Vintage Views: Stately figure under the sea

  • This glass plate negative depicts the second statue of Daniel Webster in Boston during the year 1900. —Library of Congress

For the Monitor
Published: 1/29/2023 1:43:21 PM
Modified: 1/29/2023 1:43:08 PM

It was on Jan. 18, 1782, when New Hampshire ushered in a new child on a frontier farm in Salisbury. The event was similar to many other births, the challenges of reaching adulthood were constantly threatened with common ailments such as childhood disease, predators, nutrition and the cold New Hampshire winter. This child entered the world obscure to those outside his family, but he certainly accomplished much during his life.

His name was Daniel Webster and he still speaks volumes over 170 years after his death on Oct. 24, 1852.

It soon became quite evident to the Webster family that their young child named Daniel was of above-average intelligence. Yes, he worked the farm contributing his labor as most young boys of this era, but he read books and learned his studious craft quite well. Reading by candlelight on his small New Hampshire farm he learned his primary skills and built upon them. As he matured and worked on the farm, he set his objectives for a higher education and a career that would unknowingly propel him to unimaginable accomplishments.

With his primary education completed, Webster began his studies at Dartmouth College where he completed his studies and graduated in 1801. Webster soon began teaching school as he studied law joining the Massachusetts bar four years after his Dartmouth graduation in 1805. Webster proceeded to practice law for several years in New Hampshire and enjoyed his career immensely, especially when it required him to speak in front of audiences in the courtroom. Webster was a very gifted speaker and sought further opportunities as an orator, landing him a reputation as a very well-known and respected attorney. Webster remained high profile during his ongoing legal career with involvement in many supreme court cases. Though New Hampshire was his state of birth and closely regarded as his home he realized opportunities to the south in Massachusetts were beckoning.

Daniel Webster relocated to Massachusetts winning a seat as a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts in 1823 where he served until 1827. In 1827 Webster was elected a U.S. Senator and served in this capacity until 1841, returning once again to the U.S. Senate from 1845 until 1850. Webster was appointed Secretary of State on March 5, 1841 serving in this role until May 8, 1843 and once again served as Secretary of State from July 22, 1850, until his death on Oc. 24, 1852. Webster had numerous noted accomplishments during his political career where he served his country well with his involvement in the Webster-Ashburton Treaty, Monroe Doctrine and Annexation of Texas. Webster was very well-liked and the people enjoyed his very gifted oratory skills immensely.

It was with this love for Daniel Webster that people sought ways to commemorate his legacy. Both New Hampshire and Massachusetts residents were saddened by his passing in 1852 and felt the need to honor him in death, a fitting tribute that would continue to make future generations aware of his dedication to New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Washington, DC. Discussion followed his death and plans were set to commemorate the great statesman with a statue, a statue that would stand in the shadows of Boston, the adoptive home where Webster spent his years serving the people.

A gifted American sculptor named Hiram Powers was quickly employed to create a bronze statue depicting the great statesman Daniel Webster. The project was completed across the sea in Leghorn. A very fitting location was selected in Boston, the Massachusetts State House grounds facing Beacon Street. This area Webster endeared was a fitting place to observe this fitting tribute.

With the completion of the greatly anticipated Webster statue, a ship was hired to transport from Leghorn to Boston. The statue was loaded, closely supervised by Hiram Powers as it set sail for the port of Boston and the reserved prominent location on the Massachusetts State House grounds. The Leghorn farewell event went well and the ship Oxford departed port en route to Boston. A storm was encountered at sea and the captain and crew feared for their lives. Wave after wave pummeled Oxford and the fate of our beloved Daniel Webster was in question. The bronze statue with extreme weight rode the waves as well as could be expected until mother nature dealt a swift and deadly hand to him. Tie-down straps could not save the statue, the crew watched in horror as their statesman slipped overboard and into the depths of the Atlantic.

Word reached shore and immediate plans were made to quickly hire Hiram Powers and his crew of artisans to create a second statue

So in 1859, the ship named Lucy Frances arrived in Boston from Leghorn. Secured to the deck was the gleaming bronze statue of Daniel Webster. A fitting conclusion for the man that gave so much to the people of New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

The people of New Hampshire also honored their beloved native son, a statue of Daniel Webster proudly resides in the New Hampshire State House yard. Our New Hampshire Webster statue weighs 2,000 pounds without the granite base. It was designed by American Sculptor Thomas Ball in 1853 shortly after Daniel Webster passed. Our statue was also cast in bronze, at the Ferdinand von Miller Foundry in Munich, Germany in 1885 and dedicated on June 17, 1886.

Both the New Hampshire and Massachusetts statues stand tall to this very day. Though, somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, it is said near the deeply submerged transatlantic cable line, lies the obscure figure of our beloved statesman at the bottom of the sea.

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