilesis a drawing of Cpt. George Welles, commander of the Student Militia Company involved in the defense of New Haven in 1779. The frontispiece of St. John Honeywood’s 1782 valedictorian speech is one of his early pieces of artwork—“an elaborate drawing in India ink of the college buildings depicting a boy receiving a diploma from what appears to be Athena, the Greek Goddess of Wisdom, a medallion sketch of what appears to be Dr. Yates at the page top, and on the side, a sketch of what appears to be Honeywood on a Greek column.

Honeywood, while attending law school continued painting. The Albany Institute of History & Art holds a black and white photo of the original watercolor of the 1790 Yates Mansion painted by Honeywood. The photo was sent to the Institute by Mrs. Catherine Roosevelt Hale of Akron in 1909. According to an Albany Institute sheet No. 6626, the last known owner of the original was Mrs. Edward Osmer, now deceased, of Cayuhoga Falls, NY. The mystery of lost works continues.

Salem 1785
Courtesy Salem archives
Honeywood while in Salem produced a 1789 oil painting of the first Salem Washington Academy where he became its second principal and produced the oil painting entitled “Salem 1795,” showing the militia drilling in uniform as well as others on the village Main Street. The original training day oil painting, unfortunately, fell into private hands, its fate presently unknown. However, housed in the Salem historical archives are black and white engravings as well as a color photograph of the original taken by historian Robert Thompson at the home of James Burden of Locust Valley, New York, the last known owner in 1969. According to the Fitch journals, Honeywood was a close friend of Dr. Abram Allen, a friendship perhaps brought about by Honeywoods’ frail health. Studying anatomy with Dr. Allen, he “made drawings of the arteries, & c. which were long reserved in Dr. Allen’s office & and were abt. as exact & handsome as engravings.”

A sheet of etchings, dated 1798, the year of Honeywood’s death, seems worth mentioning because the etchings are so disparate from his usual art. The sheet contains a variety of drawings, perhaps a compilation of important events in his life: a boy feeding a goose, a boy riding a horse with the sun above, a sword with boots and a lantern (could this sword represent the ornamental sword given to Daniel Shays by General Lafayette in 1780?) (could the lantern represent that of the Greek philosopher Diogenes looking for an honest man?), a primitive seesaw with a male figure raising a female figure with the word Tush next to it higher than the man, a Jew’s harp with the word Ku (a Yiddish word for cow), a medallion with an imprinted head and motto “Captain Mohawk Hokus Pocus,” and a three-note musical scale. The rest of the drawings are macabre: a beheaded person with the title Kaughnawauga (a 17th century Caughnawaga Mohawk Indian Village), a building on fire (perhaps the Washington Patrol office), a butter churn with a severed had attached to it, a hand with three severed fingers (perhaps representing the torture of St. Isaac Jogues by the Mohawks in 1642), and a body, missing its feet, with a knife in it. Completing the array are some Greek words, some Arabic letters, and the word Slocum. Only Honeywood would know what these symbols really mean. Could these have been his last works?

Poetry and Prose

What has not escaped Salem, or the literary world, are Honeywood’s personal writings and writings about him. Although unschooled as a painter, Honeywood honed his Greek and Latin literary skills at Master Nathan Tisdale’s classical school in Lebanon, Connecticut and later at Yale.

His prose and poems are found in the 1801 book Poems by St. John Honeywood, published by T. & J. Swords, No. 99 Pearl Street, 1801, New York. The decision to publish the poems posthumously was made by his widow Clarissa and her second husband Mr. Thomas Moore, Esq., as editor. In a long preface Editor Moore quotes a narrative from Honeywood found within Holmes’ Life of Stiles, by the Rev. Abiel Holmes, describing a journey from Salem taken by Dr. Stiles and Honeywood to the 1777 Bennington Battlefield where Count Baum and his Brunswick German soldiers met defeat.

“Here occurred an instance of the President’s [Stiles] humanity. At one of the houses where we called to inquire concerning the battle, a gentleman showed us several human bones which had been picked up in the fields….” Stiles moved by the emotion of the event then offered to pay the man’s servant to give the bones a proper burial. Honeywood is also quoted as saying “While I am among the tombs, let me tell you we paid a visit to the grave of the Count de Baum. He lied buried hard by the river’s brink, and a little rising of the turf alone distinguishes his grave. We were disappointed to see the grave of this great commander so wretchedly neglected, and first thought of opening a subscription for the purpose of erecting a decent stone; but being informed that his mother is living in Germany, the President adopted the resolution of writing to her through the channel of Sir William Home.”

