John S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) Abbott.

Miles Standish, the Puritan captain .. online

. (page 10 of 21)
Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottMiles Standish, the Puritan captain .. → online text (page 10 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


ing in abundance. Now they found themselves upon
the verge of famine. Mr. Edward Winslow wrote a
letter to Mr. George Morton, probably the " G. Mourt,"
author of the celebrated " Relation." This letter was
sent to England by the Fortune, on her retnrn voy-
age, and was dated the 2ist of December, 1621. It
was consequently written just a year after the arrival
of the Pilgrims. It gives a very glowing account of
the prosperity of the colony, for it was written before
the facts were ascertained consequent upon the irrup-
tion of the destitute adventurers in the Fortune. Its
statements can, of course, be relied upon, as coming
from one of the most illustrious of the Pilgrims, and
one who had taken a conspicuous part in the scenes
which he describes. It was as follows :


" Although I received no letter from you by this
ship, * yet forasmuch as I know you expect the per-
formance of my promise, which was to write you
truthfully and faithfully of all things, I have therefore,
at this time, sent unto you accordingly, referring you
for further satisfaction, to our large " Relations."

" You shall understand that, in the little time that
a few of us have been here, we have built seven f

* The Fortune.

f It will be remembered that, as half of their number had died,
seven houses accommodated the survivors.


dwelling houses, and four for the use of the planta
tion, and have made preparation for divers others.
We set, the last spring, some twenty acres of Indian
corn, and sowed some six acres of barley and pease.
And, according to the manner of the Indians, we ma-
nured our ground with herrings, or rather shads,
which we have in great abundance, and take with
with great ease at our doors. * Our corn did prove
well ; and, God be praised, we had a good increase
of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good ; but
our pease were not worth the gathering, for we feared
they were too late sown. They came up very well and
blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom.
" Our harvest being gotten in, our governor
(Bradford) sent four men on fowling, that so we might,
after a special manner, rejoice together after we had
gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one
day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside,
served the company almost a week. At which time,

* Morton, in his New English Canaan, writes : " There is a fish,
by some called shads, that at the spring of the year pass up the rivers
to spawn in the ponds, and are taken in such multitudes in every river
that hath a pond at the end, that the inhabitants dung their ground
with them. You may see in one township a hundred acres together
set with these fish, every acre taking a thousand of them. And an
acre thus dressed will produce and yield so much corn as three acres
without fish."

It was the rule of the Indians to plant their corn when the leaves
of the white oak were as big as the ear of a mouse. They put two
or three fishes in every cornhill.


among other recreations, we exercised our arms, many
of the Indians coming amongst us, and, among the
rest, their greatest king, Massasoit, with some ninety
men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted,
and they went out and killed five deer, which they
brought to the plantation, and bestowed on our Gov-
ernor and the Captain, (Standish,) and others."

In reference to this festival, we read, in the Life
of Elder Brewster : " The provisions for the little
colony being secured for the ensuing winter, their
Governor set apart a day for public thanksgiving.
Accordingly, with the fruits of their labors, the thank-
ful feast was prepared, that all might, in a special
manner, rejoice together, under a grateful sense of
these tokens of divine mercy. It was their first
thanksgiving or harvest festival in the New World.
And we may well conjecture what were the feelings
and what the theme of the Elder (Brewster), as, as-
sembled in their Common House, he led the devo-
tions of these worshippers, and spoke to them words
befitting the occasion."

"We have found the Indians," continues Mr.
Winslow, "very faithful in their covenant of peace
with us ; very loving and ready to pleasure us. We
often go to them and they come to us. Some of us
have been fifty miles by land in the country with
them ; the occasions and Relations whereof you shall


understand, by one general and more full declaration
of such things as are worth the noting. Yea, it hath
pleased God so to possess the Indians with a fear of
us, and love unto us, that not only the greatest king
among them, called Massasoit, but also all the princes
and peoples round about us, have either made suit
unto us, or been glad of any occasion to make peace
with us ; so that seven of them, at once, have sent
their messengers to us to that end. Yea, an isle, *
at sea, which we never saw, hath also, together with
the former, yielded willingly to be under the protec-
tion, and subjects to our sovereign lord, King James ;
so that there is now great peace among the Indians
themselves, which was not formerly, neither would
have been but for us.

