of Plymouth, Massachusetts
The Legend, which has come down in the family of Lazarus LeBaron (4) of Sutton, Massachusetts, agrees with the story as told by Mr. Goodwin in nearly every particular and probably was the source of his version. This Lazarus was twenty-nine years old when his grandfather, Dr Lazarus LeBaron (2) died and forty when his father Lazarus (3) the second of the name died. He was the only child of the eldest child of Dr. Lazarus and spent many of his early years in Plymouth. Dr Lazarus (3) was sixteen when his grandmother, Mary Wilder LeBaron, died and he lived on the same street with her. These facts have furnished the strongest arguments for that form of the tradition, which came down through the line of Lazarus.
Without further preliminary we shall first give Mr. Goodwin’s story here.
THE FIRST OF THE LeBARONS
“A True Story”
Louis Pecton had been a surgeon in the French armies. As popular prejudice would not allow of dissections in civil life and as Harvey’s discoveries were written in English, few French practitioners then knew as much of their profession as did the old women who acted as nurses or barbers who monopolized the use of the lancet. In his army practice young Pecton had abundant opportunity for dissections and for making the acquaintance of English Surgeons.
When, therefore, he went to take possession of his patrimony in a suburb of Bordeaux, he was a surgeon of far greater skill and knowledge than was common at that day. He had married some years before; the parents of the parties had arranged the match, the bride and bridegroom knowing or caring little about each other, as was customary. On settling down at Bordeaux, it was with a sort of agreeable surprise that the young couple found themselves exceedingly well mated and preceded to fall in love with each other. Pecton practiced medicine, mainly from a sense of duty. His property was enough to support him so that the fees, which he rigidly exacted from the rich, were systematically distributed among the poor.
One dark night, in 1668, a stranger of commanding appearance, but in humble apparel visited the worthy doctor’s surgery. In reply to the puzzled look of the former, the stranger pushed aside his hair, pointed to a little star-shaped scar above his temple, and said; “Yes, my dear Pecton, your unspoken guess is right. But keep your seat. If you want to show me respect, do it by serving me. My life is sought and so is that of my infant son. You know by whom! Mine he will yet have, but you must save that of my now motherless boy. He will reach your house to night with his wet-nurse. Let him pass as your son till he grows up; then tell him what you think will be for his good. Educate him well and see that he is trained to martial exercises. Then teach him your own noble calling. Two hundred louis-d’ors will come with him to meet the expense. He has been baptized as Francis. Honor him by giving him your own honest surname and if he never knows any other, he will be far happier than if he bore his father’s historic title. Finally, rear him as a good Catholic and teach him to wear this cross constantly and to have it buried with him; it may lead, in happier times, to his identification. So saying, he handed the doctor a small but richly chased gold cross, attached to an embroidered ribbon. A long, whispered consultation followed; the result was that the doctor, after conferring with his wife, accepted the trust imposed, but declaring that the little stranger should take the place of his own deceased darling, and should be made his heir, unless reclaimed by his father. The stranger sadly replied: ”No! my double benefactor, that will never be. I am a doomed man, in spite of disguises and stratagems. If I am alive you shall hear from me in just one year; if you do not, you may know that I no longer alive.”
The stranger departed, and the doctor never heard of him again. The child arrived mysteriously, and the family adapted itself to its new circumstances without attracting outside attention. Soon after, it moved to the opposite side of the city, among strangers, who neither knew nor cared whether little Francis Pecton was the son of his nominal parents or not.
At twenty-one, Francis had a tine education as the times went, his training had been such as his father had requested. He was the embodiment of health and good spirits, the only grief of his life having been the recent death of his supposed mother. His guardian had given him rare instruction in surgery, and had abandoned his medical practice to him, which the young man was following up with enthusiasm.
In 1693, when Francis was twenty-five years old, Dr. Pecton lay on his deathbed. In a long, last interview he revealed to his ward such portions of his history, as he knew. Soon after, he departed, leaving Francis heir to his little estate. The latter, now doubly an orphan, never recovered his former light-heartedness. Something he had learned from the doctor, which cast a shadow over his spirit for life. His hereditary cross seemed now doubly precious to him, and was seldom long out of his hand.
At length, his old home becoming insupportable, he invested a part of his funds in the city; a part he distributed among the poor of his neighborhood, and with the rest he bought a share in the privateer L’Aigle. Then, assuming the name of LeBaron, as surgeon of his ship, he started out to tight the battles of Louis XIV against William and Mary. Like most privateers, L’Aigle won many ignoble victories and made some very gallant failures. At length, in 1696, while running along the New England coast, she took a look into Buzzard’s Bay, and being caught there by a southwest wind, she never looked further. To bear up was impossible, and to bear away was destruction. She came to anchor, but soon the storm tore her loose and drove her upon the west coast of Falmouth. Her crew all landed safely, but the inhabitants gathered about them with extremely hostile indications. They had mistaken L’Aigle for a pirate, and were disposed to exterminate her crew at once.
