Meet us on:
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "Let me not be understood as saying that there are no bad laws, nor that grievances may not arise for the redress of which no legal provisions have been made. I mean to say no such thing. But I do mean to say that although bad laws, if they exist, should be repealed as soon as possible, still, while they continue in force, for the sake of example they should be religiously observed."

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Ch. 2: The Freight of the Mayflower

    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 3
    Previous Chapter
    The motive force which drove the English Separatists and Puritans to a
    voluntary exile in New England in 1620 and later, had its origin in the
    brain of the son of a Saxon slate cutter just a century before. Martin
    Luther first gave utterance to a mental protest which had long been on the
    tongue's tip of many thoughtful and conscientious persons in Europe, but
    which, till then, no one had found the courage, or the energy, or the
    conviction, or the clear-headedness (as the case might be) to formulate
    and announce. Once having reached its focus, however, and attained its
    expression, it spread like a flame in dry stubble, and produced results in
    men and nations rarely precedented in the history of the world, whose
    vibrations have not yet died away.

    Henry VIII. of England was born and died a Catholic; though of religion
    of any kind he never betrayed an inkling. His Act of Supremacy, in 1534,
    which set his will above that of the Pope of Rome, had no religious
    bearing, but merely indicated that he wanted to divorce one woman in order
    to marry another. Nevertheless it made it incumbent upon the Pope to
    excommunicate him, and thus placed him, and England as represented by him,
    in a quasi-dissenting attitude toward the orthodox faith. And coming as it
    did so soon after Luther's outbreak, it may have encouraged Englishmen to
    think on lines of liberal belief.

    Passionate times followed in religious--or rather in theological--matters,
    all through the Sixteenth Century. The fulminations of Luther and the
    logic of Calvin set England to discussing and taking sides; and when
    Edward VI. came to the throne, he was himself a Protestant, or indeed a
    Puritan, and the stimulus of Puritanism in others. But the mass of the
    common people were still unmoved, because there was no means of getting at
    them, and they had no stomach for dialectics, if there had been. The new
    ideas would probably have made little headway had not Edward died and Mary
    the Catholic come red-hot with zeal into his place. She lost no time in
    catching and burning all dissenters, real or suspected; and as many of
    these were honest persons who lived among the people, and were known and
    approved by them, and as they uniformly endured their martyrdom with
    admirable fortitude and good-humor, falling asleep in the crackling flames
    like babes at the mother's breast, Puritanism received an advertisement
    such as nothing since Christianity had enjoyed before, and which all the
    unaided Luthers, Melanchthons and Calvins in the world could not have
    given it.

    This lasted five years, after which Mary went to her reward, and
    Elizabeth came to her inheritance. She was no more of a religion-monger
    than her distinguished father had been; but she was, like him, jealous of
    her authority, and a martinet for order and obedience at all costs. A
    certain intellectual voluptuousness of nature and an artistic instinct
    inclined her to the splendid forms and ceremonies of the Catholic ritual;
    but she was too good a politician not to understand that a large part of
    her subjects were unalterably opposed to the papacy. After some
    consideration, therefore, she adopted the expedient of a compromise, the
    substance of which was that whatever was handsome and attractive in
    Catholicism was to be retained, and only those technical points dropped
    which made the Pope the despot of the Church. In ordinary times this would
    have answered very well; human nature likes to eat its cake and have it
    too; but this time was anything but ordinary. The reaction from old to new
    ways of thinking, and the unforgotten persecutions of Mary, had made men
    very fond of their opinions, and preternaturally unwilling to enter into
    bargains with their consciences. At the same time loyalty to the Crown was
    still a fetich in England, as indeed it always has been, except at and
    about the time when Oliver Cromwell and others cut off the head of the
    First Charles. Consequently when Elizabeth and Whitgift, her Archbishop of
    Canterbury, set about putting their house in order in earnest, they were
    met with a mixture of humble loyalty and immovable resistance which would
    have perplexed any potentates less single-minded. But Elizabeth and
    Whitgift were not of the sort that sets its hand to the plow and then
    turns back; they went earnestly on with their banishments and executions,
    paying particular attention to the Separatists, but keeping plenty in hand
    for the Puritans also.--The Separatists, it may be observed, were so
    called because their aim was to dispart themselves entirely from the
    orthodox communion; the Puritans were willing to remain in the fold, but
    had it in mind to purify it, by degrees, from the defilement which they
    held it to have contracted. The former would not in the least particular
    make friends with the mammon of unrighteousness, or condone the sins of
    the Scarlet Woman, or of anybody else; they would not inhale foul air,
    with a view to sending it forth again disinfected by the fragrance of
    their own lungs. They took their stand unequivocally upon the plain letter
    of Scripture, and did away with all that leaned toward conciliating the
    lighter sentiments and emotions; they would have no genuflexions, no
    altars, no forms and ceremonies, no priestly vestments, no Apostolic
    Succession, no priests, no confessions, no intermediation of any kind
    between the individual and his Creator. The people themselves should make
    and unmake their own "ministers," and in all ways live as close to the
    bone as they could. The Puritans were not opposed to any of these beliefs;
    only they were not so set upon proclaiming and acting upon them in season
    and out of season; they contended that the idolatry of ritual, since it
    had been several centuries growing up, should be allowed an appreciable
    time to disappear. It will easily be understood that, at the bottom of
    these religious innovations and inflammations, was a simple movement
    toward greater human freedom in all directions, including the political.
    It mattered little to the zealots on either side whether or not the secret
    life of a man was morally correct; he must think in a certain prescribed
    way, on pain of being held damnable, and, if occasion served, of being
    sent to the other world before he had opportunity to further confirm his
    damnation. The dissenters, when they got in motion, were just as
    intolerant and bigoted as the conformists; and toward none was this
    intolerance more strongly manifested than toward such as were in the main,
    but not altogether, of their way of thinking. The Quakers and the
    Independents had almost as hard an experience in New England, at the hands
    of the Puritans, as the latter had endured from good Queen Bess and her
    henchmen a few years before. But really, religion, in the absolute sense,
    had very little to do with these movements and conflicts; the impulse was
    supposed to be religion because religion dwells in the most interior
    region of a man's soul. But the craving for freedom also proceeds from an
    interior place; and so does the lust for tyranny. Propinquity was mistaken
    for identity, and anything which was felt but could not be reasoned about
    assumed a religious aspect to the subject of it, and all the artillery of
    Heaven and Hell, and the vocabulary thereof, were pressed into service to
    champion it.

