Elizabeth Oakes Prince, daughter of David Prince and his wife Sophia Blanchard, was born in Cumberland, Maine, August 12, 1806. She was educated in the schools of her home town, and at the age of sixteen, on March 6, 1823, was married to Seba Smith ("Major Jack Downing"), at that time editor of The Eastern Argns. They had five sons. She assisted her husband in his editorial work, and later began publishing poems and novels. Much of her early work was written under the pseudonym "Ernest Helfenstein." Her first book, "Riches Without Wings," appeared in 1838, and "The Sinless Child," which originally was published in The Southern Literary Messenger, appeared in book form in 1841. In 1842 the Smiths removed to New York, where both continued their literary work, and in that year she published her first Indian story, "The Western Captive." Her first novel for Beadle was written in 1867. In 1860 the family had moved to Patchogue, Long Island, but after the death of her husband in 1868 she lived most of her time with her eldest son in Hollywood, N. C. She appeared frequently on the lecture platform as an extremely radical exponent of Woman's Rights, and in 1877, for a year, was pastor of the Independent Church at Canastota, N. Y. She died at her son's home November 15, 1893 and was buried at Blue Point, Long Island. Smith being too common, she had her childrens' names legally changed during their childhood to "Oaksmith." †Among his pen names were "G. B. Singleton," used in the by-line of "Castle Dismal" when it appeared in The Magnolia in 1842; "Adrian Beaufain," "Frank Cooper," "A Bachelor Knight," "An Editor," "A Southron," and "A South Carolinian." (See Trent's biography of Simms.)
REFERENCES: E. A. Poe, Review of Mrs. Smith's Collected Poems, in Godey's Lady's Book, Dec., 1845, and Broadway Journal, August 23, 1845; Read's Female Poets of America, 1851, 23; Hart's Female Prose Writers, 1852, 178-79, with portrait; Rufus W. Griswold, The Female Poets of America, 1863; Allibone, Dict. Eng.Lit., Ill; Lamb's Biog. Dict., VII, 1903, 114-15; Nat. Cyc. Amer. Biog., XI, 1907, 171, small portrait; Mary A. Wyman, Two American Pioneers, 1927; Duyckinck, Cyc. Amer. Lit., II, 1877, 159, with portrait; J. C. Derby, Fifty Years Among Authors, Books and Publishers, New York, 1884, 545-49; F. L. Pattee, The Feminine Fifties, New York, 1940, 100-102.
Dime Novels. Nos. 127, 142, 479, 498
American Library (London). No. 83
Beadle's Monthly. Vol. III. Autobiographical Notes, 1867.
SPECIMEN OF MRS. OAKES SMITH'S STYLE
"Bald Eagle; or, The Last of the Ramapaughs." Dime Novel No. 127, pp. 9-14.
New Jersey has often been called the Flanders of America, and it certainly earned the name by the number of battles fought upon its soil, and by the expenditure of life and money in the great war of the Revolution. Ramapo Valley suffered more than any other locality. Three years the American army encamped therein, and its fastnesses were often in the hands of the enemy, or usurped by marauders, who killed and pillaged either army without principle and without mercy.
This historic and most picturesque region was at that time placed upon a bad eminence, as being the arena of the terrible exploits and cruel devastations of a class of men popularly known as the "Cowboys." These marauders belonged to neither of the parties which divided the country—they were neither patriots nor loyalists, but preyed alike upon either, as it best served their interest or malignity. The leader had been, for a long period, one Claudius Smith, a bold, handsome man, around whom secretly clustered all those unprincipled and daring men, to be found in all communities when its peace is disturbed by the presence of conflicting armies.
Smith was from a good family, which had a right to expect better things of him; but this only goes to verify the old proverb, that every flock has one black sheep. He had a mixture of generosity, craft, cruelty, and unflinching courage in his composition, which made him a hero in the eyes of that class which discards all moral questions of right and truth from the scale of judgment.
At length he was taken prisoner and hanged for his crimes; but he left a son, Richard, a cruel, fiery youth, who swore to be revenged upon the patriots for the death of his father; and for a long time he was the terror of the whole region; and from his well-known characteristics, had earned for himself the familiar name of Black Dick.
Our story opens in the maternal home of this graceless youth, situated under the brow of a mountain and overlooking the river.
It had been a raw, gusty day, and as the night approached, the air grew sharp and caused the yellow leaves, which began to fall from the trees, to whirl and eddy round the angles of the home, like disaffected ghosts, rustling at the windows, assailing the doors, and mounting the roof.
A smouldering fire burned upon the hearth of the huge fireplace; over the coals, suspended upon hooks from the iron crane, hung a tea-kettle which had long since boiled, and now sent out volumes of steam, and spurted little jets of water, in angry discontent at not being "taken off."
On a flag-bottomed, high-backed chair, with her gown raised nearly to her knees, sat a large, low-browed woman, with her eyes fixed upon the coals; ever and anon she swung one leg, and brought the heel of her foot down uneasily to the red-bricked hearth, as if her thoughts were of an oppressive or painful character. She held a short clay pipe between the thumb and forefinger of the right hand, while the other fell heavily in front of her, the elbow upon her knee. She seemed to derive little pleasure from the gratification of smoking, for she held the pipe between her lips, and occasionally drew in the air therefrom, long after the fire in the bowl had gone out. At length a drop from the sputtering kettle must have touched her, for she started quickly and cried, in a sharp voice:
"Why don't you take off this kettle, you lazy jade, you?"
