Letter L

It is my happy duty and privilege to welcome you all home to this glad family re-union. Two hundred and forty-five years have passed since Zachary Bicknell, his wife Agnes, their son John, and servant John Kitchin landed on the soil of Weymouth, then called by the name of Wessaguscus. Not far from the spot where we now are, they planted their home and set up their household gods, fifteen years after the settlement of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, and five after the founding of Boston by the Puritans. The sifted seed wheat of Old England found congenial soil on these Eastern shores of Massachusetts Bay, and from that first planting in 1635 a single seed corn has multiplied till it fills the whole earth.

That Zachary and Agnes were a devoted pair, is seen in the fact that they came together, with their all, to share the joys and trials of pioneer life, two and a half centuries ago. That they were courageous souls, is shown by their readiness to face the perils of a rough sea voyage, and the rougher hardships of a life in the wilderness, not yet redeemed from the savages. That they came to stay, is manifest from the fact that they brought their only son and servant, and built their house on their arrival. That they were of religious stuff, is evidenced by the fact that with their pastor, Joseph Hull, they helped to form the Old North Church of Weymouth. That our ancestors labored and suffered to build this ancient heritage, is certain when we remember that toil and sickness brought our grandfather Zachary to his dying bed within a year after his arrival; and that our grandmother, Agnes, was a woman of strong character and personal attractions is manifest, since she became the wife of Richard Rocket, within a twelvemouth after her husband’s death.

Now it is a matter of some pride to belong to the human family, but far greater to be a member of the Bichnell family, and as this is BICKNELL DAY, the red letter day of our calendar, we propose to do a little family boasting among ourselves, and let the outside world wag along one day without our special help. Of one thing we are sure, it will see and appreciate our value by tomorrow.

Eight cities vied with each other in claiming Homer as theirs. More than eight cities have sought and claimed the Bicknell name, and to-day, we have come hither from Maine, whither our NOAH with his ark of souls floated on the tide of Northern Emigration, till his feet found dry land among the hills of the Pine Tree State; from Rhode Island, whither ZACHARY the second, his wife Hannah, their six sons and daughters pitched their tents on "The westward end of Swansea" in the first emigration toward the great West; from Connecticut, whither ZACHARY the third and JAMES found their home and made their graves; from Central Massachusetts whither JAPHET and his godly company sought the Golden Fleece in well tilled farms and growing herds; from Vermont and New Hampshire, where PETER and his descendants sought Fortune’s service in his removal from Barrington to the fertile valleys of the Green Mountain State; from New York, whither a branch of our Connecticut Yankees immigrated more than a century ago, with their goods packed on a single wagon, and the whole company and load drawn by oxen; from Pennsylvania, where Maine sent her sons to make their fortune of coal and iron; from Ohio and Indiana, where great men grow and where politicians have a lively occupation; from Illinois and Wisconsin, from Iowa and Utah and California and from everywhere we have come home to see the old homestead, to shake the warm hands of each other, and of the girls and boys, who have with loving hearts and faithful service kept the household goods unharmed, the household name untarnished, and the ancestral graves crowned with honors.

OLD WEYMOUTH, clad in her beautiful autumn array, greets us. Her three hundred and fifty Bicknells and their children, in whose veins flows good Bicknell blood, interlaced with that of the Dyers, Richards, Turners, Truphants, Bates’, Merchants, Tirrells, Salisburys Goodspeeds, Frenchs, Mardens, Pratts, Reeds, Torreys, Newtons, Rices, Raymonds, Spilsteds, Orcutts and others, greet us to-day, and as face answers to face in water, so the Bicknell recognition is manifest, even though the visage bears not the well recognized Roman beak, the eye has not the touch of the pencilled blue, and the frame has not reached the regulation height of six feet.

