Eyes on America

WHILE the Pilgrim Fathers were making their home in Holland, other Englishmen had sailed on much longer voyages, to settle in the New World. Many had dreamed of finding riches. The great sailor, Sir Walter Raleigh, wrote in his History of the World (1614) that nothing spurred “the common soldier in comparison of spoil and riches. The rich ships are boarded upon all disadvantages, the rich towns- are furiously assaulted, and the plentiful countries willingly invaded. Our English nations have attempted many places in the Indies, and run upon the Spaniards headlong, in hope of their trials of plate and pistolets. Which, had they been put to it upon the like disadvantages in Ireland, or in any poor country, they would have turned their pieces and pikes against their commanders, contesting that they had been brought without reason to the butchery and slaughter.

“It is true that the war is made willingly and, for the most part, with good success; that is ordained against the richest nations. For as the needy are always adventurous, so plenty is wont to shun peril; and men that have well to live do rather study how to live well, I mean wealthily, than care to die (as they call it) honourably

Another writer urged that settlement in the New World should be fostered in order to rid England of her unemployed: “In England the hospitals are full of the ancient [and] the alms houses are filled with old labourers. Many there are who get their living with bearing burdens, but more are fain to burden the land with their whole bodies. Multitudes get their means of life by prating, and so do numbers more by begging (52).”

A later writer and clergyman, William Castell, agreed. “When a Kingdom beginneth to be over-burthened with a multitude of people as England and Scotland now do, to have a convenient place where to send forth Colonies is no small benefit. And such are the North-east and North-west parts of America between the degrees of 25 and 45 of the North latitude, which at this time do even offer themselves unto us, to be protected by us, against the known cruelty of the over-neare approaching Spaniard.”

North America contained “spacious, healthfull, pleasant, and fruitfull countries, not only apt, but already provided of all things necessary for mans sustenation, Come, Grasses, and wholsome cattell in good competencie; but Fish, Fowle, Fruits and Herbes in abundant variety (53).”

North America seemed to offer the best prospect for English settlement; but many people feared that the Spanish, who ruled South and Central America, would try and destroy any newcomers to the continent. William Wood doubted this. The Spanish would hardly “come thousands of miles with a great Navie to plantations, as yet not worth the pillage. And when the plantations are growne noted in the eyes of the common foes for wealth, it is hoped that when the Bees have honie in their Hives, they will have stings in their tailes (54).”

In 1607, when the Pilgrim Fathers first planned to sail to Holland, the pioneer English colony in North America was founded at Jamestown by the Virginia Company of London. One of its members wrote a tract, Nova Britannia (1609) to encourage more people to settle there. The voyage, he said, “is not long nor tedious. Six weeks at ease will send us thither, whereas six months suffice not to some other places where we trade. Our course and passage is through the great ocean, where is no fear of rocks or flats, nor subject to the straits and restraint of foreign princes; most winds that blow are apt and fit for us and none can hinder us. When we come at the coast there is continual depth enough with good bottom for anchor-hold, and the land is fair to fall withal, full of excellent good harbours (55).”

He depicted in glowing terms the site of the new settlement: “Two goodly rivers are discovered winding far into the main, the one in the north part of the land by our western colony knights and gentlemen of greater Plymouth and others; the other in the south part thereof by our colony of London. Upon which river, being both broad, deep, and pleasant, abounding with store of fish, our colony have begun to fortify themselves and have built a town and named it (in honour of our king) Jamestown, four-score miles within-land, upon the north side of the river as is London upon the river of Thames.”

The colonists had explored “the same river one hundred miles further into the mainland. In the searching whereof they were so ravished with the admirable sweetness of the stream and with the pleasant land trending along on either side that their joy exceeded and with great admiration they praised God (56).”