    But New England had to be peopled, and this was the way to people it. The
    dissenters perceived that, though they might think as they pleased in
    England, they could not combine this privilege with keeping clear of the
    fagot or the gibbet; and though martyrdom is honorable, and perhaps
    gratifying to one's vanity, it can be overdone.

    They came to the conclusion, accordingly, that practical common sense
    demanded their expatriation; and some of them humbly petitioned her
    Majesty to be allowed to take themselves off. The Queen did not show
    herself wholly agreeable to this project; womanlike, and queenlike, she
    wanted to convince them even more than to be rid of them; or if they must
    be got rid of, she preferred to dispose of them herself in the manner
    prescribed for stubborn heretics. But the lady was getting on in years,
    and was not so ardently loved as she had been; and her activity against
    the heretics could not keep pace with her animosity. She had succeeded in
    many things, and her reign was accounted glorious; but she had won no
    glory by the Puritans and Separatists, and her campaign against them had
    not succeeded. They were stronger than ever, and were to grow stronger
    yet. It was remembered, too, by her servants, that, when she was dead,
    some one might ascend the throne who was less averse to nonconformity than
    she had been; and then those who had persecuted might suffer persecution
    in their turn. So although the prayer of the would-be colonists was not
    granted, the severity against them was relaxed; and as Elizabeth's last
    breath rattled in her throat, the mourners had one ear cocked toward the
    window, to hear in what sort of a voice James was speaking.

    Their fears had been groundless. The new king spoke Latin, and "peppered
    the Puritans soundly." The walls of Hampton Court resounded with his
    shrill determination to tolerate none of their nonsense; and he declared
    to the assembled prelates, who were dissolving in tears of joy, that
    bishops were the most trustworthy legs a monarch could walk on. The
    dissenters, who had hoped much, were disappointed in proportion; but they
    were hardened into an opposition sterner than they had ever felt before.
    They must help themselves, since no man would help them; and why not
    --since they had God on their side? They controlled the House of Commons,
    and made themselves felt there, till James declared that he preferred a
    hermitage to ruling such a pack of malcontents. The clergy renewed their
    persecutions; the government of England was a despotism of the strictest
    kind; and the fire which had been repressed in Puritan bosoms began to
    emit sullen sparks through their eyes and lips.

    A group of them in the north of England established a church, and called
    upon all whom it might concern to shake off anti-Christian bondage. John
    Robinson and William Brewster gave it their support, and their meetings
    were made interesting by the spies of the government. Finally they were
    driven to attempt an escape to Holland; and, after one miscarriage, they
    succeeded in getting off from the coast of Lincolnshire in the spring of
    1608, and were transported to Amsterdam. They could but tarry there; their
    only country now was Heaven; meanwhile they were wandering Pilgrims on the
    face of the earth, as their Lord had been before them. From Amsterdam they
    presently removed to Leyden, where they conducted themselves with such
    propriety as to win the encomiums of the natives. But their holy
    prosperity did not make them happy, or enable them to be on comfortable
    terms with the Dutch language; they could not get elbow-room, or feel that
    they were doing themselves justice; and as the rumors of a fertile
    wilderness overseas came to their ears, they began to contemplate the
    expediency of betaking themselves thither. It was now the year 1617; and
    negotiations were entered into with the London Company to proceed under
    their charter.