Brothers and sisters from far and near, do you realize the fact that you are at home to-day? You have long desired to see the sites which this day greet you, to see the men and women of our blood who have joined in this joyful assemblage. Imagination has often travelled the spaces which separate us from these sacred family scenes and has pictured the homestead of old Zachary and Agnes, the house they built, the land they cultivated, the church in which they worshipped and the graves where they sleep. It is a precious privilege that as pilgrims we may now gather at the shrine of our fathers, and in the spirit of devout worshippers gather something of the inspiration which led them to build here an edifice, better than their fancies dreamed. For look where you will, the Bicknell blood has nowhere done dishonor to the Bicknell ancestry, and bating the common frailties, which prove us genuine descendants of an earlier common stock, we have whereof to boast.

Of Goodman Zachary and Goodwife Agnes, we must read their history between the lines of the few historic facts which have come to us. Of good English, and if we may credit the tradition, of Scandinavian blood, we find the Bicknells in 1635 as to-day, dwellers in the County of Somerset in the southwest of England. Most probably from the old town of Taunton came our ancestors to join the Weymouth Company, under the pastoral care of Rev. Joseph Hull. Dissenters by faith, feeling at home the heavy hand of social and political persecution, they looked to the new world as a quiet resting place for faith, if not for fortune. Troublous times were behind them, but do you not count them brave to face the hardships which beset their onward way? To-day it is a march from want to luxury, from political inequality to equal rights, to emigrate from European to American shores, but we should never forget to admire the real heroism which brought the early families of New England from circumstances of comparative comfort at home, to endure the sad and trying experiences of a new civilization. Nought but good blood and good names came out into this pioneer life on the eastern shores of our rugged New England, and so when an ancestry dates back as does ours, nearly two and one-half centuries, we have occasion for just pride in that sublime purpose which inspired to a better future, an unbending will which yielded to no obstacles, a love stronger than adamant, which bound husband to wife, parent to child, friend to friend.

Mrs. Hemans may have had our own ancestry in mind, when she wrote these imperishable lines:-

"There was woman’s fearless eye,
Lit by her deep love’s truth;
There was manhood’s brow serenely high,
And the fiery heart of youth.

"What sought they thus afar,
Bright jewels of the mine?
The wealth of seas, the spoils of war?
They sought a Faith’s pure shrine!

"Aye, call it holy ground,
The soil where first they trod!
They have left unstained what there they found
Freedom to worship God."

We often speak of a child as a chip of the old block. As we have not the ancestral block at hand, we must look at the family chips to get a fair likeness, and of some of these specimens, and their characteristics I may speak to-day. In general, however, I may say that the American Bicknells have been a busy set of fellows. "No drones in our hive !" says one of our name in the West, and so say we all of us. I don’t believe that Zachary or Agnes had a lazy bone in their bodies; if so, that blood ceased to perpetuate itself. We have been a hard working people. Toilers in agricultural and mechanical life in the main, we have earned our bread by the warm sweat of sunburned faces and hard-handed toil; and there the honor lies. Look up and down the land and find me if you can a Bicknell name, dependent save through personal infirmities or sad misfortune. David said, "Once I was young, now I am old; yet have never seen the righteous forsaken or his seed begging end." Substitute Bicknell for righteous and the quotation is apt for our family. Agur’s golden mean of neither poverty nor riches seems to have been the ambition of most of our name, probably remembering the proverb that a good name is better than great riches. With honest industry has been coupled temperance and virtue. Look through our annals and see how few, if any, have yielded to the seductions of vice and intemperance. In my own inquiries, I have never found a name dishonored by Habitual drunkenness or by criminal intent. This is our proudest boast to-day, that for two hundred and forty-five years we have no family name, whose record we could not willingly hear without a blush, at this our glad anniversary. Great names, as the world counts greatness, have often descended through base deeds, but the highest honor of our title is that its fine gold has not become tarnished by low characters and dishonorable lives. A characteristic letter from an Indiana Bicknell, one of the lost tribe through North Carolina, says, "I never heard of a Bicknell being arrested, put in jail or in prison in my life. I never knew a Bicknell that was an infidel and I hope I never may.?’ And adds still further, "they all vote the Republican ticket." We fear the returns were not all in at that writing. And this suggests the characteristic of high moral and religious sentiments as a golden thread running through our whole family history. Zachary and Agnes were religious people, Puritans, if you please.—God bless the name. John was a brother in the Old North Church, and looked after its outward as well as spiritual welfare. In 1661, so say the town records, "Brother Bicknell was allowed three pounds for making the Meeting House t-i-t-e." If Bro. Bicknell was as faithful in his spiritual services in keeping the Meeting House tight, he certainly was worthy of a royal reward. So far as I know, a practical Christian life has characterized the family from John through all his descendants till this very hour, and wherever the, name exists, it stands as the synonym of godly living and doing. Of one town settled by Bicknells of the third generation, namely, Barrington, R. I., it was set off from Old Swansea to enable the people "to settle and maintain a pious, learned and orthodox ministry, for the good of us and our posterity," and Zachariah the 2nd, not only signed but probably wrote the petition to the General Court for the separation.