Editor Moore ends his preface by describing Honeywood’s personality and character.

“He had all that eccentricity which is supposed to characterize strong genius with a fund of genuine humour, and a lively and rapid conception, his great acquaintances to whom his society was an unfailing source of amusement and instruction. His mind was stored with sound learning and various knowledge; and possessed of an excellent heart, the most acute sensibility, a high sense of honour, and incorruptible integrity, he was fitted to be the delight of his associates.“
“With feelings alive to every impression, and a fancy ardent and active, it is not surprising that he should have been sometimes absent, wayward and inconsistent, and even petulant and capricious. He who at one moment has boldly marched to the cannon’s mouth, may, at another, tremble at a pop-gun. These occasional weaknesses of temper are too often allied to genius; and they are of little account when weighed against the general merit of such a character of Mr. Honeywood.”

As noble a gesture as it was for Moore to publish Honeywood’s writings, the Honeywood-Moore marriage soon failed. According to the Journals of Dr. Asa Fitch Jr., Moore “squandered the little property left to her, and when he [Moore] died, being utterly destitute, she wrote to his wealthy relatives for assistance, & obt.[ained]some $5-600.00, her 3rd husband was a son [James] of Duncan Campbell, of Argyle, N.Y., she outlived her 3rdhusb.[and] & left no children by her last 2 marriages.” In fact, no children were born to any of the marriages.

Honeywood had many talents, but physical strength and farming were not included. Moore related that Honeywood suffered from “An hereditary gout, and a general disability, occasional, probably, by a too sedentary life.” Correspondingly, Fitch in his journals further confirms Honeywoods’ frail constitution. He quotes Rufus Coon who describes Honeywood in an unflattering manner: “[Honeywood] was one of the weakest, most effeminate men that ever lived hereabouts, adding that, although he built the house occ.[upied] by William A. Russell, his wrists were so weak that he was unable to turn the knobs of the doors, to open them.”

Salem Historian Harry Cole speaking before the Salem Woman’s Club in 1935 related the following anecdote recorded by Dr. Asa Fitch Jr, showing the impractical nature of the poet-scholar.

“One Mrs. Clarissa [Honeywood] was going back to Massachusetts for a visit to her father’s home. Before starting on the then long journey, she called her husband’s attention to the necessity of feeding the litter of promising little pigs confined in the sty a distance from the house. ‘Mr. Honeywood,’ said the wife, ‘I have placed the feed, the ground corn, in bags in the shed, and you are to give them each day-twice each day –just so many measures of the meal and no more.’ Like all dutiful husbands the man probably said ‘Yes, my dear.’ but everyone knows that though a poet may be a great scholar and accomplished in a dozen ways, still the possession of genius, a warm heart, a dedicated and refined sensibility do not lend to make a man a successful tender of livestock. Mr. Honeywood did attend to the wants of the youthful swine faithfully for several days, both as to feeding and watering, but finding the task irksome and believing he might escape the ignoble duty by giving them the entire ration of meal at one time and letting them help themselves thereto, he proceeded to dump the contents of all the sacks into the trough and onto the floor of the pen and thereupon ceased his daily visits to what was to have been the winter’s supply of meat in that house. Mrs. Clarissa, on the return home, discovered the pigs had gorged themselves upon the provender so generously provided and all were quite dead.”

A Legacy Renewed

Despite a lack of certain practical skills, Honeywood excelled in the written word, often in Latin, reflecting his political, social, religious, cultural, and matrimonial obligations. The book Poems by St. John Honeywoodcontains 24 poems reflecting local, national and world events, and three long prose pieces: an address given at the Feast of St. John the Baptist at the Union Lodge in Albany, a treatise on the precepts of Christianity and Masonic philosophy; “The Shaking Quakers,” an unflattering description of their religious practices; and “The Cahoos Falls,” a tale about an Indian tragedy. His longest poem, “On General Washington’s Declining a Re-election to the Presidency of the United States,” is a tribute to General George Washington on his passing on a third term as president. For this Honeywood became known as the President’s poet.

