Bidwell Lore – An Oration by Barnabas Bidwell, 1795

Welcome to Bidwell Lore number 109! This week we are going to begin a short series sharing a speech that Reverend Bidwell’s son Barnabas Bidwell delivered on July 4th, 1795, during an Independence celebration in Stockbridge.

Note: The original speech Barnabas Bidwell delivered is VERY long. I can only hope July 4th, 1795, was not an exceedingly hot day for all of those who attended. I plan to share excerpts over the next few weeks that get to the core of Barnabas’ message, which is why the citizens of Stockbridge, in 1795, should be celebrating American Independence. Keep in mind that while Barnabas makes some very salient points about freedom and liberty, he was living in a time when these freedoms mostly applied to white men. He does not mention the plight of the enslaved peoples in America nor of the Indigenous peoples displaced by the Europeans, though he was morally opposed to slavery which you can read more about HERE – Heather Kowalski



WE are once more assembled, my friends, to commemorate the Birth day of the United States, and to mingle our felicitations upon the return of this Anniversary of American Independence. With cordial satisfaction I congratulate my fellow-citizens, on the joyful occasion, and am happy in the belief, that everyone who hears me, with equal cordiality reciprocates the congratulation.

IT is a delightful employment to rejoice with them who rejoice; to look around us, while our own hearts are glowing with pleasure, and behold others also smiling and pleased. In such a situation, the mind that is not dead to the finest sensibilities of our nature, indulges a most animating sympathy of joy. Emotions of this kind are naturally inspired by our present meeting. As I look round upon the audience, whom I have the honor to address, I see and feel the truth of the remark. The proper business of this holyday of Freedom is to be grateful and happy.—Whoever extends his ideas beyond the narrow circle of self, and takes an interest in the concerns of his fellows, must derive an additional happiness from the consideration, that the same cause, which has influenced us to join in a public rejoicing in this place, likewise assembles our brethren in many other towns, throughout all the States in the Union; so that it may be truly said, the whole continent resounds with a unanimous voice of celebration.

THERE is a peculiar propriety in observing this as a festival sacred to Liberty and the rights of man. Nineteen years have now revolved, since the Gordian-knot of our colonial connection with Great-Britain was severed by the monumental Declaration of Independence; and a Nation was born in a day. Though this event has been the standing theme of the Poet’s song, and the annual subject of congratulatory Orations in most of our populous towns; though it has been amply celebrated by the statesman, the historian and the moralist, and repeated by the school-boy in his daily lessons, till its praises are familiar to every tongue, from prating infancy to garrulous old age, from the pauper who begs in the streets, to the magistrate who governs the State or presides over the Nation; it is yet so interesting in itself and so important in its consequences, that it can never be exhausted, till social happiness shall cease to be a darling object of mankind.—The contemplation of it, however frequently reiterated, cannot fail to excite our pride as patriots and men, and our religious gratitude to the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” Without the imputation of weakness, we may glory in the thought, that America has set the world a leading example of Revolutions in favour of rational liberty and elective representative government. Already has its influence extended beyond this hemisphere. Events, which astonish the boldest minds, and confound all former reasonings and calculations, are still in a train of rapid succession; and Omniscience only can foretell what a few more years will unfold. Of all these mighty changes the American Revolution appears to have been the grand primum mobile, and the immortal Fourth of July was the crisis of that Revolution. Next to the creation of the world and the introduction of the Christian religion, we are now celebrating the most memorable era, probably, that stands upon the records of time.

AT the request of your Committee of arrangements, I appear in this place, not to amuse you with new or fanciful ideas. The occasion, on which we are met, though grateful to every heart of sensibility, is too familiar to admit of novelty & far too noble to comport with the levities of a playful imagination. Neither shall I be expected to undertake a review of the origin, the principles or progress of the Revolution, or to record the merits of the patriots and heroes, who were the great actors in those eventful scenes. To attempt that, would encroach upon the province of the historian. Nor, on the other hand, shall I invite the audience to follow me, on fancy’s airy wings, into the long tracts of future times, to contemplate in vision the ideal golden age of the Poet, or the expected Millennium of the pious Divine. However useful it may often be to look back and gather wisdom from the experience of years that are gone; however gratifying it might now be, to look forward, and by anticipation enjoy the probable happiness of unborn millions, who will hereafter people the immense regions of these States, from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, from the frozen confines of Canada, to the burning sands of Florida, the object of our present address requires no assistance from the instructive past, no embellishment from the uncertain future. I have simply to remind you of the natural and political advantages, which our country now actually enjoys. For instead of arguments, we may fortunately recur to facts. Instead of fictions, we are furnished with living realities. The visible prosperity and happiness of the American Republic, contrasted with the circumstances of other nations, will therefore furnish the topics of our Oration.

AND do freemen really need to be reminded of these things? Can they ever forget them, or cease to keep them constantly in view? Forgive the assertion. However surprising it may, at the first glance, appear, it is nevertheless emphatically true, that they are often the most insensible of the benefits of liberty, and the least grateful for its bestowment, who are favoured with the fairest portion of the heavenly gift. We learn the worth of enjoyments, not so much by their possession, as by the want of them. This truth is equally applicable to the natural, the moral and the political world. Can he, who has never experienced the languor of sickness, justly estimate the value of health? Is the pampered Dives, cloathed in purple and fine linen and faring sumptuously every day, as good a judge of the comforts of food and raiment, as the mendicant Lazarus? Who, think you, could most feelingly describe the luxury of breathing fresh air, of beholding the light of the sun and moving without restraint from place to place, as convenience or inclination dictates? Not he surely, who from his cradle has been uninterruptedly accustomed to these enjoyments until by the force of habit they appear natural and necessary: but the wretch, who is entombed in a dungeon, and whose companions are gloom and despair; whose solitary employment, “from morn to night, from night again to lingering morn,” is to count the tardy moments, as they pass, to wish and wait, to brood in silence over his own reflections, and sharpen the sting of present misery by the remembrance of better days.

Next week Barnabas compares the lives of Americans under this new democracy to those still living under European monarchies…

1. Andrews was the first postmaster in Stockbridge and likely was given his appointment through Congressman Theodore Sedgwick, a Federalist, who was able to have a post office built. The first one west of the Springfield area.