Gideon T. Ridlon
Saco Valley Settlements
(Rutland, Chs. Tuttle, 1895)
SACO VALLEY SETTLEMENTS
HISTORICAL, BIOGRAPHICAL GENELOGICAL,
TRADITIONAL, AND LEGENDARY
THE MOST IMPORTANT IN THE TOWNS ON THE SACO RIVER,
FROM THEIR PLANTATION TO THE PRESENT, WITH MEMORIALS OF
THE FAMILIES AND INDIVIDUALS INSTRUMENTAL IN THEIR
SETTLEMENT, ADVANCEMENT AND PROSPERITY.
TWENTY-FIVE YEARS IN PREPARATION
B Y G. T. R I D L O N, S R.
BEAUTIFULLY EMBELLISHED WITH PORTRAITS, VIEWS OF
FAMILY SEATS AND OTHER ILLUSTRATIONS
"How dear to my heart are the scenes of my childhood.
When fond recollection presents them to view:
The orchardm, the meadow, the deep tangled wild-wood,
And every loved spot which my infancy knew."
CHARLES E. TUTTLE COMPANY: PUBLISHERS
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Authorities disagree respecting his advantages for acquiring even a common-school education. Those at whose fireside he was entertained have informed me that Jacob became disgusted with the methods employed by the religious societies known as "the Standing order," and began to preach in schoolhouses where he had been employed to teach. To what extent he enlarged the circle of his operations in the Granite state cannot now be ascertained with certainty. The same mist of obscurity enshrouds his coming into the Saco valley. Why he came, none with whom we have conversed can tell. If some one invited him his name has not been remembered.
His creed has been variously represented. Some who listened to him claim that his doctrine was substantially the same as modern Universalism: others, that he was an advocate of a primitive kind of Spiritualism and free-love, upon which he had engrafted many of the ceremonies practised by the Shakers. From a careful sifting of evidence, we conclude that his creed, if it may be designated as such, was somewhat chaotic and remarkably elastic; that it was developed by stages, to suit circumstances, and modified when policy made it expedient.
He must have been a unique and very relnarkable character. His intelectual, mesmeric, and physical powers were certainly extraordinary. Whatever view we may entertain regarding the soundness of his doctrines, the methods employed by him, or the character of the man, we have no warrant for believing that he was an illiterate, impulsive ranter, who carried forward his work like a cloud driven by a. tempest. On the other hand, he was cool, calculating, and deliberate. He arranged and organized his schemes with the consummate precision of a military tactician, compounded his arguments with observant carefulness, and being a master in the law of sequence he was enabled to forecast the culminating results from the beginning with the accuracy attributed to a prophetic spirit.
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It was his exhibition of some occult power that materially augmented his influence upon his hearers, and seemed to invest him with formidable boldness that challenged the criticism of his opposers. His public addresses were prepared with painstaking study, delivered with remarkable facility, and embellished with charming flowers of rhetoric. His musical, resounding voice, eye of penetrating fire, and gracefully agile movements commanded the respectful attention even of those whose object in attending his meetings was to cavil and create disturbance.
Men well versed in the sacred oracles, who boasted of their conservative self-possession and went fortified with resolute personal control, were so adroitly besieged by the subtle arguments of this marvelous magician of eloquence that, before they were aware of the fact, they had surrendered unconditionally and subsequently served with unfaltering and heroic fortitude under his victorious banner.
Women who had been reared under the most puritanical home instructions, whose proverbial conscientiousness constituted them models of virtuous propriety in the communities where they resided, gradually yielded to the delusive spell woven about them by the mesmeric power of Cochran, renounced all allegiance to their former principles and habits of rectitude, and with unblushing boldness and evident sincerity allowed themselves to become involved in such questionable ceremonies as were encouraged in the name of religion by this misguided people.
From our more advanced standpoint, we very naturally ask, like Nicodemus, "How can these things be!" If the delusion had been confined to the ignorant and superstitious, we should not marvel; but it extended to families of refinement anti intelligence, whose former characters were stainless. The strongest-minded men succumbed to the influence emanating from Cochran. The unanimous testimony of several perfectly reliable men interviewed proves this to be true. Many, who afterwards boasted that they were never influenced by the preaching of Cochran remained at a safe distance, not having the contempt of danger to come within the mystic circle of his power. It has been related to me by those present that some of the coolest and most resolute men in Saco and Buxton were overpowered in the meetings held by the magician. One said he became as helpless as an infant in the presence of the preacher and was willing to do anything. He was assisted to kneel and cried to God for mercy, but was carried away in spirit and became oblivious to everything worldly. Of course these were exceptional cases. Those who were not accustomed to exercise the logical faculties with that critical discrimination which is characteristic of more disciplined and scientific minds were easily led by a man of Cochran's mental calibre and judgment of human nature.
