The Hazard Family Letters 1832-1950
Introduction and biographical sketch of Thomas R. (Shepherd Tom) Hazard
from his
"The Jonny Cake Papers" by his grandnephew Roland G. Hazard
From the Reprinted Edition of 1915


Part I
Part II
Frontispiece-Portrait Old-Narragansett Map
Thomas G. Hazard, Jr

Part I

Thomas Robinson Hazard, of the seventh generation of Hazards in Rhode Island, Shepherd Tom for short, was born on the 3rd of January, 1797, in the house of his grandfather, "College Tom," standing then on the east slope of Tower Hill in Narragansett. The site can still be traced, but hardly one stone of the foundation remains upon another. He died in New York, March 26, 1886.

During his long life of more than eighty-nine years, he was a prolific writer, and yet literature was not his profession. He was by choice a shepherd, not only of sheep, but a shepherd of men. Of a generous, sympathetic nature, he was quick to espouse the cause of the weak and downtrodden. He truly loved his neighbor as himself, and misfortune was ever the key to his heart. Thoroughly democratic in every fibre, he only required to be convinced of the justice of a cause to become its vigorous supporter. For the weak and defenseless he would go to any length. He was often called Quixotic, and he was doubtless somewhat hasty at times; especially is this true of his more youthful jousts.

In his riper manhood, his attention was called to the conditions of the insane poor, and in a report upon that subject made to the legislature in 1851,  he forcibly depicted the desperate case of the poor in the State of Rhode Island. He supplemented by personal visits a searching series of questions addressed to all the keepers of the poor in the state, and described what he saw in vivid terms. The considerable sensation aroused resulted in a movement to improve the condition of the poor throughout the state, wherever found. upon this report depends much of the serious consideration which his fellow citizens have always accorded to the memory of Shepherd Tom.

Descended from "a self-willed race of independent thinkers," he was himself a type specimen of the Snip Breed.

Mr. Hazard made a deep impression on most people who met him, and he was my favorite among my granduncles. In person he favored the men of his race. Six feet in his stocking feet, heavily built, but not portly, he moved quietly, as is the wont of very strong men. While not handsome, he was distinguished-looking, with thick, close, curly, nut-brown hair of a silky fineness. Blue eyes, which pity softened and the recital of the wrongs of others made steely hard, were set deep under overhanging brows. As a man of eighty, he wore a beard, much grizzled, and I remember well his chuckling laugh, constrained, almost throttled, it seemed, by a set of false teeth which he feared to lose by too hearty abandon. Yet it was a laugh full of real humor, and I have often seen him forced to pause in the middle of an amusing situation , shaking with laughter and speechless, so keen was his enjoyment of the picture conjured up by a memory as vivid as it was accurate. His hands, though large and bony, were full of character, and his dry palm and fingers hat that silky texture usually found only in the very young and the old. One could easily imagine such hands tenderly caring for the stray lambs of his flock.

His manner of speech was somewhat blurred; it was not always easy to understand him, but no doubt this was more noticeable as an old man, on account of the loose set of teeth already mentioned. A story occurs to me, however, which shows that Thomas, as well as his brothers, Isaac and Roland, had a fashion of rapid, indistinct speech. A stranger, noticing the three tall, fine-looking young men, absorbed in debating a business matter asked, "What language are they talking?"

He was remarkably self-controlled, except in argument, when I used to fear that personal violence might result. But under personal affliction, and I have often seen him so, he was not only wonderfully brave, but had a forced cheerfulness of manner, most pathetic to see, for no one could doubt a heart so tender must be bleeding. Thus, as an old man, hale and hearty, he stands for the chivalrous, for the clean mind, the pure heart, prompt to denounce evil, ready to acclaim the good, fonder, however, of denunciation.

It seems hardly in character that one who could do such serious work as that for the poor and insane should also maintain in New York a Stanhope gig, a two-wheeled affair, for his personal use when visiting that city. He was wont to stop at Bunker's Hotel, then a fashionable resort in Rector Street, and his occasional visits are remembered by a few as those of a bright and active-minded man. His voyage to England and the continental countries, about 1831, was seldom spoken of by himself, although Americans who crossed the ocean in the ships of that day were few in number, and showed some enterprise.

He was a master hand at controversy, as is attested by a long list of pamphlets issued by him in self-defense or to attack others. His most famous case excited intense feeling in the state, and led to impeachment proceedings against a Chief Justice. He was always a champion of those whom he considered in need of his assistance. 

He was bred in the strictest school of the Quakers' doctrine, and himself used the plain language so long as he lived. And yet he quotes three articles of faith taught "in nearly every well-ordered family in Narragansett" when he was a child: First, that ye love one another and your neighbor as yourselves. Second, that ye hate the Puritans of Massachusetts with a perfect hatred. Third, that ye hold the Presbyterians of Connecticut in like contempt. His early schooling was supplemented by three years (August, 1808-October 16, 1811) at Westtown school near Philadelphia, then as now under Quaker control.

There has recently come into my hands a little chapbook which doubtless played its part in my Uncle Tom's early education. The book is full of maxims of the sort which he practiced all his life. His standards were high; and he was scrupulously truthful in all important matters. One of the maxims in this chapbook reads: "There are lying looks as well as lying words, and even a lying silence." This gem condensed from "Mrs. Opie on Lying," would have appealed to him strongly.

At fifteen he left school and returned to Narragansett, where he soon became deeply interested in sheep. By strenuous efforts he managed to bring a part of his flock through the heavy snows of the severe winters, but there is no hint in his memoirs that he ever led the piping shepherd's life of indolence. In fact, there was not a lazy bone in him. He seems to have been full of vigor, energetic beyond the ordinary.

In one of Shepherd Tom's pamphlets, entitled "Cruelty to Dumb Animals," written in 1875, he blames himself with characteristic frankness, "being engaged in an arduous branch of business, and possessed of a strong constitution, as well as an ardent energetic and hasty temperament myself, I was too apt to disregard the physical weaknesses and inability of others, whether man or beast."

Not long after his return to his father's house, he began to assist in the primitive manufacturing of that early day. The woolen mills at Peace Dale had been at work for ten years when our Thomas Hazard left his schooling, and the part he was given was to ride forth to leave rolls of carded wool with spinners who spun on hand wheels in their own houses. At the same time he took the yarn spun since his last visit, carrying it upon his pommel, to be woven in the mill. In this way he came to know the whole countryside, as well as all the people in it; his minute knowledge of tradition and of the affairs of his neighbors shows clearly in his later literary years. 

In 1821 he bought ten acres of land in Rocky Brook from Abigail Rodman, widow of Robert Rodman, and, in the same year, he also bought of Freeman P. Watson the right to erect a dam and flow another ten acres. That same year he build the dam and the wooden mill to house one set of woolen machinery. In 1822 he bought from his father, Rowland Hazard, seventy acres adjoining his previous purchase from Abigail Rodman. At the end of seventeen years he was able to retire from business, and did so.

Go to Part II 
Return to 1828 Thomas Hazard Letter 

Part I
Part II
Frontispiece-Portrait Old-Narragansett Map
Thomas G. Hazard, Jr

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