Building a New Home

WITH the coming of spring, 1621 , Bradford gratefully recorded, “it pleased God the mortality began to cease among them, and the sick recovered apace which put new life into them all, though they had borne their sad afflictions with as much patience and contented­ness as I think any people could do. But it was the Lord who upheld them, and had beforehand prepared them, many having long borne the yoke, yea, even from their youth (196).”

On 5th April the time had come for the empty and undermanned Mayflower to sail home to England. Bradford explained that the reason, on their part, why she had stayed so long, was the necessity and danger they were under. It was well toward the end of Decem­ber before she could land anything ashore. And after that on the 14th January, the house they had built for a general rendezvous accidentally caught fire, and some of them had to go aboard the ship for shelter.

“Then the sickness began to fall among them sorely, and the weather was so bad that they could not hasten their preparations. Again the Governor and the chief members, seeing so many fall sick and die daily, thought it unwise to send the ship away, con­sidering their condition and the danger they were in from the Indians, till they could procure some shelter; and therefore thought it better to incur further expense for themselves and their friends than to risk everything (197).”

Captain Jones would have liked to sail away sooner, but “though before, the captain and sailors had hurried the passengers ashore, so that they could be gone; now many of the crew being dead and some of the ablest of them—and of the rest many lay sick and weak, the captain did not dare put to sea till he saw them begin to recover, and the heart of winter over (198).” Christopher Jones died in England in March, 1622. The Mayflower itself was broken up two years later.

Soon after the Mayflower had departed the Colony’s first Governor suddenly died: “This April, while they were busy sowing their seed, their Governor Mr. John Carver one hot day came out of the field very sick. He complained greatly of his head and lay down, and within a few hours his senses failed. He never spoke again, and died a few days after. His death was much lamented and depressed them deeply, with good cause. He was buried in the best manner possible, with some volleys of shot by all that bore arms; and his wife, a weak woman, died five or six weeks after him (199).” Carver was fifty-four.

He was succeeded in office by William Bradford. “Shortly after, William Bradford was chosen governor in his stead, and having not yet recovered from his illness, in which he had been near the point of death, Isaac Allerton was appointed assistant to him. These two by renewed election each year continued several years together (2.00).” Elected at the age of thirty-one, William Bradford was destined to remain Governor of the Plymouth Colony for thirty-three years.

Times were still hard for the Colony when Bradford assumed its leadership, and much of its later success was due to his efforts. This was recognized by the Pilgrims who gratefully re-elected him year after year. This is how his Puritan biographer, Cotton Mather,. put it: “The Leader of a people in a wilderness had need to be a Moses; and if a Moses had not led the people of Plymouth Colony when this worthy person was their Governor, the people had never with so much unanimity and importunity still called him to lead them (201).”

On 12th May; 1621, the first marriage took place in New Ply­mouth. It was not a religious ceremony, but a brief civil one as the Pilgrims had known in Holland. “According to the laudable custom of the Low Countries in which they had lived, it was thought proper for the magistrate to perform, as .a civil institution upon which many questions about inheritances depend, and other things requiring their cognizance, as well as being consonant with the scriptures (Ruth, iv), and nowhere mentioned in the. gospels as a part of .the minister’s duty (202).”

In June the settlers decided to send a small party to make a formal visit to Masasoit and his tribe: “it seemed good to the Company, for many considerations, to send some amongst them to Massasoyt, the greatest commander amongst the savages bordering about us: partly to know where to find them, if occasion served; as also to see their strength, discover the country, prevent abuses in their dis­orderly coming to us, make satisfaction for some conceived injuries to be done on our parts, and to continue the league of peace and friendship between them and us (203).”

They brought more gifts for the chief, together with a message: “For these, and the like, ends; it pleased the Governor to make choice of Stephen Hopkins and Edward Winslow togo unto him. And having a fit opportunity by reason of a savage called Tisquantum that could speak English, coming unto us, with all expedition we provided a horseman’s coat of red cotton and laced with a slight lace for a present; that both they and their message might be the more acceptable amongst them (204).”

In the message, they said that although they were very pleased to see him at the settlement, they lacked food enough to feed him and his followers: “Whereas his people came very often, and very many together, to us; bringing for the most part their wives and children with them, they were welcome. Yet (we being but strangers as yet at Patuxet alias New Plymouth, and not knowing how our corn might prosper) we could no longer give them such entertain­ment as we had done, and as we desired still to do. Yet if he would be pleased to come himself, or if any special friend of his desired to see us, coming from him, they should be welcome.