Dark-browed superstition, the handmaid of ignorance and unrestrained
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impulse, had almost universal sway at this period, and attributed all mysterious manifestation to the supernatural, relegated all intricate problems to the realm of spirit for solution, and boldly stood in the highway of reason to obstruct investigation,
This combination of favorable conditions enabled Cochran to excite the curiosity, win the attention, gain the confidence, and hold the people, for a season, within the province of his power.
From what we have been able to learn of those who were acquainted with him, it appears that Jacob Cochran was no less attractive at the fireside than in public. Affluent and versatile conversationalist, with charmingly polished manners, he became the magnetic centre of every social circle where he was a guest. His urbanity, cheerfulness, and dramatic powers made his presence highly entertaining, and his society was courted by some of the most prominent and refined families within the radius of his acquaintance. His well-stored mind afforded treasures of interesting and useful knowledge, covering a wide range of subjects, and rendered him a desirable personality to many. These manifold attainments greatly facilitated his undertakings of a religious character, and we mention them to throw some light upon the obscurity which hangs over his remarkable sway upon the public.
The question naturally arises, was any good accomplished under the labors of Jacob Cochran? Undoubtedly, very much. Give even the devil his due. In the towns bordering on the Saco several hundred professed conversion under his preaching, and the influence of the "revival " extended from this locality into other towns in western Maine. Until, within a year from the inauguration of the movement, about a thousand persons made a profession of religion. Many of these were sincere believers in the New Testament and were never involved in the ridiculous practices encouraged by the leader.
When Cochran first began to preach in Scarborough and Saco, his commanding appearance, evident learning, matchless oratory, and the uncertainty existing regarding his creed opened to him the churches, and some of the settled pastors listened to him with amazement. This was when his doctrines were more in harmony with the generally received tenets of the orthodox churches; before the objectionable features of his system had become apparent. The sensation was intensified a hundred-fold when churches were closed against him. He had already won many to his standard, and the determined stand taken against him by the more conservative in the community looked upon as unwarranted persecution by his followers. He posed as a martyr-at-will, and discussion ran wild.
He then resorted to schoolhouses, dwellings, and barns. His principal stronghold, and the hot-bed of his delusion, was at the northern section of Saco, and on the borders of Buxton. Of his dominion there was no recognized limitation; wherever a family lived, the members of which had embraced
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his creed, there his influence was supreme. In the "Heath neighborhood" and on the "Buxton road," so-called, the Cochranites fairly reveled in the enthusiasm of their mock worship and disgraceful practices; and one who lived there at that time recorded with his pen that "these Cochranites out-Mormoned Joe Smith and all his deluded crew."
In Saco village there was an old house in which Cochran "held forth" after he was prohibited from entering churches. During the intermissions between the services that were open to the public and such as were held for the exclusive benefit of the followers of Cochran, the leader would marshal his hosts upon the street, and with shouts, singing, and marching create a sensation only equaled by the Salvation Army of modern times. Following these open-air exercises, services were opened for the "elect " and continued until the day-dawn, if unmolested. At these meetings Cochran gave exhibitions of his mesmeric power. It has been said by those who witnessed the performances that as men and women joined hands, forming a circle around the room, Cochran would, by passing: his hand across their foreheads, cause them to sing, shout, dance, fall unconscious to the floor, and go through various grotesque contortions of body not suitable to delineate on the printed page. It is claimed that by placing his hand on the heads of strong men he could make them sink down, foaming at the mouth as if in the agony of convulsions. Experiences of this character were considered necessary for the enjoyment of the richest possibilities of the faith.
When Cochran had secured a firm foot-hold in the community, his creed evolved a new and startling phase. He preached against the legal marriage bond, and in the ideal state pictured by him the inhabitants were neither married nor given in marriage, this should begin on earth, being God's standard for society, and be as nearly approximated as mortal conditions would admit of. The affinities were to be all. spiritual and were infinitely superior to any relations formed by natural affection. He admonished all who had been united in the bonds of matrimony according to the laws of the land to hold themselves in readiness to dissolve such union and renounce their vows. All revelations to this end were to come through Cochran, of course, and in the allotment of the spoils he leader, by virtue of his rank, was sure to get the "lion's share." Tradition assumes that he received frequent consignments of spiritual consorts, and that such were invariably the most robust and attractive women in the community.