Of the church membership of our family I have now no means of knowing, nor do I know how large a number have held the honorable offices of deacon, Sabbath-school superintendent, etc. That we have, and have had a pious and learned ministry is evidenced in this as well as in past generations. The oldest now living is Rev. James Bicknell, of Oneida county, N. Y., a Baptist clergyman, eighty-five years of age. He is a man of remarkable talents, and it is said that his influence in his denomination in New York is still powerful. Rev. L. W. Bicknell, of Indiana, is also a Baptist preacher. Rev. Dennis H. Bicknell, of Vermont, and Rev. I. J. Bicknell, of Indiana, represent us among Methodists. Rev. Wm. M. Bicknell, of Rowe, Mass., is a talented Unitarian clergyman. Rev. E. A. Wyman, Ph. ID., is a preacher and author. Rev. Geo. W. Bicknell, of Lowell, our chaplain, is a prominent and esteemed Universalist pastor and teacher. Rev. J. R. Bicknell, son of our distinguished guest and statesman, Hon. Geo. A. Bicknell, is an Episcopal rector in Indiana. There are several others, clergymen in the Congregational, Presbyterian and other denominations. More might be said of those who are doing good preaching, but what shall we say of the legion who are doing good practising ?

It is quite a remarkable fact, that, while some of our New England Bicknells held slaves, they were at a very early date given their freedom, and some of the family name have been noted abolitionists, when it cost something to stand on that side of the question of human rights.

My own great-grandfather, dying in 1750, gave to his wife, his negro man Dick, and female negro child Rose, to serve her during her natural life, and at her death to receive, each one hundred pounds and their freedom papers. If you find anywhere the Bicknell name under a black skin, do not refer it to a remote pre-adamic ancestry, or to a change of skin under climatic influence, but to the choice of the Bicknell name as its patronymic when liberated from slavery. Of the North Carolina Bicknells, Samuel was a large slave-owner.

Though the Bicknells have been unambitious in the line of public life and honors, the family has had its full share in the important trusts of civil society. They have not rudely sought, nor lightly declined their share of duty and responsibility. The records of every town where our name has existed, show the various positions of official service filled by members of our family. Our ancestor John was a deputy from Weymouth in the General Court of Massachusetts Bay in 1677-8 and his descendants, among whom is our honored toast-master, have often represented this town in the State legislation. The same honors have been borne by our name in other States. Joshua Bicknell, my grandfather, was a member of the Rhode Island Legislature in both branches for several years, and won the sobriquet, "Old Aristides." He was also a judge of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island for many years before and until his death. One son was Senator and Representative for several years, and two of his grandsons have held the office of Commissioner of Public Schools of Rhode Island. I hold in my hand the fine face of a Bicknell who represents us and his constituency in the Iowa Legislature.

