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lows, still swept the bay. The day opened upon the Pil-
grims cold, cloudy and dreary. The long and anx-
iously looked for hour had now come, when the May-


flower, the only material tie which bound them to the
Old World, was to be abandoned, and these bold men
were to be left three thousand miles from their native
shores, to struggle with all the known and unknown
perils and hardships of the wilderness. Familiar as
are the graphic words of Mrs. Hemans, the first verse
of her memorable hymn so truthfully describes the
scene which that morning was presented to the Pil-
grims, as to be worthy of transcript here :

"The breaking waves dashed high

On a stern and rock-bound coast,
And the woods against a stormy sky,
Their giant branches toss'd."

At an early hour all the passengers of the May-
flower were assembled upon the deck of their little
ship, bowed down by emotions not easily described.
Men, women and children, all were there, oppressed
by thoughts too deep for utterance. Elder Brewster
conducted their morning devotions as the wintry gale
breathed forth its requiem through the icy shrouds.
Sublime as was the hour, not one of those men of
martyr spirit could have had any true conception of
its grandeur. They could not have been conscious
that then and there they were laying the foundations
of one of the mightiest empires upon which the sun
has ever shone.

Their devotions being ended, boat load after boat


load left the ship which, in consequence of the shallow-
ness of the water, was anchored at the distance of a mile
and a half from the shore. There was a large and jag-
ged rock projecting into the sea, upon which a land-
ing was with difficulty effected. Those who first were
placed upon shore marked out a street from their point
of landing directly westward to the hill, upon each
side of which street their log huts were to be reared.

One of the first things, however, to be done, was
to erect a log store-house, about twenty feet square,
where they could deposit their effects, which were im-
mediately to be landed from the ship, and where the
women and the children could find a temporary shel-
ter from wind and rain.

In the old style of computing time, the day of
their landing was the iith of December. For many


years the 22d day of ^Sejptember, new style, has been
observed as " Forefather's Day." It is said, however,
that December iith, O. S., corresponds with Decem-
ber 2 1st, N. S. But when the anniversary was insti-
tuted at Plymouth, in 1 769, eleven days were added for
difference of style, instead of ten, the true difference.
The common house, to which we have alluded, it
is supposed was erected on the south side of what is
now called Leyden street, near the declivity of the
hill. All hands working energetically, this building
was speedily put up, with a thatched roof.


Though the situation for their colony was not every
thing they could desire, yet, as they prosecuted their
labors, they became better and better satisfied with
the choice which they had made. One of their num-
ber wrote ;

" There are here cleared lands, delicate springs,
and a sweet brook running under the hill side, with
fish in their season, where we may harbor our shallops
and boats. On the further side is much corn ground.
There is a high hill on which to plant our ordnance.
Thence we may see into the bay, and far out at sea,
and have a glimpse of the distant cape. Our great-
est labor will be the bringing of wood. What people
inhabit here we know not, as we have yet seen none."

All the day of Saturday every able-bodied man
of the Pilgrims was on the shore laboring with all
possible diligence, felling trees, hewing them, and
dragging them with their own hands to the building
lots, for they had no horses or oxen. The women
also were diligently at work cooking at camp fires and
helping to stow away their goods as they were brought
on shore.

The whole company was divided into nineteen
families, each family to build its own log hut. For
protection against the Indians it was needful that
these huts should be clustered near together. The
captain of the Mayflower brought all the energies of


his crew into requisition in transporting the luggage
to the shore, for his provisions were last disappearing,
and he was exceedingly anxious to set out on his re-
turn. The distance of the ship from the land caused
much time to be lost in going and coming. For sev-
eral days a portion of the Pilgrim band remained to
lodge in the ship, while others were on the shore.
The labors of all were rendered painful and much im-
peded by cold and stormy weather. Often the bay,
swept by the wintry gale, was so rough that no boat
could leave the ship, and there could be no commu-
nication between the two parties.

