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Full text of "An historic mansion, being an account of the Thaddeus Burr homestead, Fairfield, Connecticut, 1654-1915"












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An Historic Mansion 

BEING AN ACCOUNT OF 

The Thaddeus Burr Homestead 

FAIRFIELD 
CONNECTICUT 

1654 1915 



BY 
FRANK S. CHILD 



AN HISTORIC MANSION 



it was about eight o'clock on the morning of 
April 22ncl 1775 that a messenger brought the news 
of Lexington to Fairfield. The Honorable Thaddeus 
Burr, High Sherifi^ of the County, was standing on 
the porch of his mansion, discussing with Colonel 
Silliman and Mr. Jonathan Sturges the prospects of 
war. A horseman galloping down the street, came 
to a sudden halt in front of the three members of the 
Town Committee of Correspondence. A packet 
was thrust into the hands of Colonel Silliman. Break- 
ing the seal he read as follows: 

"To All Friends of American Liberty: Be it 
known that this morning (April 19th) before break of 
day a brigade consisting of about one thousand or 

Pa^e Three 



two thousand men landed at Phipp's farm Cam- 
bridge, Sr marched to Lexington, where they found 
a company of our Colonial Militia in arms, upon 
whom they fired without provocation, &- killed six 
men &- wounded four others. By an express from 
Boston we find another brigade are on the march 
from Boston, supposed to be about one thousand. 
The bearer Trail Bissell is charged to alarm the coun- 
try quite to Connecticut &- all persons are desired to 
furnish him with fresh horses as they may be needed. 
I have spoken with several who have seen the dead 
&- the wounded. 

J. PALMER, 

One of the Committee of S'y." 

This document — a postscript signed by the Fair- 
field Committee being added — was forwarded imme- 
diately to New York and Philadelphia. The session 
of the Town Committee of War ended by sending 
out a call to arms. From this time forth the Burr 
mansion was a center of vigorous, patriotic propa- 
ganda for the Independence of the Colonies. 

Mean\A/hile certain Boston friends were hurried- 
ly planning to visit Mr. and Mrs. Burr. For the night 

Page Four 



that Paul Revere brought the news of General 
Gage's march ConcordvA^ard, — 

"It was one by the village clock" 
"When he galloped into Lexington — " 

John Hancock and Samuel Adams, tarrying in the 
parsonage, were routed from their sleep and told to es- 
cape, since they \A/ere special objects of enmity. 
They hastened on to Concord. Aunt Lydia Han- 
cock and Dorothy CJuincy watched the fray on Lex- 
ington Green, then fled to the adjoining town when 
the "embattled farmer" had discharged his duty — and 
later in the company of Hancock and Adams pursued 
their way to Fairfield. 

The master and mistress of Burr homestead gave a 
cordial w^elcome to the refugees. Mr. Hancock and 
Mr. Adams pushed forward speedily to Philadelphia. 
The ladies remained in the grateful security o^ their 
friends' home. We can easily fancy the reluctance 
with which the lover of the fascinating Dorothy Q. 
parted from his lady love. For it must be frankly con- 
fessed that her devoted John spent many disquieting 
hours in thought of his fiancee and occasionally gave 
way to mournful plaints. 

Page Five 



Young Aaron Burr, law student in the School of 
Judge Gould at Litchfield, passed this way during 
the season. Fairfield native town of his father Dr. 
Burr had delightful associations for the family. 
What more natural than that this famous gallant visit 
his cousin Thaddeus and pay homage to the gay 
charmer tarrying in the old homestead ? So we are 
told that he hied him down from the hill country and 
lingered long in the radiance of her company. But 
happily for the Honorable John in the Quaker City 
Aunt Lydia Hancock kept a close watch on the 
flirtatious Boston belle. The ever present duenna 
showed a solicitious vigilance so that our young law 
student made no startling advances. Aunt Lydia had 
set her heart on the union of the Quincy and Hancock 
families. John \^/as to inherit her fortune and Doro- 
thy must share it. The wit and beauty of Miss Quincy, 
her grace of manner, matched the brilliancy and 
witching power of Burr, scion of a remarkable stock. 
Nevertheless it was only the surface of the Hancock 
Qyincy courtship \^/hich became slightly ruffled. 
Young Burr heard the call of country and plunged in- 
to the stern warfare of the colonies. 

