Read CHAPTER II of Ups and Downs in the Life of a Distressed Gentleman , free online book, by William L. Stone, on


“I am no herald, to inquire of men’s pedigrees; it sufficeth me if I know their virtues.” Sidney.

There being no herald’s college in this free and happy country, where equality was declared by the revolutionary congress to be as self-evident as our right to independence, I have no means of tracing the pedigree of my friend for many generations back. Indeed, as it was long ago remarked by Lord Camden, alterations of sirnames were in former ages so very common, as to have obscured the truth of our pedigrees, so that it is no little labor to deduce many of them. But, although no crest marks the career of his ancestors, or shield emblazons their escutcheon with mementoes of achievements in arts or in arms; and although I claim not in his behalf, as of the heroes in olden times, “a pedigree that reached to heaven,” yet no doubt exists of the antiquity of his family. The name was duly inscribed in the Doomsday book of the Norman Conqueror, and had not the limbs of the genealogical tree been broken, it is believed that their ancestry might, nevertheless, have been traced back to a gentleman by the name of Japheth, “who was the son of Noah.” Still, as I have already intimated, this inquiry can be of little consequence. In this land of freedom, where every tub stands on its own bottom where men are the architects of their own fame and fortunes where he that hath neither coat nor shoes is at liberty to go without them, it is of little moment whether a man knows who he happens to be, or not, provided always that he behaves well. Nay, if he cannot tell whence he sprung, he escapes the censure of being the son of his father, and may arrive at the highest honors of the republic without either borrowing merit from the dead, or having any too much of his own. Avoiding genealogies, therefore, I will come directly to the point, and assume it as granted, that, inasmuch as Mr. Daniel Wheelwright is known to have had a father and mother, so likewise he must have had grand-parents. And these were, doubtless, sensible and judicious people, more desirous of being industrious and useful, than what the world calls great. Borrowing, therefore, a hint from their own honest name, in selecting an occupation for their son, they chose that of coachmaking an art, which, in the progress of civilization, he carried from New-Jersey into the beautiful valley of the Mohawk not many years after the original proprietors of that section of the republic had been finally driven away by those who understood tilling their land better than they. It was in this picturesque and delightful valley, on the banks of the river, and in a town alike celebrated for the taste of its people in architecture, and distinguished as a seat of learning, that my friend and hero, Daniel, first saw the light. I have cast no figure to ascertain which of the divinities presided at his birth, or what particular star first pencilled his pale blue eyes with its silver rays. But no angry planet was culminating in that particular chamber of the heavens at the time, for he grew up the best-natured being in those parts; and if the genius of Dulness was not actually present on the occasion, his court must have been held on that evening at no great distance therefrom. Not to be too particular, however, it is enough for the present to say, that he waxed towards the stature of manhood much as other boys do save that he was never engaged in a quarrel from the circumstance, probably, that he had neither sufficient energy, nor decision of character, to commence or to end one. To do him justice, if honesty be a fault, it was surely his; and I can truly say that in all the passing vicissitudes of his life, it has never been taken out of him to this day. His father was industrious and economical, never losing an hour in which he could make any thing, or parting with a dollar so long as he could keep it. In his domestic arrangements he was exceedingly careful that nothing should be lost. If he had eels for breakfast, he would always contrive, by preserving and drying the skins, to save more than the original cost of these somewhat questionable members of the piscatory family. He early instructed his son in the elementary principles of his trade; and it is believed that before he was seventeen he not only knew the number of spokes in a wheel, but had actually adjusted them to the felloes, and driven them up to the hub. He was also taught in some branches of household carpentry work, which proved of no disadvantage to him in the end. Full of good nature, he was always popular with the boys; was never so industrious as when manufacturing to their order little writing desks, fancy boxes, and other trifling articles not beyond the scope of his mechanical ingenuity for which he exacted such compensation as he could obtain. In sober truth, like his parent, he was fond of money. The world, he was wont to say, owed him a living, and he prided himself not a little on his skill in procuring the wherewithal. And yet he was rarely known to realize one shilling that did not cost him two; or in other words, in all his multifarious transactions of barter and otherwise, he was almost uniformly overreached. There was one way, moreover, in which his little earnings could always be taken from him. He was fond of good living, albeit not his father’s fault, since his family board was seldom spread with other than the plainest and least expensive fare. Certain was it, therefore, that the palate had never received any epicurean lessons at home; but it was equally certain that he had acquired a taste for the good things of this world. Hence those of his associates who had a design upon whatever of small change they supposed him from time to time to have accumulated, had only to tempt him with some trifling luxury, and the work was done. A plate of oysters was irresistible!