The following is part one of four excerpts from the book ” The Last Men of the Revolution” written in 1864 by the Reverend Elias Hillard
From Luzerne I proceeded to Syracuse, the home of the Rev. DANIEL WALDO, the most widely known of the surviving soldiers of the Revolution.
There were many circumstances which rendered the anticipation of a visit to him one of great pleasure and satisfaction. Known, as he was, to all his countrymen, all felt acquainted with him and interested in him; while his intelligence, his wide familiarity with men and events, and, until of late, the full possession and vigor of his faculties, with his eminently social disposition, the freshness of his feelings, and his undiminished interest both in the past and the present, combined to render an interview with him, in prospect, one of the rare privileges of a lifetime. Most painful, therefore, was my disappointment on reaching his house to find the realization of these anticipations forever forbidden; the communion of life, so pleasant and prolonged, forever terminated; its story, told so often and so willingly, to be told no more. The hour so long awaited at last had come. Death was dealing with the old man. Already he had done with earthly things; and, passed into the border realm between the seen world and the unseen, he was awaiting in passive unconsciousness the opening of those mansions in his Father’s house, where so long there had been prepared for him a home.
A fall down a flight of steps, a short time before, though resulting in no immediate bodily injury, gave such a shock to his nervous system that he sunk under it; and his life, already enfeebled by his extreme age, ebbed quietly and painlessly away. The sight of him, as he lay upon his dying bed, was beautiful and touching. It was like the slumber of a child. His look was as peaceful and pleasant as when in health; and upon his wasting features there rested the serene and sweet expression of gentle goodness, breaking, for the moment, into a smile, as, on being addressed, he roused to answer, and then sank again into his dreamless sleep; and as you gazed you no longer wondered at the tender and devoted affection which you saw manifested towards him in that home. To see him, even without knowing him, was to love him; and as he lay there, so loved and tended not only with earthly ministries, but, as you could not doubt, with heavenly, the promise, so precious to the believer, seemed already, by anticipation, fulfilled. Already he had entered into, rest. A short time after, on Saturday, the 30th of July, at half-past one in the afternoon, he breathed his last. His age was one hundred and one years, ten months, and twenty days.
Daniel Waldo was born in Windham, (Scotland Parish,) Conn., on the 10th of September, 1762. He was the son of Zaccheus and Tabitha (Kingsbury) Waldo, and was the ninth of thirteen children. His native town will be remembered as the scene of the famous “Battle of the Frogs” and the fright of the inhabitants thereupon, which formed so favorite a theme of the humorous ballad literature of the pre-revolutionary period. The old meeting-house, too, is well known, through the curious and amusing description of it given by President Dwight in his “Travels.” “The spot,” he writes, “where it is posited bears not a little resemblance to a pound, And it appears as if those who pitched upon it intended to shut the church out of the town and the inhabitants out of the church.’
The earliest ancestor of Mr. Waldo in this country was Deacon Cornelius Waldo, of Ipswich, as early as 1654. The line of descent is. as follows: Deacon Cornelius; John, of Boston, the first Windham settler; Deacon Edward; Zaccheus; and Rev. Daniel. In the female line he was connected, through his great-grand-mother, Rebecca Adams, with the family to which Presidents John and John Quincy Adams belonged. At the time of his death, he was the oldest native of Windham; and at the last commencement of Yale College, he was reported as the oldest living graduate, belonging to the class of 1788.
His connection with the war of the Revolution begun in 1778. In that year, being then sixteen years old, he was drafted as a soldier for a month’s service at New London. He subsequently enlisted for eight months in the servlce of the State; and during the term of this enlistment, in March, 1779, was taken prisoner by the tories at Horseneck. This will be recollected as the spot rendered famous by Putnam’s escape, on horseback, down the stone steps from the height on which the continental troops, were posted. The circumstances of Mr. Waldo’s capture, as, given by himself to the artist who took his photograph, were as follows: One of the guards, on leaving his beat one stormy night, failed to give him warning, and thus the tories surprised him. One of them snapped a musket at him, but it only flashed in the pan; whereupon he laid down his own musket and made signs of surrender. But one of the enemy, on pretense that he was about to pick it up again, made a thrust at him with his bayonet, which failed to pierce him. He thereupon demanded to be treated as a prisoner of war; and lying down, the attacking party passed over him into the house which he was guarding, capturing the whole company (thirty-seven in number) which it contained. With his fellow prisoners Mr. Waldo was carried to New York, where he was confined in the far-famed “Sugar House” for about two months. There, with the exception of short rations, he was well treated. This terminated his immediate connection with the war. Upon his release by exchange, he returned to his home in Windham, and resumed his labors on the farm.