Page 5ix 



On the 28th of June 1775 General Washington 
passed through Fairfield en route for Cambridge, 
where he was to take command of the Continental 
Army. Tradition has it that he paid his respects to 
the people of the Burr mansion, having learned that 
the daughter of the patriot Edmund Qyincy, engaged 
to marry the President of the Continental Congress, 
was a guest in the house. And when General 
Washington, returning from Cambridge the follow- 
ing April passed through the town. Aunt Lydia 
Hancock was there, not able to go back to the Bos- 
ton house. Three days later the good lady breathed 
her last, the victim of apoplexy, and her body was 
borne from the homestead across the Green down 
Beach Lane to the ancient God's Acre. Strange to 
say it was Mr. and Mrs. Burr who erected the stone 
marking her final resting place— a service which one 
might think should have been rendered by her 
nephew and heir, the opulent Boston merchant. 

The season which followed the advent of Mrs. 
Hancock and Dorothy Q. in Fairfield was a gay one 
in spite of war and trouble. There were many 
guests entertained in the Burr mansion— the statesmen 

Page 5even 



and soldiers of New England making it their stopping 
place as they passed to and fro between Boston and 
Philadelphia- One of these visitors was Dr. Benja^ 
min Church who had been appointed head of the 
Army Hospital. Poor man! He was found guilty 
of treason a little later, expelled from the Massachu- 
setts legislature, confined in Norwich jail, and finally 
banished to the West Indies. He came from Phila- 
delphia to Fairfield laden with nuptial treasures for 
the bride elect, and was therefore a most welcome 
guest. The delicate finery gave the house the ap- 
pearance of vanity fair and drove away for the time 
being thoughts and fears concerning impending peril. 
Here is a characteristic love letter which Dr. 
Church brought with him for the fair maiden : 

''My Dr Dolly - 

1 am almost prevailed on to think 
that my letters to my Aunt &- you are not read, 
for I cannot obtain a reply, I have ask'd a mil- 
lion questions 6r not an answer to one, I beg'd 
you to let me know what things my Aunt want-' 
ed 6- you &■ many other matters 1 wanted to 

Page Light 



know, but not one answer. I really Take it 
extreme unkind, pray my Dr. use not so much 
Ceremony &- Reservedness, why can't you use 
freedom in writing, be not afraid of me, I want 
Long Letters. I am glad the little things I sent 
you are agreeable. Why did you not write 
me of the top of the Umbrella. 1 am so sorry it 
was spoiled, but I will send you another by my 
Express wch will go in a few days. How did 
my Aunt like her gown &- do let me know if the 
Stockings suited her: she had better send a pat- 
tern shoe and stocking, 1 warrant 1 will suit her. 
The Inclosed letter for your Father you will 
read &- seal &- forward him, you will observe 1 
mention in it your writing your Sister Katy about 
a few necessaries for Katy Sewall, what you 
think Right let her have &- Roy James, this only 
between you &- 1: do write your Father 1 should 
be glad to hear from him £r I Beg, my Dear 
Dolly you will write me often &- long Letters, I 
will forgive the past if you will mend in future. 
Do ask my Aunt to make me up &- send me a 
Watch String, &- do you send me another, I 

Page Nine 



wear them out fast. I want some little thing of 
your doing. 

Remember to all Friends with you as if 
nam'd. I am called upon &- must obey. 

I have sent you by Doer Church in a paper 
Box Directed to you, the following things for 
your acceptance, &- which I do insist you wear, 
if you do not I shall think the Donor is the 
objection — 

2 pair white silk stockings which 
4 pr. white thread I think will fit you 
1 pr. Black Satin shoes, the other 
I pr Black Calem Co. Shall be sent when done. 
1 very pretty light Hat 

1 neat Airy Summer Cloak, (I ask Doer. Church) 

2 caps 
I Fann 

I wish these may please you. I shall be 
gratified if they do, please write me, I will at- 
tend to all your Commands. 

Page Ten 



Adieu, my Dr. Girl &- believe me to be with 
great Esteem £r Affection, 

Yours without Reserve 

John Hancock 

Remember me to Katy Brackett." 