    The London Company were disposed to consider the proposition favorably,
    but the affair dragged, and when it was brought before the government it
    was quashed by Bacon, who opined that the coat of Christ must be seamless,
    and that even in a remote wilderness heretics must not be permitted to
    rend it. The Pilgrims might have replied that if a coat is already torn,
    it profits not to declare it whole; but they were not students of
    repartee, and merely relinquished efforts to secure support in that
    direction. They must go into exile without official sanction, that was
    all. The king's law enjoined, to be sure, that if any dissenters were
    discovered abroad they were straightway to be sent to England for
    discipline; but inasmuch as the threat of exile was, at the same time,
    held over the same dissenters at home, it would seem a saving of trouble
    all round to go abroad and trust to God. "If they mean to wrong us," they
    aptly remarked, "a royal seal, though it were as broad as the house floor,
    would not protect us." A suggestion that the Dutchmen fit them out for
    their voyage, and share their profits, fell through on the question of
    protection against other nations; and when they had prepared their minds
    to make the venture without any protection at all, it turned out that
    there was not capital enough in the community to pay for transport. Within
    three years, however, this difficulty was overcome, and in July of 1620
    two ships were hired--the "Speedwell" and the "Mayflower"--and the
    progenitors of religious and civil liberty in America were ready to set

    There was not accommodation for them all on the two vessels, the one of
    sixty tons, the other of thrice as many; so a division was made, Robinson
    remaining in Leyden with one party, until means could be had to bring them
    over; and Brewster accompanying the emigrants, supported by John Carver
    and Miles Standish. Robinson, one of the finest and purest spirits of the
    time, died while waiting to join his friends; but most of the others were
    brought over in due season.

    The hymns of praise and hope which were up-lifted on the shores of Delft
    Haven, in the hour of farewell between those who went and those who
    stayed, though the faith which inspired them was stanch, and the voices
    which chanted them musical and sweet, could not restrain the tears that
    flowed at the severing of ties which had been welded by exile, hardship,
    and persecution for conscience' sake; nor were the two "feasts" which
    comforted the bellies of the departing ones able to console their hearts.
    It is different with trips across the Atlantic nowadays: and different,
    likewise, are the motives which prompt them.

    The "Speedwell" turned back at Plymouth, England, and the "Mayflower"
    went on alone, with her company of one hundred and two, including women,
    some of whom were soon to be mothers. The Atlantic, though a good friend
    of theirs, was rough and boisterous in its manners, and tossed them on
    their way rudely; in that little cabin harrowing discomfort must have been
    undergone, and Christian forbearance sorely tried. The pitching and
    tossing lasted more than two months, from the 6th of September till the
    7th of December, when they sighted--not the Bay of New York, as they had
    intended, but the snow-covered sand mounds of Cape Cod. It was at best an
    inhospitable coast, and the time of their visit could not have been worse

    But indeed they were to be tested to the utmost; their experiences during
    that winter would have discouraged oak and iron; but it had no such effect
    upon these English men and women of flesh and blood. The New England
    winter climate has its reputation still; but these people were not fit for
    the encounter. They had been living in the moist mildness of Holland for
    thirteen years, and for more than sixty days had been penned in that
    stifling "Mayflower" cabin, seasick, bruised and sleepless. It sleeted,
    snowed, rained and froze, and they could find no place to get ashore on;
    their pinnace got stove, and the icy waves wet them to the marrow.
    Standish and some others made explorations on land; but found nothing
    better than some baskets of maize and a number of Indian graves buried in
    the snow-drifts. At last they stumbled upon a little harbor, upon which
    abutted a hollow between low hills, with an icebound stream descending
    through it to the sea. They must make shift with that or perish. It was
    the 21st of December.

    That date is inscribed on the front page of our history, and the Pilgrim
    Fathers and their wives and daughters are celebrated persons, though they
    were only a lot of English farmers in exile for heresy. But no dreams of
    renown visited them then; they had nothing to uphold them but their
    amazing faith. What that faith must have been their conduct demonstrates;
    but it is difficult to comprehend such a spirit; we remember all the
    persecutions, all the energy of new convictions, and still it seems
    miraculous. Liberty to think as they pleased, and to act upon their
    belief: that was all they had to fight with. It seems very thin armor, an
    ineffective sword: but what a victory they won!

