Summary – Chapter Fourteen ‘Former Inhabitants; and Winter Visitors’
With reference to the ‘former inhabitants’ of the chapter’s title, he talks about Cato Ingraham, who was a slave of Duncan Ingraham, and relates how some say he was a ‘Guinea Negro’ and lived in the woods by ‘permission’ of Duncan Ingraham. A ‘colored’ woman called Zilpha used to live near the corner of his field. Her home was set on fire in 1812 by English soldiers and her animals were killed. Brister Freeman, who was once a slave of Squire Cummings, used to live on Brister’s Hill and Thoreau has read his epitaph in the Lincoln burial-ground.
He then discusses Breed and the time his hut was burned down a dozen years ago. The night following the fire Thoreau went that way and heard a low moaning. The owner had been away all day, and the history of the family remains with the ‘well-sweep’ his father had cut and mounted.
Wyman the potter and his descendents are then mentioned as is Hugh Quoil who was the last inhabitants of the woods before Thoreau. He was a ditcher and it was rumored that he fought at Waterloo; he died in the road shortly before Thoreau came.
Despite the snow in the winter, Thoreau still managed to go for walks of eight and ten miles. He had only a few visitors at this time and this includes a poet who travelled the furthest to see him. A peddler came during his last winter there and he is described as ‘almost the only friend of human progress’.
Analysis – Chapter Fourteen
The few earlier inhabitants of the woods are described briefly and all of them were exiles of sorts from mainstream society. Little is known or explained about these people, but the references to them at least demonstrate that the woods have been a haven for humans as well as animals in the time he is aware of.
The advent of snow could have meant greater isolation and possible loneliness for Thoreau, but as with other areas of this experience he refused to see the negative aspect of events. By going for such long walks, for example, he demonstrates that one does not have to be confined by obstacles.