Sunday was again with them all a day of rest and
devotion, though they were divided, some being still
on board the ship, while others were in their frail
shelters on the land. Those on shore assembled, for
their devotions, in their partially finished store-house.
Their harps must have been hung upon the willows,
and pensive must have been the strains which were
breathed from their lips as they endeavored to sing
the Lord's songs in a strange land. As with firm but
saddened voices they sang, they were startled by the
war-whoop of the Indians in the forest. They knew
those fearful cries too well which many of them had
heard at the First Encounter.

Their efficient military commander, Miles Stand-
ish, had everything arranged for such an emergency


Instantly every man seized his musket and was at hia
post. Behind their barricade of logs, they could, with
their deadly fire arms, repel almost any number of
savages approaching over the open fields with only
bows and arrows. The Indians, who had been already
taught to dread these weapons, after carefully recori-
noitering the position of the Pilgrims, vented their
rage in a few impotent yells, and, without any expo-
sure of their persons to the bullet, retreated into the

The next day was Christmas. With renewed dil-
igence the Pilgrims plied their labors. " We went on
shore," writes Mourt, " some to fell timber, some to
saw, some to rive, and some to carry. So no man
rested all that day:"

As we have mentioned, there were nineteen fam-
ilies, but they differed considerably in size. The sin-
gle men joined themselves to some of these families.
The lots of land assigned to these families differed in
size, according to the number of the household. To
each individual person there was allotted about eight
feet in breadth by fifty in length. This would make
but about four hundred square feet for each one.
Thus, a family of six persons would have a lot but
forty-eight feet wide by fifty deep. This seems an
incredibly small amount of land for each homestead,
when the Pilgrims had the whole continent of North


America before them. The explanation is probably
to be found in the fact that it was necessary for them
to place their houses as near together as possible ;
that, with neither horses, oxen, or any other beasts of
burden, it was but a small portion of land which any
one man could cultivate ; and, again, if any one wished
for more land, there were fields all around him, en-
tirely free, and no one would dispute his title deed.
The homestead lots were so arranged as to make the
little cluster of huts a fortress, protected by their can-
non, where their whole force could be instantly ral-
lied for the public defense. Towards night of Christ-
mas day, the yells of evidently unfriendly savages
were heard in the depths of the forest. This caused
every man to seize his musket and place himself in
the attitude of defense. The wary savages, however,
while uttering these impotent menaces, still kept them-
selves carefully concealed.

Tuesday, the 26th of December, ushered in such
a storm of rain that those on shore could do no work,
and the gale so roughened the bay that those on board
the ship could not venture an attempt to land. The
next day the storm abated, and every available man
was at work. As it seemed very evident that the
savages were hostile, and it was apprehended that
they might be gathering for a general assault, it was
deemed necessary, notwithstanding the pressing need


of dwellings, that all should go to work upon the
hill, in the construction of a rude fort and platform
for their ordnance. The vestiges of this fortification
are still visible on the Burial Hill, where the guns
could sweep with grape shot the approaches to their
village. It was hoped that the thunders of these for-
midable weapons of war, followed by the carnage they
could inflict, should the savages approach in great
numbers, would overwhelm them with terror.

The weather, during the remainder of the week,
continued very unfavorable, it being cold, wet and
stormy. Still the works on the land slowly advanced
The savages, without showing themselves, continued
to hover around, and the smokes of great fires were
seen, apparently at the distance of about six or seven
miles, indicating that the Indians, in large numbers,
were gathering around them.

The last day of the year 1620 came, sombre and
sad. It was the Sabbath. Many were sick. All
were dejected. Wintry dreariness frowned over earth
and sea. Howling savages filled the forest. The
provisions of the Pilgrims were very scanty. The
Mayflower was soon to leave them, to contend, a fee-
ble band, against apparently hostile elements, and
against the far more formidable hostility of savage
men. To meet these perils the Pilgrims could num-
ber but forty-one men. Sickness had already com-


menced its ravages, and of these men, within three
months, twenty-one died. The chances that such a
colony could long be preserved from extinction, must
have seemed almost infinitely small. As usual, the
Pilgrims rested from labor, and devoted the day, some
on shore, some in the ship, to prayer and praise. On
this day the Pilgrims solemnly named their little vil-
lage Plymouth, in grateful remembrance of the kind-
ness which they had received from the people of Ply-
mouth, in England.

