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Full text of "James Phinney Baxter, historian, Portland, Maine, 1831-1921"

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JAMES PHINNEY BAXTER 



Historian 



PORTLAND, MAINE 



1831-1921 



A Short Biography 

Written for the Maine Writers' Research Club 



A Lifelong Opponent of Vivisection 

Written for the Christian Science Monitor 



PERCIVAL P. BAXTER , lt7^- 



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; * 



Governor of Maine 











PUBLISHED FOR THE MAINE STATE LIBRARY 



PUBUC U^'- ^ 

157980 A 

ASTOK, LK 

a 1924 ^ 



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JAMES PHINNEY BAXTER 

HISTORIAN 

Born, Gorham, Maine, March 23, 1831 
Died, Portland, Maine, May 8, 1921 

A Biography by Percival P. Baxter, Governor of Maine 

(Written for the Maine Writers' Research Club) 

N THINKING of my father, his kindliness and 
consideration for others stand out as his 
pre-eminent characteristics. He was never 
quick or intemperate of speech or action, 
and although early thrown on his own re- 
sources, battling with the world single- 
handed, he achieved success without bringing disaster or 
misfortune to others. He was a worthy exponent of the 
principle "to live and let live," and in so far as I am aware 
left no wrecks in his path. 

Born in the little towTi of Gorham, Maine, almost a cen- 
tury ago, his father a country doctor, he had no special 
advantages of education. The public school as we know it 
today, did not exist and boys were sent to "Academies" or 
private schools, few going beyond what today would be 
grammar school grades. It meant something during the 
period from 1835 to 1845 to obtain an education, and boys 
were obliged to study diligently both at home and at school 
if they intended properly to prepare themselves for life. 

My father's mother was devoted to her children, and to 
her inspiration he owed the training that made him de- 
velop into a broad-minded, public-spirited citizen. The 
youngest child of the family, he was not "spoiled" although 
brought up with great care. A country doctor, however, 
whose big heart led him not to trouble about collecting his 
bills for professional services, could do but little for his chil- 
dren's advancement, so the youth was started on his busi- 
ness career at fifteen years of age with the acceptable 
salary of $6.00 per month. 



It required strength of character for a youngster of 
those tender years to devote his evenings and leisure hours 
to books, when other boys were at play ; but this my father 
did. He conferred with older men and laid out a course of 
reading that comprised all the leading authors, classical and 
modern. Thus he acquired a taste for literature that grew 
with the passing years. 

His business prospered, for he dealt fairly and worked 
hard. He had a vision far ahead of his contemporaries. 
He did not seek great riches but acquired a fortune suffi- 
cient for the needs of himself and family and ample enough 
to enable him to give generously to many worthy objects. 
Himself a lover of books he wanted others to have them, 
and although his means hardly justified his doing so, he 
donated a Public Library building to Portland and another 
one to Gorham, Maine, his birthplace, long before such gifts 
had become as general as today. In this he was a pioneer. 

His business career was founded on uprightness. He 
never sought special privileges nor would he be a party to 
the practice, common then as now, of exploiting the people 
for private gain. As an example of this, he was a large 
o"\\Tier in the Maine Central Railroad at a time when cer- 
tain of that railroad's securities were to be issued. The 
directors manipulated the transactions for their own great 
profit, he protested, and, although at great financial sacri- 
fice, refused to be a party to the "deal." 

In politics he was a Republican, but never a "machine" 
man. For years he was urged to accept public office, but 
preferred to do his part "in the ranks." I recall when he 
first yielded to the call of his party. The Democrats were 
in power in Portland with the Republicans out of office and 
in an hopeless position. No Republican strong enough to 
win was available. A committee of citizens came to my 
father and urged him to save the day. He dreaded the con- 
flict, but felt under a duty to step into the breach. Feelings 
ran high, corruption flourished and at the critical moment 
several packages of ballots were found to be missing. The 
matter went to the courts and as a boy I listened to the pro- 
ceedings. The result was a new election and later a tri- 
umphant victory. From that moment the City's affairs 
were placed on a business basis and partisan politics were 



relegated to the discard. Several years later the missing 
ballots of the first election were discovered by chance in a 
dark corner of an unused closet in the City Building ! 