    Before they disembarked, a meeting was held in the cabin for the
    transaction of certain business. Since then, whenever a handful of Yankees
    have been gathered together, it has been their instinct to organize and
    pass resolutions. It is the instinct of order and self-government, the
    putting of each man in his proper place, and assigning to him his
    function. This meeting of the Pilgrims was the prototype, and the
    resolutions they passed constitute the model upon which our commonwealth
    is based. They promised one another, in the presence of God, equal laws
    and fidelity to the general good: the principles of a free democracy.

    They disembarked on the flat bowlder known as Plymouth Rock and set to
    work to make their home. With the snow under their feet, the dark, naked
    woods hemming them in, and concealing they knew not what savage perils;
    with the bitter waves flinging frozen spray along the shore, and
    immitigable clouds lowering above them--memory may have drawn a picture of
    the quiet English vales in which they were born, or of the hazy Dutch
    levels, with the windmills swinging their arms slumberously above the
    still canals, and the clean streets and gabled façades of the prosperous
    Holland town which had sheltered and befriended them. They thought of
    faces they loved and would see no more, and of the secure and tranquil
    lives they might have led, but for that tooth of conscience at their
    hearts, which would give them peace only at the cost of almost all that
    humanity holds dear. Did any of them wish they had not come? did any doubt
    in his or her heart whether a cold abstraction was worth adopting in lieu
    of the great, warm, kindly world? Verily, not one!

    They got to work at their home-making without delay; but all were ill,
    and many were dying. That winter they put up with much labor a few log
    huts; but their chief industry was the digging of clams and of graves.
    Half of their number were buried before the summer, and there was not food
    enough for the rest to eat. John Carver, who had been elected governor at
    landing, died in April, having already lost his son. But those who did
    survive their first year lived long; it is wonder that they ever died at
    all, who could survive such an experience.

    Spring came, and with it a visitor. It was in March--not a salubrious
    month in New England; but the trees were beginning to pat out brown buds
    with green or red tips, and grass and shrubs were sprouting in sheltered
    places, though snow still lay in spots where sunshine could not fall. The
    trailing arbutus could be found here and there, with a perfume that all
    the cruelty of winter seemed to have made only more sweet. Birds were
    singing, too, and the settlers had listened to them with joy; they had
    gone near to forget that God had made birds. On some days, from the south,
    came the breathing of soft, fragrant airs; and there were breadths of blue
    in the sky that looked as if so fresh and tender a hue must have been just

    The men, in thick jerkins, heavy boots, and sugarloaf hats, were busy
    about the clearing; some, like Miles Standish, wore a steel plate over
    their breasts, and kept their matchlocks within reach, for though a
    pestilence had exterminated the local Indians before they came, and, with
    the exception of one momentary skirmish, in which no harm was done,
    nothing had been seen or heard of the red men--still it was known that
    Indians existed, and it was taken for granted that they would be hostile.
    Meanwhile the women, in homespun frocks and jackets, with kerchiefs round
    their shoulders, and faces in which some trace of the English ruddiness
    had begun to return, sat spinning in the doorways of the huts, keeping an
    eye on the kettles of Indian meal. The morning sunlight fell upon a scene
    which, for the first time, seemed homelike: not like the lost homes in
    England, but a place people could live human lives in, and grow fond of.
    The hope of spring was with them.

    All at once, down the forest glade, treading noiselessly on moccasined
    feet, came a tall, wild, unfamiliar figure, with feathers in his black
    hair, and black eyes gleaming above his high cheekbones. An Indian, at
    last! He had come so silently that he had emerged from the shadow of the
    forest and was almost amid them before he was seen. Some of the settlers,
    perhaps, felt a momentary tightening round the heart; for though we are
    always in the hollow of God's hand, there are times when we are surprised
    into forgetfulness of that security, and are concerned about carnal
    perils. Captain Standish, who had taken a flying shot at some of these
    heathen four or five months ago, caught up a loaded musket leaning against
    the corner of a hut, and stood on his guard, doubting that more of the
    savages were lurking behind the trees. He had even thus early in American
    history come to the view long afterward formulated in the epigram that the
    only good Indians are the dead ones.

    But the keen, spare savage made no hostile demonstration; he paused
    before the captain, with the dignity of his race, and held out his empty
    hands. And then, to the vast astonishment of Standish and of the others
    who had gathered to his support, he opened his mouth and spoke English:
    "Welcome, Englishmen!" said he. They must have fancied, for an instant,
    that the Lord had wrought a special miracle for them, in bestowing upon
    this native of the primeval forest the gift of tongues.

