Sunday, January 5, 2014

52 Ancestors #1: Nathaniel Tucker, Poet

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

Nathaniel Tucker (1750-1807) was the 3rd cousin six times removed of my sister-in-law. In 1973 Lewis Leary, a specialist in American literature and the former William Rand Kenon, Jr, Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wrote a book entitled, Poems of Nathaniel Tucker. In it he described Nathaniel Tucker this way:

"…a very minor but not unrepresentative poet of the late eighteenth century. Born in Bermuda in 1750, he lived during the early 1770s briefly in South Carolina and visited in Virginia, but then spent the rest of his life abroad, a student at Edinburgh, Leyden, and London, and was a physician in Yorkshire until his death in 1807. During the American Revolution, he thought of himself as a patriot marooned in an enemy land, able only to play a spectator poet's part in the struggle of his colonial countrymen for freedom. To their cause he contributed Columbinus: A Mask, hoping that it might be adopted in the new United States as a national drama, to be performed each year on some patriotic anniversary and thus, he said, become 'the bark in which I am to voyage over the ocean of time to the distant shore of posterity.' Instead, it has been hidden away for almost two hundred years in a manuscript copy, unread by almost everyone.

Tucker House in St George's, Bermuda. It is now a museum. A magnificent collection of Tucker family silver, china, crystal, antique English mahogany and Bermuda cedar furniture, portraits by Blackburn, and quilts are just some of the treasures on display.

Poor Natty, his brothers called him, for nearly everything that he turned to seemed to fail. Other Tuckers did well. His oldest brother, Henry, was to become President of the colonial council in Bermuda, and Henry's sons would play important roles in the colonization of India. Thomas Tudor, six years older than Nathaniel, received a medical degree from Edinburgh, practiced as a physician in Charleston, South Carolina, became a delegate to the Continental Congress, and during Jefferson's administration was the Treasurer of the United States. St George Tucker, two years younger than Nathaniel, came to Williamsburg, Virginia, as a student at the College of William and Mary, served with distinction at the battle of Yorktown, and remained in Virginia for the rest of his life, a lawyer, judge, professor, and occasional poet, honored among her most prominent citizens. But Nathaniel, whom his family thought blessed with much talent and great goodness of heart, was less successful, largely, it was supposed, because he wanted so badly to be a poet."

Nathaniel Tucker's most acclaimed verse was The Bermudian written as a homesick assistant to his brother, a medical doctor in Charleston, South Carolina. It was first published at the contrivance of his brother, St George Tucker, by Purdie and Dixon in Williamsburg, Virginia. It has been republished many times since. The Tucker House Museum in Bermuda offers copies to those visitors interested in the poem.

Photograph courtesy of the royal

Warning, readers, the poem is long!

The Bermudian by Nathaniel Tucker

BERMUDA, parent of my early days,
To thee belong my tributary lays;
In thy blest clime, secured from instant harms,
A tender mother press'd me in her arms,
Lull'd me to rest with many a ditty rare,
And loo'd and smiled upon her infant care.
She taught my lisping accents how to flow,
And bade the virtues in my bosom glow.

Hail Nature's darling spot! enchanted isle!
Where vernal blooms in sweet succession smile;
Where, cherish'd by the fostering sea-born gale,
Appears the tall palmetto of the vale;
The rich banana, tenant of the shade,
With leaf broad-spreading to the breeze display'd,
The memorable tree, of aspect bold,
That graced they plains, O Lebanus, of old;
The fragrant lime, the lemon at his side,
And golden orange, fair Hesperia's pride.
While genial Summer, who, approaching fast,
Claims to disperse the short-liv'd wint'ry blast,
O'er the green hill, and cedar-bearing plain,
Boasts undisturb'd a long-protracted reign.

Her blushing Health, descending from above,
The daughter fair of cloud-compelling Jove,
Pleas'd with the scene all naturally gay,
And importun'd by Temperance to stay,
In pity to the weary peasant's toil,
With blessing crown'd the wave-surrounded soil.

Too happy land! if in the search around
The source of opulence cou'd here be found,
And they worn offspring, ev'ry case resign'd,
His dwelling peaceful, and serene his mind,
With independence bless'd, could sit him down
In age secure of niggard Fortune's frown!
But early torn reluctant from their home,
Amidst the tempest's roar condemn'd to roam,
Thy scatter'd sons, a race of giant form,
Whose souls at peril mock, and brave the storm,
At honest labour's call, with fruitless pains,
Are fare dispers'd o'er Britain's wide domains.