“And to the end we might know them from others, our Governor had sent him a copper chain, desiring if any messenger should come from him to us we might know him by his bringing it with him, and hearken and give credit to his message accordingly. Also requesting him that such as have skins should bring them to us, and that he would hinder the multitude from oppressing us with them­selves (205).”

For three days, Hopkins, Winslow and the Indian Tisquantum tramped through the heat, occasionally meeting Indians, as on the last day: “After, we met another man with other two women; which had been at a rendezvous by the salt water; and their baskets were full of roasted crab fishes and other dried shellfish. Of which they gave us, and we ate and drank with them: and gave each of the women a string of beads and departed (206).”

When the little party reached Masasoit’s camp on Wednesday, 4th July, the Indian welcomed them and was delighted at the gifts they bore: “Massasoyt being come we discharged our pieces and saluted him: who (after their manner) kindly welcomed us, and took us into his house, and set us down by him. Where, having delivered our foresaid message and presents and he having put the coat on his back and the chain about his neck, he was not a little proud to behold himself, and his men also to see their King, so bravely attired (207).”

Masasoit understood their message and promised them some seed-corn: “For answer to our message, he told us we were welcome and he would gladly continue that peace and friendship which was between him and us; and for his men, they should no more pester us as they had done. Also that he would send to Paomet [Pamet] and would help us with corn for seed according to our request (208).”  The lack of seed corn had become an acute problem for the colonists.

Masasoit gave them some tobacco and talked at length, but his visitors received no food, a” Ithough they felt very hungry and tired: “This being ended he lighted tobacco for us, and fell to discoursing of England and of the King’s Majesty, marvelling that he would live without a wife [Queen Anne died in 1619]. Also he talked of the Frenchmen bidding us not to suffer them to come to Narrohiganset [Narragansett], for it wasKing James his country, and he was King James his man. Late it grew, but victuals he offered none, for indeed he had not any, it being he came so newly home. So we desired to go to rest (209).”)

The supperless guests went to bed in a very overcrowded wigwam. Chief Masasoit “laid us on the bed with himself and his wife; they at one end and we at the other: it being only planks laid a foot from the ground, and a thin mat upon them. Two more of his chief men, for want of room pressed by and upon us, so that we were worse weary of our lodging than of our journey (210).”

On the following morning, Thursday 5th July, Hopkins and Winslow displayed the power of their muskets, which greatly astonished the Indian braves: “Many of their Sachems or petty Governors came to see us and many of their men also. There they went to their manner of games for skins and knives. There we challenged them to shoot with them for skins, but they durst not. Only they desired to see one of us shoot at a mark: who shooting with hail shot [bird shot] they wondered to see the mark so full of holes (211).”

At about one o’clock the visitors ate their only meal in seventy-two hours: “Massasoyt brought two fishes that he had shot. They were like bream but three times so big, and better meat. These being broiles, there were at least forty that looked for share in them. The

most eat of them. This meal only we had in two nights and a day and

had not one of us bought a partridge, we had taken our journey fasting (212).”

Masasoit urged them to stay longer at Sowams, but as Winslow later reported, they had not enjoyed their stay with the Indians:

“Very importunate he was, to have us stay with him longer: but we desired to keep the Sabbath at home; and feared we should be lightheaded for want of sleep. For what with bad lodgings, the savages’ barbarous singing, for they use to sing themselves asleep, lice and fleas within doors, and muskeetoes without: we much feared that if we should stay any longer, we should not be able to recover home for want of strength (213).”

When two friendly Indians, Squanto and Hobbamok, who had gone to visit Masasoit were threatened by a lesser chief (Corbitant) William Bradford decided to rescue them. The Pilgrims’ “peace and acquaintance was pretty well established with the natives about them. Another Indian called Hobbamok came to live with them, a fine strong man, of some account amongst the Indians for his valour and qualities. He remained very faithful to the English till he died. He and Squanto having gone upon business among the Indians, a Sachem called Corbitant, allied to Massasoyt but never agood friend to the English to this day, met with them at an Indian town called Namassakett, fourteen miles west of this; and whether out of envy of them or malice to the English began to quarrel with them and threatened to stab Hobbamok.

“But he being a strong man cleared himself of him, and came running away all sweating, and told the Governor what had befallen him, and that he feared they had killed Squanto, for they threatened them both, for no other reason than that they were friends to the English and serviceable to them. The Governor taking counsel, it was decided not to pass it over, for if they allowed their friends and messengers to be harmed, none would associate with them or give them intelligence or do them service afterwards; and next thing the Indians would fall upon them, too (214).”

Captain Standish set out to deal with Corbitant, accompanied by “fourteen men, well armed, and to go and fall upon them in the night; and if they found that Squanto was killed, to cut off Corbitant’s head, but not to hurt any but those who had a hand in

  1. Hobbamok was asked if he would go and be their guide, and

bring them there before day. He said he would, and could show them the house where Corbitant lived, and which he was (215).”