As we have intimated, he had a sort of permanent wife, locally known as "Mrs. Cochran" but his loyalty to her was subject to such revelations as he might receive anent his duty (?) to others. Some who were conversant with these affairs, now living, relate that on one of Cochran's professional visitations he informed one of his male followers that he had, while at prayer in his house that morning, received a communication direct from Him who
THE COCHRAN DELUSION. 273
dwells above the stars that embodied, inter alia, a requirement of peculiar character, namely, that he and the brother addressed should, for the time being, exchange wives. 'To this, as from the Lord, via Cochran, his medium the layman consented, and leaving Cochran to assume the government of his family, he immediately went to pay his respects to Mrs. Cochran. Now this woman was somewhat skeptical in regard to her husband's doctrines and practices, and when she responded to the knock at her door and inquired about the nature of the man's errand: when he told her about her husband's new revelation, with clenched fist and flashing eyes she replied: "You go straight back and tell Jake Cochran his God is a liar."
In place of figure-drawings upon a black-board to illustrate scriptural incidents, he implored the more impressive mediums of flesh and blood. One of the favorite tableaux introduced by these fanatics was the personification of our first parents, as they were supposed to have appeared before fig-leaf aprons were in fashion. We have not found a description of the stage scenery used as accessory to this performance, but a part of the programme was for the disciples present, both male and female, to sit upon the floor in a circle while the ideal Adam in the person of Cochran, and Eve, in the person of some chosen female, came into this extemporized "Garden of Eden."
When a knowledge of these ridiculous practices reached the authorities at Saco, Cochran was summoned to the bar of justice and required to give bonds for his future good behavior, being warned that if such conduct was repeated in his meetings the most severe penalty of the law would be visited upon him. Although the ceremonies of Cochran's meetings continued to be decidedly dramatic, the performers afterwards appeared in costumes of amble dimensions.
But disintegrating elements were now beginning to disturb the system. The fact that the preaching of Cochran had the effect to destroy domestic peace, and ruined the home life of many who had become identified with the movement, produced a more healthy reaction than the leader had anticipated. Married men embraced the doctrines promulgated, while their more virtuous or level-headed wives would have no part or lot in the matter. On the other hand, women who had hitherto lived consistent and respectable lives became infatuated with Cochran and his preaching, while their husbands were decidedly averse to both.
These conflicting elements in the home were stimulated rather than conciliated by the leader, and hatred was eventually engendered between heads of families which culminated in separation. For these family discords Cochran was justly held responsible by the law-abiding inhabitants, who favored sobriety and good order, and threatening denunciations increased in vehemence as such melancholy events followed in the wake of the delusive movement. However, the cunning leader, who was well read in law, sagaciously steered clear of any open violation of the statutes for many years. He was
274 THE COCHRAN DELUSION.
held in such esteem by his followers that they were ready to make any sacrifice for his financial support.
Meanwhile, secret meetings had been held by the municipal authorities and a vigilance committee formed to watch the conduct of the Cochranites. Emboldened by what seemed to be a calm upon the sea of public sentiment, Cochran recklessly introduced his old ceremonies and practices into his services. These transactions were promptly reported, and muttering thunders of discord and violence again filled the air. Summary measures were to be resorted to. This reached the ears of the Cochranites, and a midnight meeting was held behind barred doors, watched from without by vigilant sentinels, to consider what means should be used to thwart the purposes of their enemies. Being forewarned, they used every precaution to prevent any interference with their plan of operation. For a time their meetings became models of good order, and the leader conducted himself with decorum. This change allayed the bitterness of public feeling for a brief space, and those who were opposed to Cochran, having become used to the sensation, grew more and more apathetic. In this instance, at least, what proved to be sauce for the goose was applied to the gander, and well-laid traps into which it was believed the leader would put his foot were skillfully avoided, and schemes for his betrayal into the hands of his enemies adroitly circumvented. Moreover, Cochran managed to have eagle-eyed spies in the camp of his opposers. Men supposed to be in full sympathy with the town authorities were present at the "indignation meetings" of the citizens and reported all that was said and done to their spiritual commander. Thus he out-generaled a well-organized body of men who sought his overthrow, and continued to "hold the fort."
There were two especial factors made prominent in the meetings held by the Cochranites, after the leader had his machinery in full operation, that should have attention as we proceed with our treatment of this subject; factors that excited more curiosity, and attracted more people to Cochran's meetings, than all other forces at his command. We allude to the lively singing, to rollicking tunes, of their songs and the "swooning away" of those who had taken the higher degrees of the mysterious system. The songs, or hymns, were attended with clapping of hands and dancing that certainly resembled the evolutions of the society of Shakers when engaged in their worshipping ceremonials. When some of the elect had sunk down upon the floor, evidently unconscious, an impressive hush would prevail in the assembly while the expectant people waited for the resuscitation of the fallen brother or sister. When those who had thus wandered away from the "things of time and sense," on their excursion to the realms of spirit, returned to the scenes of activity they were wont to tell, with astonishing exhibitions of inspiration and burning language, of the marvelous revelations made to them while "absent from the body."
