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

Miles Standish, the Puritan captain .. online

. (page 6 of 21)
Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottMiles Standish, the Puritan captain .. → online text (page 6 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

first day, Rose, the young and beautiful wife of Cap-
tain Standish, died. But care, sickness, death now
came in such swift succession as to leave the survi-
vors but little time to weep over the dead. The two
succeeding days the weather was so inclement that
no work could be done. Not very far from the ship's
place of anchorage there was a small island. On
Wednesday morning those on board the ship saw two
savages walking upon the island. What they were
doing no one could tell. They were seen but for a
few moments, when they retired out of sight in the



On Sunday morning, February 4th, a fearful gale
swept the bay. It was the most severe storm the
Pilgrims had yet encountered. For some time great
apprehensions were felt lest the ship should be torn
from her moorings and dashed upon the shore. The
huts, which they were erecting for their dwellings,


were of unhewn logs, the interstices being filled with
clay. The wind and the rain washed out this clay,
causing very serious damage. Much of the thatching
also, as yet but insecurely fastened, was whirled into
the air by the tempest, like autumn leaves. During
the whole of the week the weather continued so cold
and stormy that but little work could be done.

In consequence of the increasing sickness, it had
been found necessary to put up a small house for a
hospital. On Friday, the Qth, the thatched roof of
this building took fire from a spark. Fortunately the
wet weather had so dampened the straw that the fire
was extinguished without doing much* damage.
Where wood was the only fuel, ever throwing up a
shower of sparks, a thatch of straw, often as dry as
tinder, seemed to invite conflagration. Thus their
little hamlet, of clustered log houses, was peculiarly
exposed to the peril of fire. That afternoon five wild
geese were shot, which afforded a very grateful repast
to the sick people. A good fat deer was also found,
which had just been killed by the Indians, and which,
for some inexplicable reason they had left, having cut
off its horns. It is possible that the wary savages,
keeping a sharp look out, had seen some of the white
men approaching, and had fled. A wolf had, how-
ever, anticipated the Pilgrims, and was daintily feed-
ing upon the tender venison.


Another week came, with great discouragement
of stormy weather, and with increasing sickness.
The men worked to much disadvantage, everything
having to be done with their own hands. The logs,
generally about a foot in thickness and nearly twenty
feet long, had often to be dragged from very incon-
venient distances. This was labor which could not
safely be performed with clothing drenched with rain
and pierced with the wintry gale. Often whole days
were lost in which no work could be done.

Friday, February i6th, was a fair day. It was,
however, very cold, and the ground was frozen hard.
In the afternoon one of the company took his gun and
went into the woods a fowling. He had gone about
a mile and a half from the plantation, and had con-
cealed himself in some reeds, which fringed a creek,
watching for wild geese or ducks, when, to his aston-
ishment, twelve Indians appeared, walking towards
the plantation, in single file and in perfect silence.
Almost breathless he crouched down beneath his cov-
ert until they had disappeared, and then, with the
utmost caution, hastened back to give the alarm.

The Indians, it would seem, were out upon a re-
connoitering tour. They were very careful not to
show themselves at the settlement, though they came
sufficiently near to take some tools which Captain
Standish and Francis Cooke, who had been at work


in the woods, had left behind them, with no apprehen-
sion that there were any prowlers so near. The alarm
caused the whole Pilgrim band immediately to rally
under arms. There was, however, nothing more seen
of the savages. But that night a large fire was dis-
covered near the spot where the twelve Indians had
made their appearance.

It was now deemed important to have a more per-
fect military organization, to meet the dangers impend-
ing from the manifestly unfriendly spirit of the In-
dians. The Pilgrims, in their weakened state, were
but poorly prepared for any general assault. On Sat-
urday morning, the iQth of February, they 'all assem-
. bled in council, and Captain Standish was invested
with almost dictatorial powers as military commander.
With characteristic sagacity and energy he undertook
the responsible duties thus devolving upon him.
While they were assembled in consultation, two In-
dians appeared upon a small eminence, then called
Strawberry Hill, on the other side of Town Brook,
about a quarter of a mile southwest from the village,
and made signs to the Pilgrims to come to them.