    There was, however, nothing miraculous about Samoset, who had picked up
    his linguistic accomplishment, such as it was, from a fellow savage who
    had been kidnapped and taken to England, whom he afterward introduced to
    the colony, where he made himself useful. Samoset's present business was
    as embassador from the great chief and sachem, Massasoit, lord of
    everything thereabout, who sent friendly greetings, and would be pleased
    to confer with the new comers, at their convenience, and arrange an

    These were good words, and they must have taken a weight from every heart
    there; not only the dread of immediate attack, but the omnipresent and
    abiding anxiety that the time would come when they would have to fight for
    their lives, and defend the persecuted church of the Lord against foes who
    knew nothing of conformist or nonconformist, but who were as proficient as
    Queen Mary herself in the use of fire and torture. These misgivings might
    now be dismissed; if the ruler of so many tribes was willing to stand
    their friend, who should harm them? So they all gathered round Samoset on
    that sunny spring morning; the women observing curiously and in silence
    his strange aspect and gestures, and occasionally exchanging glances with
    one another at some turn of the talk; while the sturdy Miles, and Governor
    Carver, pale with illness which within a month reunited him with the son
    he had loved, and Elder Brewster, with his serious mien, and Bradford, who
    was to succeed Carver, with his strong, authoritative features and
    thoughtful forehead;--these and more than a score more of the brethren
    stood eying their visitor, questioning him earnestly and trying to make
    out his meaning from his imperfect English gruntings. And they spoke one
    to another of the action that should be taken on his message, or commented
    with pious exclamations on the mercy of the Lord in thus raising up for
    them protectors even in the wilderness. Meanwhile a chipmunk flitted along
    the bole of a fallen tree, a thrush chirped in the brake, a deer, passing
    airy-footed across an opening in the forest, looked an instant and then
    turned and plunged fleetly away amid the boughs, and a lean-bellied wolf,
    prospecting for himself and his friends, stuck his sinister snout through
    a clump of underbrush, and curled his lips above the long row of his white
    teeth in an ugly grin. This friendship boded no good to him.

    The coming of Samoset was followed after a while by the introduction of
    Squanto, the worthy savage who had enjoyed the refining influences of
    distant England, whose services as interpreter were of much value in that
    juncture; and after a short time Massasoit himself accepted the settlers'
    invitation to become their guest during the making of the treaty. He was
    received with becoming honor; the diplomatists proceeded at once to
    business, and before twilight the state paper had been drawn up, signed
    and sealed. Its provisions ran that both parties were to abstain from
    harming each other, were to observe an offensive and defensive alliance,
    and to deliver up offenders. These terms were religiously kept for half a
    century; by which time the colonists were able to take care of themselves.
    Its good effects were illustrated in the case of the chief Canonicus, who
    was disposed to pick a quarrel with the Englishmen, and sent them, as a
    symbol of his attitude, a rattlesnake's skin wrapped round a sheaf of
    arrows. Bradford, to indicate that he also understood the language of
    emblems, sent the skin back stuffed with powder and bullets. Canonicus
    seems to have fancied that these substances were capable of destroying him
    spontaneously, and returned them with pacific assurances. Such weapons,
    combined with the alliance, were too much for him. Canonicus was chief of
    the Narragansetts; Massasoit, of the Wampanoags. In 1676 the son of
    Massasoit, for some fancied slight, made war upon the settlers, and the
    Narragansetts helped him; in this war, known as King Philip's, the
    settlers suffered severely, though they were victorious. But had it come
    during the early years of their sojourn, not one of them would have
    survived, and New England might never have become what she is now.

    Meantime the Pilgrims, pilgrims no longer, settled down to make the
    wilderness blossom as the rose. At their first landing they had agreed,
    like the colonists of Virginia, to own their land and work it in common;
    but they were much quicker than the Jamestown folk to perceive the
    inexpediency of this plan, and reformed it by giving each man or family a
    private plot of ground. Agriculture then developed so rapidly that corn
    enough was raised to supply the Indians as well as the English; and the
    importation of neat cattle increased the home look as well as the
    prosperity of the farms. There was also a valuable trade in furs, which
    stimulated an abortive attempt at rivalry. None could compete with the
    Pilgrims on their own ground; for were they not growing up with the
    country, and the Lord--was He not with them? More troublesome than this
    effort of Weston was the obstruction of the Company in England, and its
    usurious practices; the colonists finally bought them out, and relied
    henceforth wholly on themselves, with the best results. As years went by
    their numbers increased, though but slowly. They did not invite the
    co-operation of persons not of their way of thinking, and the world was
    never over-supplied with Separatists. On the other hand, they were active
    and full of enterprise, and sent out branches in all directions, which
    shared the vitality of the parent stock. Every man of them was trained to
    self-government, and where he went order and equity accompanied him. A
    purer democracy could not be framed; for years the elections were made by
    the entire body of the assembled citizens; His Dread Majesty, King James,
    never sent them his royal Charter, but the charter provided by their own
    love of justice and solid good sense served them far better. Their
    governors were responsible directly to the people, and were further
    restrained by a council of seven members. This political basis is that
    upon which our present form of government rests; but it is strange to see
    what Daedalian complications, and wheels within wheels, we have contrived
    to work into the superstructure. A modern ward heeler in New York could
    have taken up the whole frame of government in Seventeenth Century New
    England by the butt end, and cracked it like a whip--provided of course the
    Pilgrim fathers had allowed him to attend the primaries.

