This week’s Restoration Movement Moment comes from “Memoirs of Abner Jones” (written by his son), which will be in Abner Jones: A Collection (Volume 2), to be released later this year.
Abner Jones was convinced that the event which he describes here was an act of God’s providential care. Enjoy!
It was in the spring of 1813, as I think— for the regular journal of Elder Jones is here interrupted — that he removed his family to Portsmouth. He found the church and society feeble, and religion in general in a very low state. His tarry in Portsmouth was but of two years’ duration, in which time, although not much occurred of interest to him, many memorable events took place. The war [of 1812], then but recently declared upon Great Britain by the United States, was raging fiercely on the New England coast, and Portsmouth suffered its full share of the excitement and evil. The place was completely blockaded by the British fleet for a number of months, and the inhabitants were greatly distressed, and lived in a constant state of terror. Alarms were frequent, and the town presented the constant appearance of a besieged city.
Several regiments of troops were quartered upon the town, and provisions became exceedingly scarce and dear. Those who could leave their affairs, had already removed to a safer retreat, while many others were ready, with their household stuff already packed, to start at the first booming of the enemy’s cannon. Among these was Elder Jones.
When the enemy appeared off the town there were scarcely any bulwarks of defense to repel the attack of so formidable a foe, and I remember the consternation which prevailed. I think it was on Saturday. The next day the churches were closed, for the worshipers were all drafted to turn out and throw up redoubts on the most defensible points at the entrance of the town. There was a general turn out from all professions and avocations, and without respect to the day. In the evening, however, the churches were opened and thronged, and many a prayer was raised to the “God of battles,” that he would scatter their foes, and send them peace.
In the midst of all this distress, the horrors of the scene were dreadfully increased by an awful conflagration, which burned down a large part of the town, and rendered many families, not only houseless, but penniless. Nearly three hundred dwelling houses were consumed, and nearly four hundred families were turned into the streets in one of the coldest nights of December.
“It was,” says Elder Jones, who was an eye witness to the whole scene, and rendered very efficient help on the occasion, by his remarkable presence of mind and great activity in saving property and life—and whose daring generosity nearly cost him his own life during that awful night—“it was indeed a deplorable sight. Whole streets presented a double line of flame, or a dark and confused mass of smouldering ruins. The goods and furniture either perished in the buildings, or were only thrown into the street to make a bonfire by themselves. Women and children, with disheveled hair, and eyes that spoke too plainly their grief and terror, ran shrieking through the burning streets, either in search of some relative or friend, or too demented to have any definite object in view. Here was a distracted mother despairingly calling on her husband and children, there the heart-broken father and husband inquiring for his wife and children; and the little ones wandering to and fro, piteously crying for their parents. Some, again, were gazing on the ruin going on all around them in a perfect stupor of grief and surprise. No tear bedewed their cheek, no sound escaped the lips, no motion was made by any member of their bodies, and they started not at the fearful crash of falling houses, or the hoarse cry of the brazen-throated firemen.
“A police was organized as soon as the confusion would permit. Property was protected as far as was practicable, and all the children who were found destitute of protection were picked up and taken to a place of safety.
“Many were the maternal bosoms who mourned their little ones as dead, in the awful gloom of that memorable night. What a joy then to behold the scene which opened the morning of the next day! The children were all assembled in the town Hall, to the number of a hundred or more, and the crier sent forth with his bell to announce to all whose children were missing, that they were waiting for their appearance. Then flocked the weeping parents to the spot, hoping and fearing. Oh! what a meeting was that, and what pen shall essay the vain attempt to describe it! Not a child was missing and not one but found its parents. In all that dreadful burning not a human life was lost, and but one person suffered the fracture of a limb.”