English Pilgrims Settle At Plymouth  Part II
Author: Barry, John S.

Part II.

In about a fortnight the Speedwell, commanded by Captain Reynolds, and
the Mayflower, commanded by Captain Jones - both having a hundred twenty
passengers on board - were ready to set out to cross the Atlantic. Overseers
of the provisions and passengers were selected; Mr. Weston and others were
present to witness their departure; and the farewell was said to the friends
they were to leave. But "not every cloudless morning is followed by a
pleasant day." Scarcely had the two barks left the harbor ere Captain Reynolds
complained of the leakiness of the Speedwell, and both put in at Dartmouth for
repairs. At the end of eight precious days they started again, but had sailed
"only a hundred leagues beyond the land's end" when the former complaints were
renewed, and the vessels put in at Plymouth, where, "by the consent of the
whole company," the Speedwell was dismissed; and as the Mayflower could
accommodate but one hundred passengers, twenty of those who had embarked in
the smaller vessel - including Mr. Cushman and his family - were compelled to
return; and matters being ordered with reference to this arrangement, "another
sad parting took place."

Finally, after the lapse of two more precious weeks, the Mayflower,
"freighted with the destinies of a continent," and having on board one hundred
passengers, resolute men, women, and children, "loosed from Plymouth" - "her
inmates having been kindly entertained and courteously used by divers friends
there dwelling" - and, with the wind "east-northeast, a fine small gale," was
soon far at sea.

The particulars of this voyage, more memorable by far than the famed
expedition of the Argonauts, and paralleled, if at all, only by the voyage of
Columbus, are few and scanty. Though fair winds wafted the bark onward for a
season, contrary winds and fierce storms were soon encountered, by which she
was "shrewdly shaken" and her "upper works made very leaky." One of the main
beams of the midship was also "bowed and cracked," but a passenger having
brought with him "a large iron screw," the beam was replaced and carefully
fastened, and the vessel continued on. During this storm John Howland, "a
stout young man," was by a "heel of the ship thrown into the sea, but catching
by the halliards, which hung overboard, he kept his hold, and was saved." "A
profane and proud young seaman," also, "stout and able of body, who had
despised the poor people in their sickness, telling them he hoped to help cast
off half of them overboard before they came to their journey's end, and to
make merry with what they had, was smitten with a grievous disease, of which
he died in a desperate manner, and was himself the first thrown overboard, to
the astonishment of all his fellows." One other death occurred - that of
William Button, a servant of Dr. Fuller; and there was one birth, in the
family of Stephen Hopkins, of a son, christened "Oceanus," who died shortly
after the landing. The ship being leaky, and the passengers closely stowed,
their clothes were constantly wet. This added much to the discomfort of the
voyage, and laid a foundation for a portion of the mortality which prevailed
the first winter.

"Land-ho!" This welcome cry was not heard until two months had elapsed,
and the sandy cliffs of Cape Cod were the first points which greeted the eyes
of the exiles. Yet the appearance of these cliffs "much comforted them, and
caused them to rejoice together, and praise God, that had given them once
again to see land." Their destination, however, was to "the mouth of the
Hudson," and now they were much farther to the north, and within the bounds of
the New England Company. They therefore "tacked to stand to the southward,"
but "becoming entangled among roaring shoals, and the wind shrieking upon them
withal, they resolved to bear up again for the Cape," and the next day, "by
God's providence, they got into Cape harbor," where, falling upon their knees,
they "blessed the Lord, the God of heaven, who had brought them over the vast
and furious ocean, and delivered them from all perils and miseries, therein,
again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element."