Monday morning, the first day of the new year,
dawned propitiously upon these bold-hearted exiles.
A cloudless sky and genial atmosphere invited them
to labor. It was still necessary to be ever prepared
for an attack from their unseen foes. With no little
solicitude, while urging forward their work, they
watched the moving columns of smoke, which day by
day rose from the distant wilderness, and the gleam
of the fires, which by night illumined the horizon, in-
dicating the movement and position of the Indians.
During Tuesday and Wednesday these fires seemed
to increase in numbers. They were thus led to infer
that the savages were collecting in large numbers
from distant parts, and were making careful prepara-
tion for a general and simultaneous assault upon the
feeble colony.

On Thursday morning, the 4th of January, Cap-


tain Miles Standish, who might be truly called the
" bravest of the brave," took with him four men, well
armed, and boldly plunged into the forest, intending
to find the Indians at their rendezvous, and if possi-
ble, to open friendly relations with them. Adopting
every precaution to avoid falling into an ambuscade,
he rapidly pushed forward several miles into the path-
less wilderness, threading gloomy ravines, crossing
rivulets, and traversing sublime forests. The wary
Indians had undoubtedly their scouts stationed to give
warning of any approach of the white men ; for Cap-
tain Standish could not catch sight of a single one of
the savages, though he found several of their deserted
wigwams, and even the still glowing embers of their
camp fires. The adventurers were also disappointed
in finding that the woods seemed destitute of game.
Upon their return, at the close of the afternoon, they
shot one solitary eagle, whose flesh the Pilgrims, in
their half famished state, pronounced to be " excellent
meat, hardly to be discerned from mutton."

Friday and Saturday passed away without any
event of importance occurring, while all hands were
diligently at work. Another Sabbath of rest, the 7th
of January, dawned upon these toil-worn men and
women. The sun, of Monday, the 8th, rose in a
cloudless sky. All bent themselves eagerly to work.
By some unaccountable oversight no small fishhooks


had been brought with them. Thus, though the har-
bor and the brook apparently abounded with fishes,
they could not be taken. The shallop, however, was
sent out to explore the coast, ascertain where fishes
could be found, and supplied with apparatus for
taking seals, which were seen in large numbers.
In the evening the boat returned, a gale having in
the mean time arisen which greatly endangered its
safety. The crew had taken three large seals, and
in some way, perhaps by spearing, had got an excel-
lent codfish.

One of their number, Francis Billington, had, ,a
few days before, climbed a tree upon the top of a hill,
whence he saw, about two miles southwest from the
town, a large body of water, which was either a lake
or an arm of the sea, he could not tell which. He
started to-day, with a companion, to visit it, and found
two large lakes of crystal water, nearly connected
together. One was about six miles in circuit, embel-
lished with a small, luxuriantly wooded island. The
other they estimated to be about three miles in cir-
cumference. They both abounded with fish and water
fowl, and apparently an unfailing stream of water,
which is now called Town Brook, issued from one of
the lakes and emptied into the harbor a little south
of the rock upon which the Pilgrims landed. Several
Indian houses, but all uninhabited, were found upon


the margin of these sheets of water, which were es-
sentially one lake.

"This beautiful pond, so accurately described,
bears the appropriate name of Billington Sea. In the
first century it was called Fresh Lake. It is about
two miles southwest from the town, and in it are two
small islands. It is now, as at first, embosomed in a
wilderness of woods. The eagle still sails over it,
and builds in the branches of the surrounding forest.
Here the loon cries, and leaves her eggs on the shore
of the smaller island. Here too, the beautiful wood-
duck finds a sequestered retreat ; and the fallow deer,
mindful of their ancient haunts, still resort to it to
drink and to browse on its margin." *

On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday all hands
were busy in their out-door work. The store-house,
or, as they called it, the Common House, was nearly
finished and thatched. The cold, damp weather hin-
dered them very much, so that they could seldom
work more than half of the time. Friday morning
dawned pleasantly, but about noon the clouds gath-
ered, and the chill rain began to fall, and an increas-
ing gale moaned through ,the tree tops. Four men
had gone out into the woods in the morning to gather
tall dry grass for thatching. In the afternoon two of

