I regret exceedingly that the state of my health will not permit me to be present with you at the reunion of our kindred. I assure you that it would have given me great pleasure to have seen face to face and eye to eye the descendents of Ebenezer and Eliphalet Stephens, brothers of my grandfather, upon this spot where you have this day assembled, which place has become almost sacred to my memory, from the fact that my grandfather when a young man, came to this then wilderness country, and upon the bank of the Tunkhannock near here, built a brush heap and inscribed his name upon a tree, which act entitled him in those days to four hundred acres of land. He, marrying in Orange County, remained there, and gave his claim to his father, who came here with your grandfathers and took possession of the claim which has been the family homestead of this branch of the Stephens family.
The Stephens family is one of the oldest families of the United States. They date their arrival here when the May Flower landed on bleak New England’s shore. the captain and owner of the May Flower was a Stephens, and I have not a question of doubt in my mind but what our race descended from his loins, which spread over the New England states, from whence our ancestors came.
What a precious body of men and women came over in that May Flower! They have made their stamp and mark upon the world’s history, for they are ranked first in order, they and their descendents, in shaping and moulding our free institutions, and the Stephens family, their acts and deeds, will compare favorably with any family that made up the passengers of that noble old ship.
Our Great Grandfather, Eliphalet Stephens, of what I have learned of my grandfather concerning him, was a man of powerful physique, a man of undaunted courage, who knew no fear, with a mind that grasped everything instinctively,- a characteristic of our race. We see these traits of his character manifested when taken prisoner by the Indians at the battle of Wyoming. After the battle the Indians were amusing themselves by running foot-races for prizes. They were thus engaged when he asked and obtained their consent to enter the race and compete for prizes. They were running for handkerchiefs. He outran the Indians, and demanded the prize. The prize-holder told him he was a prisoner, he could not have it. He up with his fist, knocked him over, seized his prize and left the Indians. They pursued him shot him in the flesh part of the thigh which wound did not impede his progress and he came back to Orange County. Grandmother in telling me of the occurrence said she said to grandfather, “Were you not afraid the Indians would run you down and kill you?" In reply he said he could outrun any Indian that ever lived.
Our great grandmother, Elsa Holloway, of what I learned of her through grandfather, was a woman of no common mould. She was a Quakeress, possessing that mild manner and truthfulness charasteristic of that sect. And such was the impress she made on her children that nearly every branch of the family must have a Holloway to keep her in loving remembrance. My grandfather never spoke to me about his mother what he betrayed in his speech the love and respect he bore her. My grandfather, who was named after his mother, partook somewhat of the nature of his mother; a man of a mild disposition; a man of few words; an honest and industrious man. But when his rights were invaded he showed the Stephens stock in his nature. It was like awakening a lion in his lair. Woe be to the intruder. It was a word and a blow and the blow came first. My grandfather married Amy Cooley. Her father was a major in the revolutionary army and my grandmother said she learned to read reading grandfather’s speeches made at Albany. They had seven children, Ebenezer, Halloway, Eliphalet, William, Esther, Amy and Elsa. And from their loins descended five lawyers, three of them the most distinguished that Orange County ever produced; three judges, and three Legislators. My kinsmen, you need to be proud of your grandfathers. They were Revolutionary soldiers, and drew pensions to the day of their death. Their memory and fame are your family escutcheon. May you ever, my kinsmen, prove worthy of being descendents of such an illustrious ancestry. Mrs. DeWitt, in her family reminiscences says that the original Stephens family were three brothers; two of them settled in the New England States, and one in the South. Alexander Stephens was a descendnet of the one that settled in the South. I saw him in 1859, heard him speak in Congress. I knew by his beardless face, characteristic of the old Stock of Stephens, and that strong will power he showed in his speech, that he was of our race.
Thadeus Stephens, of Lancaster County, of this State, I became acquainted with at Harrisburg, called the old Commoner for a long time, member of the Legislature and of Congress from that district; a very able man. He told me he was from Vermont. I knew he was of our stock. He resembled so much in his build and make-up my grandfather and uncle Ebenezer Stephens, whom I saw when a child, and that same beardless face. My father, whose name was Halloway, was a true type of the Stephens family. Like Mrs. DeWitt’s father, they possessed the strong and active traits of our race, and had they been educated, would have stood very high in the scale of human attainments.