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Sometimes these choice mediums would so far lose their strength that they were laid upon a bed in an adjoining room until their returning spirit gradually acclimated itself to a terrestrial state this was not always accomplished on the first night, and they were allowed to remain where the services had been held until they recuperated. On one occasion a certain sister, named Mercy, who was a maiden of great personal beauty, sank down upon the floor in a house at Saco, and failing to come back to this sublunary world in season to relate her experiences while wandering so far about the celestial hills, they put her to bed and went home. A meeting was held at the same house on the following evening, and what occurred there was related to me by an intelligent old man, still living to verify if need be, what I write. Mercy had not come back to deliver her lecture on her observations while absent in the spirit world, and as her relatives were becoming fearful that she would be led onward by the sirens of that land until she became weaned from all kindred connections in her old home, they importuned Brother Cochran with great manifestations of solicitude, imploring him to exercise all his powers to restore this sister to their embrace.
As the people assembled, they were, old and young, permitted to satisfy their curiosity by viewing the vacated casket in which Sister Mercy had domiciled for much of the time for eighteen fleeting years. My informant described her appearance, as he remembered her, while lying upon the bed. She was recumbent upon the outside of her couch, dressed in a long, white night-robe. Her classic features were as white and rigid as the marble, and her profusion of dark hair floated in marked contrast over the snow-white pillow. Her eyes were nearly closed, and the long, silken lashes lay upon her pale cheek. There was no movement or change of expression observable as the long line of spectators silently filed through the room to gaze upon her saintly face and graceful form. About the bed her relatives stood weeping. When all had been seated around the large outer room, Cochran announced in a solemn and pathetic voice that Sister. Mercy had now been so long away that her spiritual attractions were too strong for her to release herself from them unassisted; that her relatives were exceedingly anxious for her return, and that her usefulness among them, as a religious community, seemed to require that all should earnestly pray for her presence. He then entered her room, and, passing his magic hand across her fair brow, said" "Mercy, arise." In a twinkling she sprang from the bed with a scream and swept through the congregation. It came to pass that some wide planks had been braced against the outside door to prevent any intrusion, and becoming conscious of her exposed condition in such ethereal garments, Mercy took shelter for the time being behind these. Her prudent mother handed her a sheet, and with this wrapped about her lithe figure she went back to her room and dressed.
All were now excited to the highest pitch, and rejoiced with timbrels and
276 THE COCHRAN DELUSION.
clapping of hands. Great news from the spirit world was looked for. Mercy was a person possessing a pleasant voice and rare descriptive powers; and having been so long among the shining ones, and her own spirit all fragrant with the blissful odors brought from the unfading flower-banks of the celestial regions, those present anticipated startling revelations from her insipid tongue -- and were not disappointed. She stood forth in the midst, pale, trembling, and with a far-away look in her mellow eyes. She told, in super-human language, of the wonders seen by her during her absence from her brethren and sisters. Breathless silence reigned in the assembly while the amazed people listened to Mercy's recitation of her vision. We have seen a portrait of this woman, taken when in middle life, and it certainly represented one off the most beautiful of her sex. It has been stated that some of these devotees of the Cochran system had been subjects for the display of Cochran's power for so long that they had the appearance of ghosts; they became pale, attenuated, and seemed to dwell continually on the debatable borders of the spirit world.
This resurrection event caused great commotion in the community, and the public rage became menacing. Commensurate with the spread of this tidal wave that inundated society were the disfavor and denunciation that prevailed when the summit of Cochran's ascending popularity had been reached. Broader and darker grew the impending storm, until the threatening forewinds became ominous of disaster and ruin. This moral cyclone burst at last and the leader found it expedient to resort to a new code of tactics. He was moved from house to house in Saco and Buxton under the cover of darkness, his whereabouts known to his followers all the while, for some time; but learning that a determined movement was on foot: to apprehend him, Cochran abdicated his local throne of power and went into limited exile. This hasty retreat from the vortex of the storm obviated the inconvenience of removing an adhesive combination garment woven from feathers and tar. He did not go far away, but held meetings in Limington, Limerick, and Parsonsfield, while the prejudice down on the Saco subsided. Some of his followers had removed from Saco and Buxton into Limington and welcomed Cochran to their new homes. Wherever he preached he employed the same rotation of methods. There were no objectionable or very striking features in his meetings at first, but his forms were much like the primitive Freewill Baptists. But as the people became acquainted with his style, and the prejudice that preceded his coming wore away, he would excite curiosity and stimulate sensation by introducing some novel ceremony or by making startling statements in his sermons. He found unyielding opposition in these last-mentioned towns. Elder Clement Phinney, the keen-eyed evangelist, had encountered Cochran when he first came to Scarborough and penetrated his mask instantly. The two had dined together at a farmer's house near where Jacob was holding
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meetings, Elder Phinney had expressed a desire for an interview with this strange preacher. Dinner done, they retired to the sitting-room and engaged in a warm discussion of scriptural subjects, Elder Phinney wished to draw Cochran out, and with all his ability in debate found himself entangled beyond extrication in the arguments of his adversary. He was not converted to Cochran's creed, however. When he became convinced of Cochran's real character he discontinued the conversation and looked sternly upon him. This coldness was keenly felt, and Cochran could not pass it by without notice. Turning to Elder Phinney he remarked that he was sorry that he should be thus held off, whereupon the blunt old evangelist held out his cane, and said: "Mr. Cochran, I don't want you any nearer than that."