" We, for our parts, walk as peaceably and safely
in the woods as in the highways of England. We
entertain them familiarly in our houses, and they as
friendly bestow their venison upon us. They are a
people without any religion, or knowledge of any
God,f yet very trusty, quick of apprehension, ripe
witted, just. The men and women go naked, only a

* Probably Martha's Vineyard, then called Capawock.

f Subsequently Mr. Winslow wrote, correcting this statement :
"Whereas, myself and others, in former letters, wrote that the Indi-
ans about us are a people without any religion or knowledge of any
God, therein I erred, though we could then gather no better." Wins-
low's Good News.


skin about their middles. For the temper of the air
here, it agreeth well with that of England. And if
there be any difference at all, this is somewhat hot-
ter in summer. Some think it to be colder in winter ;
but I cannot, out of experience, so say. The air is
very clear and not foggy, as hath been reported.

" I never in my life remember a more seasonable
year than we have here enjoyed. And if we have
once but kine horses and sheep, I make no question
but men might live as contented here as in any part
of the world. For fish and fowl we have great abun-
dance. Fresh cod in summer is but coarse meat with
us. Our bay is full of lobsters all the summer, and
affordeth variety of other fish. In September we can
take a hogshead of eels in a night, with small labor,
and can dig them out of their beds all the winter.
We have muscles and clams * at our doors. Oysters
we have none near ; but we can have them brought
"by the Indians when we will. All the spring time the
earth sendeth forth naturally very good salid herbs.

Here are grapes, white and red, and very sweet
and strong also; strawberries, gooseberries, rasp-
berries, etc.; plums of three sorts, white, black and
red, being almost as good as a damson ; abundance
of roses, white, red and damask, single, but very
sweet indeed.

* There is some uncertainty about this word, but this is probably
the true reading.


" The country wanteth only industrious men to
employ ; for it would grieve your hearts if, as I, you
had seen so many miles together, by goodly rivers,
uninhabited, and withall to consider those parts of the
world wherein you live to be even greatly burdened
with abundance of people. These things I thought
good to let you understand, being the truth of things
as near as I could experimentally take knowledge of,
and that you might on our behalf give God thanks
who hath dealt so favorably with us.

"Our supply of men from you came the 9th of
November, 1621, putting in at Cape Cod, some eight
or ten leagues from us. The Indians, who dwell
thereabout, were they who were owners of the corn
which we found in caves, for which we have given
them full content, and are in great league with them.
They sent us word there was a ship near unto them,
but thought it to be a Frenchman ; and, indeed, our-
selves, we expected not a friend so soon.

" But when we perceived she made for our bay,
the Governor commanded a great piece to be shot off,
to call home such as were abroad at work. Where-
upon every man, yea boy, that could handle a gun
was ready, with full resolution that, if she were an
enemy, we would stand in our just defense, not fear-
ing them. But God provided better for them than
we had supposed. These came all in health, not any


being sick by the way, otherwise than by sea sick-
ness, and so continue, at this time, by the blessing of

" When it pleaseth God we are settled and fitted
for the fishing business and other trading, I doubt not
but, by the blessing of God, the grain will give con-
tent to all. In the mean time, that which we have
gotten we send by this ship ; and though it be not
much, yet it will witness for us that we have not been
idle, considering the smallness of our number, all this

" Now, because I expect your coming unto us,*
with other of our friends, whose company we much
desire, I thought good to advise you of a few things
needful. Be careful to have a very good bread-room
to put your biscuits in. Let your cask for beer and
water be iron-bound, for the first tire, if not more.
Let not your meat be dry salted ; none can better do
it than the sailors. Let your meal be so hard trod in
your cask that you shall need an adz or hatchet to
work it out with. Trust not too much on us, for corn
at this time, for by reason of this last company that
came, depending wholly upon us, we shall have little
enough till harvest.