Corbitant was not to be found in his wigwam. But the threat of action by Standish and his men was enough to intimidate the other Indians and prevent any rising against the settlers: “They set forth on the 14th of August, and surrounded the house, and the Captain, giving orders to let none escape, entered to search for him. But he had gone away that day; so they missed him, but learned that Squanto was alive, and that Corbitant had only threatened to kill him, and made as if to stab him, but did not. So they withheld their punishment, and did not more harm; and the people came trembling and brought them the best provisions they had when they had been acquainted by Hobbamok with their purpose (216).”

The colonists toiled hard that summer at building and farming. Writing home to England two weeks before Christmas, Winslow recounted their progress in erecting homes and store-houses during their first year in America : “You shall understand that in this little time that a few of us have been here, we have built seven dwelling houses; and four for the use of the Plantation: and have made preparations for divers others (217).”

Their first harvest, added Winslow, had been quite a successful one: “We set last Spring some twenty acres of Indian corn, and sowed some six acres of barley and pease: and according to the’ manner of the Indians we manured our ground with herrings, or rather shads which we have in great abundance, and take with great ease at our doors. Our corn did prove well and—God be praised! — we had a good increase of Indian corn; and our barley indifferent good. But our pease were not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown. They came up very well and blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom (218).”

When the harvest was gathered in, William Bradford arranged a day of thanksgiving like the harvest festival the Colonists had known in England. Sadly, only sixty of the original colonists had survived the first year. This was America’s first Thanksgiving Day, which Abraham Lincoln later established as a national holiday in the United States, held each year on the last Thursday in November.

“Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labours. They, four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help besides, served the Company almost a week. At which time, amongst other re­creations, we exercised our arms [drilled] many of the Indians coming amongst us (219).”

Masasoit and his braves were entertained during the celebrations, and made their own contribution to the festivities: “And amongst the rest their greatest King, Massasoyt, with some ninety men; whom for three days we entertained and feasted. And they went out and killed five deer which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain [Miles Standish] and others (220).” The noisy festivities continued for three days.

When the Thanksgiving was over, the Pilgrims began to prepare for their second winter. The prospects were better than they had been the year before: “They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to prepare their houses for the winter, being well recovered in health and strength and plentifully provisioned; for while some had been thus employed in affairs away from home,

others were occupied in fishing for cod, bass and other fish of

which they caught a good quantity, every family having their portion. All the summer there was no want.

“And now, as winter approached, wild fowl began to arrive, of which there were plenty when they came here first, though afterwards they became more scarce. As well as wild fowl they got abundance of wild turkeys, besides venison, etc. Each person had about a pack of meal a week, or now, since harvest, Indian corn in that proportion; and afterwards many wrote at length about their plenty to their friends in England, not feigned but true reports (221).”

By now, Edward Winslow wrote, the settlers were discovering how much food the land might yield them: “For fish and fowl we have great abundance. Fresh cod in the summer is but coarse meat with us. Our Bay is full of lobsters all the summer, and affordeth variety of other fish. In September we can take a hogshead of eels in a night with small labour, and can dig them out of their beds. All the winter we have mussels and othus [clams] at our doors. Oysters we have none near: but we can have them brought by the Indians when we will.

“All the springtime, the earth sendeth forth naturally very good sallet herbs [salad vegetables]. Here are grapes, white and red, and very sweet and strong also; strawberries, gooseberries, raspas [raspberries] &c.; plums of three sorts, white, black and red, • being almost as good as a damson: abundance of roses, red, white, and damask; single but very sweet indeed (222).”

Despite the first severe winter, Winslow did not consider the climate unduly hard. “For the temper of the air here, it agreeth well with that in England: and if there be any different at all, this is somewhat hotter in summer. Some think it to be colder in winter, but I cannot out of experience so say. The air is very clear and not foggy as hath been reported. I never in thy life remember a more seasonable year than we have here enjoyed, and if we have once but kine, horses and sheep I make no question but men might live as contented here as in any part of the world (223).”

In a letter Winslow urged more people to sail from England to join the new Colony: “The country wanteth only industrious men to employ. For it would grieve your hearts if you had seen so many miles together, by good rivers, uninhabited: and withal to consider those parts of the world wherein you live to be even greatly bur­dened with abundance of people (224).”

Meanwhile, before the end of 1621, a fifty-five ton ship called the Fortune had anchored in the bay, bringing a band of new settlers.