It was not improbable that they were a decoy, and
that hundreds of armed warriors were concealed in
the forest behind, ready, at a concerted signal, to
raise the terrible war-whoop and rush upon their vic-
tims with javelin and tomahawk. There were not a


score of Pilgrims able to bear arms. What could they
do to repel such an onset. It was an awful hour, in
view of the possibilities which were before them. The
women and children huddled together in terror. It
seemed probable to them that the Indians had long
been gathering and making preparations for this as-
sault, and that within an hour their husbands and
fathers would be slain, and that they would be at the
mercy of the savages.

The perilous duty of advancing to meet the sav-
ages, and of thus being perhaps the first to fall into
the ambush, Captain Standish took upon himself.
Selecting Mr. Stephen Hopkins, one of the most il-
lustrious of the Pilgrims, and a man alike distin-
guished for his prudence and his bravery, to accom-
pany him, he advanced, entirely unarmed, in token of
his friendly disposition, across the brook. Mr. Hop-
kins carried his gun. When they reached the foot of
the eminence the gun was laid upon the ground, as an
additional sign of peace, and they both moved forward
to meet the tufted warriors. The conduct of the sav-
ages was often quite inexplicable. They were as ca-
pricious as children. On this occasion, as Captain
Standish and Mr. Hopkins slowly ascended the hill,
the two Indians upon the summit suddenly turned
and fled precipitately down the other side of the hill
into the dense forest.


It was a very bold act, it seems to us now a very
imprudent one, for these two unarmed men, still to
advance to the summit of the hill, thus exposing them-
selves to fall into an Indian ambush. They however
cautiously moved on ; when they reached the top of the
hill not an Indian was in sight, but they heard the noise
of a great multitude retreating through the forest.
They were of course greatly perplexed to judge what
all this senseless conduct could mean. One thing,
however, was certain ; the Indians were not disposed
to establish friendly relations with the new comers.

Captain Standish made immediate and vigorous
preparation for a war of defense. It was very evident
to him that, though they might be surrounded by
cruel, treacherous and inveterate foes, they had but
little to fear from the intelligence or military ability
of their enemies. He had immediately brought on
shore, and mounted on the platform, which he had ar-
ranged for them on the hill, three guns. One was
called a minion, with a bore three and a quarter inches
in diameter. Another was a saker, about four inches
in bore. The third, called a base, was but little larger
than a musket, having a bore but one and a quarter
inches in diameter. The heaviest gun weighed about
a thousand pounds, and carried a ball about four
pounds in weight. This important work was all ac-
complished by Wednesday, February 2ist. It ap-


pears that the officers of the Mayflower assisted effi-
ciently in the operation. The united company then
dined luxuriously upon a very fat goose, a fat crane,
a mallard, * and a dried neats tongue. And so we
were kindly and friendly together, f

Sunday, the 3d of March, came. It was a lovely
day. The severity of winter had passed. A dread-
ful winter to the Pilgrims, indeed it had been. Dur-
ing the month of February seventeen of their number
had died. Eight had died during the month of Janu-
ary. In burying the dead it had been deemed neces-
sary carefully to conceal their graves lest the Indians,
in counting them, should ascertain how greatly they
had been weakened. Governor Bradford, in record-
ing these disastrous events, writes :

" After they had provided a place for their goods,
or common store, which were long in unlading for
want of boats, foulness of winter weather and sickness
of divers, and begun some small cottages for their
habitation, they met, as time would admit, and con-
sulted of laws and orders, both for their civil and
military government, as the necessities of their occa-
sion did require.