Is not this an ardent epistle, revealing a devoted 
lover, pining For news, words of endearment and all 
the sweet confidences of courtship ? And it mattered 
not to the anxious lover that he was " call'd upon &- 
must obey." He would take time to search the 
stores and shops in Philadelphia, select stockings, caps, 
fans, laces, silks, shoes, hats and the innumerable ar- 
ticles pertaining to the bridal outfit. For Fairfield did 
not ofl^er to the maiden any notable variety of these 
precious goods ; and Boston was closed to trade these 
days so that it fell to the happy lot of the bridegroom 
to select and purchase a considerable portion of 
Dorothy Quincy's trousseau. 

Let us hope that the lady spent more time in her 
bed-room composing newsy, romantic efl^usions for 
Mr. Hancock so that the strenuousness of service in 
the Continental Congress might be graciously mitiga- 

Pa^e Lleven 



ted. "I want some little thing of your doing." 
Was it possible that the social life of the Burr Home^ 
stead was so delightfully exacting and the beaux of the 
county capital so numerous that the Boston belle 
found only scraps of time for writing to her lover ? 

it was finally decided that the wedding must be 
in Fairfield. John Hancock had become impatient — 
no prospect of a speedy return to Boston appeared — 
the days grew darker and darker with war clouds. 
So the preparations \A/ere hurried forward by Aunt 
Lydia — the gowns all finished and the guests invited. 
Mr. and Mrs. Burr did the honors of the occasion. 

It was late in August when all thing being ready 
the President of the Continental Congress with his 
coach and four drew up before the residence of 
Thaddeus Burr. In one of his letters to Dorothy Q, 
addressed care of Mr. Burr, Colonel Hancock had 
disclaimed his love of parade. It seems that vy/hen 
passing through New York, certain enthusiastic per^ 
sons had unfastened his horses, formed two lines of 
gentlemen helpers and pulled the cumbrous vehicle and 
its honored occupant down along the crowded 
thoroughfares of the city. " The number of specta^ 

Pa$e Twelve 



tors increased to perhaps seven thousand or more," 
writes the lover to his lady. Modestly he begs the 
young patriots to desist but they will honor him in 
spite of all diffidence and courteous opposition. The 
reader surmises that our Honorable John was not 
altogether averse to such pageantry since on 
numerous occasions considerable display and magnifi^ 
cence attended the gentleman. But Connecticut 
could not well give him such a reception on the 
wedding day. The gentry of the neighborhood 
gathered for the occasion and many of the elect 
families of the Colony were witnesses of the 
ceremony. Several New England statesmen con- 
tributed their dignity to the festivities. All that 
Mr. and Mrs. Burr could give by way of grace, 
courtesy and benediction was bestowed unstintedly 
upon the happy pair. The Rev. Andrew Eliot Jr. 
pastor of the village Church performed the ceremony. 
He was an old friend of both families, son of Dr. 
Andrew Eliot of the North Church Boston. Mrs. 
Eliot Sr. who had fled with her children to Fairfield 
was among the Boston friends present for the 
ceremony. The brief service was followed by the 

Page Thirteen 



usual felicitations while the young people crowding 
the mansion and overflowing into the yard remarked 
the elegance and brilliancy of toilets displayed both by 
the men and women of the company. Silver buckles, 
white silk stockings, knee breeches of varied hues, 
scarlet vests and velvet coats with rufiled shirts and 
broad fine neckgear adorned the masculine fraternity 
while the ladies were radient in silks and laces, lofty 
head-dress, resplendent jewelry and the precious heir- 
looms of old families. The record of marriage in 
the Church Register, preceded by that of Jack negro 
servant to David Barlow and Mary negro servant to 
Deacon Hill, is as follovy/s : 

"1775 
August 28th 

The Honorable John Hancock Esqr. and 
Miss Dorothy Quincy both of Boston 
were married at Fairfield 

Pr Andrew Eliot V.D.M." 

It is a legend connected with the event that when 
the guests paid their attention to the ample refresh- 
ments provided for them an alarm was sounded and 
the bridal party persuaded to leave in haste, since it 

Page Fourteen 



was a fact that the British continued their endeavors 
to kidnap the President of the Continental Congress. 
The party rode on to Philadelphia where Mrs. Han^ 
cock was soon "packing up commissions to be sent 
to officers appointed by Congress," or engaged with 
her scissors in "trimming off the rough edges of the 
bills of credit issued by Congress and signed by the 
President." 