Eternal blessing with profusion smile,
And crown with lasting bliss my parent isle!
Blest be the narrow field, the little cot,
And blest the lab'ring swain's contented lot!
For thee may Commerce to the southern gale
Successfully expand her swelling sail,
And from Peruvian mines the slave for thee,
With treasures load the wave-diving tree!
With joy returning, each endeavor sped,
No more compell'd to roam for scanty bread,
All heart-corroding cares at length supprest,
Each want supply'd by ev'ry wish possest;
May thy lost children, to their friends restor'd,
Taste every blessing Fortune can afford.
While I, whose birth more inauspicious far,
Conress'd the reign of some malignant star, 
Whose name, alas! from fair Enjoyment's date
Stands far remov'd upon the roll of Fate,
With weary step, each distant realm explore,
A wand'ring exile from my native shore.

Off, when in shades envelop'd, Night descends,
And Darkness o'er the hemisphere extends,
When glooming Silence hushes ev'ry sound,
And dead Tranquillity prevails around,
And the distress'd, unmindful of their woes,
In balmy sleep their heavy eye-lids close,
While no repose my weary soul can find,
Thy loved ideas rises in my mind.
Swift at the thought, and for enjoyment keen,
Regardless of the seas that roll between,
Where o'er surrounding depths thy cliffs arise,
With rapid wing my busy fancy flies;
And, representing scenes of past delights,
A painful pleasure in my breast excites.

E'en now, transported to my native land,
Upon the summit of some hill I stand,
The fears view, uncultur'd as they grow,
And all the varied scenery below.
Far at a distance as the eye can reach,
Extend the mazes of the winding beach:
Loud on the coast the bellowing ocean roars,
While foaming surges lash the whiten'd shores;
Stupendous rocks in wild confusion stand,
Lift their tall cliffs, and sadden all the strand.

Before Aurora gilds the eastern skies
The sun-burnt tenants of the cottage rise;
With many a yawn their drowsy comrades hail,
Rub their dim eyes, and taste the morning-gale.
Some bear the basket, plenteously supply'd
With hooks and lines, the able fisher's pride;
Others with dextrous hands the toils display,
Well skill'd to circumvent the scaly prey;
With wide-extended nets the shores they sweep,
Or man the bark, and plough the finny deep.
The happy islander, return'd at night,
Recounts the day's adventures with delight;
Astonishes the list'ning crowed with tales
Of rocks avoided, and of dang'rous gales;
Of groupers, who deluded by the bait,
Shar'd many a former grouper's wretched fate;
And rock-fish, who had tugg'd the well-streth'd line,
Oblig'd their pond'rous carcass to resign.
The little urchin, playing on the strand,
At distance kens the bark return'd to land,
He hies impatient, views the scaly store,
And bids his parent welcome to the shore.

Meanwhile the housewife decks the cleanly board
With all her homely cottage can afford;
Her little brood are seated to their wish,
And taste the blessings of the smoking dish;
Of childish stories prattle all the while,
Regarding either parent with a smile; 
The finny monster's grateful taste admire,
And for it bless their providential fire.
He with delight the youthful tribe surveys,
His gladdened eyes still brighten as they gaze;
Of earthly joys he knows no higher pitch,
And bids the prince be great, the miser rich.

Where rising Phoebus darts the morning-ray,
The verdant hills a diff'rent scene display;
Promiscuous houses in the vale are seen,
Whose decent white adorns the lively green.
The weary peasant here, reclined at ease,
Beneath his fig-tree courts the southern breeze;
Or, while the great, at fruitless cares, repine,
He sits the monarch of his little vine.

There scatter'd isles, whose banks the waters lave,
Grace with their herbage the pellucid wave.
The lordly bullock there, unus'd to toil,
Securely stalks the tyrant of the soil;
While tender lambkins on the margin play,
And sport and gambol 'midst the sunny day.

From early infancy  inur'd to toil,
Rough as the rocks that bound his native soil,
The sturdy craftsman, with laborious hand, 
Fells the tall tree, and drags it to the strand:
Resounding shores return the hammer's blows,
Beneath the stroke the gaudy pinnace grows,
Lanch'd, and completely mann'd, in quest of gain,
Spreads her light sails, and tempts the wat'ry main.