Morton, in his memorial, asserts that the Mayflower put in at this cape,
"partly by reason of a storm by which she was forced in, but more especially
by the fraudulency and contrivance of the aforesaid Mr. Jones, the master of
the ship; for their intention and his engagement was to Hudson's river; but
some of the Dutch having notice of their intention, and having thoughts about
the same time of erecting a plantation there likewise, they fraudulently hired
the said Jones, by delays, while they were in England, and now under the
pretence of the sholes, etc., to disappoint them in their going thither. Of
this plot betwixt the Dutch and Mr. Jones I have had late and certain
intelligence." The explicitness of this assertion has caused charge of
treachery - brought by no one but Morton - to be repeated by almost every
historian down to the present period; and it is only within a few years that
its correctness has been questioned by writers whose judgment is entitled to
respect. But notwithstanding the plausibility of the arguments urged to
disprove this charge, and even the explicit assertion that it is a "Parthian
calumny," and a "sheer falsehood," we must frankly own that, in our
estimation, the veracity of Morton yet remains unimpeached. Facts prove that
the Dutch were contemplating permanent settlement of New Netherland, and the
early Pilgrim writers assert that overtures were made to the Leyden Church by
the merchants of Holland to join them in that movement, and the petition to
the States-General, when presented by those merchants, was finally rejected,
and the Mayflower commenced her voyage intending to proceed to the Hudson. Is
it improbable that steps may have been taken to frustrate their intention, and
that arrangements may even have been made with the captain of that vessel by
Dutch agents in England, to alter her course, and land the emigrants farther
to the north?

We are aware that one to whose judgment we have usually deferred has said
that had the intelligence been early it would have been more certain. But
every student of history knows that late intelligence is often more reliable
and authentic than early; and if it be asked from what source did Morton
obtain his information, we can only suggest that, up to 1664, New Netherlands
remained under the dominion of the Dutch, and the history of that colony was
in a great measure secret to the English. But several of the prominent
settlers of Plymouth had ere this removed to Manhattan - as Isaac Allerton and
Thomas Willet - and after the reduction of the country and its subjection to
England, from these persons the late and certain intelligence may have been
received or from access to documents which were before kept private.

The harbor in which the Mayflower now lay is worthy of a passing glance.
It is described by Major Grahame as "one of the finest harbors for ships of
war on the whole Atlantic coast. The width and freedom from obstructions of
every kind, at its entrance, and the extent of sea-room upon the land side,
make it accessible to vessels of the largest class in almost all winds. This
advantage, its capacity, depth of water, excellent anchorage, and the complete
shelter it affords from all winds render it one of the most valuable harbors
upon our coast, whether considered in a commercial or a military point of
view."

If to the advantages here enumerated could have been added a fertile
soil, and an extensive back country, suitably furnished with timber and fuel,
the spot to which this gallant bark was led would have proved as eligible a
site for a flourishing colony as could possibly have been desired. But these
advantages were wanting; and though our fathers considered it an
"extraordinary blessing of God" in directing their course for these parts,
which they were at first inclined to consider "one of the most pleasant, most
healthful, and most fruitful part of the world," longer acquaintance and
better information abundantly satisfied them of the insuperable obstacles to
agriculture and commerce.

The Pilgrims were now ready to pass to the shore. But before taking this
step, as the spot where they lay was without the bounds of their patent, and
as signs of insubordination had appeared among their servants, an association
was deemed necessary, and an agreement to "combine in one body and to submit
to such government and governors as should by common consent" be selected and
chosen. Accordingly, a compact was prepared, and signed before landing by all
the males of the company who were of age; and this instrument was the
constitution of the colony for several years. It was as follows:

"In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are under-written, the loyal
subjects of our dread sovereign lord, King James by the grace of God, of Great
Britain, France, and Ireland, King, defended of the faith, etc., having
undertaken, for the glory of God, and the advancement of the Christian faith,
and honor of our King and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the
northern parts of Virginia, do, by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in
the presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together
unto a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation, and
furtherance of the ends aforesaid, and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute,
and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and
offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for
the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and
obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names, at Cape
Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our sovereign lord,
King James of England, France, and Ireland, the 18th, and of Scotland the
54th, A.D. 1620."

While on the one hand much eloquence has been expended in expatiating on
this compact, as if in the cabin of the Mayflower had consciously and for the
first time been discovered in an age of Cimmerian darkness the true principles
of republicanism and equality; on the other hand, it has been asserted that
the Pilgrims were "actuated by the most daring ambition," and that even at
this early period they designed to erect a government absolutely independent
of the mother-country. But the truth seems to be that, although the form of
government adopted by the emigrants is republican in its character, and
remarkably liberal, at the same time its founders acknowledged suitable
allegiance to England, and regarded themselves as connected with the land of
their nativity by political and social ties, both endearing and enduring.
Left to themselves in a wilderness land, apart from all foreign aid, and
thrown upon their own resources, with none to help or advise, they adopted
that course which commended itself to their calm judgment as the simplest and
best; and if, under such circumstances, their compact was democratic, it seems
chiefly to intimate that self-government is naturally attractive to the mind,
and is spontaneously resorted to in emergencies like the present. It is as
unwise to flatter our ancestors by ascribing to them motives different from
those which they themselves professed as it is unjust to prefer charges
against them to which they are not obnoxious. They were honest, sincere, and
God-fearing men; humble in their circumstances, and guided by their own
judgment; but endowed with no singular prophetic vision, and claiming no
preternatural political sagacity. They could penetrate the future no farther
than to confide in the justice of God and the power of truth. The latter they
knew must ultimately prevail, for the former was pledged to secure its
triumph.

