Monday, August 10, 2020

Earl Peirce, Jr. (1917-1983)-Part Seven

Peirces in a Line

It's strange to think that the first English colonists arrived in America just four years after the death of Queen Elizabeth I and before Shakespeare wrote his late plays, including The Tempest (1610-1611). At our founding, we were an Elizabethan or Jacobean culture. Now it seems we're closer to being Jacobin.

The Peirce family in America dates from that time. The first American Peirce in the line of Earl Peirce, Jr., was Capt. Michael Peirce, Peirse, or Pearce (ca. 1615-1676). (People were a lot more casual about spelling in those days.) Michael Peirce was born in about 1615 either in Bristol or St. George, Dorset, England. He came to what is now the United States in 1645 or 1646, settling first in Hingham, then, in 1646 or 1647, in Scituate, both in Plymouth Colony. Peirce served as an ensign in a company of colonial militia under Capt. Myles Standish. He himself was promoted to captain in 1669.

Before I go very much further in relating the story of Capt. Peirce, I should let you know that there is a lot of uncertainty, confusion, and misinformation about him, his family, his life, and his death. I'll try with the best information I have. Here it goes.

Capt. Michael Peirce had left England during the English Civil War (1642-1651) and (I hope) enjoyed a quarter-century of peace before conflict came again in the form of King Philip's War (1675-1678). Hostilities began on June 20, 1675, but I don't have anything on Peirce's involvement until mention of his participation in the battle at Narragansett in December 1675. I take that to mean the battle that is now called the Great Swamp Fight, December 19, 1675, near what is now South Kingston, Rhode Island.

In early 1676, Capt. Peirce led a small force of colonial militia and Wampanoag Indians into Rhode Island Colony in pursuit of what turned out to be a much larger force of Narragansett Indians and their allies. Peirce and some or all of his men were ambushed in what is now Central Falls, Rhode Island. Peirce (the story goes) and nine others were taken away as prisoners. One escaped, while the other nine, including Peirce, were either executed or tortured to death in what is now Cumberland, Rhode Island. The bodies of the nine were found by other militiamen and were buried at a site they marked with the construction of a cairn. The site, believed to be the oldest veteran's memorial in the United States, is called Nine Men's Misery and is located on the grounds of a monastery in Cumberland. The inscription on a plaque affixed to the cairn is ambiguous: it can be read either that the men were killed on March 26, 1676, or that their bodies were buried on that date. And I can't say for sure that Capt. Michael Peirce was one of them. Incidentally, for fans of weird tales, one of the dead is reputed to have been a giant with two rows of teeth. Somebody tried to dig him up more than a century after his death.

Capt. Peirce's heir was his son Capt. Benjamin Peirce (1646?-1730), eventual holder of 1,000 or more acres and owner of a sawmill. He or his father may have been the founders of the Peirce timber and lumber industry that carried through generations of their family, eventually to give birth to Earl Stanley Peirce, Sr., a professional forester and the father of Earl Peirce, Jr.

Records for the next two generations of the Peirce family seem a little shaky, but Capt. Benjamin Peirce seems to have been followed by two more Benjamins, Benjamin Peirce, Sr., (1683-1772) and Benjamin Peirce, Jr. (1721-1768). Then things become a little more firm again with Capt. Hayward Peirce (1753-1826). In 1776, a century after his great-great-grandfather's ill-fated expedition, the young Capt. Peirce, acting under Col. Jeremiah Hill, led a company of Massachusetts men into Rhode Island. I don't know where they were going or to what purpose, except to shoot at some Redcoats. I wonder if Capt. Peirce covered the same ground as the first Capt. Peirce one hundred years before him. Capt. Peirce also commanded a company in Col. Theophilus Cotton's regiment in 1777. Unlike his ancestor, Capt. Hayward Peirce survived the war and died in the same year as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Capt. Peirce's son, Waldo Peirce (1778-1841) seems to have been the one, possibly with one or more brothers, who moved the family's base of operations from Scituate to Maine. He married Catherine Treat (1782 or 1783-1863), who I'm pretty sure was in the line of Col. Robert Treat (1624-1710), who also took part in the Great Swamp Fight and later served as governor of Connecticut Colony. Waldo Peirce built a timber and lumber business at Frankfort, in Waldo County, Maine. "He was regarded as one of the most sagacious and able business men [sic] of eastern Maine," wrote the Treat family historian, "and acquired a large fortune of $80,000." (p. 346) From him and his wife it was on to George Albert Peirce (1812-1873), George Peirce (1851-1922), Earl Stanley Peirce, Sr. (1886-1978), and finally (for our purposes) Earl Stanley Peirce, Jr. (1917-1983).