Near yonder hill, above the stagnant pool,
My stem preceptor taught his little school:
Dextrous t' apply the scientific rod,
The little truants shudder'd at his nod;
When-e'er he came, they all submissive bow'd,
All scann'd their tasks industriously loud;
And, fearful to excite the master's rage,
With trembling hands produc'd blotted page.
Skillful he was, and dabbled in the law,
Bonds, notes, petitions -- any thing cou'd draw:
'Twas even whisper'd, and 'tis strictly true,
He claim'd acquaintance with the Muses too,
And, by the goddesses inspir'd, at times,
His lofty genius mounted into rhymes.
Great bard! what numbers can they praise rehearse,
Who turn'd Qui mini into English verse;
Taught the smug epigram with art to glide,
and e'en at lines of heav'nly Maro try'd?
Tho' many an epitaph of thine was known
To grace the cold commemorating stone,
Thy own remains, in some neglected spot,
Now lie unsung, unheeded, and forgot!

Far to the south, above the wat'ry roar,
When the blue Ocean rolls against the shore,
And the tall cliffs and sloping mountain's side
O'erlook the deep, and stop the coming tide,
Of ancient date, and calling for repair,
Is seen the parish-church, the house of pray'r.
No stately columns there superbly rise,
No tow'ring steeple greets the distant skies,
No pompous domes magnificence impart,
Strike the pleas'd eye, or show the master's art.
To mark the silent mansions of the dead,
No obelisk of marble rears its head,
No finely-decorated tomb is shown,
No sculptur'd monument of Parian stone.
But the rude native quarry,  as it lies, 
A far more coarse remembrancer supplies,
Which the dejected son, reduc'd to mourn
His much-lov'd parent, from his bosom torn,
The last sad honors to his ashes paid,
Sighing, erects to the departed shade.

Touch'd with the theme, by pow'rful Fancy led
To more remote apartments of the dead,
I see sad ATTICUS, in silent gloom,
Indignant quit the solitary tomb,
His ancient, well-remember'd form renew,
And pass before me slowly in review.
The happy thought, the mirth-exciting joke,
The turn satirical, the pointed stroke,
The vein of humor, the remark so dry,
The witty sally, and the keen reply,
Around the social table form'd to shine,
Without a rival, ATTICUS, were thine.

Talent like these, (for they have seldom fail'd),
While bus'ness flagg'd, and indolence prevail'd,
And sullen Prudence, frowning, stood aloof,
Entic'd the jovial circle to thy roof;
And for life's eve, thy glory in the wane,
Prepar'd a fund of indigence and pain.

Thrice happy thou! if to discretion led
By the much-valued part'ner of they bed,
Thous hadst been taught more laying bliss to prize,
And learn'd from her example to be wise!
But she, such ills unable to withstand,
When deadly, pale Disease, with tyrant hand,
They cruel destiny relentless wrote,
They visage sadden'd, and they dwelling smote;
For they unhappy lot with grief opprest,
Before thee sunk to everlasting rest.
Her duteous offspring, (who, no longer near,
Expos'd unshelter'd to the storm's carrier,
His native shore unable to regain,
Reluctant plough'd the bleak Atlantic main),
O'erwhelmed with sorrow, at his let return,
With tears bedew'd her consecrated urn.

Tho' at a distance from my searching eye,
Amidst surrounding woods, thy dwelling lie;
Tho' envious Time or weaning Absence strive
Thy charish'd image from my breast to drive;
Yet near my hear (for they shall strive in vain)
His wonted place shall CANDIDUS retain.
If manly sense, if an extensive mind,
Unsway'd by prejudice, and unconfin'd;
A judgment happy to decide with skill;
But mild and open to conviction still;
A voice in polish'd numbers taught to roll,
Whose accents waft the music of the soul;
An honest heart, a temper that can learn
To love mankind, and to be lov'd in turn;
If sentiments humane, combined with these,
May challenge merit, and expect to please,
Of gentle manners, affable and free,
The praise, O CANDIDUS, is due to thee.

No more frequented by festive bands,
Behold yon solitary mansion stands.
There fair ARDELLA tripp'd along the vale,
Her auburn tresses floating in the gale,
Sweet as the favorite offspring of the May,
Serenely mild, and innocently gay:
ARDELLA, once so cheerful and so blest,
Now, by Misfortune's iron hand, opprest.
Methinks I see the solitary maid
Pensive beneath the spreading cedar's shade,
No soothing friend, no voice of comfort near,
Heave the big sigh, and shed the silent tear.
"Awake to consolation, nor repine,
Because the sorrows of to-day are thine:
In air let sublunary cares be hurl'd,
And look exulting to a better world;
Triumphant virtue there shall bear the say,
And life thee far above the solar ray."