" In these hard and difficult beginnings they found
some discontents and murmurings arise among some,

* A Duck. f Mourt's Relation.


and mutinous speeches and carriage in others. But
they were soon quelled and overcome by the wisdom,
patience, and just and equal carriage of things, by the
Governor and better part, which clave faithfully to-
gether in the main. But that which was most sad
and lamentable was that, in two or three months' time
half of their company died ; especially in January and
February, being the depth of winter, and wanting
houses and other comforts ; being infected with scurvy
and other diseases, which their long voyage and inac-
commodate condition had brought upon them ; so as
there died sometimes two or three of a day, that of
one hundred and odd persons, scarce filty remained. *
" And of these, in the time of most distress, there
were but six or seven sound persons who, to their
great commendation be it spoken, spared no pains,
night nor day, but with abundance of toil and hazard
of their own health, fetched them wood and made them
fires, dressed their meat, made their beds, washed
their loathsome clothes, clothed and unclothed them ;
in a word, did all the homely and necessary offices
for them which dainty and quesie stomachs cannot
endure to hear named ; and all this willingly and
cheerfully, without any grudging in the least, shewing

* The bill of mortality, according to Prince, which he copied from
Bradford, was as follows : In December, six died ; in January, eight ;
in February, seventeen ; in March, thirteen ; total, forty-four.


herein their true love unto their friends and brethren.
A rare example, and worthy to be remembered.

" Two of these seven were Mr. William Brewster,
their reverend Elder, and Miles Standish, their Cap-
tain and military commander, unto whom myself and
many others were much beholden in our low and sick

" And yet the Lord so upheld these persons as,
in this general calamity, they were not at all infected
with sickness or lameness. And what I have said of
these I may say of many others who died in this gen-
eral visitation, and others yet living, that whilst they
had health, yea or any strength continuing, they were
not wanting to any that had need of them. And I
doubt not but that their recompense is with the

" But I may not here pass by another remarkable
passage, never to be forgotten. As this calamity fell
among the passengers that were to be left here to
plant, and were hasted ashore and made to drink
water, that the seamen might have the more beer.
And one (Mr. Bradford) in his sickness desiring but
a small can of beer, it was answered that if he were
their own father he should have none. The disease
began to fall amongst them also, so as almost half of
their company died before they went away, and many
of their officers and lustiest men, as the boatswain,


gunner, three quartermasters, the cook and others.
At which the Master was somewhat strucken, and
sent to the sick, on shore, and told the Governor he
would send beer for them that had need of it, though
he drank water, homeward bound.

"But now amongst his company there was far
another kind of carriage in this misery than among
the passengers. For they that beforetime had been
boon companions in drinking and jollity in the time
of their health and welfare, began now to desert one
another in this calamity, saying that they would not
hazard their lives for them ; they should be infected
by coming to them in their cabins. And so, after
they came to die by it, would do little or nothing for
them, but if they died, let them die.

" But such of the passengers as were yet aboard
shewed them what mercy they could, which made
some of their hearts relent, as the boatswain, who
was a proud young man, and would often curse and
scoff at the passengers. But when he grew weak
they had compassion on him and helped him. Then
he confessed he did not deserve it at their hands ; he
had abused them in word and deed. ' O,' saith he,
'you, I now see, show your love, like Christians in-
deed, one to another. But we let one another lie and
die like dogs.'

" Another lay cursing his wife, saying if it had not


been for her he had never come this unlucky voyage,
and anori cursing his fellows, saying he had done this
and that for some of them ; he had spent so much
and so much amongst them, and they were now
weary of him, and did not help him having need.
Another gave his companion all he had, if he died, to
help him in his weakness. He went and got a little
spice, and made him a mess of meat once or twice ;
and because he died not as soon as he expected, he
went among his fellows and swore the rogue would
cozen him ; he would see him choked before he made
him any more meat ; and yet the poor fellow died be-
fore morning."

As we have mentioned, the third of March dawn-
ed beautifully, sunny and mild, upon the weary Pil-
grims. The birds sang sweetly, and everything indi-
cated the speedy return of the much-longed-for sum-
mer weather. But towards noon the clouds gathered,
the rain fell in torrents, and they were visited with
one of the severest tempests, accompanied by the
loudest .thunder, any of them had ever witnessed.

On Wednesday, the 7th of March, a company of
five, all well armed, accompanied Governor Carver to
the great lakes, to which they had given the name of
Billington Sea. These waters abounded with fish,
and it would seem that by this time they had devised
some plan by which to take them. They found the


woods through which they passed filled with well-
beaten deer tracks, indicating the presence of large
numbers of that species of game, though they did not
chance to meet with any. Many water fowl were also
disporting upon the placid waters of the lake, some
of very beautiful plumage. The weather was so warm
and the season so advanced that some garden seeds
were sown on this day.