There was no other than the firelight in the room, which flickered and played fitfully upon the blackened ratters above, gleaming amid strings of pumpkins and apples hung to dry, and yet insufficient to illuminate the dark recesses of the apartment. Somewhere from out the gloom emerged a slender shape, with brown hair and soft, tender blue eyes, which gazed with an expression of fear upon the woman who had thus accosted somebody in the darkness. She approached timidly, and a limber wrist and small red hand lifted the obnoxious kettle from the hook, saying, at the same time,
"Did it scald you, mother?"
"No; I don't know; I didn't feel it."
"Why, yes; here is a blister on your hand; let me wrap it up," and the small red hand lifted the large brown one tenderly.
The woman shook her off, swung her leg and brought her heel down with vehemence, and drew the empty, dead pipe, like one determined not to be appeased; but the girl silently laid some cooling mixture upon the injured hand and withdrew into the darkness.
"Come here, Mag; are you sniffling?" cried the woman.
"No, indeed, mother," was the answer, in a soft voice, trying to be courageous, but the owner did not come forward.
There was a pause, and again a sound, as if a heart had broken loose again, which was succeeded by a cough, meant to cover it up and drag it into place.
"I say come here, Mag," cried the woman, bringing her heel down with a swing, and holding the pipe bolt upright in her hand, while she turned her head sideways in the direction of the darkness whence had issued the suspicious sound.
There was a clatter of little high-heeled shoes, and a small figure stood in the fire-light, habited in a short, pea-green moreen petticoat, surmounted by a white muslin loose sack, drawn in at the waist by a pink ribbon. The hair was combed up from the low, fair forehead, and fell in long tresses at the back of the head; at the left side were a few leaves and a blush rose. It was a pretty, child-like figure, to which the short dress was not unbecoming. The dark eyelashes were wet, and the lips trembled, but they smiled nevertheless, and the white throat swallowed down the lump that would come up, resolutely.
"You are sniffling; I know it by the sound; what ails you?"
"I—I wish Richard would come, mother. I feel dreadfully."
"What ails you?" inquired the other, looking only at the fire.
"Somebody is sobbing and crying—crying. Oh, mother! I wish you loved me better," and the girl knelt down and laid a hand upon the woman's knee.
"What should I love you for?" still looking at the fire, and drawing the imaginary smoke.
"I don't know; only I feel so dreadfully. It seems to me a little love is what the heart needs."
"Poh, poh, Mag! you're better off without it. Everything we love brings us misery in some way."
This time she turned her face to the girl; there was a slight shade of feeling in her hard tone, and she added more softly,
"But what is this, Maggie? Why all this bravery?"
Maggie brought the small red hand quickly up, as if to hide the rose in her hair, and she answered timidly, "I thought Richard would be here."
"Tut, tut, girl; this is no time for foolery. Take it out, take it out, all the roses are spotted with blood now."
Maggie rose to her feet, without removing the rose, and listened intently. The wind had increased to a perfect howl, and was frantically tearing the leaves from the trees. It roared in the chimney, shook the door-latch, gave a wrench at the corner of the house, and then went screaming up the mountain gorges, as if it heard some horrible tale, which could only be divulged in shrieks of horror.
The old woman—and yet she was not old in years, but old, blighted, dead in soul—listened also; but with a keen zest of enjoyment, and a smile, which was not a smile, upon her lips.
"This is grand music," she muttered.
But Maggie drew back into the darkness, and covered her face, lightly rocking with her foot a cradle.
"What, in conscience sake, do you rock that cradle for?" cried her mother-in-law.
There was no answer, and the question was repeated. At which Maggie replied faintly.
"I think I hear every now and then poor little Dicky cry, mother."
The woman groaned, but she answered, "He's past that; past that."
"I know it, mother, but it comforts me to rock the cradle."
At this moment, a furious blast shook the house, tugged at the rafters, trampled over the roof, gave a great howl down the chimney, and went shrieking up the mountain. Maggie cried,—
"Hark! I am sure I heard a shriek which was not the wind."
"Very likely," said the other, dryly.
Not long after, the latch was violently shaken, and Maggie rushed to the door, and threw both arms around her husband's neck. He returned her caresses, but absently, and took her arms from his shoulders. He crossed the room, where his mother stood with sharply-knit brows, and eyes sternly fixed.
"Well, my son?"
"It is done, mother."
She threw both arms into the air with an expression of exultation, and then would have clasped him in her arms, had not the young man repelled her with a gesture that said without the aid of words, "no."
It was no wonder that the winds howled, and shrieked, and rushed to hide themselves in the mountain gorges, from whence they sent forth hollow groans, complainings, and unearthly sobs, for these solitudes had been aroused by a fearful outrage on the night we have described.
Black Dick and his fellow associates revenged that night the death of his father, and bowed, as we shall see, more than one lovely head with grief; but the old, withered heart, and the dry lips, which sat that night over the embers, and smoked a dead pipe, rejoiced.
A small cottage, with a sloping roof upheld by vine-covered columns, stood on a little plateau, not half a mile from the dwelling we have described. . . . This was the home of young David Gurney, a devoted loyal man, whose soul loathed the nefarious doing of the Cowboys, and who had been mainly instrumental in bringing Claudius Smith to punishment for his crimes. . . . He knew well that the Cowboys had doomed him to death and he came only by stealth to the home of his beautiful bride, who lived, in the meanwhile, in the cottage with no other companion than her mother. It is not our intention to relate the horrors of that miserable night, in which the elements themselves, used to human atrocities, shrieked as they rushed by, beholding Black Dick and his associates, aided by darkness and storm, surround the house, and having bound the two women and secured the three without firing a shot— which they dared not do for fear of giving the alarm— put the young man to death with their bayonets, in the presence of the women, he fighting desperately all the while.
† Correction made as per Volume 3.