The first care of the exiles, having established their provisional
government, was to provide for their shelter. Cautiously, therefore, for fear
of harm, on the same day that the compact was signed, fifteen or sixteen men,
well armed, were set ashore at Long Point to explore the country; and
returning at night with a boat-load of juniper, which delighted them with its
fragrance, they reported that they had found "neither persons nor
habitations."

The stillness of the Sabbath was consecrated to worship - the first,
probably, ever observed by Christians in Massachusetts - and on the morrow the
shallop was drawn to the beach for repairs, and for the first time the whole
company landed for refreshment. As the fitting of the shallop promised to be
a difficult task, the adventurous, impatient of delay, were eager to prosecute
a journey by land for discovery. "The willingness of the persons was liked,
but the thing itself, in regard of the danger, was rather permitted than
approved." Consent, however, was obtained, and sixteen were detailed under
Captain Standish, their military leader, who had served in the armies both of
Elizabeth and James; and William Bradford, Stephen Hopkins, and Edward Tilly,
being joined with him as "advisers and counsellors," the party debarked at
Stevens' Point, at the western extremity of the harbor, and marching in single
file, at the distance of about a mile, five savages were espied, who, at their
approach, hastily fled.

Compassing the head of East Harbor Creek the next day, and reaching a
deep valley, fed with numerous springs, the exhausted travellers, whose
provisions consisted but of "biscuit and Holland cheese, with a little bottle
of aqua vitae," eagerly halted by one of these springs, and "drank their first
draught of New England water with as much delight as ever they drunk drink in
all their lives." Passing thence to the shore, and kindling a beacon-fire,
they proceeded to another valley, in Truro, in which was a pond, "a
musket-shot broad and twice as long," near which the Indians had planted corn.
Further on graves were discovered; and at another spot the ruins of a house,
and heaps of sand filled with corn stored in baskets. With hesitancy - so
scrupulous were they of wilfully wronging the natives - an old kettle, a waif
from the ruins, was filled with this corn, for which the next summer the
owners were remunerated. In the vicinity of the Pamet were the ruins of a
fort, or palisade; and encamping for the night near the pond in Truro, on the
following day they returned to the ship "weary and welcome" and their "Eschol"
was added for their diminishing stores.

Ten days after, another expedition was fitted out, in which twenty-five
of the colonists and nine or ten of the sailors, with Jones at their head,
were engaged; and visiting the mouth of the Pamet, called by them "Cold
Harbor," and obtaining fresh supplies from the aboriginal granaries, after a
brief absence, in which a few unimportant discoveries were made, the party
returned. Here a discussion ensued. Should they settle at Cold Harbor or
seek a more eligible site? In favor of the former it was urged that the
harbor was suitable for boats, if not for ships; the corn land was good; it
was convenient to their fishing-grounds; the location was healthy; winter was
approaching; travelling was dangerous; their provisions were wasting; and the
captain of the Mayflower was anxious to return. On the other hand, it was
replied that a better place might be found; it would be a hinderance to move a
second time; good spring-water was wanting; and lastly, at Agawam, now
Ipswich, twenty leagues to the north, was an excellent harbor, better ground,
and better fishing. Robert Coppin, their pilot, likewise informed them of "a
great and navigable river and good harbour in the other headland of the bay,
almost right over against Cape Cod," which he had formerly visited, and which
was called "Thievish Harbor."

