American History and Genealogy Project


Dr. Benjamin Vaughan, the Friend of Statesmen

Hallowell will one day be greater than New York," wrote an Italian historian, who visited Maine more than a century ago, "for through it will flow all the trade from Canada."

Could he have known how little of his dream of Hallowell's greatness was to be realized, he might have wondered. Perhaps he did not understand the difference between the sunny climate of his own land, and that of a country whose rivers are ice-bound for at least three months of the year, but he had some little foundation on which to build his dreams, for Hallowell, when he saw it, was a port of entry, and from it ships sailed away down the Kennebec, bound for nearly every port on the globe. Oftentimes those same ships were built and launched from Hallowell's banks. Perhaps the ship-builder was a sea-captain as well, or if he were not, he made voyages in his own ships to strange lands. Such was Peter Grant, whose grandchildren found a penciled record on the lid of his desk, of every voyage he had ever made in his sailing vessels.

To this Peter Grant fell the honor of cutting the masts for "Old Ironsides." He cut them in Vassalboro, and his little grand-daughter, when she was old enough to understand the story, used to gaze with awe at the stumps from which they were cut.

Though the tide of commerce ebbing from her shores has robbed Hallowell of her glory, she has been left rich memories. Could some magic power call up the pageant of her past you would see per-sons of world-wide fame. Through the magic power of the imagination, try to catch a glimpse of one of the personages with whom old Hallowell was familiar, Dr. Benjamin Vaughan. Dr. Vaughan was associated with the greatest statesmen of his day. He designed our State Seal and this is but one of his many claims to distinction. Benjamin Vaughan was born in Jamaica, April 19, 1751. When a small lad, his father moved to London. He was a student at Cambridge, one of England's great universities, but was not allowed to receive any degree because he was a Unitarian, and that honor was reserved for members of the Church of England.

Benjamin Vaughan married Sarah Manning, the daughter of a wealthy London merchant. Miss Manning's father withheld his consent to the marriage for a long time, because the young man was wholly engrossed in politics and had no profession. So Vaughan went to Edinburgh and studied medicine. Upon his return to London, he married Miss Manning, and became the partner of his father-in-law. He devoted some of his time, however, to his profession, opening an office in London, and also writing on medical subjects. He did not give up his interest in political matters, and he served as a member of Parliament. Years afterward, when he had made his home in Maine, he practiced medicine among the people who needed his services.

Then came the French Revolution, which followed our own Revolution so closely. Benjamin Vaughan's whole heart was with a down trodden and oppressed people, and he gave all his energies to helping them. Lord Shelburne, to whom he was private secretary, had sent him to Paris four times previously as an ambassador, concerning the Peace of Paris.

Because of his interest in the storm that had burst in France, he fell under the displeasure of the government in England. He spent much time abroad, living for a year in Paris. He came to know Robespierre who figured so prominently in the Revolution and who generally has been regarded as a monster. Dr. Vaughan, however, had no sympathy with Robespierre's methods of establishing justice. While living in France, Dr. Vaughan aroused the suspicion of the very people he was trying to aid. To escape their rage, he took the name of Jean Martin, and under that name finally fled for his life from France to Switzerland.

A letter he had written put his life in danger. Almost any letter was dangerous in France in those days, for no matter how innocent it seemed, the frenzied people could generally find proof in it, or thought they could, that the writer meant some harm.

The French revolutionists wanted help from other countries. They asked the United States to help them, but the young nation, having just ended one war, had no mind to take part in another. When England, too, refused aid, the Revolutionists made plans for landing an army there and compelling their help. Dr. Vaughan did not approve this plan. In protest he wrote the letter which so nearly cost him his life.

If he could not live in France, neither could he return to his English home, since the government there was looking on him with disfavor, and William Pitt advised him to keep out of Great Britain.

After the stormy scenes he had witnessed, his mind turned naturally to some spot where he might find peace. He had been greatly interested in the American Revolution, and the fate of the new nation, and he determined to emigrate to America. His brother Charles had preceded him to the new land and at that time was living near Boston, and he himself had inherited lands on the Kennebec from his grandfather, Benjamin Hallowell. Dr. Vaughan sought there a haven of rest. He expected to find an ideal republic where everybody lived simply. He wanted his own family to be like the people among whom they were going to live, so he had them dress in the simplest manner, and he sold the silver plate which they had been accustomed to use at table.

Dr. Vaughan's hopes of an ideal country where all the people lived simple, honest lives were shattered, but at least in Hallowell he found the quiet for which his soul longed. He and his wife rode to their new home on horseback through the Maine woods. Here, at the brow of a hill. Dr. Vaughan made his home in the house which is still standing, built by his brother, Charles. It was spacious and substantial, though simple in architecture, and was filled with historic pictures and colonial furniture. Acres of smooth, green lawns sloped away to the river, and the extensive gardens were under the care of an English gardener. At a short distance from the house, in a deep ravine with almost perpendicular sides, Vaughan brook, a noisy little stream, tore and twisted and splashed on its way to join the Kennebec.

The house and the furnishings are little changed today, and the place is still the home of a direct descendant of Dr. Benjamin Vaughan.

In the quiet of his new home. Dr. Vaughan indulged his taste for farming. He imported choice fruit trees, often giving away young trees or seed to encourage his neighbors in the same pursuit. He brought the best breeds of cattle from Europe.