At the age of about twenty, becoming hopefully a Christian, he resolved to devote himself to the ministry; and after a brief period spent in preparation, he entered Yale College, and graduated, with honors, in 1788. He was a member, while in college, of its most ancient literary society, the Linonian. Among his classmates were Dr. Chapin, of Rocky Hill; James Lanman, U. S. Senator from Connecticut; and the eminent Jeremiah Mason, of Massachusetts, with whom he roomed during the last two years of his college life. He studied theology, after the manner of his time, with Rev. Dr., Hart, of Preston; and, after about a year spent in the study, was licensed to preach by the Windham Association, October 13, 1789. After preaching in several places, for a short time in each, he was ordained on the 24th of May, 1792, as pastor of the church at West Suffield, where he remained eighteen years. Here he was married to Mary Hanchett, by whom he had five children. In 1805, Mrs. Waldo became insane, and died seven years ago, after having been in this state uninterruptedly for upwards of fifty years. “I lived,” said the old man, in speaking of it, “fifty years with a crazy wife.”
On leaving Suffield, Mr. Waldo went to Columbia, where he preached a few Sabbaths. While there, a military review took place, and Mr. Waldo was invited to dine with the company. At the table there was a good deal of swearing; and upon the captain remarking to Mr. Waldo, in the course of the dinner, that he was glad he had come to dine with them, and that in this he differed from some of his brethren who had declined similar invitations, Mr. Waldo, raising his voice so as to be heard by all present, replied, “My Master was not afraid to dine with publicans and sinners, and I am not.” As may be supposed, there was no more swearing during the dinner.
Early in the present century, Mr. Waldo made some missionary tours, in the employ of the Missionary Society of Connecticut, to the states of New York and Pennsylvania, at that time the “Far West.” In 1811, he went, under the patronage of the Society for promoting Christian Knowledge, to Rhode Island, where he labored nine years. Then, for a few months, in 1820, he supplied the pulpit in Harvard, Massachusetts; after which he returned to Connecticut, and in a short time became pastor of the church in Exeter, where he remained twelve years.
In 1835, he removed to the state of New York, where his son had settled a short time before. In 1856, he accompanied his son’s family to Syracuse, where he spent the remainder of his days. For more than seventy years he was a minister in the Congregational Church.
On the 22d of December, 1856, upon the motion of Hon. Mr. Granger; the representative from his district, Mr. Waldo being then ninety-six years of age, was chosen chaplain of the House of Representatives; to which honorable position he was re-elected the following year.
During the exercise of this office he was called to preach the funeral sermon of Preston Brooks, the ruffian Assailant of Hon. Charles Sumner, which he did from the text, “To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise.” Upon what principle this text was selected is not known. Upon reflection, it occurs that the point of connection may be the circumstance that the words were originally addressed to a malefactor. While connected with Congress, he spent most of his time in reading, which he greatly loved – not wishing, as he used to say, to hear “the quarrels in the House.” On the Sabbath after he had completed his century he preached in the Second Presbyterian church, Albany, a sermon which he had just prepared, and which, it is said, would have done no discredit to him in the meridian of his life. His last sermon was preached after he had entered upon his one hundred and second year.
Mr. Waldo never saw either Washington or La Fayette. He served for a short time as chaplain at New London, in the year 1812. In the present conflict with rebellion he was intensely loyal, greatly desiring to live till the rebellion should be suppressed. He had implicit faith in the ultimate success of the Union arms and the re-establishment of the authority of the National Government over all the states.
President Lincoln he deemed honest, but not decided enough. He thought that the leaders of the rebellion should be dealt with in such a manner that no one would dare, in the future, to repeat the experiment.
In his personal habits, Mr. Waldo was very careful and regular. His standing advice was to “eat little.” He drank tea and coffee. The control of the temper he deemed one of the most important conditions of health, declaring that a fit of passion does more to break down the constitution than a fever. His mental vigor he retained wonderfully to the last. His memory was excellent, differing from that of most aged people, in that he retained current events with the same clearness as the earlier incidents of his history.
The closing years of Mr. Waldo’s life were passed in great comfort, in the family of his son. Everything that affection could prompt or refinement suggest, he there enjoyed. His pension, until the last year of his life, had been ninety-six dollars a year; a hundred dollars was added to it a few months before he died. But this was not needed to secure to him every condition possible of the enjoyment of life. The tenderest ministries of filial affection were bestowed upon him. Of these, a lock of his hair lying before me, soft, silvery, silky, is mute but touching witness. The circle of his friends embraced not only the best society of the city where he dwelt, but the eminent and noble of the land. Wherever he appeared in public, it was only to receive the sincerest honors which a grateful and loving people could pay him; and in his death he is regretted by all. He lived long to witness and enjoy the greatness and glory of his country; and his death was graciously delayed till its still loftier greatness and higher glory were assured.
The words of one who knew him intimately, and who has recorded his life more worthily, will fitly close this sketch:
“Mr. Waldo possessed naturally a clear, sound, well balanced mind, with little of the metaphysical or the imaginative. He was a great reader, eagerly devouring every work of interest that came within his reach. His spirit was eminently kind and genial, and this, united with his keen wit and large stores of general knowledge, made him a most agreeable companion.
He was one of the most contented of mortals. Though he experienced many severe afflictions, and had always from an early period of his ministry one of the heaviest burdens of domestic sorrow resting upon him, his calm confidence in God never forsook him, nor was he ever heard to utter a murmuring word. As a preacher, he was luminous, direct, and eminently practical; his manner was simple and earnest, and well fitted to command attention. At the close of a life of more than a hundred years, there is no passage in his history which those who loved him would wish to have erased.”