A third expedition, therefore, was agreed upon; and though the weather
was unfavorable, and some difficulty was experienced in clearing Billingsgate
Point, they reached the weather shore, and there "had better sailing." Yet
bitter was the cold, and the spray, as it froze on them, gave them the
appearance of being encased in glittering mail. At night their rendezvous was
near Great Meadow Creek; and early in the morning, after an encounter with the
Indians, in which no one was wounded, their journey was resumed, their
destination being the harbor which Coppin had described to them, and which he
assured them could be reached in a few hours' sailing. Through rain and snow
they steered their course; but by the middle of the afternoon a fearful storm
raged; the hinges of their rudder were broken; the mast was split, the sail
was rent, and the inmates of the shallop were in imminent peril; yet, by God's
mercy, they survived the first shock, and, favored by a flood tide, steered
into the harbor. A glance satisfied the pilot that it was not the place he
sought; and in an agony of despair he exclaimed: "Lord be merciful to us! My
eyes never saw this place before!" In his frenzy he would have run the boat
ashore among the breakers; but an intrepid seaman resolutely shouted, "About
with her, or we are lost!" And instantly obeying, with hard rowing, dark as it
was, with the wind howling fiercely, and the rain dashing furiously, they shot
under the lee of an island and moored until morning.

The next day the island was explored - now known as Clarke's Island - and
the clothing of the adventurers was carefully dried; but, excusable as it
might have been under the circumstances in which they were placed to have
immediately resumed their researches, the Sabbath was devoutly and sacredly
observed.

On Monday, December 11th, O. S., a landing was effected upon Forefather's
Rock. The site of this stone was preserved by tradition, and a venerable
contemporary of several of the Pilgrims, whose head was silvered with the
frost of ninety-five winters, settled the question of its identity in 1741.
Borne in his arm-chair by a grateful populace, Elder Faunce took his last look
at the spot so endeared to his memory, and, bedewing it with tears, he bade it
farewell. In 1774 this precious boulder, as if seized with the spirit of that
bustling age, was raised from its bed to be consecrated to Liberty, and in the
act of its elevation it split in twain - an occurrence regarded by many as
ominous of the separation of the colonies from England, and the lower part
being left in the spot where it still lies, the upper part, weighing several
tons, was conveyed, amid the heartiest rejoicings, to Liberty-pole Square, and
adorned with a flag bearing the imperishable motto, "Liberty or Death." On
July 4, 1834, the natal day of the freedom of the colonies, this part of the
rock was removed to the ground in front of Pilgrim Hall, and there it rests,
encircled with a railing, ornamented with heraldic wreaths, bearing the names
of the forty-one signers of the compact in the Mayflower. Fragments of this
rock are relics in the cabinets of hundreds of our citizens, and are sought
with avidity even by strangers as memorials of a pilgrimage to the birthplace
of New England.

On the day of landing the harbor was sounded and the land explored; and,
the place inviting settlement, the adventurers returned with tidings of their
success; the Mayflower weighed anchor to proceed to the spot; and ere another
Sabbath dawned she was safely moored in the desired haven. Monday and Tuesday
were spent in exploring tours; and on Wednesday, the 20th, the settlement at
Plymouth was commenced - twenty persons remaining ashore for the night. On
the following Saturday the first timber was felled; on Monday their storehouse
was commenced; on Thursday preparations were made for the erection of a fort;
and allotments of land were made to the families; and on the following Sunday
religious worship was performed for the first time in their storehouse.

For a month the colonists were busily employed. The distance of the
vessel - which lay more than a mile from the shore - was a great hinderance to
their work; frequent storms interrupted their operations; and by accident
their storehouse was destroyed by fire, and their hospital narrowly escaped
destruction. The houses were arranged in two rows, on Leyden street, each man
building his own. The storehouse was twenty feet square; the size of the
private dwellings we have no means of determining. All were constructed of
logs, with the interstices filled with sticks and clay; the roofs were covered
with thatch; the chimneys were of fragments of wood, plastered with clay; and
oiled paper served as a substitute for glass for the inlet of light.

The whole of this first winter was a period of unprecedented hardship and
suffering. Mild as was the weather, it was far more severe than that of the
land of their birth; and the disease contracted on shipboard, aggravated by
colds caught in their wanderings in quest of a home, caused a great and
distressing mortality to prevail. In December six died; in January, eight; in
February, seventeen; and in March, thirteen; a total of forty-four in four
months - of whom twenty-one were signers of the compact. It is remarkable
that the leaders of the colony were spared. The survivors were unwearied in
their attentions to their companions; but affection could not avert the arrows
of the Destroyer. The first burial-place was on Cole's Hill; and as an
affecting proof of the miserable condition of the sufferers it is said that,
knowing they were surrounded by warlike savages, and fearing their losses
might be discovered and advantage be taken of their weakness to attack and
exterminate them, the sad mounds formed by rude coffins hidden beneath the
earth were carefully levelled and sowed with grain!