Vaughn Mansion
The Vaughan Mansion, Hallowell

So famous did his stock become, that nearly a hundred years later, when cattle were carried from the Kennebec to Brighton, people would exclaim, "There goes the Vaughan breed."

Dr. Vaughan instituted the first agricultural fair in the State of Maine. It was held at Manchester cross roads, and all went well until he undertook to give prizes for the best exhibits. This caused trouble. He was a member of the Massachusetts Society for promoting agriculture, for Maine was a part of Massachusetts then, and he often wrote articles on farming for magazines, signing them "A Kennebec Farmer.'' Dr. Vaughan's brother Charles settled on the estate and to him was given the care of the farming interests.

Dr. Vaughan brought to his Hallowell home his library, which contained 10,000 volumes, the largest in New England aside from the Harvard College library. Mrs. Vaughan, who was lady bountiful to the country around, used to gather groups of children in the spacious library and read to them, a great treat, for books were not so plentiful then as now. Some of the medical books were given after Dr. Vaughan's death to the Augusta State Hospital; others were presented to Harvard and Bowdoin.

Dr. Vaughan entertained at this Hallowell home many distinguished guests. Among them was a man who had been very prominent in France, especially during the French Revolution. He was that wily, brilliant and unscrupulous politician, the Duke of Talleyrand. The great statesman was exiled from his own country. With a companion, equally out of favor in France, he fled to England, but the people there would have none of them, and America was their only refuge. Probably his acquaintance with Dr. Vaughan, whom he had met in Paris, was one of the influences which brought the Duke of Talleyrand to Maine. Then, too, he had been in Maine before, though of that he said never a word. During his stay, he went to Machias. One day at the home of a lawyer, with whom he was dining, he expressed a longing for a sight of the "mountain by the sea'' as he called it. His picture of that mountain was such an one as childish memories might have stamped on his mind. Not long afterwards the Duke visited Mount Desert, traveling, however, incognito. his appearance on the island caused much conjecture. The island people wondered what brought him there, and the older ones began to discuss him among themselves. They took notice that their visitor was French. They also noted that he limped slightly. Then they recalled a French boy who had spent his childhood among them, and who had been lame from an accident. Putting all these recollections together they concluded that this' strange visitor and the little French boy, who had been taken away from the island so long ago by a stranger, and brought up in France, were the same person.

But what about the Duke's companion in exile? To this day, opinions as to his identity differ. He pretended at times that he could not speak English, though it was found out afterwards that he could speak it very well. In any case, it was certain that for political reasons he was safer out of France just then. As to his identity, some said, and there is every reason to believe, that he was no less a personage than Louis Philippe, then a prince, and afterwards King of France. Thus a prince of the House of Bourbon once wandered about the glades and wooded slopes of Hallowell and went fishing in Vaughan Brook, into which, tradition says, he once fell.

At least one other visitor to Dr. Vaughan in Hallowell bore a name written in the annals of France. He was the nephew of Marshal Ney, probably the most celebrated of Napoleon's marshals. The young man was ill of a fever while there, and was attended by one of the physicians of the town. Dr. Page. A letter which he wrote to the doctor on his return to France, and which accompanied the hundred dollars he sent, was treasured in the family for years, but was finally lost.
Not only the distinguished guests whom Dr. Vaughan entertained in his home, but his wide correspondence with noted men at home and abroad, showed the prominence he had attained. He counted among his friends President Adams, John Jay and Benjamin Franklin. The latter gave to Dr. Vaughan a copy of his memoirs in his own handwriting. Dr. Vaughan's correspondence with Thomas Jefferson indicated a close friendship.

In 1825, when the Marquis de Lafayette visited Portland, a public reception was given him by Hon. Albion K. Parris, then Governor of Maine. The Governor's aides were watching anxiously to protect the Marquis against any annoyance, when one of them observed to Gov. Parris, "Do you see that man there, clothed in black, in small clothes, his hair white, and hat in hand, who has been talking long with Lafayette? I fear he will annoy him. I'll go and send him away."
The Governor was horrified. "What," said he, "that venerable man? That is Dr. Benjamin Vaughan of Hallowell. He is an old and intimate friend of the Marquis."

Probably few men who have done so much for their country have been so little recognized as Dr. Vaughan. His services, in the making of peace between this country and Great Britain, have never been properly appreciated. His influence in Hallowell went far to make the town what it was in its early days, and it is said that every man, woman and child in the town looked up to him. He was one of the finest scholars of his time. The degree of LL.D. was conferred on him by Harvard College, and later by Bowdoin. He was a member of many literary and scientific societies both in this country and Europe and he was one of the incorporators of the Maine Historical Society. He died in Hallowell in 1835, at the age of 85.

"The happiest man I ever saw," said one who knew him well.

Dr. Vaughan never would allow any biography of himself to be written, which probably accounts for the fact that in history, he has never received the honor which is his just due. His life would have made a thrilling story, for this man who came to spend his last days in a quiet spot by the Kennebec, had taken part in some of the most stirring events of the great French Revolution and was influential in the development of Maine.

Theda Cary Dingley

Source: Maine My State, The Maine Writers Research Club, The Journal Print Shop, Lewiston, Maine, 1919

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