On the local scene, Honeywood wrote poems about people he knew personally. One was about Daniel Shays’ Rebellion. This event was recently revisited in the 2017 book written by Steven D. Butz, detailing the ongoing archeological study of the Daniel Shays’ colony on Egg Mountain, Sandgate, Vermont. A reading of Butz’s book, Shays’ Settlement In Vermont, describes Honeywood’s involvement in the 1786 events and Shays’ connections to Salem and Sandgate.

Courtesy the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association,
Deerfield, MA
Digital Archive.

The tavern photograph shows the William Conkey Tavern in Pelham, Massachusetts. The Conkey family was among the first to come to Salem, and son Joshua Conkey, who was one of the first three pioneers to build his log cabin on what is now Salem’s Main Street, is buried in Salem’s Revolutionary War Cemetery. The Pelham tavern was a popular gathering place for Daniel Shays and his Regulators, but initially, his cause was not popular with Honeywood. According to the notes of Dr. Asa Fitch Jr., Honeywood, “was warmly opposed to the rebellion & its leaders.” In 1787, perhaps enticed by a reward of 150 English pounds for Shays capture by New York Governor Clinton, he formed about 20 boys from Aaron Taft’s School, once located below the cliff at the south end of the cemetery lot [Evergreen], into a military company. Nevertheless, soon after Honeywood attended a secret meeting at which time Judge Nathan Wilson spoke, defending Shay’s rebellion, Honeywood changed his mind and came to the defense of Shay’s and his men. According to historian Dr. Adelbert C. Abbott in his written account, “Daniel Shays, Exemplar of Democracy,” “…a detail of Massachusetts militia appeared and demanded he be surrendered to them. This was too much for our doughty settlers who evidently most ardently supported state’s rights even though their own state government was queasily indifferent. The assembly call of the local militia was sounded and after a sharp exchange of fire the Massachusetts detail retired in disorder.” In addition to this military foray and managing the academy, Honeywood had time for a political epiphany—a change of heart from capturing Shays and his men to defending them in battle and in poetry.

The following poem is a plea by Honeywood to pardon Daniel Shays and his compatriots--a Salem event that Honeywood experienced first- hand.

The Mob-Call, or the Charter of Sedition.

Huzza, my Jo Bunkers! No taxes we’ll pay,
Here’s a pardon for Wheeler, Shays, Parsons and Days,
Put green boughs in your hats and renew the old cause, 
Stop the courts in each county, and bully the laws:
Constitutions and oaths, sir, we mind not a rush,
Such trifles must yield to us lads of the bush;
New laws and new charters our books shall display,
Compos’d by Conventions and Counsellor Grey:
Since Boston and Salem are so haughty have grown,
We’ll make them to know we can let them alone.
Of Glasgow or Pelham we’ll make a sea-port,
And there we’ll assemble our General Court:
Our Governor, now, boys, shall turn out to work,
And live, like ourselves, on molassess and pork:
In Adams or Greenwich he’ll live like a Peer
On three hundred pounds, paper money, a year.
Grand-Jurors, and Sheriffs, and Lawyers we’ll spurn,
As Judges we’ll all take the bench in our turn,
And sit the whole term without pension or fee,
Nor Cushing or Sewal look graver than we.
Our wigs, though they’re rusty, are decent enough,
Our aprons, though black are of durable stuff;
Array’d is such gear, the laws we’ll explain,
That poor people no more shall have cause to complain.
To Congress and impost we’ll plead a release;
The French we can beat half a dozen a piece:
We want not their guineas, their arms or alliance;
And for the Dutchmen, we bid them defiance.
Then huzza, my Jo Bunkers! Not taxes we’ll pay,
Here’s pardon for Wheeler, Shays, Parsons and Day;
Put green boughs in your hats, and renew the old cause,
Stop the courts in each county, and bully the laws.

He wrote about his close friend General John Williams. In the poem “Congress Duelists,” sung to the tune of “Yankee Doodle,” Honeywood condemns the practice of dueling to settle an argument. General Williams, challenged to a duel by his son-in-law General David Thomas over a political difference, judiciously avoided the duel, maintaining good family ties. Alexander Hamilton was not so lucky. In 1956, Historian Dr. Adelbert Abbott further described the incident in his Salem Press article “Code Duello.”

Some of Honeywood’s poems were reproduced in numerous anthologies. His most humorous poem tells the story of “Darby and Joan” a married couple who switch traditional roles, resulting in a better appreciation of what their partner does to maintain the household and the marriage. How prophetic he was. This poem ended up in more than one collection, such as The Ten Books of the Merrymakers edited by Marshall P. Wilder, 1909. 

