Sketches of Students of First
JAMES CROMBIE, the subject of this sketch, was born in New Boston, New Hampshire, November 28, 1811. He removed with his father's family to Otsego, New York, in 1816, and thence to Oswego County in 1827. He was a student in Cazenovia in 1832. This was at the time when Professor Larrabee was principal, and Miss Falley (now Mrs. Hoes) was preceptress. Mr. Crombie, in writing of this period, says, "The Seminary was wholly under the control of the Methodists, and the teachers and students shared largely in the enthusiasm of the denomination." He boarded with one of the ministers, and 11 well remembers the wakening echoes of his morning and evening orisons."
The cholera, which prevailed in portions of the country, spread great consternation among the students for several weeks. The mails brought almost daily intelligence to some of the students of the death of parents, brothers, or sisters, with admonitions to them not to return home lest they, too, should become the victims of the disease.
Mr. Crombie read law in Chenango County, was admitted to the bar in 1838, and practiced his profession at Fulton, Oswego County, till 1851. He married Miss C. Mary Beckwith, of Greene, Chenango County, in 1848. In 1851, when the gold excitement was at its height, he visited California for his health. He records
an incident of his passage when on the Pacific. The captain and mate of the steamer each knocked down a passenger without any just provocation. A meeting of the passengers was held; the mate was brought to the deck with a rope around his neck, which was thrown over the yard-arm, ready for the sudden elevation of the culprit, when Mr. Crombie interposed and procured a cessation of hostilities, on the promise of the captain and the mate of better behavior. The promise was faithfully kept, but the two injured passengers, on arriving at San Francisco, found to their astonishment that such was the lawlessness and misrule on shore, they could not procure the arrest of the captain and mate in a suit for damages. All the restraints of society were thrown off; but Lynch law was effectual. He returned in 1852, purchased a plantation, and settled in Fairfax County, Virginia. He at once became the subject of suspicion, and at first the slaveholders refused to have business transactions or intercourse with him. Every one coming from the North was watched and suspected as unsafe to slavery. The smoldering fire only needed John Brown's breath to kindle it into a resistless blaze. In the summer of 1853 Mr. Crombie came North, leaving his newspapers on the center table in his house. The wife of his tenant took the papers to read, and thoughtlessly loaned some of them to her neighbors: in one was a letter on the subject of slavery from a gentleman in the North, who had visited him in Virginia. It was soon rumored that he wrote it, and the paper went the rounds of the country. On returning, in the fall of 1853, he was met in Washington by a neighbor, formerly from the North, who told him that it was unsafe for him to return; that he had heard that Mr. Jackson (the father of the Jackson who killed Colonel Ellsworth) had threatened to head a mob and drive him from the country--that the feeling against him was intense. Mr. Crombie replied that his property was there, that he had returned to dispose of it, and must go at all hazards. He finally prevailed on his friend to let him ride with him in his carriage to Fairfax County. They crossed the chain-bridge above Georgetown, and the first man they saw in Virginia was Mr. Jackson, descending a hill on foot toward the bridge. His friend turned pale, and said, "I told you so; there comes Jackson!" Mr. Crombie sprang from the carriage and said, "Drive on; I will not compromise you, as you live here." His companion drove rapidly and passed Mr. Jackson; Mr. Crombie, meantime, standing behind a tree, so Mr. Jackson did not see him. Mr. Crombie then walked along the road and met Mr. Jackson. Mr. Jackson shook hands and greeted Mr. Crombie cordially, saying, "I have heard you intend leaving us; we shall regret it much, as you have erected two houses, set out fruit trees, and done more to improve our country than all of us together." To which Mr. Crombie replied, "I am glad to hear you express yourself so, for I have heard you threatened to lead a mob to drive me from the country, and I thought there must be some mistake about it." Mr. Jackson replied profanely, "It's a lie! they are a set of cowards who suggested such an idea and made me responsible for it. No man dare tell me that I ever made such a threat. If you have any trouble I will defend you with my life; you know I believe in slavery, but I like fair play, and have a contempt for all cowards." Mr. Crombie disposed of most of his property without molestation, came to the city of New York in 1853, and has since practiced his profession there. During the war the house he erected in Virginia was destroyed by northern troops, and the place he owned became a scene of desolation. He wrote letters to leading men in Fairfax County while the question of secession was pending in Virginia, telling them that if Virginia seceded their country would become the battle-field, and they would rue the day.
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