The lives of Helen Jewett and Richard P.


By George

Wilkes, H. R.



Commencing the relation of one of the most horrid tragedies that ever froze the blood, we are involuntarily disposed, like one entering the chamber of the dead, to pause upon the threshold, and for a moment to fortify our breasts with precepts, which may dispose us to the lesson with a sense of profit .

The real name of the beautiful and unfortunate Helen Jewett, was Dorcas Doyen. Her parents were Welsh, but had emigrated to this country at an early period of marriage, and at the time of the birth of this, their only daughteejthey resided in the outskirts of Augusta, in the State of Maine. Their circumstances were humble, the father being a mechanic, dependent on his daily labor for his subsistence, and the mother, subject to tasks of knitting and shoebinding to supply the deficits sometimes occasioned by her partner’s bacchanalian lapses. They bad been rather more comfortable at Cardiff, on the Severn, where he had kept a shoe shop at the time of marriage, but some imprudeneies of expenditure, and an indiscretion which brought the wrath of a family of brothers upon him, exiled him to Swansea, from which place also, he found it prudent to push on further westward, even to the crossing of the Atlantic.

Dorcas, their child, was born in the month of June, 1813. At an early age she evinced a remarkable quickness of intellect, and learned •verything which was submitted to her examination, with the practical comprehension of a mature mind. At eight years of age she was able to assist her mother not only in her domestic tasks, but in her shop work, and when thai parent died, at the age of nine, she supplied her

place in the housewifery of the humble dwelling, with a capacity for all its cares.

Near Dorcas’ residence lived a boy some four years older than herself, named Sumner, who managed to ingratiate himself in her acquaint ance, by that mode of overture which nature and art both prescribe as the readiest means of access to the female heart—presents. He was rude in his manners and uncouth in his appear ance, but there was a beauty in bis rugged strength which was more apt to charm a certain class of female minds, than the smoother attractions of effeminate refinement. Helen was of this school of critics. It is true her sensibilities were fine enough to render her susceptible fo the most delicate appeals of the imagination, but her stea dy black eyes and strong complexion evinced a decided tendency for nervous appreciations, and Sumner, being the first to fall in her way, her fancy required no factitious impulse to take him for its beau ideal .

They were, therefore, soon close friends, andSumner, Bo rude to every one else, was to her as docile as a spaniel—tractable as a dove. He ran of errands for her; he accompanied her in her visits about the neighborhood, remaining for her at the door ; he helped her in her garden; he condoled with her on her father’s growing excesses; he told her stories from the Arabian Nights, and now and then, when the relation of some heroic deed would draw from her an expression of childish admiration, he would go off and provoke a quarrel with some boisterous comrade, that by his overthrow, he might win a new point in her regard.

The strange intimacy between these two children, apparently so dissimilar in disposition, was a matter of general observation; but, though it occasioned surprise to those who could not analyze below the surface, To one thought ol vetoing it with disapprobation.

But there was really no violation in the connection, of any of the natural affinities. Undet Helen’s gentle and affectionate nature there ran concealed a vein of fire that needed but the touch of passion to set it in a rage. Undeveloped, and in childhood, this tendency merely gave earnestness to her expressions, and added warmth to her attachments, but it was destined, when time should touch her with the throes of womanhood, to be as vehement as rage, and as intractable as frenzy. The quiet, resolute and energetic boy was, on the other hand, but another type of the ardent, loving girl, thougk her sparkling glee seemed, when contrast*** with bis hareh reserve, no nearer in alliance, than the dull carbon to the flaming gem.

As the intemperate habits of old Doyen increasedMipon him, the intercourse of the two children grew more close; and, finally, their impunity from check or observation, emboldened them to a degree, which led them to even step beyond the remotest limits of reserve. An accident one day betrayed this state of things to the father^ his rage knew no bounds, and, naif maimed under his blows, the boy was driven from the house. For the few days which immediately succeeded the discovery, the lad was obliged to conceal himself from Doyen’s anger; but at the end of the week, his friends, consulting a prudent policy, sent him to a store in Portland, and in a few days more despatched word to Doyen that he had gone on a whalmg voyage to the Pacific. As Helen, or Dorcas rather, was yet only eleven years of age, and as the circumstance was not known beyond Sumner’s family, the father soon consoled himself for what had happened, and sought to repair the damage done to his daughter’s morals, by curses at her for the enormity of her conduct, and by threats of vengeance if she should so offend again.

