Many times family history becomes just a listing of births, marriages and deaths.
This account, taken from papers of the Conant family in our archives, is a heart breaking reminiscence of an event in Benjamin Conant’s childhood. Benjamin Conant is the brother of Sherman Conant.
An Experience of My Childhood by Benjamin Conant
My childhood was spent in Littleton, a small New England town, where dwelt a company of sturdy, hardworking people, of whom the larger part tilled the soil for the meager return it yielded.
My father, Levi Conant, was a hardworking man, cultivating a few acres of land during the season, and making shoes in the winter and at times of leisure between “planting and haying” and also between “haying and harvesting” and at any time when it was not necessary for him to work on the land.
My mother, in addition to doing the housework for the family, had the care of the children of whom I was the eldest. My brother Sherman was two years younger, a brother Harry five, and little sister nearly two.
Near our house was the school-house where the children gathered for a term in winter and another in summer to be taught in the various studies of their own choosing. Directly opposite the school-house was the Church where the people assembled on the quiet Sabbath Day to receive instruction in righteousness from the Minister who was familiarly known as “Parson White.” (This house was moved when Fay Park was built. It is now 1 Wilderness Road)
In the month of May 1848, there had been an unusually large number of deaths in the town, and the afflicted ones naturally turned to the house of the Lord for comfort for which the mourning heart yearns.
Whenever a death had occurred in any family in the Church, it was the custom in our Sabbath worship for the Minister to read just before the “long prayer” a notice similar to the following: “Mr. and Mrs. John Jones and family desire an interest in the prayers of this Church that the death of Mrs. Jones’ mother may be sanctified to them for their spiritual good and improvement.”
One Sabbath in the month referred to, after the reading of the notice, the petition to the Throne of Grace and the singing of a hymn by the choir, Parson White announced as his text “It is good for me that I have been afflicted.”
The announcement of that text and the influence of that sermon made a deep impression on my young heart. How any good could come from affliction was a mystery to me, but the words of the minister were present with me so much in the days that followed, that after saying my prayer as usual on retiring the following Tuesday night, I ventured to utter the prayer: “O Lord! Grant that I may be afflicted.” I knew at the time that I did not mean it and did not wish it. Perhaps other prayers have been offered in the same spirit. In the morning, when I woke, the prayer I had expressed on retiring seemed to haunt me. I wished I had not uttered it.
After breakfast my mother sent me away with my brother to do an errand. We were opposite the residence of my grandfather, about an eighth of a mile distant, when we were startled by seeing him run out of the house, closely followed by the hired man, each having a water pail, and shouting” Fire! Fire! Ring the bell some on ye!” On they ran, followed by others, towards my father’s house. The bell soon sounded, and the town’s people were all running towards the fire.
Running as swiftly as my feet could carry me, I rushed into the yard. The barn was filled with smoke. The men were working the pump, also running to and from pumps at the neighbors, also from the brook nearby.
My mother met me in the yard almost distracted with anxiety, saying: “I believe the little children are in that fire. I cannot find them anywhere.” Very soon my little sister was found, but my youngest brother was nowhere to be seen. The men worked bravely, throwing water on the burning building until the fire was subdued. But the anxious question “Where is Henry?” was on all lips. One of the men suggested that someone look under the barn. One of the neighbors crawled through an opening in the underpinning where he could see under the barn. Coming back he said; “He is there.” “Bring him out” cried the men. Again he went under the barn, and very soon returned dragging the charred body of my little brother. I stood by, and saw that lifeless form laid on a pile of boards bear by, and rushed into the house, and broke the terrible news to my poor, anxious mother. Her grief was almost uncontrollable.
Among those who were in the house to try to offer words of comfort and consolation was the good Parson White, who had spoken words of comfort to so many broken hearts, and whose calmness and ready words of sympathy were so much needed and prized.
My father had gone from home after breakfast that morning and was quite a distance away when he heard the sound of the fire bell. On looking back he saw that his buildings were on fire. With an anxious, heavy heart he returned as quickly as possible. The fire had been put out, and body of little Henry found before he reached his home.
The men were standing about the yard and watching him as he approached, no one seeming to desire to break the sad news to him. As he drew nearer and saw the havoc made by the fire, the man who had found the remains of the little boy said to him:”See, there is your boy.” At the same time pointing to the lifeless form that so full of life when he had left home. “Is he dead?” asked my father. “Yes he is dead,” was the reply. Broken down with grief he sought my mother.
Only those who have had a loved child snatched from them without a moment’s warning can know the grief of those parents at that time.
The sad news quickly spread over the town and also adjoining towns. Many came to see the destruction made by the fire and look into the face of the dead boy which desire was denied all as the features could not be recognized.
I need not dwell on the sad days that followed, during which we laid the remains of the little boy in the grave. I felt as though my prayer had been answered, and on account of my prayer this calamity had befallen my family. Many were the heart pangs as I thought over the times I had found delight in teasing the little brother whom I would never see again.
I resumed my place in the district school, and the shock of that terrible day gradually wore away, but the memory of that sermon lingered with me.
Many years have passed, parents and brothers have been laid away to rest, and dear children taken. God takes his own way to accomplish his purposes, which for the time are past finding out, but standing at this end of time and looking back over the events that have been forced upon me, and noting their effect upon my own life, I can truly say:” It is good for me that I have been afflicted.”
New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette, published as New Hampshire Patriot & State Gazette; Date: 06-01-1848; Volume: 2; Issue: 54; Page: ; Location: Concord, New Hampshire
Levi Conant’s Tomb