Another week passed, during which their work
proceeded very slowly in consequence of their enfee-
bled numbers and the claims of the sick on the ser-
vices of the few who were well. Friday, the i6th,
was a fair, warm day. Every one felt the situation
of the colony to be perilous in the extreme. The
sailors of the Mayflower were suffering alike with the
Pilgrims on the land. There were but seven men
who, in case of an attack, which was hourly antici-
pated, could present any efficient resistance. The
onset of a hundred armed warriors (and a thousand
might come) would sweep away their little village like
an Alpine avalanche. The responsibility for the pub-
lic defense thus resting upon Captain Standish, was
very weighty. Every individual had his post of duty
assigned him, that there should be no confused or
embarrassed action in the alarm. Captain Standish
had this morning assembled all who were capable of
bearing arms in the northern part of their little street,


to complete their military preparations, when, to their
surprise, they saw a solitary savage approaching from
the south.

Without the slightest indication of embarrass-
ment or hesitation he strode along, entered the street,
and advancing boldly to the rendezvous, saluted the
Pilgrims with the words, "Welcome Englishmen."
His only clothing consisted of a leather belt around
his waist, to which was attached a fringe, about ten
inches long. He had a bow and two arrows. He
was a powerful man, tall and straight, with very black
hair, long behind, but cut short over the forehead. In
broken English he told them that his name was Samo-
set, and that he came from the Island of Monhegan,
between the Kennebec and Penobscot rivers, about
twelve miles from the shore.

This island had for many years been a favorite re-
sort for the English fishermen. From them he had
learned a little English, and knew the names of many
of the captains who annually visited those waters.
Seeing the Mayflower in the harbor, he supposed it
to be a fishing vessel, and thus, without any fear, ap-
proached the men.

Samoset affected to be very free and unembar-
rassed in his carriage. He declared himself to be
one of the chiefs of the tribe, and assumed to be per-
fectly informed respecting the whole adjacent coun-


try, its tribes and their strength. He called for beer,
and seemed disposed to make himself very much at
home, entering the houses and spying out with
an eagle, eye all the works around him. Captain
Standish was not disposed to have his weakness ex-
posed to this perhaps wary and treacherous savage,
who might have entered the village merely as a spy,
in the interest of the Indian warriors who were lurk-
ing in the woods around. To make him a little more
presentable to the families, a large horseman's coat
was placed upon him. Instead of being allowed to
wander about at will, he was entrusted to the keep-
ing of Mr. Hopkins, who took him to his hut and fed
him with the utmost hospitality.

From Samoset they learned three very important
facts. The first was that the Indians, all along the
coast, were greatly and justly exasperated against the
white men, by the treachery of one Captain Hunt.
This infamous man, while trading with the Indians,
had inveigled twenty-seven men on board his ship,
and then, closing the hatches upon them, had carried
them off where most of them had never been heard
of more. The wretch took these poor kidnapped In-
dians to Spain, and sold them as slaves, for one hun-
dred dollars each. The untutored savages who, be-
, fore this, were friendly, being thus robbed of their
kindred, knew no better than to wreak their ven-


geance upon any white man whom they might en-

Not long after this a French ship was wrecked on
Cape Cod. The savages, burning with a desire for
vengeance, massacred all but three or four of the
crew, whom they reserved as prisoners. Everything
that had been saved from the wreck they divided
among themselves. Hence, perhaps, the iron kettle
which the Pilgrims had found in one of their explor-
ing tours. The captives were sent from one tribe
to another, into the interior, that there might be no
possibility of a rescue. One of these captives, proba-
bly a thoughtful, perhaps a religious man, learned
their language, and told them that " God was angry
with them, and in punishment would destroy them
and. give their country to another people." They re-
plied that " they were so numerous that God would
not be able to destroy them."