These counsels, like all which employ terror only as the minister of moral sentiment, inspired their object with a mortification at discovery, rather than a remorse for sin. Her recollections were therefore only the voluptuous reiterations of imagination; her sentiments, regrets for the past,; her lesson, caution in the enjoyments of the future. These were the confluent influences which broke the dam of childhood, and which set the course, and swelled the tide of future passion.

Helen, after the lapse of a few months, consoled herself for the loss of her companion, and behaved herself with scrupulous decorum, but as she increased in age, her father saw the impropriety of retaining a child of her quick and shrewd perceptions in such close proximity to the example of a parent’s vices. He, therefore, cast about for some situation in which to place her, where she might be brought up with a due regard to worldly profit and mental cultivation. She was a general favorite in the neighborhood, and many would have taken her; but she had most particularly ingratiated herself among the children of Judge Weston, with the youngest of whom, after Sumner’s expulsion from Augusta, she had been a regular playmate. The family of the Judge, therefore, seemed, for various reasons, beside the one that we have named, to be the most eligible for the child, and Doyen, confirmed in this conclusion by his daughter’s predilections, waited upon the Judge with a request that he would take Dorcas as an assistant in his family. Actuated mainly by a humane consideration for the unhappy prospects of the child, if allowed to remain under the example of her parent, and influenced as well br the vivacious and amiable disposition of the child, the Judge yielded to the appeal and took her under bis protection. This was in the year 1823, at wliich time Dorcas was 13 years of age. In a few months afterward her father died, his death being the result, according to

the statement of the Judge, of intemperate habits.

Dorcas Doyen soon became a general farorite in the family which had adopted her, and instead of being allowed to remain in a condition of servitude, she was promoted to the mora comfortable dependence of companionship. The talents she evinced gave her guardian an interest in her improvement, and she was sent to a common school with those of his children who were of the same period of life. Her quickness of apprehension and extraordinary proficiency soon exceeded all calculation, and such was her passion for learning, that we are told by the Judge in a letter drawn from him some time afterward, that her attendance even at the Sunday School was unremitting, and that it was in those sober classes that her astonishing advance was most remarked. —’

Certain it is, that during the earlier years of I Dorcas’ residence in this excellent family, her I conduct was precise and exemplary, and that j she merited by her demeanor and her studious ha- / bits, all the encomiums and kindly feeling, which J were extended to her by her teachers and her I friends. But guarded as she was, she had no J chance to fall, for she suffered the assault of no temptation. -—’

As she progressed in scholarship she acquired a taste for reading, and in this she was suffered to indulge to the full extent of the multifarious collection of the Judge’s library. Then it was that her young blood, only warm before, became alert and fervid; then, that the glance of her large black eye, from the mere sparkle of thoughtless cheerfulness, became soft and Ian . guishing with voluptuous meditation. The romances of Richardson inspired her with sentiment ; the heroines of Scott aroused and flattered her imagination; while the strains of Byron, the mysterious noble, who had just then became famous in this country by his history as well as by his verses, fevered her veins, and made her pillow the confidant of yearnings, which had they received fruition, would have rendered her Ineligible to have hunted in the train of Dian. 9

Ripened by these stimulations, her form at sixteen had taken the contour of maturity—her faculties and functions also developed to their climax, chafed at the restraints which condemned them to inaction. It would have been well for her had she then been given in marriage; for the bounding impulses which subsequently became determined into irregular and inordi nate appetites, might have had a wholesome issue and have left her equable and conservatively qualified. But she did not yearn for the hymenial condition. She was lovely and might have commanded a match, but her proud demeanor restrained those of her own class from any serious application, while her sanguine notions had never contemplated anything short of a very superior connection. Besides, there still lurked in her imagination a kind thought or two of her first sweetheart Sumner; and while pausing amid the paper loves of Juan or of Azim, she would now and then indulge her fancy with the notion that perhaps the banished boy might one day come back from his


ramble, loaded -with pearls and rubies, or •with his chest freighted with the golden sand, which had formed the beach of some theretofore urtrodden Indian isle.

One soft moonlight evening, while returning iilone from the house of an acquaintance where she had spent the afternoon, she fell into a reverie of this kind, and as she followed the illusion through its vagaries, her step fell slower and slower on the path. Suddenly, as she passed a cluster of trees, whose heavy foliage threw from the other side their shadow into the centre of the road, she heard a rustling in the copse, and in the next moment a large dark figure stepped out from the shade and advanced towards her through the moonlight. She shrank in her tracks, and was about to scream with fright at the unexpected apparition, when a voice pronounced her name which thrilled her •with a more profound sensation than the previous terror.