After some hours of threatening, Major Uourne, a magistrate, arrived and took command. By his order the Frenchmen were received as prisoners of war, and were finally started on the route for Boston. When they came to march, it was found that the surgeon of the ship was not among the prisoners. He had landed with the crew, and had evidently escaped inland. Some of the people, first agreeing that the fugitive must be a spy, and therefore not entitled to quarter, started in pursuit.
A few miles northward stood a large, rambling house, in which Edward and Elizabeth Wilder had lived and died, and where their children now lived. The morning after the shipwreck Mary Wilder was at home alone. Her brother and his wife were away for the day, and she was spinning flax and singing psalm tunes in the big, old kitchen. Suddenly a ragged, drabbled, excited young man rushed into the house, and in broken language asked her to protect him. Her good sense and her woman’s heart roused her to efficient action. She took the fugitive to the garret, and, taking up the loose boards of the floor, exposed a deep space, bounded by the stout wooden ceiling of the room below. A few mats and sacks were thrown in, some food was provided, and Mary went to watch for the searchers.
At length they appeared, examining every bush and hiding-place, far and near. Mary sent her captive into his place of refuge, and then, replacing the floor, she spread some bedding over the spot and lay down. Soon the hunters arrived and examined the house. In the garret they found Mary tucked up on the floor, with her head bound in a towel, and a bowl of sassafras tea by her side. They tried to explain their errand, but she was ” so sick ” she would not listen. Ransacking the rest of the premises, they went on their way. That night Mary won her sister-in-law over to her side, and they two soon coaxed young Edward Wilder to help protect the fugitive. In the course of two weeks, the latter was well nigh forgotten by the outside world. Then Major Bourne, who had been consulted by the Wilders, volunteered to go with LeBaron to Boston and ask that he might live in Falmouth, on parole, until exchanged.
Early one morning Major Bourne, with Wilder and LeBaron, crossed on horseback to Scusset Harbor, in Sandwich, where a boat at once started for Plymouth. At the latter place the prisoner was turned over to the selectmen, who at once put him in care of Major Bourne, until a convenient craft should be sailing to Boston.
There was then no surgeon in Plymouth and there was a very serious case of disease requiring treatment. LeBaron volunteered to perform the operation and by his knowledge and skill so impressed the people, that the selectmen procured his discharge as a prisoner from Lieut.-Gov. Stoughton and persuaded him to settle in Plymouth. Dr. LeBaron’s first use of his freedom was to revisit Falmouth and bring back Mary Wilder as his wife.
How much of his history he told his wife was never revealed by her, beyond what is here recoded. To other people he said nothing. It was only known that he considered himself the victim of an official conspiracy, defrauding him hopelessly of his hereditary rights. But while this feeling made him ready to abjure his native land and all connected with it, he held steadfastly to his religion, wearing his golden cross night and day, and providing that it should not be removed at his death. Many of his new neighbors were greatly troubled that their doctor should be a devotee of Rome and this fact much injured his influence. Indeed, he was often charged with a lack of cordiality and sociability. But the poor found him a true follower of the noble-hearted Pecton. For them his gentlest manners and most earnest efforts were ready. The remnants of his French property were reclaimed and formed into his private charity fund and when his survivors opened his will, they found that he had bequested the town of Plymouth ninety acres of land for the same purpose. The prosperous complained of his brusqueness but the weak and friendless blessed the sound of his approaching footsteps;—with them he was never impatient or indifferent, though they were sometimes ungrateful to him. With the aged he was tender, as they reminded him of his adopted father and mother. Especially was he affected when, in 1699, he soothed the last moments of Mary Allerton Cushman, who as a girl of ten years had landed from the Mayflower and now at the age of 90 was the sole survivor of that immortal company. That the orphan of Bordeaux should have been, by such mysterious ways, brought to perform this duty, filled LeBaron’s soul with awe.
Eight years of this new life passed quietly away; them at the early age of 36, the exile made his last journey. The visitor to Burial Hill in Plymouth may still see the gravestone that Mary Wilder had to import from England and on it he may read:
“HERE LYES YE BODY | OF MR FRANCIS LEBARAN | PHYTICIAN WHO | DEPARTED THIS LIFE | AUGST YE 8. 1704 | IN YE 36. YEAR | OF HIS AGE
A third of a century afterward, loving hands laid Mary Wilder by the side of her long-lost husband. Her son had then for many years been his father’s successor as “the beloved physician” of Plymouth, and her grandson was fitting himself for the same high position when his turn should come. Few know of the romance which surrounds their French ancestor and none of then can unravel its mysteries. One of the number has herein told all that he can learn of the matter and it amount to little more concerning its hero than this—“He was the First of the Le Barons.”
(From The Piece Bag.)
(From the files of Mary Jean Caldwell.)