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Brewster bids farewell
to a very old friend

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By Charles W. Brewster

Editors Note: C.W. Brewster was a Portsmouth columnist in the mid-1800's. This article includes his opinions and may not reflect current research or current values.

Richard Fitzgerald - His residence - Interview with Com. Hull - His garden - The old rose bush - Love of flowers - Death of husband and wife same day.

Now that Frenchman's Lane ( See previous Ramble) has been opened to us, and its early scenes been made a matter of history, we will turn our ramble to the house in that neighborhood in which the narrator of the events of nearly seventy years ago was born, and in whose memory the tragic scene was deeply imprinted through life.

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Two Perfect Deaths

The last week in November, 1858, Islington street presented the solemn spectacle of a funeral, in which were two hearses in succession, bearing to their last resting place the remains of a husband and wife, who after a pilgrimage together of forty-five years, had together on the same morning, gone upon that long journey from which no traveller has yet returned. It was a realization of the idea of the Scottish bard, touching indeed as the mere fancy of the poet, but deeply thrilling in the reality of this finale:

John Anderson, my jo, John,
We climb the hill thegither;
And many a canty day, John,
We've had wi'ane anither;
Now we maun totter down, John,
But hand in hand we'll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson, my jo.

Mr. Richard Fitzgerald, at the age of eighty-seven, died in the house which his grandfather built, and in which he and his mother were born. This house of two stories, on the west corner of Anthony and Islington streets, is among the antiquities of the west end of the city. It presents a good exterior, showing that it has been occupied by those who have had a proprietorship in it. The timber with which the frame of the house was made, was cut in 1724, from a forest back of it. It was built by Mr. Mead, whose daughter, here born, married Richard Fitzgerald, a tailor, father of the last occupant.

Richard Fitzgerald, Jr., was here born in September, 1771, and occupied the rooms which were his birth place and that of his mother, extending to some years over the long limit of a century.

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A Tale of Isaac Hull

Mr. Fitzgerald was a man of some irritability as well as of independence, free to express his opinions without regard to persons. At the time when Commodore Isaac Hull had the command of our Navy Yard, (the renowned Commodore Hull whose "Victory" has been danced at every ball for the last forty years,) there was occasion for iron as well as copper work for a ship-of-war at the Navy Yard, and Mr. Fitzgerald was among the workers in iron. One day the Commodore looked into Mr. Greenleaf's copper foundry, next east of the Stone church, and found Mr. Fitzgerald roughing out some iron work for a future finish. The Commodore, in his way, turning the rough pieces of iron with his cane, remarked, "What bungling fellow has been at work here?" The son of Vulcan was a little touched, and turning his face up to him who had looked down his thousands, replied: "I don't know what bungling fellow you mean; you may have bungling fellows in your ships, but there are none here. That is just as much as you know about it." The Commodore thought best to make no reply to an old man of the revolutionary stock, and retired. A day or two after he returned to the shop again, and finding Mr. Fitzgerald surrounded by the well finished pieces of shining iron, each neatly adapted to its purpose, the Commodore, touching them with his cane, remarked: "O, this looks finely." "That is just what I told you the other day," said Mr. Fitzgerald, "we have no bunglers here." The Commodore, instead of being displeased, replied with an oath, "You are a good fellow for standing up for your craft."

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The Ancient Rose Bush

Mr. Fitzgerald was never of a roving disposition; content to stay at home, he never but once entered a rail car or a stage coach. By his first wife, who died about fifty years ago, he had six children, most of whom arrived to mature age, but have all been dead for the last twenty years. It is not long since that Mr. Fitzgerald presented to us a handsome cluster of damask roses, from a bush in his garden, which seventy-six years ago he transplanted there with his own hands from the Banfield garden, then a few rods in the rear of where the Journal office is now located. When removed, the bush was well grown, and had probably borne roses before the Revolution. The bush has had his personal care during three-quarters of a century, and when we last saw it, but little more than a year since, it was promising flowers still in its old age. He had a better opportunity for watching the nature of the bush than any professed naturalist. He found that it usually bloomed for six years in succession; then it took a season of rest, dwindled and ceased to bear for three years, and on the fourth it usually came out in fresh vigor, and bloomed again for another six years.

The garden spot which he used to cultivate when a boy, he dug personally every successive year from the age of ten to eighty-six. And during the last summer he might have been seen bending over the soil he loved, with his hoe in hand, banishing the weeds against which he ever felt an enmity. "Stones must grow," said the old gentleman, "for I have picked all the stones out of the garden every year for seventy years, and yet I find a few more every spring." The garden was always a pattern of neatness; and even in the little blacksmith's shop in the garden, the smoke seemed to ascend without blacking the ceiling.

He tilled the soil and cultivated the flowers with a feeling which was above that of mere love of labor, or its pecuniary rewards. A true lover of nature, age rather increased than diminished his admiration of her works. The old gentleman, when bending beneath the weight of years, would hold up some common flower or leaf, and admire in its structure the wisdom of Him who created all things. And that old rose bush: although its flowers came the same year after year, they were as fresh and beautiful in his eye, as when he first beheld them. We have received bouquets from younger hands, but from none with a more feeling sense of the beauty and richness of the gift than he expressed when he last gave us a bunch of beautiful roses from his old bush.

The last three days of their lives, Mr. Fitzgerald and his wife (who had been suddenly paralyzed,) were both insensible, and both died the same morning, without a consciousness of each other's condition. She (having been born on the dark day, May 19, 1780) was seventy-eight years of age; and he had reached the age of eighty-seven.

Thus have passed away the last of the family, and there was none of its members to continue the occupancy of a spot which has so many years been literally a family home. The venerable old gentleman, who gave us an account of what he witnessed of the Frenchman's Lane tragedy, and many other incidents in his recollection, which have been of interest to ourselves and our readers, has passed into that cemetery where he has from time to time followed his household. He and his partner have now gone to the presence of Him, on whom, during the latters years of penury and infirmity, they placed their hope. The experience of his providential care richly repaid them for their trust; and not the least is that singular mercy which has not left one to mourn for the loss of the other.

Text scanned courtesy of The Brewster Family Network
Copy of Rambles courtesy Peter E. Randall
History Hypertext project by
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