As soon as he learned that Cochran had removed to Parsonfield, he put his old friend, Elder John Buzzell, on guard, and he had so much influence in his town that Cochran could never get a very strong hold there. Meetings were held, however, in several private houses and some converts made. At one dwelling, while the services were in progress, the inhabitants carried two heavy logs and stood them in a leaning position against the door, so that they might fall in and crush those who opened to come out at the close of the meeting. Elder Buzzell openly opposed every demonstration made by the Cochranites, calling the inhabitants of the community together in various districts to warn them against what be believed to be an arch-impostor. Cochran challenged this old veteran -- not old then -- to a discussion, but while Elder Buzzell had no fear, he would not stoop to notice such a man.
At Limington, meetings were held at the dwelling of a native of Buxton, who once lived on Woodsman's hill, below Salmon Falls. Runners were sent down to Buxton and Hollis to advise Cochran's disciples that "Brother Jacob" would hold meetings on such a day and evening. To avoid suspicion, the Cochranites went from home at night and followed a circuitous route to Limington. One of these was a brother of the man at whose house Cochran was to preach. Sister Mercy, the one who alternated between the terrestrial and celestial worlds, was there, ready to soar away or to remain in the body, as the leader of ceremonies might wish; if it was deemed best for the success of the service that Mercy depart, Cochran gave the signal and away she went -- upon the floor. On this occasion, however, she did not go beyond recall, for when the services had closed and the time for rest came, the owner of the house placed a candle in Cochran's hand, opened a sleeping-room door, and with a significant gesture bade Brother Cochran and Sister Mercy "good night." Before they could close the door, the brother who had come up from Buxton, who had now opened his eyes to the enormity of this system approached Cochran and delivered himself as follows: "Mr. Cochran, I have believed you to be a good man an d have listened to your sermons with interest, but I have discovered your true character and am done with you;
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farewell." With his pipe to solace his grieved soul, he passed the remainder of the night in a chair at the fireside, and at day-dawn went on his way home, a wiser if not a better man. He acknowledged his faults to his neighbors, and warned them to have nothing more to do with Cochran and his deluded followers. This man shook the dust from his feet, moved to eastern Maine, and lived a consistent Christian the remainder of his days.
We have now to do with conflicting traditions. Living authorities disagree in regard to Jacob Cochran's last days, and I am unable to untangle the skein. He either returned to Buxton and Saco, after having been once driven away, or some of the transactions to be mentioned occurred previous to his leaving for the back towns; it is, perhaps, of no special interest to our present inquiry to know these particulars.
It is stated on creditable authority that a certain well-to-do farmer on the Buxton road, in upper Saco, who had no fellowship for Cochran, had, for his wife's sake, she being an ardent believer, permitted the preacher to hold meetings at his house. In some inexplicable way, it appears that Cochran became possessed of a considerable sum of money belonging to this man, and as there were grounds for believing that the sly old fox was preparing to leave the neighborhood, the necessary papers for his arrest were made out and placed in the hands of an officer. Those who knew the man were aware that it would be no pleasant task to place the lion-like athlete in custody, but they wished to be forever rid of his presence, and some strong and resolute men determined to serve the papers on him and bring him, dead or alive, into town. The names of these men have been given us, but they are withheld for obvious reasons.
Cochran evidently received some special revelation anent this affair, and made an attempt to escape. He was overtaken by his pursuers somewhere between the Buxton road and Saco river, and after a desperate struggle was locked up. It has been stated that he was tried before Judge Thatcher and sent to the state prison. where tradition has him invent a novel fire-arm, which was patented by his son. Others are equally certain that he escaped from the officers when on his way to prison and went to New Hampshire, where he continued to preach for many years. All with whom I have conversed are agreed that his body was brought to Saco for burial. Some of his disciples wished to have his remains buried in the McKenney neighborhood, near the seat of his former operations, while the inhabitants who had seen enough of the fruits of the "Cochran craze," determined that his body should not find sepulcher in their midst. Tradition says he was buried by his disciples, at night, near one of their dwellings; another has him repose under the cemented floor of a cellar in that district. It may, therefore, be truthfully stated concerning this singular man, as of the law-giver of Israel, "No man knoweth the place of his burial unto this day."
