My father at his death in 1893 left in manuscript a partially finished history of the Town of Canaan. It has been my intention since that time to print it. I remember of my mother saying that my father had said the history would all have to be rewritten before it was printed. I did not realize then, and not until within a few years, how true that was. Every year since 1893 I have spent more or less time in getting the material into shape, every year realizing how little I knew and how incompetant I was to perform the task. The mass of material, and the condition in which it was, seemed to me stupendous. Not in the slightest degree familiar with any of the past of the town, being absent from it from the time I was thirteen years old, with only periodical visits at home during vacation. During these times I took no interest in my father's work. For thirty years he had been accumulating the material. A good part of it was from personal observation but much of it was obtained from the reminiscences of old people, indefatigable search in old garrets for letters, books, deeds, diaries, scraps, anything that would lead to a clew on some forgotten incident.
My father says of himself: I grew up to strong youth on the shores of the beautiful pond that fronts our street. It was a pleasant resort for thoughtful people. Old and young used to linger about there, and, many confidences were imparted, some of which I shall never reveal. I was very near, and was conscious of much that was said and done in society, in politics, and in religion. Opinions were freely expressed before me, because, being merely a duplex tree, no one supposed my ears might ever give tongue to my voice. I made note of many things and treasured them up. Some of these events occurred so long ago that it is safe to write of them. They had an interest for those who took part in them as similar events have today, and formed epochs in mens lives.
In my youth I spent days riding over the hills with him in search of anything about Canaan, visiting the old graveyards. He rarely trusted to his memory, which is fortunate in some respects, for he had a very powerful remembrance of all events that occurred during his life, whether in Canaan or in other parts of the country. He was accustomed to jot down his notes on anything that was at hand, small scraps of paper, pieces that had already been used on one side, sometimes on both, cross writing and interlining with some other notes, but never scratching out or rewriting. When once written it expressed his thoughts unchangeably. This habit was acquired by reason of his profession,printer, reporter and editor.
To arrange these small scraps and put them in their proper place has been at times like tracing out a labyrinth, for in my ignorance of men and things I knew not where they went. Neither did I know where they came from, and was tempted not to believe them, but in no instance have I found any item, however small, to be incorrect. I often heard my father disputing with others about some old occurrence. He always afterwards ascertained whether he was right or wrong.
When the old house burnt in 1898 many people asked me if my fathers papers were destroyed. At that time I said they were not, and not until within a few years have I realized that some of them must have been burned, for there are gaps in some of the work that can not be accounted for in any other way. I take little credit to my-self for this book. It is my fathers work, with the exception of some chapters which I wrote and which the reader can readily tell. And these chapters contain some of his notes, but his death prevented him from carrying his search farther.
It will be observed that this book is a history of the early days, down to about 1860. It contains as just an account as could be gotten. From that date much is within the memory of those living. Some future historian can set himself that task. I have, however, where things of interest have happened since 1860, made some mention of them. The strenuous life of this town happened before that date. Since the Rebellion the life of the people has run smoothly. History is not made in that way.
After my father had been working some years upon this book there was an article in the warrant for town meeting to see if the town would financially assist in completing the history of the town. It was voted down. He then made up his mind that the book should be printed without their assistance. The amount of time and labor he spent in collecting this material can only be imagined. That there should not be patriotism enough in the town to care for its history is, of course, deplorable. This lack of patriotism has often been commented upon by many who think more of this town than any other place on earth. It is not only so in this town but in many others.
JAMES B. WALLACE.
CANAAN, N. H., January 1, 1910.
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