Both as Mayor and as a citizen he did all in his power to 
beautify and improve his city. His outstanding civic ac- 
complishment was the laying out and beginning of the 
Boulevard around Back Cove, recently appropriately 
named. "Baxter Boulevard." From 1893 until his death 
in 1921 he never lost his faith or interest in this improve- 
ment. Criticised and condemned, accused of self-interest, 
and abused in public and private, unfalteringly kept 
at work on his favorite project. In his heart he knew 
it was right, and that ultimately his fellow-citizens would 
see it as he did. So it was; today this Boulevard is the 
City's chief natural attraction and the citizens are planning 
to erect thereon a memorial to his memory. 

He saw other men enter politics and come out broken 
and disappointed. Often he told me that "Any man who 
stayed in political life long enough is bound to die a dis- 
appointed man." This also is a lesson for others. His 
public service was entirely unselfish and he had no ambi- 
tions for high office. After serving four years he suffered 
defeat, on account of his insisting that the work on the 
Boulevard be continued. Six years later he was triumph- 
antly called back and served the City for two more terms. 
This vindication meant much to him. Patience, persever- 
ance and a good cause were bound to win. 

His literary and historical work was his real life inter- 
est. He was devoted to books and to Art. He loved his 
State of Maine, and its history was as familiar to him as 
is the alphabet to most people. He lived with the early 
voyagers, knew of every settlement in Maine from its incep- 
tion across the seas until its culmination on our shores. 
Dates, names and events were at his tongue's end and no 
man in Maine was his equal in early Maine and New Eng- 
land lore. He wished to be known as an "Historian," and 
told me he hoped to be remembered as one. His political 
and business successes were to him as nothing in 
comparison with those in connection with his historical 
work. A painter of landscapes and of animals, for his own 
recreation, he showed real ability as many canvases will 
testify. 



A complete list of my father's historical works would 
occupy too much space in this brief biography, but some of 
the most important were as follows: "Trelawney Papers," 
"George Cleave and His Times," "The British Invasion 
from the North," "Sir Ferdinando Gorges and His Province 
of Maine," "The Pioneers of New France in New England," 
"The Voyages of Jacques Cartier," and "Documentary His- 
tory of Maine" (24 volumes). The Documentary History 
herein referred to consists of transcripts made by my 
father from the original documents in the British Govern- 
ment (archives. He spent two years in London and em- 
ployed a number of trained (assistants to locate and copy 
these records, which consist of more than 20,000 pages of 
manuscript. They constitute the foundation stones of 
early Maine history. Another work of quite a different 
nature was his contribution to the Shakespeare-Bacon con- 
troversy, entitled, "The Greatest of Literary Problems." 
He spent much time and study on the question of the origin 
of the plays generally- attributed to Shakespeare, and he 
himself believed that Francis Bacon was their author. The 
keeping of accurate historical records and the preservation 
of places of historic interest were also subjects in which 
my father took deep concern. 

As a member of historical, literary and artistic societies 
he always took the lead. The founder and first President 
of the Portland Society of Art, now one of Portland's finest 
institutions; for 21 years President of the Maine Historical 
Society, for 20 years President of the New England His- 
toric-Geneologic^l Society (Boston), the author and pub- 
lisher of more than a score of histories of early voyagers 
and pioneers, the collector of the invaluable Documentary 
History of Maine, a writer of poetry; his life was filled to 
overflowing with usefulness. He was beloved and had 
friends throughout New England, and was recognized by 
all as the leading authority on Maine history. 

His family was his "hobby." With six sons and two 
daughters living at his decease, three others having died in 
early youth, he had problems other than those of politics, 
business or authorship. Of these eight, six graduated from 
college, four sons from Bowdoin and the daughters from 
Wellesley. The two other sons entered Williams College, 



but did not graduate. The home life was simple and all the 
children were brought up to be self-reliant. There was no 
pretense, no sham, and the usual striving for "social posi- 
tion" was unknown in his household. The children were 
all taught that what a man had in wealth or position was 
of no moment as compared with what he himself was, and 
that character was the foundation of happiness and real 
success. A true spirit of democracy prevailed at all times, 
and the house was governed by kindness, not fear, by pa- 
tience, not command. 