* Note to Young's Chronicles of the Pilgrims.


them returned, and said that in some way they had
lost sight of their companions. They had searched
for them in vain ; and though they had hallooed and
"shouted as loud as they could, they could hear nothing
from them. Intense solicitude was felt for them, and
a party of four or five men were immediately dis-
patched to search in the direction in which they were
last seen. After an absence of a few hours they
returned, at the close of the day, not having been able
to discover any traces of the lost, though they found
many indications that the Indians were lurking around.
The long, stormy wintry night passed slowly away,
and still there were no tidings of the wanderers. In
the morning twelve men, well armed, probably under
the leadership of Captain Miles Standish, set out for
a more extended exploration. It was well known
that Captain Standish would fail in nothing which
mortal energy or courage could accomplish. The
prayers of the sorrowing band accompanied them as
they plunged into the forest. After a long and care-
ful search, in which they could find no trace whatever
of the lost men, they returned at night in deep dejec-
tion to their companions. All the Pilgrims gathered
around them, men, women and children, to hear the
account of their unsuccessful search.

While thus assembled they were startled by a shout
in the distance, and looking up, to their inexpressible


joy, saw the two men emerging from the forest. They
ran to meet the wanderers, John Goodman and Peter
Brown, whose apparition was as life from the dead.
Their tattered garments and emaciate cheeks testi-
fied to the hardships which they had endured. The
following was the account which they gave of their
adventure :

As they were gathering some long grass, for thatch-
ing, about a mile from the village, probably on the
banks of Town Brook, they saw a pond in the distance,
perhaps Murdock's Pond, and repaired to it. Upon
the margin of the pond they found a deer drinking.
Two dogs they had with them sprang after the deer,
and pursued it eagerly into the forest. The men fol-
lowed, hoping that the dogs would seize the deer, and
that thus they might be able to capture so rich a prize.
As, led by the baying of the hounds, they followed
the deer in its windings and turnings, they became
bewildered and lost in the pathless wilds which they
had penetrated. All the afterno'on they wandered in
vain seeking some clew to lead them back to their

Night, dismal night, lowered over them with clouds,
a rising gale, and snow mingled with rain. They had
no axes with which to construct a shelter. They
could find no cave or hollow tree in which to take
refuge. Weary, foot-sore and starving, and with no


weapon but a small sickle with which they had been
cutting thatch, they heard the howling of wolves around
them, and other strange cries from wild beasts, of
they knew not what ferocity. Their only protection
seemed to be to climb into a tree. They tried it.
The keen wintry blast so pierced their thin clothing
that they could not endure the cold. Death by freez-
ing would be inevitable.

The blackness of Egyptian darkness was now
around them. They also heard a fearful roaring of
wild beasts, which was undoubtedly the howling of
wolves, but which they supposed to be the roar of
lions. They stood at the root of the trees all the night
long, exercising as they could to keep themselves
warm, ever ready to spring into the branches should
danger approach. They were compelled to hold one
of their dogs by the neck, he was so eager to rush in
pursuit of the beasts whose cries excited him.

The long winter night at length gave way to the
gloom of a stormy morning. Half frozen and starv-
ing, and expecting to perish in the wilderness, these
lost men resumed their search for home. They waded
through swamps, forded streams, encountered ponds,
struggled through thickets which tore clothing and
skin. At last they came to a hill. Climbing one of
the tallest trees, they saw the ocean in the distance,
and, to their inexpressible joy, recognized the harbor


of Plymouth, by two little islands which dotted its sur-
face. The sight reanimated their drooping minds
and bodies. All day long, in the extreme of exhaus-
tion, they tottered on their way, until just before night-
fall they reached their home. The feet of one of these
men, John Goodman, were so swollen that they were
compelled to cut off his shoes.

The work of building had advanced slowly. The
days were short, cold and stormy. Nearly all were
enfeebled by toil and exposure, while some were se-
riously sick. Both Governor Carver and Mr. Brad-
ford, his successor in office, were prostrate with fevers.
They were on beds in the Common House, where cots
had been arranged on the floor for the sick, as near
one to another as they could be placed. Though
many of the Pilgrims were still in the Mayflower, the
majority lodged on shore.

