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Trent and Wells, eds. Colonial Prose and Poetry. 1901.

Vol. III. The Growth of the National Spirit: 1710–1775

John Seccomb

JOHN SECCOMB, who has won an unenviable immortality as a writer of doggerel, was born in Medford, Massachusetts, in 1708, and died in 1793 in Chester, Nova Scotia, whither he had gone in 1763 to be minister to a Dissenting congregation. He was graduated from Harvard College in 1728, and from 1733 to 1757 ministered to the Congregational Church in the town of Harvard, Massachusetts. He achieved great notoriety, while still connected with his Alma Mater, by his Father Abbey’s Will, a coarsely humorous poem, the subject of which was Matthew Abdy, who held some menial position in connection with the College. This effusion for some inexplicable reason so pleased Governor Belcher that he sent it to England, where it was printed in The Gentleman’s Magazine for 1732 and in The London Magazine of the same year. Perhaps not a little of the subsequent British depreciation of American literature was due to the belief that Seccomb’s doggerel fairly represented the latter. Fortunately Seccomb, after writing a companion skit, lapsed into comparative silence when he had won his laurels. His poem (sic) is given here for illustrative purposes only. Those who wish to know, more about it may be referred to the edition of 1854, undertaken by the antiquarian John Langdon Sibley, well-known as the Librarian of Harvard, and a devoted student of its annals.

Father Abbey’s Will.

Cambridge, December, 1730.
Some time since died here, Mr. Matthew Abbey, in a very advanced age: He had for a great number of years served the College in quality of Bedmaker and Sweeper: Having no child, his wife inherits his whole estate which he bequeathed to her by his last will and testament, as follows, viz.:—

  • TO my dear wife,
  • My joy and life
  • I freely now do give her
  • My whole estate,
  • With all my plate,
  • Being just about to leave her.
  • My tub of soap,
  • A long cart rope,
  • A frying pan and kettle,
  • An ashes pail,
  • A threshing flail,
  • An iron wedge and beetle.
  • Two painted chairs,
  • Nine warden pears,
  • A large old dripping platter,
  • This bed of hay,
  • On which I lay,
  • An old sauce pan for butter.
  • A little mug,
  • A two-quart jug,
  • A bottle full of brandy,
  • A looking-glass,
  • To see your face
  • You’ll find it very handy.
  • A musket true
  • As ever flew,
  • A pound of shot and wallet,
  • A leather sash,
  • My calabash,
  • My powder horn and bullet.
  • An old sword blade,
  • A garden spade,
  • A hoe, a rake, a ladder,
  • A wooden can,
  • A close-stool pan,
  • A clyster-pipe and bladder.
  • A greasy hat,
  • My old ram cat,
  • A yard and half of linen,
  • A woollen fleece,
  • A pot of grease,
  • In order for your spinning.
  • A small tooth comb,
  • An ashen broom,
  • A candlestick and hatchet,
  • A coverlid
  • Striped down with red,
  • A bag of rags to patch it.
  • A ragged mat,
  • A tub of fat,
  • A book put out by Bunyan,
  • Another book
  • By Robin Cook,
  • A skein or two of spunyarn.
  • An old black muff,
  • Some garden stuff,
  • A quantity of borage,
  • Some devil’s weed
  • And burdock seed,
  • To season well your porridge.
  • A chafing dish,
  • With one salt fish,
  • If I am not mistaken,
  • A leg of pork,
  • A broken fork,
  • And half a flitch of bacon.
  • A spinning wheel,
  • One peck of meal,
  • A knife without a handle,
  • A rusty lamp,
  • Two quarts of samp,
  • And half a tallow candle.
  • My pouch and pipes,
  • Two oxen tripes,
  • An oaken dish well carved,
  • My little dog
  • And spotted hog,
  • With two young pigs just starved.
  • This is my store,
  • I have no more,
  • I heartily do give it,
  • My years are spun,
  • My days are done,
  • And so I think to leave it.
  • Thus Father Abbey left his spouse,
  • As rich as church or college mouse,
  • Which is sufficient invitation
  • To serve the college in his station.