Beneath my bending eye, serenely neat,
Appears my ever-blest parental seat.
Far in the font the level lawn extends,
The zephyrs play, the nodding cypress bends;
A little hillock stands on either side,
O'erspread with evergreens, the garden's pride.
Promiscuous here appears the blushing rose,
The guava flourishes, the myrtle grows,
Upon the surface earth-born woodbines creep,
O'er the green beds the painted 'sturtians peep,
Their arms aloft triumphal lilacs bear,
And jessamines perfume the ambient air.
The whole is from an eminence display'd,
Where the brown olive lends his pensive shade.
When zephyrs there the noon-tide heat assuage,
Oft have I turn'd the meditative page,
And calmly read the ling'ring hours away,
Securly shelter'd from the blaze of the day.
At eve refresh'd, I trod the mazy walk, 
And bade the minutes pass in cheerful talk,
With many a joke my brothers wou'd assail,
Or cheer my sisters with the comic tale;
While both fond parents pleas'd, the group survey'd,
Attentive heard, and smil'd at all they said.

Thrice happy seat! here once were centered all
That bind my heart to this terrestrial ball;
The sight of these each gloomy thought destroys,
And ties my soul to sublunary joys!

Ye pow'rs supreme, who rule the spangled sky,
On whose protection firmly they rely,
Grant them each bliss the fertile mind can form,
And lift them high above Misfortune's storm!

But hark! I see them to the green repair,
To taste the sweets of the refreshing air;
Descend, my soul, on airy pinions light,
The circle join, and feat thy gladden'd sight.

Hail ever-honor'd authors of my birth,
The poor's assistants, and the friends of worth!
My best of brothers, hail! companion dear,
Unshaken friend and partner of my care!
My sisters too! transported let me gaze
And bless the sweet'ners of my former days!
A long lost wand'rer to your arms receive,
Soothe all his sorrows, and his cares relieve.

How incomplete is east terrestrial joy,
Where disappointments all our hopes destroy!
Tow other sons shou'd in the circle stand!
For these, alas! I search a distant land;
Lament them gone, an honour to their race,
And with a sigh behold their vacant place.

Tho' CAROLINA, skill'd in social lore,
with open arms receiv'd me to her shore;
Altho' her sons, an hospitable band,
Have hail'd me welcome to their fertile land,
And, giving all the friendly heart can give,
Bade their remembrance in my bosom live;
Tho' (thanks to all my guardian powers!) there
I found a brother and a friend sincere;
Still, for 'tis natural, affection's tide
Flows where my honour'd parents yet reside.

For every blotted be the fatal day
That tore me from their circling arms away,
When the tall ship, regardless of my pain,
Call'd me reluctant to the sounding main;
Aloft her swelling sails triumphant bore,
And left them pensive on the winding shore!

My aged parent's awful voice I hear,
The solemn sound still vibrates in my ear.
"Adieu, my son! with winds propitious go,
Obtain what knowledge travel can bestow;
Thy neighbour's friend, an enemy to strife,
Uprightly tread the mazy path of life;
Let honour's rules they ev'ry act control,
Nor suffer vice to bend thy stubborn soul.
Shou'd sovereign Gold, the tyrant of mankind,
Attempt from justice to divert thy mind;
Exulting still prefer the frugal crust,
And spurn with high contempt, the guilty dust.
Let all the frowns of Fortune be defy'd,
Virtue thy friend, and Providence thy guide!"


  1. It must have been exciting to find a connection to a "minor but not unrepresentative poet."

    1. It was! I am now the proud owner of Lewis Leary's book, Poems of Nathaniel Tucker. I will give it to my sister-in-law, along with the book about her Tucker ancestors I am writing for her. Writing a blog has really helped me power through that project.

  2. How cool to have an ancestor that had this sort of RECORDED history! Have you ever visited the house/museum in Bermuda?

    1. I have not, though I have been to Bermuda but before I know about this connection to my sister-in-law. She and my brother are now planning to visit Bermuda and view locations of signification to the Tuckers! Researching the family has been a wild, fun ride.