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But Cochranism was not extinguished with the death of its founder; the doctrines promulgated by him had taken too deep root. Long before Cochran had left the Saco valley he had anticipated what ultimately came to pass and had prepared for the extension of his empire. He saw the importance of introducing a missionary spirit into his system, and preached special sermons calculated to stimulate the zeal of his supporters on this line. With the same sagacious perception which had been so prominent a factor of his success in all his undertakings, he discovered those who had been gifted with natural fluency of speech and encouraged them to go forth and preach their doctrines they had embraced. This many did, absenting themselves from their homes and neglecting to provide for their dependent families and the cultivation of their farms until the inevitable results of poverty, hunger, and cold followed.
These missionaries followed as nearly in the steps of Cochran as their limited ability would admit of, and labored with unabated zeal to recruit with converts the ranks that had been depleted by death and desertions. Among the more notable who went out to plant Cochran's standard, we mention Joseph Decker, who became widely known as the "Massachusetts prophet," Timothy Ham, and Benjamin Goodwin. Two of these were men of remarkable natural endowments, who became able exponents of the peculiar theories received from Cochran. Of others who served under his banner I cannot speak with certainty. The Massachusetts prophet," of whom more in another department of this book, traveled quite extensively in the district of Maine, and followed the apostolic customs as nearly as possible in a cold climate. These men eliminated from the services held by them the objectionable features introduced by Cochran, and succeeded in winning many to the faith. They must have been sincere, for they were ready to endure the most vindictive persecution, to suffer banishment, or die, if need be, for the faith they had espoused.
The matter embodied in this chapter was not culled from dim traditions, that had been handed down from generations enfeebled by age, but has been received from the lips of venerable persons, of unimpaired mental faculties, who had listened to the preaching and witnessed the peculiar practices of Jacob Cochran while he held such a mighty sway in the towns on the Saco. I could have supplemented these statements by quotations from a bundle of yellow documents that were formulated by a magistrate who lived in Buxton at the time these things occurred, but some of these affidavits would be of too sensational and personal a character for my purpose. I have not torn the veil asunder from the top to the bottom, by any means, and have left out enough of tradition and documentary evidence, relating to this remarkable delusion, to fill a volume.
During the time my researches have been carried forward, families whose
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relatives, near or distant, were entangled in the dangerous meshes of Cochran's ingenious net, have earnestly besought me not to allow the names of such to appear upon the pages of this book; a natural but unnecessary precaution which had been anticipated.
The result of this wide-spread religious epidemic was far-reaching and ruinous. For nearly three-score years this corroding wave of influence has been creeping downward, keeping pace with the three generations of descendants of those who were involved in the original delusive excitement inaugurated by the villainous destroyer of homes and human happiness, who, though dead, speaks still through the instrumentality of his influence and by the soul-blight of their posterity, born out of wedlock.
Some of the scenes witnessed in the domestic circles in the Saco river towns were heart-rending. Young wives who had refused to prostitute their principles of virtue, by submitting to the demoralizing practices of the Cochranites, were bereft of their children and forsaken. Such were left in sorrow and poverty, and all their remaining days refused to be comforted because those they had loved "were not." An aged and saintly woman was recently visited whose father, once an industrious farmer with a pleasant home, became a public advocate of the Cochran creed, and who, after long neglect of his farm and family to follow what, in his delusion, he called duty, visited foreign lands and eventually died, a stranger among strangers, thousands of miles from home and kindred. As this venerable woman adverted to her childhood days and her father's expatriation, she groaned in spirit and wept; a far-off echo of a voice that had preached pernicious doctrines, but long ago silenced by the paralyzing hand of death.
We know of a sea captain who lived on the west side of the Saco. He had married a beautiful daughter of respectable parentage, and to them two pretty boys had been given. Before Jacob Cochran appeared in that community peace and contentment reigned in that home-circle. But the father, a man of speculative and unstable mind, was swept from his moorings by the sophistry of this impostor and spent the time that should have been devoted to the interests of his family with the followers of the " New Apostle to the Gentiles," as some called him. He had a "spiritual wife" assigned to him, said farewell to Hannah, tore her children from her bosom, and left for the westward, where a community of primitive Mormons had congregated. When these sons had grown to manhood they retained a faint recollection of a mother, and refused to call one by that dear name who had taken her rightful place. They instituted a searching inquiry for their mother's family, came east and visited the old homestead, but, alas! too late to see her who had found a premature grave in consequence of the great sorrow that had fallen upon her heart. Other children were born to the father, in the state of New York, some of whom have risen to eminence among men.