The Common House was so far finished, nearly
all of its roof being thatched, that it afforded protec-
tion from the snow and rain, while its thick walls of
logs shut off the piercing wind, and a cheerful fire
blazed upon the stone hearth.

On Sunday morning, January I4th, about six
o'clock, the wind blowing almost a gale, they were
appalled by the cry of " fire." The thatch of grass,
dry as tinder, touched by a spark, was in a blaze. All
the ammunition and most of the arms had been brought


on shore and deposited in the store-house. Its loss
would expose them, defenceless, to the tomahawk of
the Indian. Nearly all of their scanty supply of food
was there. Without it starvation was inevitable. The
people in the ship saw the smoke and the flame, but
the tide was out, and they could not reach the shore.
Soon, however, the tide came in, the gale abated, and
a boat load cautiously advanced -to the land, where
they had all proposed to pass the Sabbath together,
the majority of the company being then on shore.
Upon landing they were cheered with the tidings that
the lost men were found, and that the fire, which had
been extinguished, was accidental.

Life On Shore.

Days of Sunshine and Storm. Ravages of Pestilence. A Raging
Storm. New Alarm of Fire. Twelve Indians Seen. Two In-
dians Appear on the Hill. Great Alarm in the Settlement.
Measures of Defense. More Sunny Days. Humanity and Self-
Denial of Miles Standish and Others. Conduct of the Ship's
Crew. Excursion to Billington Sea. The Visit of Samoset.
Treachery of Captain Hunt. The Shipwrecked Frenchmen.
The Plague. The Wampanoags. More Indian Visitors. Bad
Conduct of the Billingtons.

Monday, the I5th of January, opened upon the
way-worn exiles with another storm of wind and rain,
so that those on shipboard could not leave the vessel,
and those on shore could do no work. The next
three days, however, were pleasant, each morning
dawning upon them with rare loveliness. Their hearts
were cheered, and they pressed forward in their la-
bors with great vigor. The terrible fright which the
fire caused taught them that they must place their
store-house apart from the other buildings, and where
there would be no exposure to conflagration. They,
therefore, went immediately to work to put up a shed
for this purpose, intending to reserve the building
already erected as a common lodging house until the
separate huts could be reared.


Friday opened pleasantly ; but at noon it began
to rain, which prevented any out-door work. Towards
evening the storm abated, and John Goodman, whose
feet had been sadly crippled by his exposure in the
woods, hobbled out a little way from the village for
exercise, accompanied by a small spaniel. Two half
famished wolves came leaping from the forest in pur-
suit of his dog. The terrified animal ran between
his master's legs for protection. Mr. Goodman caught
up a heavy stick, and for some time kept the ferocious
beasts at bay. They kept at a little distance, just out
of reach of his club, gnashing upon him with their
sharp and glistening teeth in most dramatic style. But
ere long the wolves, to Mr. Goodman's intense relief,
turned away and rushed howling into the woods.

The next day, Saturday the 2Oth of January, they
completed their shed for a store-house, and nearly all
of their company came to the land. On Sunday, 2ist,
there was a general assembling of the Pilgrims in the
Common House, as their temple, where their revered
and beloved pastor, Rev. Mr. Brewster, conducted di-
vine worship. This was the first Sabbath on which
the Pilgrims as a body had been able to meet together
in their new home.

Monday, 22"d, was a fair day, and during the whole
week the weather continued propitious. All were
busy, bringing boat loads of freight from the ship, and


packing away their provisions and other goods in the
store-house. Two boats were employed in bringing
the luggage on shore, but it was slow work, in conse-
quence of the distant anchorage of the Mayflower.
As they had neither ox, mule nor horse, all the arti-
cles had to be carried by hand from the landing-place
to their destination many rods distant from the shore.
The next week was ushered in by a storm of
piercing wind and sleet. To add to its gloom, on its

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Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottMiles Standish, the Puritan captain .. → online text (page 5 of 21)