The Bicknell name has been enrolled twice on the Congressional Records. Bennet Bicknell, of New York, represented his district in an early Congress, and we have the honor of having present with us, as orator of the day, one of the leaders of the present House of Representatives at Washington, in the person of Judge and Hon. George Augustus Bicknell, of New Albany, Ind., who represented his district in the last and present Congresses, and we trust will continue to hold the place so honorably filled, for years to come. We will promise him a large Bicknell vote, though holding different politic creeds.

Of lawyers we have had several honest names: Hon. Geo. A., of Indiana, Emory O. and Edward E., of Boston, Anson D., of Iowa, John, of California, Leonard, of Vermont, and several others, not of the Bicknell name, are fair specimens of the legal limb of the family. Of medicine we have had little need; a healthy stock, we have "thrown physic to the dogs and after it the doctor." We have raised a few medicine men to look out for other poor sick sinners, among whom we will name Dr. George Bicknell, of Wisconsin, Dr. Joshua Bicknell Chapin, of Rhode Island, and a few others. So you see we are little given to quackery.

In art we have a distinguished name whose health detains from this joyful union. I refer to Albion H. Bicknell, of Maiden, Mass. His historic painting of Lincoln at Gettysburg has made for him a fame more than national, and he has on his canvas a painting of rare merit, which when finished, will be classed among the gems of American art. Of the great English art patron, Elhanan Bicknell, of London, I would speak, were we not favored by the presence of one of our English cousins of the Bicknell name to speak of him.

In microscopy, Science has just lost a bright name in the death of Edwin Bicknell, of Lowell.

But in business life and in the pursuits which add to the sum of human happiness our names are found in distinguished retirement and comfortable independence. Z. L. Bicknell is the man of all work in Weymouth; Alfred and William and Joseph represent our Boston men of affairs; A. J., Joseph George and David are our representatives in New York; Edward and Joshua in Providence; E. B. Crane and others in Worcester; Joseph Y., in Buffalo as Superintendent of the Buffalo General Hospital; Henry B. and others in Chicago, and here and there, up and down the country are men and women of our name and descent, industrious, prudent, good natured, hospitable, temperate, truthful, independent, morally courageous, generous, man-loving, God-fearing people.

In the teaching profession, we have had a host of names both of men and women, One of our Vermont families alone has had nineteen teachers, among whom was Simeon, a noted man in his day, and that recent. Two of our family have filled the office of State Commissioners of public schools in Rhode Island, with some degree of credit to the name. In literary life, we have in England and America, a few names as authors and poets. In fact, the poetic vein is a strong Bicknell trait. The poems and poets of the day will attest my assertion.

But who is equal to the task of speaking of those of us not bearing the Bicknell name? I fear the world itself would not contain the books that might be written. Their name is legion, for they are many. The roll call would waste the swift hours of this grand day. We’ll talk of these to each other, and be proud that such a progeny has sprung from so pure and noble a stock. We come from many homes where peace, comfort and sweet hospitality abound, to behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. Would that we could, by some magic voice, summon Zachary and Agnes and John, that first little family of Weymouth in 1635, to our social re-union. Not in form, but in fact, they still live in you and in me. Their dust is on yonder hillside, but their lives projected into the centuries, reappear in an intelligent, an industrious, and a happy offspring. Like the grave of Moses on Nebo, no stone marks their sepulchre, but a living monument rises day after day, without the sound of hammer or chisel, wrought by noble resolve, by steadfast purpose or heroic will. It is fashioned by many artists and artisans here and there under "The Great Taskmaster’s eye," and will appear when he who sees the perfect pattern, shall declare the work finished and complete, fit for the Master’s eye. Brothers and sisters of all names, one to-day by a common family bond, we greet you in the name of our Association; we welcome you to the festivities of the hour, to the large family outlook you will take to-day, and to the events which will soon pass into pleasant memories. Draw faith, courage and inspiration from our re-union, and return refreshed and blessed. Bicknells by name and blood, proud in your origin and in your family history, welcome, thrice welcome to the feast! May the day be one of happy experiences and of blessed memories to you all.