The months following this important event at the 
Burr mansion were by no means quiet or unevent- 
ful. A succession of guests — refugees, patriots, states- 
men, soldiers — sat at the hospitable board of the 
High Sheriff. Lyman Hall, a signer of the Declara- 
tion of Independence from Georgia, who had 
married a sister of Thaddeus Burr's in the fifties, had 
come north to discharge his official duties. Governor 
Trumbull not infrequently sought advice and fellow- 
ship here for Mr. Burr became a member of the 
Governor's Council and shared the grave responsibili- 
ties of state. Both John Adams and Samuel made 
this house their stopping place. Amos Deane, Roger 
Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, Oliver Ellsworth, Sam- 
uel Otis, tarried now and again beneath the Burr 

Page Fifteen 



roof. Here there convened many a conference of 
local and colonial celebrities for purposes of devising 
patriotic measures. And meanwhile the social at- 
mosphere grew more and more delightful as the 
circle of fellowship broadened and the hopes of the 
sons of liberty enlarged. 

An interesting letter from Thaddeus Burr is pre- 
served in the Emmett Collection of the New York 
Public Library. It is dated the last Sunday of 
August, 1778 and it marks the day when General 
LaFayette enjoyed the hospitality of the family : 

'' The latest accounts we have from Rhode 
Island are Friday evening last, by the Marquis 
De Lafayette, aid-de-camp, \A/ho arrived at 
my house on Sunday evening on the way to 
General Washington. He informed me that 
the determination there was to hold the ground 
we had got, that General Hancock had gone to 
Boston to make provision for marching the 
French troops from there to Rhode Island, that 
the Marquis was to set out for Boston on Fri- 
day to take command of the troops, that it \^/as 
agreed that all the French fleet \^/hich were in 

Page Sixteen 



condition to put to sea were immediately to 
return to Rhode Island, that General Sullivan 
had imprudently given out in general orders 
some reflections upon the French nation Sr 
Count D'Estaing, of which I suppose even you 
will hear. . . . Last Sabbath at noon passed us a 
fleet of war a hundred sail with a fine wind, 
which I think, must arrive at Rhode Island be^ 
fore the French fleet : should that be the case I 
fear the consequences. But God hath great 
things for us. I hope for the best." 

Colonel Tallmadge the secret service patriot serv- 
ing General Washington these days had frequent 
occasion to visit Mr. Burr, while David Humphreys 
of Derby who sang the dirge over the burning of 
Fairfield and later became U. S. Minister to Portugal 
and Spain sojourned here in the atmosphere of culture 
and refinement, meeting Joel Barlow the young poet 
who composed patriotic songs, haunted the social 
circle in Burr mansion and finally went to war. 
These two young poets joined with Timothy Dwight 
in writing spirited lyrics which our soldiers sang with 
great gusto and the boys on Fairfield streets repeated 

Pa^e Seventeen 



in a happy frenzy of patriotism. Joel Barlow's 
family gave the name to Barlow's plain. Joel was 
popular in the county capital. His poetry gave him 
great distinction and when later in life he lived abroad, 
representing the United States as Minister to France 
for a brief period, something of his fame and honor 
was shared by the friends who gathered beneath the 
roof of the Burr Homestead. 

Among the eminent men who had enjoyed the 
friendship of these hospitable entertainers was 
Governor Tryon of New York. This English sol- 
dier and statesman was now engaged in harrassing the 
shores of Long Island Sound. He had passed up and 
down the waters looking vindictively upon certain 
towns and cities. Fairfield the county capital, center 
of provincial society, home of the Revolutionary 
leaders in western Connecticut w^as well known to 
Governor Tryon for he had been the guest of the 
Burrs and had enjoyed the fellowship of their delight- 
ful circle. As Fairfield was taking such prominent 
part in the war, he decided to punish the town. 
The story of the burning has been oft repeated. 
Mrs. Burr's own narrative of experience is that 

Page Eighteen 



which interests us at this time. Her affidavit is given 
in Hinman's book on Connecticut in the Revolution. 

The men folks were with the Continental troops 
or attending to public afFairs so that at the first this 
attack on Fairfield wa^ unresisted. As soon as pos- 
sible the local militia rallied but meanwhile the village 
was given over to the fire fiends and nearly every 
building went up in flames. 