She paused and looked earnestly at the figure with a combination of emotions, spellbound, and without either resolution to speak, or power to retreat

“Dorcas 1” said the voice again, “has an absence of five years made you forget me !”

” What, is this you !” said the beautiful girl, in a tone of enthusiasm, extending her hands to give him welcome, ” Is it you ?”

” Yes, Dorcas,” said the man, rapidly advancing and slipping his hands between hers until his muscular arms met behind her waist,” Yes— this is me—Sumner, your old playmate.”

” Ah,” said Dorcas, languidly, as she thrilled I beneath his pressure, ” I never expected to see I yru again.”


Stolen joys and feverish dreamsThe history of the loveiExpulsion from Paradise.

These are women who are driven into sin by 1 the very necessities of their natures. To such ‘—as these, when they fall into soft transgression, we must accord some lenient allowance, and measure their lapses with a rule which will balance their temptations against their powers of restraint The spark which will set fire to tow, will make no sensible impression upon flint The warmth which melts the quicksilver, and makes it overflow the zenith, will not ctart a globule to the surface of a vase of water. The touch which fevers the impatient pulse, and sends it bounding to the verge of ecs tacy, will fall without a thrill on tempered reins. Had the lovely Dorcas been the flint, or the limpid element to which we have alluded, our philosophy would not have been put to these justifying contrasts.

But, alas, she was not, and when the arms

of her old playfellow clasped her waist, and

held her close as he expressed a still warmer

j welcome on her lips, she summoned no prudery

I for her defence, but let the hot flash of passion

I ihrivel all resisting sense, and record its tri

\ nrnph in a languid sk’h.

It was late when the beautifu1 T); rcaj arrived at home that evening—an ho’jr iater than she should have been abroad—and oho received a reb’Jce for her delay, that wa<i intended to serve as a lesson for the future. Her appear anee was disordered, and her flushed face and ruffled ringlets did not escape without remark. A momentary blush rose to her cheek, as slia was questioned on these points, but an adroit evasion of the light, and a reply that she had ran nearly the whole road home, satisfied her unsuspicious inquirers, and she retired at one* to bed.

There was no sleep for her that night. He» whole system, its faculties, its sense, were in that tumult which succeeds the passage of the grand climacteric in woman, and between weeping and wondering, estimating loss and bargaining with hope, she paid tolerable penance foi, her stolen joys. The dawn at length released”^ her from her feverish vigils, and her half Magdalen, half Sybarite emotions, yielded to the heavy footsteps of fatigue. •

From this time forth, her meetings wi|h her lover were continuous and steady, and though her new passion for wandering in the woods far’ distant, with a book, occasioned a deal of speculation in the family, it never once took the color of suspicion. It was true, she was sometimes rallied good-naturedly upon her new habits, and her sylvan rambles were mischievously ascribed to a lender melancholy, inspired by some village sweetheart, but the ingenious earnestness with which she repelled such an imputation on her virgin meditations, disarmed the charge, and left it always within the boundaries of badinage^

There was one person, however, who was not thus deceived. This was a negress, who had lived for a while in Sumner’s family, previous to the period of his leaving home, and who knew of the childish pecadilloes of the young companions. On the youth’s recent return, she had spoken to him of his little sweetheart, and when he would have made her believe that he entertained no further thought of her, she shook her finger at him, with a knowing look, and gave him to understand that, according to her notions, Dorcas and he would still bear watching. Unfortunately, the negress did not confine this idea witfiin {he limits of a mere impression, but with the constitutional and characteristic inquisitiveness of her sex, she determined to watch the developments of the youthful passion to the extent of her opportunities.

If Dorcas did not improve her morals, or enlarge her literary acquirements as much since the arrival of her lover as before, she at least ate of the tree of knowledge in a different manner. Sumner told her his adventures, and from his roving narrative and nervous descriptions of the great world which laid beyond his little native town, she received the seeds of that desire to plunge into its strong delights, which had so terrible a consummation.

Thi Lover’s Btort.