To have his children about him, to read and talk to them 
was his delight. Though occupied with business, politics 
and literary work he never neglected his boys and girls. 
He, with my mother, two sisters and myself made three 
trips together to Europe, on one of which we remained 
there more than a year while we children attended school 
in London. He and I went on many journeys and voyages 
together. It was all a part of our education. He always 
rejoiced to get safely back home and often remarked, "the 
home is the foundation of happiness, I am sorry for those 
without one." He had no tastes for club or secret society 
life. Although a Mason I never knew him to attend a meet- 
ing; his home and children were everything. 

My father loved the out-of-doors, was fond of travel. 
He often took my brothers and myself into the woods and 
he and I began our annual fishing trips when I was but six 
years of age. On my second trip to Rangeley Lakes, I being 
seven years old, my father said to me "I will give you $10 
a pound as a reward for every fish you catch, five pounds or 
over." Within the hour I had hooked and landed an eight- 
pound spotted trout, all by my own efforts. There was re- 
joicing in camp (Indian Rock) that evening and the $80 
was paid over to me with proper ceremony. To teach me 
a lesson of thrift I was advised to put this small fortune in 
the Savings Bank, where it has remained to this day. 
Small boys are lucky; that was the biggest fish that ever 
took my hook, though for forty years since I have been a 
patient fisherman. 

All my brothers and myself were taught to love animals. 
Rabbits, chickens, dogs, cats, ponies, white mice and even 
parrots were membei*s of the family. It was in this way 



that we were taught to be humane, and the lessons of those 
early days never can be forgotten. 

My father believed in work; never folded his hands in 
idleness. How he ever wrote his numerous historical 
works I cannot understand. With children and dogs, the 
former making more noise than the latter, all about the 
house, he had a wonderful power to abstract his thoughts 
and could work under trying circumstances. Every mo- 
ment of his long and useful life was occupied and he died 
"in the harness." 

No man could have been more unaffected, more patient, 
more simple, or more natural than he. It would be impos- 
sible to mention here all his works or achievements but he 
believed in his country, state and city. He organized the 
Associated Charities of Portland, was responsible for 
the Walker Manual Training School (Portland), and was 
Overseer of Bowdoin College. He was interested in all 
philanthropic and charitable work. He was strictly tem- 
perate and, unlike most men, when he reached advanced 
years did not become intolerant of the views of younger 
men. The "old school," so-called, did not appeal to him; 
he always was progressive and even believed in Woman 
Suffrage ; a point of view unusual for a man of his age and 
training. Money was of secondary importance to him, it 
was but a means to an end, the end being the opportunity 
money afforded for leisure time to study and work in con- 
genial fields. 

I once asked him what was the greatest single factor of 
success. "The ability to control one's own surroundings," 
was his reply. He felt he ought to be able to do anything 
any other man could do ; this was in humility of spirit, but 
he would not admit inferiority to anyone. 

His last public appearance was in his ninetieth year 
when he delivered the Maine State Centennial oration at 
the First Parish Church, Portland (June, 1920). Although 
erect and in good health at the time I was anxious for him 
and was immensely relieved when the exercises were over, 
for he had made a great effort. Often he said that he 
was thankful that his lot had been cast in the State of 
Maine, a State that had no equal, and among people whose 
character and industry were unsurpassed. 



Two provisions of his Will deserve special mention. 
First, he provided that none of his fortune ever should be 
paid to any person who practiced vivisection. He could not 
bear to think of the sufferings inflicted upon dumb creatures 
in the name of "science." Second, he recognized the serv- 
ices of incalculable value rendered to this Nation and the 
world by the Pilgrims, Puritans and other early pioneers 
of New England. They were the founders; they were the 
master builders of the Nation ; to them belonged the laurels. 
My father bequeathed $50,000 to the City of Boston, this 
sum to accumulate at interest until it should amount to 
$1,000,000, at which time (estimated at 63 years from his 
death) it is to be used to construct a "New England Pan- 
theon," or memorial building in which are to be portrayed 
and recorded the lives of those New England men and 
women who made this country what it is. 