* Mr. George Morton, to whom this letter was addressed, came
out in the next ship, the Ann, which sailed from London about the
last of April, 1622.


" Be careful to come by some of your meal to
spend by the way. It will much refresh you. Build
your cabins as open as you can, and bring good store
of clothes and bedding with you. Bring every man a
musket or fowling-piece. Let your piece be long in
the barrel, and fear not the weight of it, for most of
our shooting is from stands. Bring juice of lemon,
and take it fasting ; it is of good use. For hot waters,
aniseed water is the best ; but use it sparingly. If
you bring anything for comfort in the country, butter
or sallet oil, or both, is very good. Our Indian corn,
even the coarsest, maketh .as pleasant meat as rice ;
therefore spare that, unless to spend by the way.
Bring paper and linseed oil for your windows, with
cotton yarn for your lamps. Let your shot be most
for b.ig fowls, and bring store of powder and shot."

The Pilgrims, it seems, had only oiled paper to
keep out the storms of a New England winter. Eight
years after this, the arts had made such progress that
Mr. Higginson in the year 1629, in a letter addressed
from Salem to his friends in England writes, " Be sure
to furnish yourselves with glass for windows." In-
deed, glass windows were not introduced into England
until the year 1 1 80. Then they were so costly that
none but the most wealthy could have them. Even
in the time of Henry VIII. they were considered a
luxury which the common people could not think of


One of the passengers in the Fortune, Mr. Wil-
liam Hilton, in a letter addressed to his friends at
home, immediately after his arrival, having written in
glowing terms of the richness of the country and the
prospects of the colony, adds :

" We are all freeholders. The rent day doth not
trouble us ; and all those good blessings we have of
which and what we list in their seasons for taking.
Our company are, for the most part, very religious,
honest people. The word of God is sincerely taught
to us every Sabbath ; so that I know not anything a
contented mind can here want. I desire your friendly
care to send my wife and children to me, where I wish
were all the friends I have in England."

Mr. Hilton's family came in the next ship. Not
only had the Fortune brought no supply to the colo-
nists, but they were compelled to take from their own
rapidly diminishing stores to supply the ship's crew
with provisions for her return voyage. Another win-
ter came. In the absence of all domestic animals
such as horses, mules, cows, oxen, sheep, there was
but little of the usual winter work of farmers which
remained for the Pilgrims to perform. Fishing, hunt-
ing and the collection of fuel, which they drew with
their own hands to their doors, occupied the most of
their time.

On Christmas day rather an amusing event occur-


red, which has been recorded by Governor Bradford.
In the papal church and with the common people in
England, Christmas had become a day of revelry, ca-
rousing and drunkenness. Ostensibly set apart as a
religious festival, the depravity of man had so per-
verted it that, of all the days in the year, Christmas
was the one most utterly abandoned to wickedness.
Under these circumstances the Puritans, perhaps un-
wisely, deemed it expedient to abolish the observance
of the day altogether.

On the morning of Christmas day the Governor,
as usual on other days, went out with the Pilgrims of
the Mayflower to their usual occupation in the fields.
But some of the new-comers, idle and frivolous, and
accustomed to the Christmas games of England, ex-
cused themselves from going into the field, saying
that their consciences would not allow them to do any
work on Christmas day.

The Governor replied that if it were a matter of
conscience they might certainly be excused, that he
did not wish that any persons in the colony should
have violence done to their religious convictions. He
therefore left these men at home, while he went, with
the rest of the colonists, to their daily toil. But when
they returned at noon, they found these scrupulous
men, whose consciences would not allow them to per-
form any useful labor on Christmas day, out in the


streets engaged in all manner of old country sports,
They were pitching the bar, playing ball, and engaged
in games of petty gambling. Governor Bradford
went to them, and by virtue of his office, took away
from them their implements of gaming, saying :

" It is against my conscience that you should play
while others work. If your religious convictions con-
strain you to observe Christmas, you should keep the
day religiously, at home or in the church. But there
must be no gambling or revelry on that day."

This settled the question, and there were no more
demands for an idle or riotous Christmas.