    But it is more probable that the ward heeler would have found himself
    promptly in the presence of one of those terrific magistrates whose grim
    decrees gave New England naughty children the nightmare a century after
    the stern-browed promulgators of them were dust. The early laws against
    crime in New England were severe, though death was seldom or never
    inflicted save for murder. But more irksome to one used to the lax habits
    of to-day would have been the punctilious rigidity with which they guarded
    the personal bearing, speech, and dress of the members of their community.
    Yet we may thank them for having done so; it was a wise precaution; they
    knew the frailties of the flesh, and how easily license takes an ell if an
    inch be given it. Nothing less iron than was their self-restraint could
    have provided material stanch enough to build up the framework of our
    nation. One might not have enjoyed living with them; but we may be
    heartily glad that they lived; and we should be the better off if more of
    their stamp were alive still.

    But these iron people had their tender and sentimental side as well, and
    the self-command which they habitually exercised made the softening, when
    it came, the more beautiful. One of the love romances of this little
    colony has come down to us, and may be taken as the substantial truth; it
    has entered into our literature and poetry, and touches us more nearly
    even than the tale of Pocahontas. Its telling by our most popular poet has
    brought it to the knowledge of a greater circle of readers than it could
    otherwise have reached; but the elaboration of his treatment could add
    nothing to the human charm of it, or sharpen our conception of the leading
    characters in the drama. Miles Standish had been a soldier in the
    Netherlands before joining the Pilgrims, and to him they gave the military
    guardianship of the colony, with the title of captain. He was then about
    thirty-six years of age, a bluff, straightforward soldier, whom a life of
    hardship had made older than his years. He had known little of women's
    society, but during the long voyage he came to love Priscilla Mullens, and
    when the spring came to the survivors at Plymouth, he wished to marry her.
    But he would not trust, as Othello did, to the simple art of a soldier to
    woo her; and Priscilla was probably no Desdemona. But there was a youth
    among the colonists, just come of age, whom Standish had liked and
    befriended, and who, though a cooper and ship-carpenter by trade, was
    gifted with what seemed to Standish especial graces of person and speech.
    Alden had not been one of the original pilgrims; he had been hired to
    repair the "Mayflower" while she lay at Southampton, and decided to sail
    on her when she sailed; perhaps with the hope of making his fortune in the
    new world, perhaps because he wished to go where Priscilla went. She was a
    girl whom any man might rejoice to make his wife; vigorous and wholesome
    as well as comely, and endowed with a strong character, sweetened by a
    touch of humor. John had never spoken to her of his love, any more than
    Miles had; whether Priscilla's clear eyes had divined it, we know not; but
    it is likely that she saw through the cooper and the soldier both.

    The honest soldier was a fool, and saw nothing but Priscilla, and felt
    nothing but his love for her. He took John Alden by the arm, and, leading
    him apart into the forest, proposed to him to go to young Mistress Mullens
    and ask her if she would become the wife of Captain Standish. Alden was
    honest, too; but he was dominated by his older friend, and lacked the
    courage to tell him that he had hoped for Priscilla for himself; he let
    the critical moment for this explanation pass, and then there was nothing
    for it but to accept the Captain's commission. We can imagine how this
    situation would be handled by the analytic novelists of our day; how they
    would spread Alden's heart and conscience out on paper, and dry them, and
    pick them to pieces. The young fellow certainly had a hard thing to do; he
    must tread down his own passion, and win the girl for his rival into the
    bargain. To her he went, and spoke. But the only way he could spur himself
    to eloquence was to imagine that he was Standish, and then woo her as he
    would have done had Standish been he.

