1844: J. A. Nichols to a Friend

The following incredible letter was written by a young man by the name of J. A. (or I. A.) Nichols who we learn was attending the Kingston Academy in Kingston Plains, New Hampshire in 1844. There were several families residing in or about Kingston Plains at the time of this letter but I have not been able to place him in any particular family tree. He frequently mentions Sanborn so much hunch is that he was related to the Jonathan Sanborn Nichols family. Perhaps he died or moved away prior to the 1850 US Census.

The letter is interesting because it demonstrates the fervor in which citizens backed their favorite candidates—particularly in the Election of 1844 which pitted James K. Polk, Democrat (or Loco), against Henry Clay, Whig, whose defenders slugged it out on the campaign trail over the controversial issues of slavery and the annexation of Texas. Hoping to take advantage of the splintered traditional parties was James G. Birney who entered the race as the nominee of the Liberty (or “Abolitionist”) Party. Birney was the editor of a Cincinnati abolitionist newspaper.

As the letter shows, there were a few abolitionists who voted for Birney in Kingston but the Locos carried the majority by a wide margin under the banner of “Polk, Slavery, Free Trade, and Texas!” The ripping down or trampling on the banners of opposing presidential nominee’s banners described in this letter reminds me of the 20th Century citizens removing or destroying campaign signs in each others yards.

Surprisingly the author makes no mention of the “Millerite excitement” that, next to the election, was probably the most frequent topic of debate and laughter at Calef’s general store in Kingston. “The believers of the pernicious doctine” in Kingston and other villages in the lower part of New Hampshire, “have almost entirely neglected to provide for future wants,” reported the Boston Post.


1830 Kingston Academy in Kingston Plains, New Hampshire, 1857
(Harvard University Map Collection)

Kingston, New Hampshire
November 3, 1844

My dear friend,

I am confident that you will not turn a deaf ear towards a recital on my part of the public matters of our old beloved Kingston. For two weeks I have been a constant attendant of the “Old School.” The first day I attended it seemed as if none but strange faces stared me on every side. I recognized but a few indeed who were the life and joy of last winter schooldays. I took my seat in the corner which last winter was occupied by Miss S. W. N. and more recently vacated by S. W. Mason. You may think by this time I have initiated myself in the acquaintance of the ladies. This is true and I find most of them to [be] very fine young ladies! But I can mention no names familiar with you.

I think the school is nearly as full as it was last winter and quite as pleasant to me!! Thus far I have learned as well as you would expect! I board at [the] old building formerly occupied as The Banner Office but those old stairs are nothing in comparison with our here. Do you take the hint? As yet, I am true to the principles of bachelorism—I mean the professed principles. I have waited upon none of the fair sex since I have been here although I have had several opportunities and have received severe reprimands for not so doing. I would just say that Miss E. A. M. is well—I think so—although rather low-spirited. Can you divine the course?

There is to be an examination at the close of this term, or the Tuesday (the 12th inst.) before Thanksgiving in this state. You must come up then certain—do not fail. It commences at 10 o’clock a.m. The larger ladies prepare compositions for the occasion; also Ben Cheerful and myself. Dialogues have been prepared for others.

A Temperance convention was held in this place last Thursday. The exercises were rather interesting. On that morning for the first time was discovered on the cupola of the academy, a banner made of red cambria brick with silver letters upon it forming the  following words: “N. Hampshire, the Banner State for Polk and Dallas.” You may well think this exasperated me not a little. I declared to Mr. Dalton that I would not enter that building to attend school under that banner and that if I went in after my books, I would enter the back door. There was no school that day and I bore it patiently.

Evening came and I determined on having it removed. Accordingly, I fastened a large knife to a pole and ascended to the top the building and succeeded in cutting some of the fastenings—but not enough to lose it. I went to the meeting house and with D. Garland, agreed to take it down after meeting at any rate. But after meeting, we went there and found it down! Wm. Hogdon made [it] and put it up and probably took it down. That same day, Moses Sanborn and myself made a flag of cotton cloth 2 yds wide, 3 yds long, with Clay & Frelinghuysen painted and also the stars and stripes, and hung out on Mr. [Samuel] Calef’s [general store] sign post and there it floats to the breeze now.

Yesterday I went home away at night. I came home and found that same Loco banner attached to a line reaching from the cupola of the academy to the elm tree [in] front of Dr. [Levi Stevens] Bartlett’s. It hangs over the road. It looks like one of these “solid” rests in music—just the same proportion. It is red—without stars and stripes—so we call it the Pirate’s Flag!