Soon after the departure of the Fortune, in the
depth of winter, painful rumors came that the pow-
erful Narragansets, under their redoubtable Chief,
Canonicus, were assuming a threatening attitude.
The English had now about fifty men capable of bear-
ing arms, and not a large supply of ammunition. The
Narragansets could bring against them five thousand
warriors. They occupied the region extending from
the western shores of Narraganset Bay to Pawcatuck
River, and the tribe was estimated to number about
thirty thousand. The Pilgrims, all counted, men,
women and children, were less than one hundred in
number. This was a fearful cloud of war with which
they thus found themselves menaced.

While such was the position of affairs, one day a


strange Indian entered the settlement. It soon ap-
peared that he was a Narraganset. He seemed not
a little embarrassed, and enquired for Squantum, the
interpreter. It seemed some relief to him to learn
that he was absent. He then left for him a bundle of
arrows, wrapped up in the skin of a rattlesnake, and
was hastily departing, when Governor Bradford, wish-
ing to know the significance of this strange conduct,
ordered Captain Standish to detain him. He was ar-
rested and entrusted to the safe keeping of Mr. Wins-
low and Mr. Hopkins. Captain Standish gave orders
that he should be treated with the utmost kindness,
supplied with everything he needed, and while assured
that he should not be harmed, Mr. Winslow and Mr.
Hopkins should endeavor to obtain from him a full
and minute account of the object of his strange mis-

At first he was so terrified that he could scarcely
speak a word. But gradually regaining composure,
he stated that the messenger who had been sent to
the Pilgrims in the summer with terms of peace, had
brought back such tidings of the weakness, of the col-
ony that Canonicus was encouraged to seek its de-
struction ; that he was angry in consequence of the
alliance of the colonists with his enemies, the Wam-
panoags ; that he professed to despise the meanness
of the presents sent to him by the Governor, and


scorned to receive them ; and that the arrows and the
rattlesnake skin were to be understood as his decla-
ration of war.

It is worthy of notice that this savage chieftain
should have had'such a sense of honor as to send this
warning to his foes, instead of treacherously falling
upon them when unprepared. And it is also remark-
able that this challenge should have been so similar
to that which, in ancient days, the Scythian prince
sent to Darius, which consisted of five arrows.

When the Governor and Captain Standish were
informed of the results of the interview, they justly
regarded their captive as an innocent messenger,
whom, in accordance with all the laws of war, they
were to hold unharmed. They therefore, after offer-
ing him food, which he refused to eat, set him at lib-
erty, directing him to say to Canonicus, that while
they wished to live at peace with all men, and while
they had done him no harm, they were indignant in
view of his threatenings, had no fear of his power, and
bade him defiance.

A violent storm was raging. But, notwithstand-
ing the storm and the entreaties of the Pilgrims, that
he would remain with them until it should abate, he
refused to accept of their hospitality, and soon disap-
peared, travelling with all speed through one of the
trails of the drenched and surging forest.


The Pilgrims held a council. It was deemed im-
portant that no timidity whatever should be mani-
fested, but that they should present a bold front to
their foes. In the mean time Squantum had returned
to aid them with his counsel. After some delibera-
tion, they sent a friendly Indian, as a messenger, to
Canonicus, returning to him his rattlesnake skin, filled
with powder and bullets. This was a defiance which
would be understood. The superstitious savage chief
was quite alarmed by this response. Squantum, who
appears to have been quite a meddling, unscrupulous
man, had declared to the Indians that the English had
a box in which they kept the plague, and that if the
Indians offended them they would let the awful
scourge loose. They still retained a very vivid recol-
lection of the horrors of the pestilence which had
swept over them.

Canonicus feared that the snake-skin contained
some secret and fatal charm for his destruction. He
dared not touch it. He dared not attempt to destroy
it. He dared not allow it to remain in his house or
country. And thus it was conveyed from place to
place until finally it was returned whole to the colony
at Plymouth.