In his last sickness he never uttered a word of com- 
plaint, but repeatedly remarked he was grateful to his 
Creator for the long life, health and happiness that had 
been given him. The last words he uttered expressed the 
hope that his children would not forget him. 

My father had faith in mankind, faith in the future of 
America, faith in God and faith in the world to come. 



JAMES PHINNEY BAXTER 

18311921 PORTLAND, MAINE 

A Life-Long Opponent of Vivisection; The Provisions 

OF His Will. 

By Percival P. Baxter, Governor of Maine 
(Written for the Christmn Science Monitor) 

The late James Phinney Baxter of Portland, Maine, my 
faither, was the son of a country family doctor who for al- 
most fifty years during the middle of the last century prac- 
ticed his profession in the small towns of rural Maine. In 
those days of the horse and chaise and of unimproved roads, 
a country physician had no hospitals or trained nurses to 
supplement his professional efforts. He was obliged to use 
the few remedies the times afforded and was forced to rely 
upon his o^^^l skill. It was a rough and ready life where 
native ability and common sense were the chief factors in 
curing disease and healing broken bones. 

My father, raised in this wholesome, self-reliant atmos- 
phere, learned of the efficacy of simple remedies and became 
well grounded in the rules of sane living. No doubt that 
accounted for his wonderful health and long life of more 
than ninety years. He always opposed the excessive use 
of drugs and preached correct living as the preventative 
of disease. 

Raised in the country on a rugged Maine farm he early 
came to know and love domestic animals, and throughout 
his life never tired of telling of his horses, dogs and other 
animal friends. They meant much to him. His eight 
children became well grounded in animal lore, and there 
was no limit to the pets allowed them. I myself once had 
five large Irish setters, all of whom had the run of the 
house. 

As the years rolled by and the medical profession 
"advanced" in wisdom and worldly attainments my grand- 
father and father, came to view with disapproval the in- 
creasing use of animals for experimentation. The elder 
man died before vivisection became popular with physi- 



cians, but the younger set his face against it and determined 
in so far as he was able to check the practice. 

Whenever occasion offered my father protested against 
what he believed to be the needlessness, and knew to be the 
cruelty of animal experimentation. His unyielding atti- 
tude on this question impressed me and naturally I became 
imbued with his ideas. 

I do not recall the exact date when he first wrote the 
clauses in his Will that prohibited the payment of any funds 
from his estate to persons who practiced vivisection, or the 
use of any of his real property for such purposes, although 
I was in his confidence at all times and aided in its drafting. 
This, however, was done at least twenty years before his 
death, and succeeding Wills, including the last, all contained 
the clauses referred to, each one being couched in stronger 
and more forceful language than those previously executed. 

In his Will dated October 8, 1920, and probated July 18, 
1921, it is provided that none of my father's property ever 
shall descend to, and that none of the income therefrom 
ever shall be paid to, any devisee, legatee or beneficiary who 
"in any way or manner practices or performs vivisection or 
animal experimentation upon any living person or animal." 
Further provision is made that none of his property, land 
or buildings, ever shall be used for such purposes and this 
restriction against them must be incorporated in all deeds 
of conveyance of his property. The clauses referred to are 
written in legal phrases, the meaning of w^hich is clear and 
convincing. 

Of course my father realized that his voice on this mat- 
ter would be but a feeble effort amid the clamor of "the 
Friends of Medical Progress" and the devotees of "ad- 
vanced" medicine and surgery. He however desired to go 
on record for all time as opposed to animal experimenta- 
tion, and felt that his protest might cause some few persons, 
at least, to pause and consider the question from a humane 
and reasonable viewpoint. My father believed that our 
animal companions deserve fair treatment at the hand of 
man, and that man degrades and betrays himself when he 
practices cruelty upon them. It is needless to say that my 
father's sentiments are my own, and that I hope his mes- 
sage some day will be heeded and bring relief to the count- 
less creatures that suffer in the name of science.