General Tryon, mindful of social obligations, had 
promised to save the Burr mansion, hie called twice 
upon Mrs. Burr. Sentries were placed to guard the 
property. But the slave of a citizen living on main 
street fired a shot from one of the upper windows 
in the house and killed a British soldier. Immediately 
the maddened soldiers rushed into the place, dragged 
the negro down the stairs, through the hall, into the 
street, soaked a blanket in rum, vyrapped it about the 
wretch and then fired it. 

On his last call upon Mrs. Burr, General Tryon 
asked for pen, ink and paper and sitting down at her 
writing desk wrote a protection for her which on his 
withdrawal he put into her hands. But hardly was 

Page Nineteen 



he gone before ruffians entered the house and began 
their brutal annoyances. 

"I have a protection from General Tryon," said 
Mrs. Burr as they attempted familiarity with her. 

" Tryon be damned " they roughly shouted. And 
snatching the piece of paper from her hands one of 
the men tore it into many fragments and scattered the 
pieces to the winds. 

"Mrs. Burr," says Dr. Timothy D wight in his 
story of the assault, " was adorned with all the quali^ 
ties which give distinction to her sex : possessed of 
fine accomplishments and a dignity of character 
scarcely rivaled : and probably had never known 
what it was to be treated with disrespect or even 
with inattention." 

But the lady's appeals were in vain. General 
Tryon had marched away leaving a lot of miscreants 
to finish the work of destruction. They seized Mrs. 
Burr and stripped the silver buckles from her shoes. 
While some of the ruffians were rifling her desk and 
tearing down the damask curtains and smashing the 
huge mirrors and turning things topsy-turvy, others 

Page Twenty 



chased the frightened mistress through her house, 
attempting to dispoil her of the very clothes which 
she wore, throwing her down upon the ground 
when they reached the garden in their efforts to 
wrench from her grip a watch which she prized 
highly as a precious heirloom. They stole her 
pocket-book, snatched the gold sleeve buttons from 
her wrists and drove her with frightened, struggling 
attendants into the meadow and thicket beyond the 
garden, w^here in the shelter of wild shrubbery and 
tangled vines enswathed by heavy clouds of smoke 
darkening the village, she and her friends escaped 
the brutality of the drunken mercenaries. But the 
mansion had been fired by the riotous crew while 
the mistress was struggling with the invaders. No 
time to save garments, furniture, works of art or 
library. All the accumulations of years — the treasures 
of wealth and refinement — were burned before their 
eyes, flames illuminating the black sky above them- 

" Ye smoking ruins, marks of hostile ire," 
''Ye ashes warm, which drink the tears that 

flow," 
"Ye desolated plains, my voice inspire," 

Page Twenty-One 



" And give soft music to the song of woe/' 

" How pleasant Fairfield, on the enraptured 

sight " 
" Rose thy tall spires and oped thy social halls." 
" How oft my bosom beat with pure delight " 
"At yonder spot where stand thy darkened 

walls." 

The lament of Colonel Humphreys pictures 
something o^ the desolation. Mrs. Burr however 
was not the woman to waste time in lamentation. 
Hiding in the thickets until the Hessians had left the 
place, she finally emerged and set herself and friends 
to the task of mitigating sufl^ering and comforting the 
sorrowful. 

There was an old storehouse on the estate which 
had withstood the attack of fire. This grateful 
shelter was immediately occupied and a goodly com^ 
pany of people invited to share the place. The 
militia under Colonel Tallmadge camped on the 
Green and people returning to their charred houses 
built temporary shelters along the street. 

Page Twenty-Two 



On the coming of Mr. Burr, noxA/ that the smoke 
of conflagration had lifted, there was the quickening 
of hope and energy. The old warehouse, speedily 
converted into what Prof. Silliman of Yale in remin- 
iscences of Fairfield called a '' neat, commodious 
mansion," became the center of renewed life for the 
town. Here for many months the old friends gath- 
ered, braving their numerous distresses and working 
tirelessly for the success of the American army. 