In praising the colony’s resources, the writer failed to mention that during the first winter over half the settlers starved to death. “The country itself is large and great [and] the air and climate sweet and wholesome, much warmer than England and very agreeable to our natures. It is inhabited with wild and savage people that live and lie up and down in troops, like herds of deer in a forest: they have no law but Nature, their apparel skins of beasts, but most go naked . . . They are generally very loving and gentle and do entertain and relieve our people with great kindness. They are easy to be wrought good, and would fain embrace a better condition. The land yieldeth naturally for the sustentation of man abundance of fish, both scale and shell, of land and water-fowls infinite store, of deer, rein and fallow, stags, conies, and hares, with many fruits and roots good for meat (57).” To the writer it was a veritable Garden of Eden.

He now referred to its vast natural resources, although tobacco was actually to be its richest produce: “There are hills and moun­tains, making sensible proffer of hidden treasure never yet searched. The land is full of minerals; plenty of woods (the wants of England) are there growing . . . It yieldeth also rosin, turpentine, pitch, and tar; sassafras, mulberry trees, and silkworms; many skins and rich furs; many sweet woods, and dyers’ woods and other costly dyes; plenty of sturgeon; timber for shipping—mast, plank, and deal; soap-ashes; caviar (58).”

Finally, the pamphleteer explained the good intentions of the colonists towards the natives. They did not plan to drive them out. Rather, their arrival “shall tend to their great good and no way to their hurt, unless, as unbridled beasts, they procure it to themselves. [We mean] to plant ourselves in their country. . . to bring them from their base condition to a far better (59).”

Such glowing accounts of the North American settlements im­pressed the Pilgrim Fathers, who after ten years in Leyden were facing growing difficulties. The young printer, Edward Winslow, complained “how hard the country was, where we lived. How many spent their estate in it; and were forced to return for England.

Edward Winslow

How grievous [it was] to live from under the protection of the State of England. How like we were to lose our language, and our name, of English. How little good we did, or were like to do to the Dutch in reforming the Sabbath. How unable there, to give such education to our children as we ourselves had received (60).”

William Bradford added that their children’s welfare was a major concern: “Many of the children, influenced by these conditions, and the great licentiousness of the young people of the country, and the many temptations of the city, were led by evil example into dangerous courses, getting the reins off their necks and leaving their parents. Some became soldiers, others embarked upon voyages by sea and others upon worse courses tending to dis­soluteness and the danger of their souls, to the great grief of their parents and the dishonour of God. So they saw their posterity would be in danger to degenerate and become corrupt (61).”

Moreover, Bradford explained, the Pilgrims wished to spread the Christian gospel in some distant part of the world: “They cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least of making some way towards it, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work (62).”

Many of the Leyden community wanted to go to America. But the idea aroused many doubts and fears partly about risks of the long sea voyage, and partly about the land itself: “The place they fixed their thoughts upon was somewhere in those vast and un­peopled countries of America, which were fruitful and fit for habitation, though devoid Of all civilized inhabitants and given over to savages, who range up and down, differing little from the wild beasts themselves. This proposition when made public, found many different opinions, and raised many fears and doubts. The hopeful ones tried to encourage the rest to undertake it; others, more timid, objected to it [and] argued that it was so big an undertaking that it was open to inconceivable perils and dangers.

“Besides the casualties of the seas, they asserted that the length of the voyage was such that the women, and other weak persons worn out with age and travail, could never survive it. Even if they should, they contended that the miseries which they would be exposed to in such a country, would be too hard to endure. They would be liable to famine, nakedness, and want. The change of air, diet, and water would infect them with sickness and disease (63).”

The Pilgrims dreaded the Red Indians, too. Terrifying tales had reached Europe about these savages, “who are cruel, barbarous, and treacherous, furious in their rage, and merciless when they get the upper hand—not content to kill, they delight in tormenting people in the most bloody manner possible; flaying some alive with the shells of fishes, cutting off the members and joints of others piecemeal, broiling them on the coals, and eating collops of their flesh in their sight whilst they live—with other cruelties too horrible to be related (64).”