Darby and Joan

When Darby saw the setting sun
He swung his scythe, and home he run,
Sat down, drank off his quart, and said,
“My work is done, I’ll go to bed.”
“My work is done!” retorted Joan.
“My work is done! Your constant tone;
“But helpless woman ne’er can say,
“My work is done, till judgment-day.
“You men can sleep all night, but we
“Must toil”—“Whose fault is that?” quoth he.
“I know your meaning,” Joan replied,
“But, Sir, my tongue shall not be tied;
“I will go on, and let you know
“What work poor women have to do:
“First, in the morning, though we feel
“As would confine you men to bed,
“We ply the brush, we wield he broom,
“We air the beds, and right the room;
“The cows must next be milk’d—and then
“We get the breakfast for the men.
“Ere this is done, with whimpering cries,
“And bristly hair, the children rise:
“These must be dress’d, and dos’d with rue,
“And fed—and all because of you.
“We next”—Here Darby scratch’d his head,
And stole off grumbling to his bed;
And only said, as on she run, 
“Zounds! Woman’s clack is never done.”

Part II

At early dawn, ere Phoebus rose,
Old Joan resum’d her tale of woes;
When Darby thus—“I’ll end the strife,
“Be you the man and I the wife.
“Take you the scythe and mow, while I
“Will all your boasted cares supply.
“Content, quoth Joan, give me my stint.”
This Darby did, and out she went.
Old Darby rose and seiz’d the broom,
And whirled the dirt about the room, 
Which having done, he scarce knew how,
He hied to milk the brindled cow.
The brindled cow whisk’d round her tail 
In Darby’s eyes, and kicked the pail.
The clown, perplex’d with grief and pain,
Swore he’d ne’er try to milk again.
When turning round, in sad amaze,
He saw his cottage in a blaze,
For as he chanc’d to brush the room
In careless haste, he fir’d the room.
The fire at last subdu’d, he swore
The broom and he would meet no more.
Press’d by misfortune, and perplex’d,
Darby prepar’d for breakfast next;
But what to get he scarcely knew—
The bread was spent, the butter too.
His hands bedaub’d with paste and flour,
Old Darby labour’d full an hour.
But, luckless wight! Thou couldst not make
The bread take form of loaf or cake.
As every door wide open stood,
In push’d he sow in quest of food;
And, stumbling onwards, with her snout
O’erset the churn—the cream ran out.
As Darby turn’d the sow to beat,
The slipp’ry cream betray’d his feet;
He caught the bread trough in his fall,
And down came Darby, trough and all.
The children, waken’d by the clatter,
Start up, and cry, “Oh! what’s the matter?”
Old Jewler bark’d, and Tabby mew’d,
And hapless Darby bawl’d aloud,
“Return, my Joan, as heretofore,
“I’ll play the housewife’s part no more.
“Since now, by sad experience taught,
“Compar’d to thine my work is naught;
“Henceforth, as business calls, I’ll take,
“Content, the plough, the scythe, the rake,
“And never more transgress the line
“Our fates have mark’d, while thou art mine.
“Then Joan, return, as heretofore,
“I’ll vex thy honest soul no more;
“Let’s each our proper task attend—
“Forgive the past, and strive to mend.”

History tells us other stories about Honeywood, but what is presented here gives us a clearer portrait of one of the most brilliant 18th century men who walked the halls of Washington Academy and the streets of Salem. Evidence of his importance and acknowledgment as a writer and poet are found in the 1801 book of poems.

Among a list of 551 contemporaries who purchased his book are distinguished persons: Aaron Burr, Vice President of the United States; Honorable George Clinton, a Governor of New York State; Leonard Gansevoort, prominent New York State political leader; Excellency John Jay, a Governor of New York State and first Chief Justice of the United States; Herman Knickerbocker, a lawyer who served in Congress and New York State Assembly; Abraham D. Lansing, Surrogate of Albany County and later New York State Treasurer; Honorable Robert R. Livingston, Chancellor of the State of New York; and Honorable Jeremiah Van Rensselaer, United States Congressman and Member of the New York State Assembly.

The list goes on, but more important is that you and I now can appreciate St. John Honeywood even more.

About the author: William A. Cormier is the Salem, NY historian


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