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Some of the old people, now living, confound the two movements, and we have found insuperable difficulty in sifting the chaff of error from the wheat of truth. It seems to have been a most remarkable coincidence, which has the appearance of concerted action between Cochran and his successors. Almost as soon as he vacated the field, the founders of the Mormon hierarchy invested it. The history of the Mormon church makes Brigham Young come to Maine in 1832 or 1833. The doctrine preached by Smith, Pratt, and Young, in York county, was not of an offensive nature; it was, properly speaking, Millenarianism. The excitement was immense. The inhabitants went twenty miles to hear these earnest missionaries preach. A change from Cochranism was wanted, and this new gospel seemed to be an improvement. Old wine was put into new bottles, and many drank to their fill. At this time polygamy had not been mentioned. No attempt was made to form an organized church; Cochran had preached against such, and Brigham found these disciples averse to any ecclesiastical government, and waited until he had transported his converts to Manchester, N. Y., before enforcing this part of his creed.
We have not learned how long these Mormon preachers remained here. They had great, covered wagons, drawn by large, spirited horses, in which those who would emigrate were carried away to their settlement. The house built on the Ira W. Milliken farm, just across the Buxton line, was known as the "Temple," and this was the head-centre of the Mormon crusade. It has been said that this place of worship was built for Jacob Cochran and his associates, but I think this an error. The Mormon excitement spread into every
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town where Cochran had made converts; these had been washed from their moral and rational moorings by the tidal-wave let loose upon the community by Jacob, and the Mormon inundation landed them high -- if not dry -- in New York state.
The Mormon elders were unwearied in their efforts to enlarge the circle of their influence and to drum up recruits for their semi-religious community. Like flaming heralds, they traveled from town to town, and their evident sincerity and unbounded enthusiasm drew thousands to hear them. But there was determined opposition. The ministers of the gospel stood outside and openly warned their people to keep clear of these missionaries of a strange faith. The culminating effect proved that the spirit of the Mormons was identical with Cochranism. Both systems produced the same ruinous upheaval in the domestic circle, and the wreckage of blasted homes was scattered all along the coast where the devastating storm held sway.
But a small proportion of those who espoused the Mormon creed removed to the westward, and many who went returned to their old neighborhoods. So far as we know, husbands and wives, with their children, removed together. While waiting in Parsonsfield for John Edgecomb and wife to make preparations for their departure, some of the inhabitants of the town entered the stable at night and mutilated and disfigured the horses. This cruel transaction only stimulated the zeal, and extended the influence of the itinerant preachers, and many who had regarded the Mormon innovation with much disfavor, had their sympathy excited for the leaders when they became the subject of persecution. This was but a repetition of religious history. Those who become aggressive opposers of any movement inaugurated in the name of Christianity, however obnoxious its features, engender prejudice against themselves, and, negatively, give momentum to that which they wish to hinder. He who kicks the parent stock scatters thistle seeds and multiplies plants in his field. John Edgecomb was a good citizen and a hard-working farmer when the Mormon preachers came into town on Cochran's old trail. He abandoned his home and the grave of his only child, and followed the Mormon star westward. His wife soon after died, and when the Mormons removed farther west he came back to his old neighbors, and died near the spot where he had built his first house.
James Townsend went from Buxton with his family, consisting of a wife and four children. He proved loyal to the end, went westward by stages, and built the first hotel in Utah. Only a few years ago he visited the East and called upon his relatives and early acquaintances. He returned to his home in Salt Lake City and soon died, leaving a vast estate.
Some who joined the westward Mormon tide became preachers and traveled extensively on our continent and in foreign lands to promulgate the faith held by the church of the Latter Day Saints. Many who removed to the New
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York settlement went west as far as Ohio and some of them, after their brethren went to Nauvoo, purchased land and became successful farmers there. Near Beaver Dam, Ohio, there are descendants of such, who are well-to-do farmers, millers, and merchants, who stand upon a good social plane in the community. A few only of the original Mormon emigrants are now living, and these are far advanced in life. They left the Saco valley in 1836 and 1837, and are treading the border-land of another world. Those seen when we were in Ohio had long ago renounced the Mormon faith, and were respected members of the evangelical churches. The lessons learned in early life were costly, but practical. Since they were rescued from the cyclone into whose track they had fallen, and the vapors which then enveloped their minds were dispelled, their lives have been useful and unimpeachable. Could the history of their solitary reflections, remorse, and self-reproach be recorded, how sadly impressive would be its perusal!