However rapidly we have sketched, in the preceding pages, the history of
the Pilgrims from their settlement in Holland to their removal to America, no
one can fail to have been deeply impressed with the inspiring lessons which
that history teaches. As has been well said: "Their banishment to Holland was
fortunate; the decline of their little company in the strange land was
fortunate; the difficulties which they experienced in getting the royal
consent to banish themselves to this wilderness was fortunate; all the tears
and heartbreakings of that ever-memorable parting at Delfthaven had the
happiest influence on the rising destinies of New England,. All this purified
the rank of the settlers. These rough touches of fortune brushed off the
light, uncertain, selfish spirits. They made it a grave, solemn, self-denying
expedition, and required of those who were engaged in it to be so too."

Touching also is the story of the "long, cold, dreary autumnal passage"
in that "one solitary, adventurous vessel, the Mayflower, of a forlorn hope,
freighted with the prospects of a future state and bound across the unknown
sea." We behold it "pursuing with a thousand misgivings the uncertain, the
tedious voyage. Suns rise and set, and winter surprises them on the deep, but
brings them not the sight of the wished-for shore. The awful voice of the
storm howls through the rigging. The laboring masts seem straining from their
base; the dismal sound of the pumps is heard; the ship leaps, as it were,
madly from billow to billow; the ocean breaks, and settles with engulfing
floods over the floating deck, and beats with deadening, shivering weight
against the staggering vessel."

Escaped from these perils, after a passage of sixty-six days, and
subsequent journeyings until the middle of December, they land on the ice-clad
rocks of Plymouth, worn out with suffering, weak and weary from the fatigues
of the voyage, poorly armed, scantily provisioned, surrounded by barbarians,
without prospect of human succor, without the help or favor of their king,
with a useless patent, without assurance of liberty in religion, without
shelter, and without means!

Yet resolute men are there: Carver, Bradford, Brewster, Standish,
Winslow, Alden, Warren, Hopkins, and others. Female fortitude and resignation
are there. Wives and mothers, with dauntless courage and unexampled heroism,
have braved all these dangers, shared all these trials, borne all these
sorrows, submitted to all these privations. And there, too, is "chilled and
shivering childhood, houseless but for a mother's arms, couchless but for a
mother's breast."

But these sepulchers of the dead! - where lie Turner, Chilton, Crackston,
Fletcher, Goodman, Mullins, White, Rogers, Priest, Williams, and their
companions - these touch the tenderest and holiest chords. Husbands and
wives, parents and children, have finished their pilgrimage, and mingled their
dust with the dust of New England. Hushed as the unbreathing air, when not a
leaf stirs in the mighty forest, was the scene at those graves where the noble
and true were buried in peace. Deeply as they sorrowed at parting with those,
doubly endeared to them by the remembrance of what they had suffered together,
and by the fellowship of kindred griefs, they committed them to the earth
calmly, but with hope." No sculptured marble, no enduring monument, no
honorable inscription, marks the spot where they were laid. Is it surprising
that local attachments soon sprung up in the breasts of the survivors,
endearing them to the place of refuge and their sorrows? They had come
"hither from a land to which they were never to return. Hither they had
brought, and here they were to fix, their hopes and their affections."
Consecrated by persecutions in their native land, by an exile in Holland of
hardship and toil, by the perils of the occan voyage and its terrible storms,
by their sufferings and wanderings in quest of a home, and by the heartrending
trials of the first lonely winter - by all these was their new home
consecrated and hallowed in their inmost thoughts; and forward to the future
they looked with confidence in God and a cheerful reliance upon that
beneficent Providence which had enabled them with patience to submit to his
chastenings, and, Phoenix-like, to rise from the ashes of the dead and from
the depths of the bitterest affliction and distress, with invincible courage,
determined to subdue the wilderness before them, and to "fill this region of
the great continent, which stretches almost from pole to pole," with freedom
and intelligence, the arts and the sciences, flourishing villages temples of
worship, and the numerous blessings of civilized life, baptized in the
fountain of the Gospel of Christ.


 

Part I

Back to Top

A project by History World International

World History Center