The newcomers were not encouraged by what they saw: “In Novem­ber, about twelve months after their arrival, there came a small ship unexpectedly, bringing Mr. Cushman . . . and with him thirty-five persons to remain and live in the plantation; at which they rejoiced not a little. And the new arrivals, when they came ashore and found all well, and saw plenty of victuals in every house, were no less glad. Most of them were healthy young men, many of them wild enough; who had little considered what they were under­taking—till they reached the harbour of Cape Cod, and there saw nothing but a naked and barren place.

“They then began to wonder what would become of them should the people here be dead, or cut off by the Indians. So hearing what some of the sailors were saying, they began to plot to seize the sails lest the ship should go and leave them there. But the captain hearing of it gave them good words, and told them that if any mis­fortune should have befallen the people here, he thought he had food enough to take them to Virginia, and whilst he had a bit, they should have their share; which satisfied them (225).” The thirty settlers who stepped ashore from the Fortune included Philip de la Noye, a forbear of President F. D. Roosevelt.

The Pilgrims, too, were disappointed. The new arrivals had failed to bring provisions with them. “They brought not so much as biscuit-cake, or any other victuals with them, nor any bedding, except some poor things they had in their cabins; nor pot nor pan to cook any food in; nor many clothes, for many of them had sold their coats and cloaks at Plymouth on their way out. But some birching-lane suits were sent over in the ship, out of which they were supplied. The plantation was glad of this addition of strength, but could have wished that many of them had been of better class, and all of them better furnished with provisions; but that could not now be helped (226).” (Birching-lane suits were ready-made clothes, as sold in Birching Lane, London.)

The Fortune sailed away within a fortnight, loaded with the Plymouth Colony’s first exports to England. The cargo contained “good clapboard, as full as she could stow, and two hogsheads of beaver and otter skins which they had traded in exchange for a few trifling commodities brought with them at first, being otherwise altogether unprovided for trading. Nor was there a man among them who had ever seen a beaver skin till they came out, and were instructed by Squanto. The freight was estimated to be worth £500. Mr. Cushman returned with the ship (227).” Unfortunately, the Fortune was destined to be captured a few weeks later by a French privateer in the English Channel.

The arrival of thirty new settlers placed a severe strain on the Colony’s slender winter resources. “After the departure of this ship, which did not stay above fourteen days, the Governor and his assistant having disposed the new arrivals among several families, as best they ëould, took an exact account of all their provisions in store, and proportioned the same to the number of persons, and found that it would not hold out above six months at half allowance, and hardly that. They could not well give less this winter till fish came in again. So they were Ipresently put on half allowance, one as well as another. It became irksome, but they bore it patiently, hoping to receive fresh supplies (228).”

Soon after the Fortune had sailed, a tribe across Narrangansett Bay, who were enemies of Chief Masasoit’s tribe, threatened the settlers: “The great Narragansett tribe, in a braving manner, sent a messenger to them with a bundle of arrows tied about with a great snake skin, which their interpreters told them was a threatening challenge. Upon which the Governor, with the advice of the others, sent them a round answer that if they would rather have war than peace, they might begin when they could; they had done them no wrong, neither did they fear them, nor would they find them un­prepared. They sent the snake skin back by another messenger with bullets in it; but they would not receive it, and returned it again (229).99

This incident “made the settlers more careful to look to them­selves. They agreed to enclose their dwellings in a good strong stockade and make flankers in convenient places, with gates to shut. These they locked every night, and a watch was kept, and when need required there were also outposts in the day-time. The Colonists, at the Captain’s and Governor’s advice, were divided into four squadrons, and every one had his quarter appointed to which to repair at any sudden alarm. And in case of fire, a company with muskets was appointed as a guard to prevent Indian treachery, whilst the others quenched it. This was accomplished very cheerfully, and the town was enclosed by the beginning of March, every family having a pretty garden plot (230).”

After all the strains and difficulties of these months, the year ended with a dispute between the Puritans and the rest as to how they should celebrate their second Christmas (1621): “The Governor called the people out to work as usual; but most of the new com­pany excused themselves, and said it went against their consciences to work on that day. So the Governor told them, if they made it a matter of conscience, he would spare them till they were better informed. So he went with the rest, and left them.

“But on returning from work at noon he found them at play in the street, some pitching the bar, some at stool ball and such like sports. So he went to them and took away their games, and told them that it was against his conscience that they should play and others work. If they made the keeping of the day a matter of devotion, let them remain in their houses. But there should be no gaming and revelling in the streets (231).”

Many of these who had disembarked from the Fortune a few weeks before disliked the Pilgrims’ endless psalm-singing, and did not share many of their Puritan belieTs. Moral disputes were to be a continuing thorn in the side of the Plymouth Colony.