I get but very little political news up in this region. Mason, Snow, and myself talk of going to Amesbury on Sunday next. Excuse all. Yours, J. A. Nichols

EXTRA!!!!!!!!  RIOT &c!

November 3d, Four o’clock P. M.

I have just returned from one of the most heartrending and diabolical scenes ever witnessed on Kingston Plains. The circumstances are as follows. It appears that before sunrise this morning an Abolition Flag was raised on a line leading from Mr. [Benjamin Dodge] Cilley’s chimney to the elm tree near 0[rin P.] Spofford’s. It was made and owned by Mon. [Monroe] & Elihu Colcord, 1 and P. Frost. It was a very handsome flag made of bleached white cloth with stars and stripes of pink. The names of Birney & Morris were painted upon it. It was the size of 15 feet by 9. They had the bells rung on the occasion when [they] raised it and felt rather proud of it. But a short time elapsed before that miserable Webster who carried that rum banner last spring around the streets came along and commenced stoning it and threw one stone through it. This was considered as a gross insult by the owners and at town meeting. Mon[roe] Colcord gave this Jont. Webster a severe drubbing, somewhat exasperated him, and he came down and got his Father onto the building and cut the rope of this flag whilst he and some others took it and dragged it into a mud puddle and stomped the Liberty which was upon it underfoot. This was seen by some friend of The Banner. The owners were at the Town House at the time but at the time saw it fall! and mistrusting the cause, they set out accompanied by others, and came foaming down like lightening. The rowdies run—some to the tavern and others at Peasley’s. They took the old man and gave him a beating without gloves on! The young Webster was taken by others and pretty essentially mauled, after which he got clear from them and was chased into Mr. Calef’s house. The ladies prevented them taking him at that time.

At the time I arrived at the scene of excitement, anarchy and confusion reigned triumphant. The [town] square [in] front of Peasley’s was crowded and more bloodthirsty fellows I never saw than were the friends of the flag. Such horrid imprecations as were uttered by them, I never before heard, Hogdon took an active part and if he didn’t damn Spofford and some others, I don’t know what damning is. Esq. Wise, Wm. Webster, and many others took an active part. Meanwhile the flag was again raised, securing one of the line to Mr. Calef’s sign post and the other to the elm by Dr. Bartlett’s. It was now reported that Webster was going home. The crowd now rushed down to Mr. Calef’s. The flag party was determined to pound him yet. In vain did Mr. Calef endeavor to pacify them—to persuade them to use no personal violence—to let him go home in peace. But no—they would not. The fugitive’s father got the sheriff to take him home but they suffered him not to go.

From my supper, I returned there. Gen. J[ames] Spofford was sent up to take him home. He went in and coaxed him out on the platform but upon the advance of the leaders, he ran back into the house. General Spofford then threatened them—intimated as though he would shoot them with pistols, &c. He was obliged to clear out to save threshing. He then went to the tavern, raised a gang of about 20 drunken vagabond loafers with Oren and marched down with much dignity as we thought to fight! Dreadful forebodings were pictured on every countenance. That blood would be shed was not doubted. I felt determined to at all hazards! We counted about a dozen. Sanborn was on hand, determined to do his part. The mob approached, broke into our ranks, and endeavored to frighten us by threats. We did not retrograde a hair’s breadth, but only the firmly clenched our fists and strengthened our valor. Failing to drive us by their boasted courage, they did not seem willing to fight. Neither did they dare to take the prisoner out of the house. At every corner and nook of the house we had watchmen placed to prevent his escape undiscovered.

A reporter for the Boston Atlas would give you a description of this affair which would be interesting. He would describe them at this time in great commotion—some urging on fight, some restraining, some screaming, and some talking love, &c. The outskirts were lined with women praying, dancing, renting their clothes, tearing their hair, and agonizing in fearful expectation  of the approaching crisis. But our opponents did not dare to  fight and so concluded to let him ask their forgiveness for injuring their flag, which they before would not do. Upon his acknowledging his wrong, they forgave him freely and broke up their ranks. Thus we hope ended a scene which might have proved sad and lamenting in its results.

Yours, &c., — J. A. Nichols

P. S. — The vote for this town for Presidential Electors stood

Clay 52
Polk 107
Birney 17

At noon, it was reported that Kingston had given [ ] majority for Polk.

An 1857 Map of Kingston Plains with residences marked, including the Kingston Academy. (Harvard University Map Collection)

1 Monroe Colcord (1824-1887) and Elihu Colcord (1825-1909) were the sons of Daniel and Polly (Woodman) Colcord of Kingston, Rockingham county, New Hampshire.

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