    Maidens of rounded nature, like Priscilla, pay less attention to what a
    man says than to the tones of his voice, the look in his eyes, and his
    unconscious movements. As Alden warmed to his work, she glanced at him
    occasionally, and not only wished that Heaven had made her such a man, but
    decided that it had. So, when the youth had finished off an ardent
    peroration, in which the Captain was made to appear in a guise of heroic
    gallantry that did not suit him in the least, but which was the best John
    could do for him: there was a pause, while the vicarious wooer wiped his
    brow, and felt very miserable, remembering that if she yielded, it would
    be to Miles and not to him. She divined what was in his mind, and sent him
    to Heaven with one of the womanliest and loveliest things that ever woman
    said to man: "Why don't you speak for yourself, John?" she asked, gazing
    straight at him, with a quiver of her lips that was half humor and half
    the promise of tears.

    John still had before him a bad quarter of an hour with the Captain; it
    was as hard to make him understand that he had not played the traitor to
    him as it had been to persuade Priscilla to do what she had not done; but
    the affair ended without a tragedy, which would have spoiled it. Captain
    Standish, when Priscilla married, went to live in Duxbury; and a year or
    two later worked off his spleen by slaying the Indian rascals who were
    plotting to murder the Weston settlers at Weymouth. He and his men did not
    wait for the savages to strike the first blow; they made no pretense of
    exhausting all the resources of diplomacy before proceeding to
    extremities. They walked up to the enemy, suddenly seized them by the
    throat, and drove the knives which the Indians themselves wore through
    their false hearts. There was no more trouble from Indians in that region
    for a long time; and Captain Standish's feelings were greatly relieved. As
    for John and Priscilla, they lived long and prospered, John attaining the
    age of eighty-seven, which indicates domestic felicity. They had issue,
    and their descendants live among us to this day in comfort and honor.

    King James, like other spiteful and weak men, had a long memory, and amid
    the many things that engaged his attention he did not forget the colonists
    of Plymouth, who had exiled themselves without a charter from him. In the
    same year which witnessed their disembarkation at Plymouth Rock, he
    incorporated a company consisting of friends of his own, and gave them a
    tract of country between the fortieth and the forty-eighth parallels of
    north latitude, which of course included the Plymouth colony. In addition
    to all other possible rights and privileges, it had the monopoly of the
    fisheries of the coast, and it was from this that revenue was most
    certainly expected, since it was proposed to lay a tax on all tonnage
    engaged in it. All the new company had to do was to grant charters to all
    who might apply, and reap the profits. But the scheme was fated to
    miscarry, because the pretense of colonization behind it was impotent, and
    the true object in view was the old one of getting everything that could
    be secured out of the country, and putting nothing into it. The fisheries
    monopoly was powerfully opposed in Parliament and finally defeated; small
    sporadic settlements, with no sound principle or purpose within them,
    appeared and disappeared along the coast from Massachusetts to the
    northern borders of Maine. One grant conflicted with another, titles were
    in dispute, and lawsuits were rife. The king sanctioned whatever injustice
    or restriction his company proposed, but his decrees, many of them
    illegal, were ineffective, and produced only confusion. Agriculture was
    hardly attempted in any of the little settlements authorized by the
    company, and the only trade pursued was in furs and fishes. The rights of
    the Indians were wholly disregarded, and the domain of the French at the
    north was infringed upon. All this while the Pilgrims continued their
    industries and maintained their democracy, undisturbed by the feeble
    machinations of the king; and in 1625 the death of the latter temporarily
    cleared the air. Charles affixed his seal to the famous Massachusetts
    Charter four years later; and though Gorges and some others continued to
    harass New England for some time longer, the plan of colonizing by
    fisheries was hopelessly discredited, and the development of civil and
    religious liberties among the serious colonists was assured.

    The experiments thus far made in dealing with the new country had had a
    significant result. The Plymouth colony, going out with neither charter
    nor patronage, and with the purpose not of finding gold or making
    fortunes, but of establishing a home wherein to dwell in perpetuity--which
    was handicapped by the abject poverty of its members, and by the
    severities of a climate till then unknown--this enterprise was found to
    hold the elements of success from the start, and it steadily increased in
    power and influence. It suffered from time to time from the tyranny of
    royal governors and the ignorance or malice of absentee statesmanship; but
    nothing could extinguish or corrupt it; on the contrary, it went "slowly
    broadening down, from precedent to precedent," until, when the moment of
    supreme trial came to the Thirteen Colonies, the descendants of the
    Pilgrims and the Puritans, and the men who had absorbed their ideas, put
    New England in the van of patriotism and progress. It is a noble record,
    and a pregnant example to all friends of freedom.