Notwithstanding the brave attitude the colonists
had assumed, they had great cause for uneasiness.
They promptly decided that it was necessary to sur-


round the whole of their little village with a palisade
consisting of strong posts, ten or twelve feet high,
planted in the ground in contact with each other.
This palisade also included a portion of the top of the
hill, where their ordnance was planted, and at the
bottom of which their village was built. There were
three gates of entrance, which were locked every
night, and carefully guarded every day. Captain
Standish divided his whole force into four companies
of about twelve men each, and appointed a captain
over each band. A general muster was appointed,
which was the first general muster in New England.
At this gathering, Captain Standish reviewed his
troops and gave minute directions to each company
where to assemble and what to do in case of alarm.
The months of January and February were devoted
incessantly to fortifying their little village, the work
being completed early in March.

Captain Standish, in his visit to the Massachusetts,
had informed the natives that he would soon visit
them again, to purchase such furs as they might have
collected. It was deemed important now to fulfill
this promise, one principal object being to impress
the Indians with the conviction that the colonists had
no fear of them. It was also rumored to them that
the several tribes of Massachusetts Indians, and that
even their friends the Wampanoags, under Massa-


soit, were entering into the confederacy of the Narra-
ganset's against the white men. The friendly Indian,
Hobbomak, who resided with the Pilgrims at Ply-
mouth, seemed deeply impressed with the conviction
that the Massachusetts Indians were hostile, and as-
sured Captain Standish that should he attempt a journey
to Massachusetts, he would be surely cut off by the
savages. He gave many plausible reasons in sup-
port of the correctness of his views, and even declared
that Squantum, in whom they reposed -much confi-
dence, was treacherously their foe, aiding the Indi-
ans ; and that Squantum would endeavor to draw
them as far as possible from their shallop, that the
Indians might fall upon them and destroy them. He
however did not believe that Massasoit meditated any

The Governor, Captain Standish, and few others
of the most judicious men held a council together,
and came to the following conclusion, which I give
in the words of Edward Winslow, who was one of the
council :

" That as hitherto, upon all occasions between the
Indians and us, we had ever manifested undaunted
love and resolution, so it would not now stand with
our safety to mew ourselves up in our new-enclosed
town ; partly because our store was almost empty,
and therefore we must seek out our daily food, with-


out which we could not long subsist ; but especially
that thereby they would see us dismayed and be en-
couraged to prosecute their malicious purposes with
more eagerness than ever they had intended.

"Whereas, on the contrary, by the blessing of
God, our fearless carriage might be a means to dis-
courage and to weaken their proceedings. And there-
fore we thought best to proceed in our trading voyage,
making this use of what we had heard, to go the bet-
ter provided, and use the more carefulness both at
home and abroad, leaving the event to the disposing
of the Almighty ; whose providence, as it had hitherto
been over us for good, so we had now no cause, save
our sins, to despair of his mercy in our preservation
and continuance, where we desired rather to be in-
struments of good to the heathen about us, than to
give them the least measure of just offense."

In accordance with this resolve, early in April
Captain Standish took ten men, with Squantum and
Hobbomak as interpreters, and set out in the shallop
for what is now Boston harbor. In Plymouth bay
there is a remarkable promontory, connected with
Marshfield by a beach, now called Salt-house beach,
about six miles long. The extremity of this promon-
tory was call Garnet's Nose, from its resemblance to
a similar point of land on the coast of England. The
peninsula contains about twenty-seven acres of good


land, and, upon its southern extremity, there have
since been erected two light-houses.

Just as the shallop was doubling Gurnet's Nose,
an Indian, who was one of the family of Squantum,
came rushing in apparent terror, his face covered
with blood, to some of the Pilgrims at work in the
woods, looking behind him as if pursued, and calling
upon them to hasten with all possible speed within
the protection of the palisades. Breathlessly he told
them that at Namasket, now Middleborough, within
fifteen miles of Plymouth, a war party of Narragansets
and Wampanoags, united under Massasoit, the pro-
fessed friend, but treacherous foe, of the colonists, was
marching to attack them. He said that he had been

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottMiles Standish, the Puritan captain .. → online text (page 10 of 21)