Indeed, Lord Timothy Dexter inspired many a local bard to couplet, but
it was Jonathan Plummer, the erstwhile fish monger of Market Square
--- purveyor of pins and needles and prosaic charms --- to whom history
points as his Lordship's preferred "Poet Laureate" --- and the peddler and poet John Greenleaf Whittier recounts as "A Yankee Troubadour --- first and last mistrel of the Valley of the Merrimack."
Excerpted from John Greenleaf Whittier: a biography by Francis Henry Underwood at Google books at this link without. Reference page 61 at link without which mentions visits by Jonathan Plummer to young Whittier’s homestead, as follows:
In the same lively essay (Whittier) tells us of another wanderer, named Jonathan Plummer, that appeared to have a regular orbit. His description of this odd genius is too amusing to be merely summarized, and we give it as it stands.
"Twice a year, usually in the spring and autumn, we were honored with a call from Jonathan Plummer, maker of verses, peddler and poet, physician and parson, — a Yankee troubadour, — first and last minstrel of the valley of the Merrimac, encircled, to my wondering young eyes, with the very nimbus of immortality. He brought with him pins, needles, tape, and cotton thread for my mother; jackknives, razors, and soap for my father ; and verses of his own composing, coarsely printed and illustrated with rude woodcuts, for the delectation of the younger branches of the family. No love-sick youth could drown himself, no deserted maiden bewail the moon, no rogue mount the gallows, without fitting memorial in Plummer's verses. Earthquakes, fires, fevers, and shipwrecks he regarded as personal favors from Providence, furnishing the raw material of song and ballad. Welcome to us in our country seclusion as Autolycus to the clown in Winter's Tale, we listened with infinite satisfaction to his readings of his own verses, or to his ready improvisation upon some domestic incident or topic suggested by his auditors. When once fairly over the difficulties at the outset of a new subject, his rhymes flowed freely 'as if he had eaten ballads and all men's ears grew to his tunes.' His productions answered, as nearly as I can remember, to Shakespeare's description of a proper ballad — 'doleful matter merrily set down, or a very pleasant theme sung lamentably.' He was scrupulously conscientious, devout, inclined to theological disquisitions, and withal mighty in Scripture. He was thoroughly independent; flattered nobody, cared for nobody, trusted nobody. When invited to sit down at our dinner-table, he invariably took the precaution to place his basket of valuables between his legs for safe keeping. 'Never mind thy basket, Jonathan,' said my father; ' we shan't steal thy verses.' 'I 'm not sure of that,' returned the suspicious guest. 'It is written, 'Trust ye not in any brother.' "
The following biographical sketch of Plummer has been gleaned from John J. Currier's
History of Newburyport, Volume II, Chapter XXVII, Eccentric Characters, which included "The Congratulatory Ode" Plummer had enscribed to Dexter. "An Elegiac Ode"
was transcribed from J. P. Marquand's biography of Lord Timothy Dexter,
pp. 269 - 271.
Plummer was the son of Jonathan and Abigail Plummer, born in Newbury
on June 13, 1761. Though considered "mentally weak" he had
a retentive memory and soon acquired a good common-school education.
or eighteen years of age, he was anxious to study for the ministry,
but was persuaded to turn his attentions to secular pursuits. He was
fond of reading, and for a small consideration would recite in the market
place in Newburyport selections of prose and poetry taken from his favorite
authors, to the great delight of the men and boys accustomed to assemble
pins, needles and other small wares from a basket that he carried from
house to house, and occasionally wrote and published verses describing
some event or incident of local interest. He styled himself, "poet
lauriet (sic) to Lord Timothy Dexter."
autobiography, the author states that he taught school in Londonderry,
New Hampshire from 1779 to 1782, and afterwards sold books, ballads,
and fruit in the streets of Newburyport, and made many ineffectual attempts
to marry maiden ladies and widows.
a dreamer of dreams and, although a devout member of several religious
organizations, professed to see visions and receive communications from
the spirit world that were startling and in his opinion, inexplicable.
the death of Timothy Dexter in 1806, Plummer lived out his life with
his unmarried cousins Eunice, Hannah and Elizabeth Alexander in a dwelling
house on the corner of High and Federal Streets. In broadsides and pamphlets
sold by him at his basket in Market Square, Newburyport, he professed
himself "a traveling preacher."
and singular costume of Jonathan Plummer made him conspicuous wherever
he went. An engraving of Plummer standing in the market place with his
basket of books and pamphlets was published in 1809. Reproduced on page
431 of Curriers' History of Newburyport, Vol. II, it inspired the graphic
used in the book leaf of Marquand's biography of Lord Timothy Dexter,
the source of the icon used herein.
Plummer died, unmarried, on September 13, 1819. Notice of his death,
published in the Newburyport Herald on the following day, reads as follows:
"Yesterday afternoon Mr. Jonathan Plummer, aged 58, poet laureate
and preacher to their majesties the sovereign people."
are two poesies penned by Jonathan Plummer, in tribute to his benefactor,
Lord Timothy Dexter.