Yet all in all most of the Leyden pilgrims were anxious to emigrate to America. Bradford added, almost as an afterthought, the strongest reason of all. A twelve years’ truce between Spain and Holland would expire in 1621 , and war was threatening to turn Leyden into a bloody battle-ground. The Pilgrims were “now living as exiles in poor circumstances; and as great miseries might befall them here as there, for the twelve years’ truce was now over, and there was nothing but beating of drums and preparation for war. The Spaniard might prove as cruel as the savage of America, and the famine and pestilence as sore in Holland as across the seas. After many other things had been alleged on both sides, it was fully decided by the majority to undertake the enterprise, and to pro­secute it by the best means they could (65).”

And so, Winslow concluded, they took the final decision to go to America: “If God would be pleased to discover some place unto us, though in America, and give us so much favour with the King and State of England as to have their protection there, where we might enjoy the like liberty; and where [we] might exemplarily shew our tender countrymen by our example [they being] no less bur­dened then ourselves, where they might live and comfortably subsist; and enjoy the like liberties with ourselves, being freed from anti-Christian bondage; keep their names and nation; and not only be a means to enlarge the dominions of our State, but [of] the Church of Christ also, if the Lord have a people amongst the natives whither he would bring us (66).”

Some of the Pilgrims suggested they should go to Guiana, where Sir Walter Raleigh had prophesied a Golden City of El Dorado. Others preferred Virginia, where the Jamestown settlement was already well established. “After humble prayers to God for His protection and assistance, and a general conference, they consulted what particular place to pitch upon. Some had thought of Guiana, some of those fertile places in hot climates. Others were for some parts of Virginia where the English had already made entrance.

Those for Guiana alleged that the country was rich, fruitful, and blessed with a perpetual spring, where vigorous nature brought forth all things in abundance and plenty, without need of much labour, and that the Spaniards, having much more than they could possess, had not yet settled there, or anywhere very near (67).”

Guiana was seen to be dangerous because of its unhealthy climate and its nearness to the Spanish settlements around the Gulf of Mexico. Although Guiana was “fruitful and pleasant, and might yield riches and easy maintenance to the possessors, other things considered, it would not be so fit for them. First, such hot countries are subject to horrible diseases and many noisome pests, which other more temperate places are free from, and they would not agree so well with our English bodies.

“Again, if they lived there and did well, the jealous Spaniards would never leave them in peace, but would dispossess them as they did the French in Florida—and the sooner because they would have no protection, and their own strength would be insufficient to resist so potent an enemy and so near a neighbour (68).”

And in Virginia the Pilgrims might find English rule oppressive. Here “they would be in as great danger of persecution for their religion as if they lived in England—and it might be, worse. While if they lived too far off, they would have neither help nor defence from them (69).”

When the Dutch heard that the Pilgrims were thinking of moving, they made several offers of help, which were turned down. These offers made by the New Netherlands Company, were summarized by Winslow: “The Dutch offered to us, either to have removed into Zealand and there lived with them: or if we would go on such adventures, to go under them to Hudson’s River, where they have since a great Plantation [New Amsterdam, now New York]; and

how they would freely have transported us and furnished every

family with cattle (70).” The New Netherlands Company also asked the Prince of Orange to loan two warships as escorts for the voyage.

In the end, the Pilgrims decided to go to Virginia, but to live in a separate community “under the general government of Virginia, and that through their friends they should sue his Majesty to be pleased to allow them freedom of religion. That this might be granted they were led to hope by some prominent persons of rank and influence, who had become their friends (71).”‘

Accordingly, the Pilgrims sent two of their number, Robert Cushman and John Carver, to ask the Virginia Company in London to sponsor their voyage. Since the Virginia Company needed more colonists, it welcomed their approach and assured them that James I would agree to their departure, and even allow them freedom of worship in their new home. “Two members of the congregation were sent to England at the expense of the rest, to arrange the matter. They found the Virginia Company anxious to have them, and willing to grant them a patent, with as ample privileges as they themselves had or could grant and to give them the best assistance they could. Some of the principal officers of the Virginia Company did not doubt that they could obtain the King’s grant of liberty of religion, confirmed under his broad seal (72).’.’