When Governor Hancock again passed through 
town he stayed as usual with the Burrs and proposed 
that his host rebuild as quickly as possible, pledging 
his assissance in case Mr. Burr's new house was 
modelled after the Hancock house in Boston. The 
High Sherifl^, agreeable to this suggession, began his 
preparations for rebuilding and Governor Hancock 
supplied timber and glass. Daniel Dimon, the pop- 
ular architect or carpenter of the period in Fairfield, 
was the builder of the new mansion. 

A portion of the property had been in the 
possession of the Burr family for several generations 
dating back to the middle of the seventeenth century. 

Page Twenty-Three 



Peter Burr, Chief Justice of the Colony, "who in^ 
herited it from the second Jehu, bequeathed it to son 
Thaddeus in 1725 who passed it on to Thaddeus of 
Revolutionary fame in 1755. 

The new mansion patterned somewhat after the 
Hancock house was a dignified and handsome struc- 
ture, three stories high with gambrel roof and dormer 
windows. The rooms were large and high between 
joints, a great hall making welcome the guests as they 
entered through the classic porch and ample door- 
way. Generous glass in the massive door and nar- 
row windows on each side, gave light and cheer to 
the spacious interior- 
There were no family keepsakes or antique pieces 
with which to adorn the new mansion, but with the 
better times came proper furniture. And during all 
the period guests came and went with the usual 
freedom. Dr. Dwight was accustomed to ride down 
from Greenfield nearly every Saturday afternoon and 
drink tea with the friends assembled. He was cul- 
tivating strawberries in his garden at this time. Per- 
haps in June he brought his friends a pailful. And 

Page Twenty-Four 



assuredly as he wrote his famous poem " Greenfield 
Hill," he must have brought some portions o^ the 
manuscript with him that Mr. and Mrs. Burr might 
give him their opinion of his muse. Can we not 
hear him reading his description of the village 
wrapped in flames? 

" On yon bright plain, with beauty gay," 
"Where waters, wind &- cattle play," 
" \A/here gardens, groves &- orchards bloom," 
" Unconscious of her coming doom " 
"Once Fairfield smiled." 

The artist Trumbull was one of the elect com- 
pany who tarried now and again beneath the roof" 
tree and brought to his friends the gossip of the art 
fraternity which numbered the Burrs among their 
patrons. Copley came to Fairfield and endeared 
himself to these gracious entertainers for he painted 
the notable portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Burr— reckoned 
as fine work as his genius affords. The portraits are 
now in New York— owned by the descendants of 
Thaddeus Burr's brother. They were exhibited in 
the Academy of Design a few years ago and won 

Page Twenty-Five 



great praise. The pictures of Mr. and Mrs. Burr 
in the Historical Society \A/ere taken from these 
oil paintings. 

The mansion passed to General Gershom Burr 
on the death of his uncle and aunt. General Burr 
sold the property to Mr. O. W. Jones who repaired 
and enlarged it, taking out the dormer windows and 
lifting the roof, taking away the porch and building 
the broad veranda With its lofty massive fluted col- 
umns. Other changes have recently been made, but 
it remains a noble, stately mansion, transmitting a 
wealth of history and tradition to the latest genera- 
tion. For two hundred years The Homestead was 
identified with the Burr name and during that long 
period it spake eloquently for faith, culture, patriotism, 
social worth and progressive life. 

Quite fitting was it that the Daughters of the 
American Revolution in Fairfield should choose for 
their name the Eunice Dennie Burr Chapter — thus 
honoring the lady who for so many years kept open 
house for soldiers, statesmen and leaders in colony 
and nation. 

Page Twenty-5ix 



The mansion stands in the midst of spacious 
grounds, shaded by magnificent old trees, the box- 
bordered walk leading from the street gate to the 
pillared veranda. At the rear where Mrs. Burr 
fondly tended her marigolds and roses, her pinks, 
hollyhocks and peonies, there now spreads before the 
eye an old fashioned garden, sweet and bright with 
flowers which remind us of days when cocked hats 
and powdered wigs and lofty coiffures and quilted 
silk bonnets were in vogue. The massive arba vitae 
hedge which shields the garden from the east v^ind 
dates back generations. Varied vistas of the sea are 
framed by masses of shrubbery and the graceful 
foliage of stalwart elms. The old charm of the Bun- 
Homestead still lingers about the place. Art, nature, 
history vie with each other in their generous gifts 
and interesting associations. 



Page Twenty-5even 



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