Genealogist and Biographer.
A Quarterly Journal.
|Vol. II. — 1876-7|
DANIAL FLAGG, THE "BAREFOOT PHILOSOPHER."
BY HON. B. A. G. FULLER, BOSTON.
In November, 1875, the subject of this article, an eccentric genius, died suddenly at Concord, N. H., in the 83d year of his age. He was descended from Thomas Flagg of Watertown, (1641) through Lieut. Gershom, Gershom, Zachariah, Samuel, and consequently of the same stock as the Flaggs upon the Kennebec river. His grandfather Zachariah married, in 1733, Mary Gardner of Charlestown, and his father, Dr. Samuel, was born in 1744, and was brother to John, born 1746, the father of Mrs. Abigail Loverling, (born Sept. 1, 1775,) the centenarian now living in Oxford in the State of Maine.
The first eccentricities of this family seem to have appeared in Dr. Samuel Flagg, who, as the tradition is, was educated at Harvard University, (but I find no record of his having graduated there,) and married (about 1780) Sarah Robie of Chester, Vt. His father (Zachariah) was a tailor by trade, and designed that his son should follow the same calling, but the boy did not take kindly to the shears, much preferring books, and the study of chemistry, with the few experiments he was able to make therein, and was consequently of little service in the shop. The father, still persisting in his efforts to bring the lad to a sense of his duty, was at length obligated to yield his preferences by the following incident. Wearied by such importunities, Samuel put to use his chemical knowledge, and his father was one evening greatly surprised and overcome upon entering his son's bedroom to find written upon the headboard of the bedstead the following couplet:"Sam Flagg is such a blade
He won't learn the tailor's trade."
The result was that Same was provided with an education, and became a physician, noted as well for his skill as his oddity. Many anecdotes are told of him, and he seems to have taken advantage of his chemical powers in more than one instance, to effect his purposes. He was a surgeon in the army at Bennington, and also at Saratoga in Gen. Whipple's brigade. After the war he led an eccentric and roving life, practicing his profession, but exacting no pay, and apparently caring little whether any reward was given or not. He died at Grafton, N. H.
Daniel was born in Hopkinton, N. H., Nov. 14, 1793, and when eight years of age was placed upon a farm, and there worked for several years. Afterwards, having learned the trade which his father rejected, he pursued it awhile at Corinth, Vt., and subsequently at Pembroke, N. H., for many years. He married at East Corinth, Vt., in 1815, Mrs. Clarinda (Bailey) Carter, and his six children—all sons. In person, though rather below medium height, he was in early years of erect figure, stately bearing, and very active in his movements. In pursuing his trade he preferred to go from house to house (as indeed was then somewhat customary) rather than to remain quietly in the shop. His means of education were scant, but like his father, he had a genius for mechanics and the higher arts, and made several inventions of utility, which came into use, and among them a lever attachment for snow-plows, which was extensively used, and it is said that the car spring now in use on New England railways was his invention; but none of these were patented, so far as I am aware, though a model of one of them is in the Patent Office, nor did he reap any especial benefit therefrom; indeed, during the last half of his life he seemed to care as little for money as di his father, the Doctor—a name which was sometimes applied to himself. The Concord Statesman, in noticing his death, says: "He was at one time a member of the Congregational church in Pembroke, but in the early "comer-outer" days he left the church, and pleasant relations were not maintained between him and some of the people then resident in Pembroke. He embraced some odd notions of methods of health and living, one of which was going barefoot, or practically so, summer and winter, a practice which he as followed for thirty-five years."
A gentleman writes me further, that he was always thinly clad, and the same brown straw hat did duty in all seasons and weathers, and adds: "I have seen him travelling in the street in the month of February, barefooted, his feet as red as a cherry, but of late he has worn cowhide shoes in winter, but no stockings."
Though for many years appearing in the streets in this manner, his vagaries did not seem to cause annoyance to others, or to occasion trouble or insult to himself, even the boys showing respect for his grey locks, which gave him a venerable appearance, his kindly disposition and eccentric genius, while many a citizen was ready to afford him the occasional shelter and food which he required when in town.
In 1861 he had some tools, medicines, &c., stored in a building in Concord, occupied by the publishers of a newspaper which had rendered itself obnoxious to the soldiers stationed there, and they destroyed the press, scattered the types, papers, &c., and with these, the tools, books, medicines, & c, belonging to Flagg. Though ever quite a noted abolitionist, and, perhaps, somewhat sympathizing with the soldiers in their work of destruction, he did not deem these sentiments sufficient recompense for his loss, and presented a claim to the city for $400, and one of the items of the bill was "for one large Family Bible containing the records of the Flagg family, $200." He seems, therefore, to have had an appreciation of the value of geneological records, and if these were to any considerable degree a record of the "Flagg family," he did not place an over-estimate upon them; but the city thought otherwise, and after some years awarded him $50 in settlement of the claim.
About ten years before his death, his brother, Gardner Flagg, died, leaving to him about $200, with which he purchased a small place in Suncook, near the river, where he constructed a curiously contrived cabin for himself, built partly under ground, where he lived a sort of a hermit life. For some years in succession he planted corn in the same hills without plowing, and at the Agricultural Fair in Concord, in 1875, exhibited specimens of corn thus grown. He also constructed an aqueduct from a spring on his premises a considerable distance to the road, where he placed a trough for the accommodation of travellers, receiving a yearly stipend of three dollars therefor. This cabin was but scantily furnished, but accorded to his tastes, and there, of late, he spent most of his time, only occasionally coming forth into the outer world.
In former years he had, however, travelled extensively, and was well know in various sections of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Canada. His natural genius, combined with his peculiar eccentricities, made him a noted character, and upon railway corporations he was "priviliged," and received courtesy and attention from the conductors. He was know as the "Doctor," the "Barefooted Philosopher," and, since his death, has been called the "Modern Diogenes." Indeed, a letter to the Boston Journal, noticing his death, concludes thus: "In Grecian Corinth a pillar was raised to the memory of the ancient Diogenes, and let us hope that the Concord people, or the Green Mountain Corinthians, will not forget to perpetuate the name of the "Barefooted Philosopher Flagg."
His wife for many years resided at Haverhill, Mass., with a daughter by a former husband. One of his sons was for many years an actor in Cincinnati, one still lives at Haverhill, and one resides at New York, all very respectable and worthy citizens.
The Concord "Statesman" remarked truly—"A century does not produce many such characters," and therefore it has seemed to me fitting to place this brief sketch of him in your valuable publication.