To support their case, Cushman and Carver presented the Seven Articles, a statement of belief drawn up in Leyden. In this document the Pilgrim Fathers had tried to minimize their differences with the Church’ of England. One of the Articles accepted the Royal Sup­remacy: “3. The King’s Majesty we acknowledge for Supreme Governor in his Dominions in all causes, and over all persons: and that none may decline or appeal from his authority or judgement in any cause whatsoever: but that in all things obedience is due unto him; either active, if the thing commanded be not against God’s Word; or ‘passive, if it be, except pardon can be obtained (73).95

Another of the Articles acknowledged the authority of the bishops: “5. The authority of the present Bishops in the land, we do acknowledge so far forth as the same is indeed derived from His Majesty unto them; and as they proceed in his name: whom we will also therein honour in all things, and him in them (74).” But this did not imply that the Pilgrim Fathers would submit to that authority.

The Articles seemed to have the desired effect. King James announced his approval of the voyage to Virginia, and even took a personal interest in it. The Pilgrims “found God going along with them; and got Sir Edwin Sandys a religious gentleman then living, to stir in it. Who procured Sir Robert Naunto, then Principal

n  Secretary of State to King James of famous memory to move his Majesty [to]give way to such a people, who could not so comfort­ably live under the government of another State, to enjoy their liberty of conscience under his gracious protection in America: where they would endeavour the advancement of His Majesty’s dominions, and the enlargement of the Gospel, by all due means.

“This, His Majesty said, was a good and honest motion: and asking: What profits might arise in the part we intended? For our eye was upon the most northern parts of Virginia. it was answered, ‘Fishing.’

“To which he replie, with his ordinary asseveration, ‘So God have my soul! ‘Tis an honest trade! it was the Apostles’ own calling! (75).

Later, however, James told them that they must consult the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London about the matter. Since the Pilgrims doubted whether these bishops would bless their cause they gave up their approach to the King and turned once more to the Virginia Company. The plan worked. They not only obtained permission to found a settlement, but were granted money as well.

James “told Sir Robert Naunton, who took all occasions to further it, that we should confer with the Bishops of Canterbury and London. Whereupon we were advised to persist upon his first approbation, and not to entangle ourselves with them. Which caused our Agents to repair to the Virginia Company: who, in their Court {Committee Meeting in February, 1619} demanded our ends of going. Which being related they said, The thing was of God, and granted a large Patent. And one of them lent us £300 gratis for three years, which was repaid (76).”

Bradford added that merchants and other non-Puritans were invited to sail with them across the Atlantic: “Other messengers were despatched to close with the Virginia Company as well as they could and to procure a patent with as good and ample con­ditions as possible; also to arrange with such merchants and other friends as had manifested interest, to participate in the accomplish­ment of this voyage. For these ends they were instructed upon what lines to proceed, otherwise to conclude nothing without further orders (77).”

Owing to the high costs and risks of long voyages at that time, the Pilgrims had to sign seven-year contracts with the merchant-adventurers. During its first year most of the Plymouth Colony revenues, such as they were, had to be handed over.

At this stage, Captain John Smith, whose firm leadership had saved the Jamestown settlement from disaster in its early days, offered the Pilgrim Fathers his services. But the Pilgrims declined. This is Smith’s comment on the episode. He called them Brownists (another name for the Independents, derived from Robert Browne, who founded the first Independent congregation in Norwich about 1580).

“At last, upon those inducements, some well disposed Brownists, as they are termed, with some Gentlemen and Merchants of Leyden and Amsterdam, to save charges [of employing Captain Smith], would try their own conclusions, though with great loss and much misery, till time had taught them to see their own error: for such humorists will never believe well, till they be beaten with their own rod (78).” (Humorists: obstinate people.)