Sumner, when sent from home, went to Port, land, where he was made a clerk in a small re

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tail store. Soon becoming disgusted with the pitiful employment, and feeling within himself a spirit capable of better occupations, he went to the uncle under whose patronage he had been placed, and expressed a desire to be sent to sea. Nothing loth to make a long disposal of a protege whom he foresaw might become extremely troublesome if kept against bis will, his kinsman put him on board a schooner for New Bedford, and to the five dollars which he conferred upon the youngster’s pocket, he gave him a letter to a shipping firm in that place, with the request, that they would afford him the advantage of the first chance that offered for a cruise, in a whaler, to the South Seas.*

In accordance with these directions, the youth was duly embarked for a voyage round the Horn, and spent the sparkle of his boyhood in the grand sport of chasing the leviathan through his vast ranges between the Equator and the poles ; now and then plunging in the frolic of some Spanish town, and alternately basking in the voluptuow enjoyments of some Polynesian Cyprus. Dorcas had good cause to shake her finger reprovingly at her lover as he dwelt upon the revels of the ship’s company with unfastidious islanders, but as he asseverated his perfect fidelity to her recollection during all these extreme temptations, and confined his descriptions of amorous transgression to the conduct of his shipmates merely, she compromised the matter with a softened doubt, and a requirement that he should repeat their offences against the canons, with a particularity that might enable her the better to measure the exact degree of his own enticements.

For three weary years the whale-hunters were burning in the glare of the Pacific. Their hick had been bad; not one half of their cargo was in; the vessel kept continually falling out of repair, and the repeated patchings she had undergone at the Sandwich Islands, and likewise at Callao, were eating into the proceeds of tie trip after a fashion that threatened to enslave every seaman on his return, with a liability for loss, which would make him subject to a new trip, for the reimbursement of the ownera Sumner had seriously reflected upon this, and having no further stomach for such unpromising adventure, he resolved to leave the ship at the first opportunity,

A chance offered at Tahiti. At the gray of evening, after a stay of three or four days, the anchor w^ts hove and the sails spread. The ressel began slowly to yield to the gentle pressure of the breeze, when, taking advantage of the captain’s attention to the top rigging, the young sailor darted into the cabin, and slipped himself into the sea from the stern windows.

. • This story of the lover is not, as some will be ready to suspect, the production of the imagination of the Writer. It is related in a series of epistles which Dorcas Doyen, when shame made her heiress of another name, directed to a friend. Their original draft, or copies, were found transcribed in a large scrap-book, taken from the trunk at the time of her murder. In the reproduction of this portion of its con tents- nothing is altered but the style. These letters were probably written during her career in Boston, as they are signed *’ Helen Mar.” They are- without doubt- accurate records, as far as ftaey go, of bur earliest attachment.

Before letting go, however, he cat loose *n4 took with him a large basket, containing two sheets of cork, which he had a moment before slung over the stern. Turning the basket bottom up, and thrusting his head and shoulder* well up in it, the adventurer, buoved by the cork, released his hold upon the rudder post.

The ” Cyrus” had not got thirty yards away, when the deserter heard within his wicker bastion, the voice of the second mate ” damning the eyes” of all the men who were aft, with a special blessing for the cook, for letting the biscuit-basket get afloat . This drew the attention of the first mate, who, seeing what had happened, ordered the dinkey to be lirwered, to pick it up. Just, however, as the men began to cast her loose, the swimmer was relieved from his apprehension, by the voice of the captain ordering them’ back, and telling them to let the basket go to h—!.

In a few minutes the Cyrus began to get hazy in the falling glooin, when, throwing off his clumsy, but, till then, convenient vizor, the swimmer struck out boldly for the shore.

There was no picket there to question him, but there stood upon the beach a group of sailors belonging to an English barque, which was to sail on the following day for Canton, and which was short of two hands from a loss by a sou’-wester in coming round the Horn. These sailors were expecting the deserter, and it was their description to Sumner of the allurements of a western passage home, and assurances of an engagement at sixteen dollars a month, which had confirmed the young man’s determination to desert.

The Sophia, for that was the name of the English vessel to which Sumner had transferred himself, touche4 at the Ladrones, and likewise at Manilla, before reaching Canton, and of each of these stopping-places the young adventurer had wondrous tales to tell, as to what he had enjoyed and seen. He could not, like Othello, tell his eager listener ” of men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders,” but he could describe the Anthropophagi and the dusky beauties of Tanai, whose charms disdained all covering but the girdle of tattoo, and whose teeth might have rivalled the ivory hedges of Calypso, if it had not been for a cursed fashion of staining them like ebony. But lie vindicated to Helen their amiability of disposition, and sought to palliate their absence of attire, by the excuse of custom. His listener, however, could find no justification in tradition or in climate, for droves of females running in puris naluralibus among groups of long-fasting sailors, or for disporting with the most extravagant gymnastics, beside their vessel in four fathom water,

Sumner smiled quietly to himself as his pretty listener pouted at this passage of hia tale, and to divert her feelings, he changed to a perilous adventure in Guiana, in which he cams very near being run down and devoured by wild hogs.