My father, after marrying his second wife, who was a Pennsylvanian, left Orange County and came to Pennsylvania. I, having three motherless little sisters, left a good salaried position in the Spring of 1849, and followed them into Pennsylvania to look after their welfare. I never have regretted that move. Seven years from that time the people of Wayne County elected me as County Surveyor, that being my occupation. That next year, the fall of 1857, I was elected to represent Wayne County in the Legislature. I served them two years in that capacity. It was during the session of 1859 that I made my speech on Taxation. A bill was before the house, -an act to equalize taxation on incorporated property. I offered an amendement to that act, to equalize taxation on corporation property, to class it with all other property, and make them pay taxes in proportion to the amount of property they possessed, the same as individual tax payers. My speech you will find on page 584 of the Legislative Record of 1859. You will find a copy of that record of 1859 at Mr. Smith’s, who was your member of the Legislature that year. That speech went over the State like wild fire, and from three counties of the State they asked me if I would consent to run for Governor on that issue. When I came home my people wanted me to again be a candidate to carry out the doctrine that I had raised the issue on. Two years being the customary rule for a legislator to serve, I refused to accede to their will. There is where I made the mistake of my life. I should have acquiesced in their will. Had I done so, long ere this we might have had a law sentinel on our statute books to guard and equalize the rights of the people of Pennsylvania. But supposed that future members would take up the agitation and carry it to completion. In this I have been disappointed.
In 1862 I was drafted into the army in the War of Rebellion. Judge Hamlin immediately procured for me a substitute. I would not accept the substitute. I said my country, right or wrong, I will obey the powers that be. The men elected me Captain. We served our time out, and when it was about out Lee invaded Penn’a. Through my unaided influence I was the means of having our regiment, the 179th Penn’a Volunteers, in the service until Lee was driven out of Penn’a. So we went into the service as drafted men and came out as volunteers.
In 1872 I was a candidate for a delegate to represent the four counties composing our congressional district, to make a new Constitution for the State of Penn’a. We met a Tunkhannock, and there balloted two days without a choice. They then tried to bribe my delegate to get him to vote against me; offered him, he said, as much as five hundred dollars. They could not accomplish their purpose. Then they tried to bribe me, and offered me so many hundred dollars if I would withdraw my name. I then went into the Convention and exposed them. One of the delegates from Susquehanna County said he did not believe a word of it; that I was trying to create sympathy to get elected. I then left the hall and went down to the hotel where I was boarded and told the landlord that he was wanted up at the court house. When we arrived there, before the assembled convention, I put the question to him, Did you or did you not offer me so many hundred dollars if I would withdraw my name as candidate before the convention. He said immediately, I did, sir. They then, the convention, threw the candidates all overboard and elected a new man. After this Dr. Smith, who was a candidate for that position, be it said to his honor, arose and said: “Fellow citizens, I have to acknowledge before you this day that I was ambitious. I coveted the honor of going to Harrisburgh to help make the Constitution for our State. But, gentlemen of this convention, who is the man we ought to have sent? They said they did not know. He then said, pointing at me, “There is the little man we should have sent, and if you will remain here I will go get his speech and read it to you that he made at Harrisburgh on taxation and see if you wont agree with me when you have heard it read. He went and got my speech and read it, and they all said if they had known that I was that man they would all have voted for me. They then proposed, as they had found out that I was related to the Stephens family along the Tunkhannock, that I remain and make a speech two days from that time and they pledged me the largest audience that ever was held in Tunkhannock, for they said your relations are as thick as fleas along that stream and they will all be out. But my Stephens grit was up to fever heat. The ambition of my life to be an instrument in the hands of my Maker to deliver Pennsylvania from corporation bonds was again thwarted. I said, “No, gentlemen, I cannot remain to speak to a people that want to bribe men to make a delegate to help make the Constitution of Pennsylvania; that Constitution that should be as pure as purity itself. My ambition in being a delegate was to place in that Constitution the words that the beds of railroads and canals and their fixtures should be taxed the same as any other property.”
But I have regretted a thousand times that I had not remained to have seen my kindred. May heaven’s blessing rest upon you all. Though we may not meet to see each other in this life, we shall meet in that upper and better would, if we believe and put our trust in Him who created us.
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