There were prominent people in those many generations of Peirces. For example, George Albert Peirce's daughter Katherine Peirce Scripps (1854-1933) was married to William Armiger Scripps (1838-1914) of the Scripps empire of journalism, publishing, and newspaper syndication. For another, the grandson of Waldo Peirce, Mellen Chamberlain Peirce, Sr. (1846 or 1847-1936) and his wife Anna Cora Hayford Peirce (1856-1928) had four children, including: author Ada Stetson Peirce McCormick (1888-1974); archaeologist and art historian Hayford P. Peirce, Sr. (1883-1946); and painter and bon vivant Waldo Peirce (1884-1970), who hobnobbed with everybody from John Reed to Ernest Hemingway. A fourth child, athlete and scholar Mellen Chamberlain Peirce, Jr., died as a young adult.

I promised you a long time ago that I would get to Earl Peirce's third cousin, who is also a writer of genre fiction. Finally, here we are. In 1937, while in his mid fifties, Hayford Peirce, Sr., married Pauline Francis "Polly" Brown (1911-1994). Five years later, she gave birth to a son. His name is Hayford Peirce, Jr., and since 1974, he has worked as an author of genre fiction, including science fiction, mysteries, and detective fiction. (He has also written his own Wikipedia page.) If all of my figuring is correct, then Earl Stanley Peirce, Jr., and Hayford Peirce, Jr., are third cousins. I kind of doubt they ever met (who has ever met his third cousin?), but it's interesting that after three hundred years in America, the Peirce line would arrive, finally and I imagine independently of each other, at two tellers of tales.

Earl Peirce's seventh and last story in Weird Tales was "Portrait of a Bride," from January 1940. Like his previous entry, this one, a tale of a ghostly, imaginary bride, is competent but pretty slight. There seems to have been something lacking in Peirce's later stories compared to his earlier ones. I suspect it has to do with the fact that the feverish imagination of youth is too often lost in adulthood.

I have read and written about these stories mostly because I have been looking for connections to H.P. Lovecraft and his so-called Cthulhu Mythos. I need not have read any further than the first, "Doom of the House of Duryea," from October 1936. Even then, the connection isn't really to Lovecraft so much as it is to Robert Bloch, who created Ludvig Prinn (mentioned in Peirce's story), fictional author of the grimoire Mysteries of the Worm (or De Vermis Mysteriis, as Lovecraft dubbed it). Peirce and Bloch knew each other in Milwaukee in the mid 1930s. As far as I can tell, there aren't any other connections between the two within their respective stories except for a possible--and very tenuous--connection between Peirce's second story, "The Last Archer" (Weird Tales, Mar. 1937), and Bloch's Egyptian Cycle of stories from about the same period.

If there is a theme running through Peirce's stories, it is one of family curses and familial degeneration. That seems to be a pretty common one in weird fiction, maybe because it is so common in real life. It's an especially common theme in stories by H.P. Lovecraft. Young people may feel that they're cursed by being in the family that they are. Those feelings probably fade for most people. I don't get a sense that Peirce's family was running down. They're actually a pretty remarkable bunch. But then you never know what goes on in the private lives of other people.

After January 1940, Earl Peirce's name disappeared from Weird Tales. He was then only halfway through his career in the pulps. Most of the rest of his output was for mystery, crime, and detective titles. I'm pretty sure that Peirce has living descendants. I wonder if they would ever assent to having his stories reprinted, maybe in two volumes, one for his weird tales, the other for his detective stories. He was a competent writer, though not a great one, and he had flashes of real imagination, especially when he was young. I imagine that pulp fans today would want to read what he wrote.

And so ends this series.

Text and caption copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

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