While sitting of an evening on the rustic porch of one who went west with Joe Smith and his Mormon colony, we conversed about those days. The old man seemed anxious to learn about those he had left behind in early life, his kindred and once dear friends. While thus engaged, he brushed the drift-wood from his memory, and related many incidents in his experience while on his journey West and during his residence in the Mormon community. As I called the names of some of his relatives, then living in Maine, he wiped a tear from his eye and sighed deeply. He remarked that, as he grew older, his desire to visit the scenes of his childhood increased. When I asked why he did not gratify his wish, he said he supposed everybody would call him "an old Mormon," and he could not endure that.
To this venerable man, whose name I promised not to mention in print, I am indebted for much information concerning the Mormon excitement on the Saco river. He said: "We were young then, and the novelty of the doctrines preached and the attractiveness of the speakers drew us into the trap." His detailed description of the services held by the Mormon elders was deeply interesting. There was still a mystery about the power that attended these preachers. He had thought about it while working at his anvil and when in his field.
Alluding to the old "Temple" in Buxton, where the Mormon apostles held meetings, he said he remembered it well. It was not in the form of an ordinary, old-fashioned meeting-house, or chapel, but a dwelling house, containing several rooms, with close shutters at the windows. What he denominated "speaking in tongues" was incomprehensible. All who were present at the services were astonished at the phenomenon, and with one accord admitted that those who exhibited this remarkable gift must have received it from a supernatural source; it could not be accounted for or explained in any other way.
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Those who had been newly converted were as likely to manifest this power as the old experienced preachers. Such would mount a bench and address the assembly in language unintelligible, both to the Gentiles present and to the elders who claimed to be in such intimate relations with the spirit world. Those who spoke in unknown tongues were said to have been as ignorant of the significance of their discourses as their hearers; they were touched by an inspiration and had no control of their tongues.
There were others who " interpreted tongues." While sitting in silence, such could be suddenly seized with an impulse to speak, and in language sublime they communicated the lofty and profound sentiment of their subject. These interpreters were persons as unaccustomed to public speaking as the first mentioned, and absolutely incapable of using the eloquent and euphonious language, in a normal condition, employed by them when interpreting the unpronounceable jargon of those who " spake in tongues." These also professed to be unconscious of what they had spoken, and were considered to be irresponsible by those who heard them.
This mysterious factor, so prominent in the meetings held by the Mormon preachers, convinced many who had been determined opposers of the movement that a higher power pervaded the souls of these uncultured converts, and they laid down their prejudices and became nominal believers in the doctrines advocated.
No analysis of this singular system that we might attempt would be favorably received by the intelligent public of the present day. The reasons are obvious. Our liberal educational advantages, the extensive circulation of general literature, and the constant opportunity afforded for an exchange of ideas in the intercourse resulting from modern habits of travel have conspired to foster a spirit of independence in our methods of thinking which gives birth to conclusions that are usually impervious to argument. The conditions that obtained in a rural and primitive community were so unlike those with which the people are familiar today, and so far removed by lapse of time, that the mind instinctively repels any attempt to adduce extenuative testimony, that might have the appearance of an apology, for a people who tolerated such teachings and practices as we have hinted at in the foregoing treatment of our subject. So will it be in the future. We are now winking at customs that would have been condemned by our puritanical ancestors who lived contemporary with the Cochranite and Mormon delusions that swept the Saco valley sixty years ago. The guardians of public morals had the courage then to bring Cochran to the judgment bar to answer for what they considered to be a violation of the conventional code of propriety, in a small assembly of his own chosen disciples, while today, at the popular watering places, in the circus tent, and upon the theatre stage, semi-nude females are gazed upon by those reputed to be the most refined and cultivated among the respectable, wealthy,
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and religious families of the land without a blush, or any sentiment that could produce one. The school children who walk our streets must needs look upon obscene pictures, displayed on the corners; and when within the sanctified seclusion of the home, the daughters do burn the midnight oil perusing books, the printed pages and illustrations of which are alike unfit to expose to the light of open day.
When our boasted modern civilization shall emerge from its vulgar and uncivilized state, and reach the standard of inward purity and outward modesty enjoined by the sacred volume, then may we survey the past with a conscience unsullied and a vision unobscured by the thick clouds of intemperate indulgence, and with some claim to superiority throw stones backward and pelt those who lived in glass houses before we were born, and who, being dead, cannot talk back. But while we allow such demoralizing customs as are everywhere prevalent to exist unchallenged, let us not be too severely uncharitable in our estimation of those whose examples or morality and lives of sobriety would compare favorably with our own, while their responsibility, by reason of their limitations and environments, was a thousand times less.