    In suggestive contrast with this was the Jamestown enterprise. As we have
    seen, this colony was saved from almost immediate extinction solely by the
    genius and energy of one man, whom his fellow members had at first tried
    to exclude altogether from their councils and companionship. Belonging to
    a class socially higher and presumably more intelligent than the Pilgrims,
    and continually furnished with supplies from the Company in England, they
    were unable during twelve years to make any independent stand against
    disaster. In a climate which was as salubrious as that of New England was
    rigorous, and with a soil as fertile as any in the world, they dwindled
    and starved, and their dearest wish was to return to England. They were
    saved at last (as we shall presently see) by two things; first, by the
    discovery of the value of tobacco as an export, and of its usefulness as a
    currency for the internal trade of the country; and secondly, and much
    more, by the Charter of 1618, which gave the people the privilege of
    helping to make their own laws. That year marked the beginning of civil
    liberty in America; but what it had taken the Jamestown colonists twelve
    weary and disastrous years to attain, was claimed by the pious farmers of
    Plymouth before ever they set foot on Forefather's Rock. Willingness to
    labor, zeal for the common welfare, indifference to wealth, independence,
    moral and religious integrity and fervor--these were some of the traits and
    virtues whose cultivation made the Pilgrims prosperous, and the neglect or
    lack of which discomfited the Virginia settlers. The latter, man for man,
    were by nature as capable as the former of profiting by right conditions
    and training; and as soon as they obtained them they showed favorable
    results. But in the meantime the lesson was driven home that a virgin
    country cannot be subdued and rendered productive by selfish and unjust
    procedure: a homely and hackneyed lesson, but one which can never be too
    often quoted, since each fresh generation must buy its own experience, and
    it often happens that a situation essentially old assumes a novel aspect,
    owing to external modifications of time and place.

    The Plymouth Colony, after remaining long separate and self-supporting,
    consented to a union with the larger and richer settlements of
    Massachusetts. The charter secured by the latter, and the manner in which
    it was administered, were alike remarkable. The granting of it was
    facilitated by the threatened encroachments of other than Englishmen upon
    the New England domain; it was represented to Charles that it was
    necessary to be beforehand with these gentry, if they were to be
    restrained. Charles was on the verge of that rupture with law and order in
    his own realm which culminated in his dismissal of Parliament, and for ten
    years attempting the task of governing England without it. He approved the
    charter without adequately realizing the full breadth and pregnancy of its
    provisions, which, in effect, secured civil and ecclesiastical
    emancipation to the settlers under it. But what was quite as important was
    the consideration that it went into effect at a time incomparably
    favorable to its success. The Plymouth colony had proved that a godly and
    self-denying community could flourish in the wilderness, in the enjoyment
    of spiritual blessings unattainable at home. The power of English prelacy
    did not extend beyond the borders of England: idolatrous ceremonies could
    be eschewed in Massachusetts without fear of persecution. Thousands of
    Puritans were prepared to give up their homes for the sake of liberty, and
    only waited assurance that it could be obtained. The condition of society
    and education in England was vicious and corrupt; and though it might
    become brave and true men to suffer persecution in witness of their faith,
    yet there was danger that their children might be induced to fall away
    from the truth, after they were gone. Martyrdom was well, but it must not
    be allowed to such an extreme as to extirpate the proclaimers of the
    truth. Many of those who were prepared to take advantage of the charter
    were of the best stock in England, men of brains and substance as well as
    piety; graduates of the Universities, country gentlemen, men of the world
    and of affairs. A colony made of such elements would be a new thing in the
    earth; it would comprise all that was strong and wise in human society,
    and would exclude every germ of weakness and frailty. The sealing of the
    charter was like the touching of the electric button which, in our day,
    sets in motion for the first time a vast mechanical system, or fires a
    simultaneous salute of guns in a hundred cities. King Charles I., who was
    to lose his anointed head on the block because he tried to crush popular
    liberty in England, was the immediate human instrument of giving the
    purest form of such liberty to English exiles beyond the sea.

    The charter constituted an organization called the Governor and Company
    of Massachusetts Bay in New England. The governor, annually elected by the
    members, was assisted by a deputy and assistants, and was to call a
    business meeting monthly or oftener, and in addition was to preside four
    times a year at an assembly of the whole body of the freemen, to make laws
    and determine appointments. Freedom of Puritan worship was assured, in
    part explicitly, in part tacitly. The king had no direct relation with
    their proceedings, beyond the general and vague claims of royal
    prerogative; and it was an open question whether Parliament had the power
    to override the authority of the patentees.

    It will be seen that this charter was in no respect inharmonious with the
    system of self-government which had grown up among the Plymouth colonists;
    it was a more complete and definite formulation of principles which must
    ever be supported by men who wish so to live as to obtain the highest
    social and religious welfare. It was the stately flowering of a seed
    already obscurely planted, and though it was to be now and again checked
    in its development, would finally bear the fruit of the Tree of Life.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 3
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Julian Hawthorne essay and need some advice, post your Julian Hawthorne essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Want to read

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?