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THE AMERICAN STEERES: FAMILY TRAITS AND SOCIAL LIFE.
Feel something of thyself in the noble acts of thy ancestors, and find in thine own genius that of thy predecessors. Rest not under the expired merits of others, shine by those of thine own.
Christian Morals, by Sir Thomas Browne, Kt., M. D.
MPOSSIBLE as it is to paint on the canvas the life-like features of remote ancestors whose likenesses have not come down to us, it is yet possible to reproduce the finer portraiture of their characters and lives by a close, impartial study of the ancient records, public and private, that are accessible to us. We may put each trait or event in its true perspective, setting it in its dark background or glowing light, adding to the historic sketch here a graphic line, and there an expressive tint, till we have a picture which, however imperfect in some of its outlines or colors, will yet afford much solid gratification to those who have the sentiment of veneration for their forefathers. To know what were their leading traits, and to be acquainted with some of the features of their lives, domestic and social as well as civil, must afford every right-minded man peculiar pleasure. To sit in imagination by their firesides, to see how they fared, and what were their habits of life at home and at their neighbor's houses, must be a source of great satisfaction.
The Steere Family seems to have partaken largely of the Rhode Island type of character, which was in some respects suigeneris. Like many others of their fellow-citizens, they were an independent, self-poised, liberty-loving class of people, determinedly stubborn to maintain their rights and opinions at all hazards, while they were not only perfectly willing, but desirous that others should exercise the privilege of maintaining theirs. This was a leading characteristic. They despised most heartily all forms of intolerance, and could not bear to have themselves or others crowded into a disadvantageous position. When they met such experiences, they were likely to show out the " Steere grit." Such characteristics were inborn, and yet were intensified by the circumstances under which the Rhode Island colony came into being and gained its enviable distinction. The foundations of her history were laid and her institutions established by men who through persecutions or interference with their religious rights had developed the strongest passion for civil and religious liberty. This was the tie that strongly bound the early settlers together, and united their descendants, however diverse their views were on other points. This was the controlling spirit that amid conflicts and trials finally cemented together the various interests of men trained in the schools of adversity, and built up a commonwealth whose innermost and essential principle of liberty has been acknowledged as the best guarantee of stability and prosperity wherever civilization extends its beneficent sway.
The first Rhode Island settler of the name of Steere left an untarnished reputation for honesty and uprightness and humanity, which his descendants, it is believed, have sought to maintain in their own experience. He evidently valued a quiet, unostentatious life, and was of a somewhat retiring disposition, as may appear even from the localities which he chose for his places of residence from time to time. Those descended from him have also generally shunned publicity. The selfish ambition to grasp at official station and political dignity has not been the ill-fated star in the family horizon, which lured its members on to the adoption of corrupt schemes and political intrigues for personal aggrandizement and to the destruction of personal honor. Worldly prosperity has come to many members of the Steere tribe in different sections of the country, but, as far as known, it has not been sought after at all hazards, but it has been the result of the exercise of a sound judgment and a wise foresight, and the practice of the virtues of industry, frugality, and economy in daily life, generally from an early period, and with persevering energy from small beginnings. Combining practical common-sense views of life with charitable dispositions, a robust and healthy growth of character was promoted, which mere theorizing or an indolent, careless life could not have produced. Concordant testimony from many quarters bears witness to the straightforward honesty that marked the lives of different members of the family. Among the eulogies published in the newspapers, notices announcing the deaths of such, it has been common to find tributes like these: "He was an honest man," " An honest man's the noblest work of God," "Noted for strict integrity," etc. Genuine worth, though often found associated with poverty, not infrequently in the history of the family led, under more favorable conditions of life, to an advanced position of usefulness, influence, and wealth. Though placed beyond the necessity of labor by hand or brain for a support, careful toil was in most cases continued for long years, yet was not suffered to eat out all the happiness of daily life by its sordid worldliness, or to wear off all the finer feelings by its constant attritions. The kindly sentiments and generous impulses that actuated so many families whose wealth and position might have led, according to natural tendencies, to indifferences to the needs of their less fortunate neighbors are well-known facts, and reveal a considerate disposition and a regard for the welfare of mankind. Neither was the possession of wealth associated with that miserly avarice that led to a disregard for the comforts of life. The Steeres were accommodating and friendly to their neighbors, and ready to distribute to the poor, from a generous spirit. Whatever the occupation they pursued, it was generally followed with a definite and settled purpose which foreshadowed success. Though quiet, reserved, and undemonstrative, they possessed strong wills, good mental powers, and a remarkable memory. They were superior in mathematical ability. Those who have followed strictly studious pursuits as a life-work have not been numerous; only three, as far as known, having devoted themselves to the profession of the ministry. The legal profession has been more largely represented.
Quite a number have become prominent as manufacturers, showing considerable talent in the various departments of practical science and attaining abundant prosperity in their enterprises. Most of the earlier and many of the later generations have been reared upon the homestead farms rescued by hard toil from the unbroken solitudes of the forests, and on arrival at maturity have quietly moved in the currents of life about them, steering their course not far from the ancient dwelling-places, clearing new lands, erecting new log or frame houses, building saw and grist mills as occasion needed. When the sacred soil of Rhode Island became scarce, they have reluctantly turned their footsteps from the precincts of Glocester and Smithfield into the paths leading out to new states and territories, turning other wildernesses into fruitful fields. They have clung with much tenacity to farming pursuits and the trades associated with them. With such wholesome training and influences the independent spirit of successive generations has been preserved and their longevity has been promoted. The conditions of country life, ever so conducive to health and length of days, were especially favorable to those in the colonial period and during the earlier history of the state, when men were not subject to the intense pressure and strain and rush and whirl of modern civilization. The first immigrant settler of this family was a " yeoman," or farmer, and lived to the age of ninety. None of his children reached so great an age, but quite a list might be made of his descendants who attained to the age of eighty and upwards. His grandson, Squire Richard Steere, not only acted as town clerk of Glocester for sixty years, but was also a cultivator of the soil, and died at the age of ninety. He had borne a conspicuous and useful part in town affairs. Anthony Steere, of the same town, also a grandson of John, senior, and a farmer, died at the age of ninety-four, and is entitled to the honor of having been the oldest patriarch of all the family. Stephen, son of Stephen, and grandson of Squire Richard, lived to be ninety-two. His residence was at Norwich, N. Y. Judge Samuel Steere, son of Samuel, spent his life on a farm in Glocester, and reached his ninety-first year. He was a man of great public capacity and energy of character. Asel Steere, a lawyer, son of Stephen, died in Providence at the age of ninety-one, and Rufus Steere of Hartwick, Otsego County, N. Y., attained the age of ninety. David Steere passed away when he was ninety-three. Among those