Elegiac Ode to Lord Timothy Dexter by his Lordship's poet laureate,
Jonathan Plummer, Junr
is a man of fame,
Most celebrated is his name;
More precious far than gold that's pure,
Lord Dexter shines forevermore.
house, it shines more bright
Than Lebanon's most pleasant height;
Never was one who stepped therein
Who wanted to come out again.
is fill'd with sweet perfumes,
Rich furniture doth fill his rooms;
Inside and out it is adorn'd,
And on the top an eagle's form'd.
is white and trimm'd with green,
For many miles it may be seen;
It shines as bright as any star,
The fame of it has spread afar.
thou, whose name alone
Shines brighter than king George's throne;
Thy name shall stand in books of fame,
And princes shall his name proclaim.
hath a coach beside,
In pomp and splendor he doth ride;
The horses champ the silver bitt,
And throw the foam around their feet.
around him stand,
For they were made by his command,
Looking to see Lord Dexter come,
With fixed eyes they see him home.
stand to guard the door,
With mouths wide open to devour
All enemies who dare oppose
Lord Dexter or his shady groves.
like king Solomon.
Hath gold and silver by the ton,
And bells to churches he hath given,
To worship the great king of heaven.
deeds they are so great,
He's honor'd both in church and state,
And when he comes all must give way,
To let Lord Dexter bear the sway.
dies all things shall droop,
Lord East, Lord West, Lord North shall stoop,
And then Lord South with pomp shall come,
And bear his body to the tomb.
most charming to behold,
A thousand sweets it doth unfold;
When Dexter dies shall willows weep,
And mourning friends shall fill the street.
May Jefferson, by God's command,
Support the right of all mankind,
John Adams not a whit behind.
with all your host,
Lord Dexter in a bumper toast;
May he enjoy his life in peace,
And when he's dead his name not cease.
may he always reign,
For there's no sorrow, sin, nor pain;
Unto the world I leave the rest,
For to pronounce Lord Dexter best.
March 17, 1797, the following congratulatory ode was printed in The
Impartial Herald, and is cited in John J. Currier's History of Newburyport,
Volume II, Chapter XXVII, Eccentric Characters, pp. 443 - 445, annotations
TIMOTHY DEXTER, on his returning to Newburyport, after residing a long
time at Chester in New Hampshire; a congratulatory ODE; by Jonathan
Plummer, Junr, Poet Lauriet (sic) to his Lordship.
welcome back again ---
Fair nymphs with sighs have mourn'd your staying
So long from them and me your swain,
And wonder'd at such long delaying;
But now you bless again our eyes,
Our melting sorrow droops and dies.
of Chester to a Lord
Must seem a desert dull and foggy,
A gloomy place --- upon my word
I think it dirty, wet, and boggy;
Far different from your Kingly seat, 1
In good saint James his famous street.
all the arts and graces join
To make you happy and contented;
There flowing wits and sparkling wine
Will duly to you be presented ---
Aye, raptures rare combin-ed meet
To bless and crown saint James his street.
change I'll loudly sing,
Your change to all the town transporting,
And while I make the valleys ring,
I shall rejoice at your good fortune.
From Chester to saint James his street
Is quite a glorious retreat.
a suit of clothes must have
To sing my joy in, and the best, sir;
A suit of red, not black and grave,
Provided by the Earl of Chester.
To Todd the taylor send, I pray ---
Your Lordship's Poet must be gay.
suit is handsome yet;
But not so proper to rejoice in,
As that which now you'll for me get,
To tune my very joyful voice in.
In Europe I know not a King
Without a bard in red to sing. 2
this place have many friends,
And all the Lawyers her are civil,
They know full well that envy tends
To send its owners to the devil.
I think they will not beat you blind,
Because the Nymphs are to you kind. 3
in Chester is not fit
For a wise noble lord to dwell in ---
In this you may display your wit;
Aye, this I'm sure you will do well in.
I hope you'll shine gay as a lark,
A glory to saint James his park. 4
me! what wits and beauties there,
With dazzling lustre gay are shining!
Nymphs who to angels I compare,
And wits who're not with envy pining;
Beaux who will never beat you blind
Because the Nymphs are to you kind.
a place below the skies, 5
How stately, elegant, and splendid,
Is that boon early paradise,
Where wit and beauty are so blended!
You truly hit the proper mark
By living in St. James his park.
of sense should always live
Among the highest and the best, sir,
And never pine away and grieve
Among the fighting folks at Chester;
Then shine, rich lord, the gayest spark,
The glory of saint James, his park.
Kingly seat --- the elegant house situated in Saint James his park and
street, which belonged some time since to Jonathan Jackson, Esq.
Concerning this appeal for a new suit of livery, the poet laureate,
in his autobiography, makes the following statement: "It happened
that the Earl of Chester was ill of the gout about the time that the
ode made its appearance. This I imagine operated to my disadvantage
in regard to my obtaining the suit of red. The painful disease, in a
great measure, destroyed his Lordship's relish for poetry. Lady Dexter,
too, co-operated with the gout in the business of with-holding from
me the object of my wishes. She is not altogether so generous, so noble,
so royal, as his Lordship, and when she rules the house, those benevolent
actions are not always done which at other times adorn the place. I
would not be understood to hint that she along every absolutely controls
him; but I cannot say that she and the gout together do not sometimes
get him under. I did not expect that anything would hinder him from
cloathing his own poet; but alas! I have not yet received the suit."
Because the Nymphs & --- It is strongly suspected that Lord Dexter
was bruised half to death by a lawyer in New Hampshire, partly on account
of the ladies regard for him in that state.
The house is elegant, but only two stories high.
what place, & --- Newburyport in general, and saint James his park