But it so happened that ere long a terrible plague,
resembling the yellow fever, broke out among the In-
dians, sweeping them off by thousands. The whole
country became nearly depopulated. In these disas-
trous days the Indians remembered the words of the
Frenchman, and began to fear that the white man's
God was really taking vengeance upon them. When
the Mayflower arrived they feared that another people
had come to take possession of their lands. Hence


the hostile attitude which had been assumed, and the
attack at the First Encounter. Samoset seemed to
know all about this attack, and said that it was made
by a tribe on the Cape called Nausites.

It appears that the plague, above referred to,
swept the whole seaboard, from the mouth of the
Penobscot River to Narraganset Bay. Some tribes
became nearly extinct. The Massachusetts tribe was
reduced, it is said, from thirty thousand to three hun-
dred fighting men. Captain Dermer, who visited the
coast a year before the landing of the Pilgrims, writes :

" I passed along the coast where I found some
ancient plantations, not long since populous, now
utterly void. In other places a remnant remains, but
not free of sickness. Their disease was the plague,
for we might perceive the sores of some that had es-
caped, who described the spots of such as usually

Morton writes in his New English Canaan : " Some
few years before the English came to inhabit in New
Plymouth, the hand of God fell heavily upon the na-
tives, with such a mortal stroke that they died on
heaps. In a place where many inhabited there hath
been but one left alive to tell what became of the rest.
And the bones and skulls upon the several places of
their habitations made such a spectacle, after my
coming into these parts, that as I travelled in that


forest, near the Massachusetts, it seemed to me a
new-found Golgotha."

In view of these facts it was stated, in the Great
Patent of New England, granted by King James, on
the 3d of November, i$2O, "We have been further
given certainly to know, that within these late years
there hath, by God's visitation, reigned a wonderful
plague amongst the savages there heretofore inhabit-
ing, in a manner to the utter destruction, devastation
and depopulation of that whole territory, so as there
is not left, for many leagues together, in a manner,
any that do claim or challenge any kind of interest
therein. Whereby we, in our judgment, are persuad-
ed and satisfied that the appointed time is come in
which Almighty God, in his great goodness and
bounty towards us and our people, hath thought fit
and determined, that these large and goodly terri-
tories, deserted as it were by their natural inhabitants,
should be possessed and enjoyed by such of our sub-
jects and people as shall, by his mercy and favor, and
by his powerful arm, be directed and conducted

All the afternoon was spent in earnest communi-
cation with Samoset. He told them that the Nau-
site's, by whom they had been attacked, numbered
about one hundred souls. There was a powerful
tribe, called the Wampanoags, upon the shores of


what is now called Bristol Bay. Their chief, Mass i-
soit, was so powerful that he exercised a sort of su-
premacy over many of the tribes in the vicinity.
There was another numerous tribe; not far from the
Wampanoags, called the Narragansets. Samoset
does not seem to have known, or if so, was not willing
to tell the number of Indians lurking in the woods
around the Pilgrim settlement. The mystery of their
conduct was, however, in some degree revealed, when
the Pilgrims were informed that the Indians, with
their priests, had met in a dark swamp, in a general
pow-wow, hoping by their curses and incantations to
destroy the white men.

On the whole, the information communicated by
Samoset was encouraging. It led them to hope that
their foes were not so numerous as they feared, that
they regarded, with superstitious dread, the God of
the white man, and that they were rather disposed to
rely upon witchcraft and incantations, in their warfare
upon the new-comers, than upon more material and
dangerous weapons. Had the Indians known what
ravages death was making in the huts of the Pilgrims,
they would have felt assured that their magic arts
were signally successful.

As night approached, Captain Standish was quite
anxious to get rid of his suspicious guest. But Sam-
oset manifested no disposition to leave. He however


consented to go on board the ship to pass the night.
They went down to the shallop. But the wind was
so high that it was not deemed prudent to encounter
the high sea, and they returned to Mr. Stephen Hop-
kins' house, where Samoset was lodged, and carefully
though secretly watched.

The next day, Saturday, the i/th, early in the
morning, Samoset withdrew, to go, as he said, to visit

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 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 6 of 21)