Towards New Plymouth

MUCH disagreement had been voiced aboard the Mayflower between the Puritans and the other passengers. As a result, a meeting was held and . a short working agreement was drawn up and signed: “This day, before we came to harbour, observing some not well affected to unity and concord, but gave some appearance of faction: it was thought good there should be an Association and Agreement that we should combine together in one body; and to submit to such Government and Governors as we should, by com­mon consent, agree to make and choose: and [we] set our hands to this (102).”

This document, since known as the Mayflower Compact, was signed by the heads of families, forty-one of the sixty-five men among the passengers then on board: “In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James [having] undertaken, for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith and honour of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do, by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid.

“And by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due sub­mission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England … Anno Domini 1620 (103).”

This was a unique document. Previous colonies had always sailed from England with an official Governor; but the Pilgrims gave themselves power to choose their own Governor, and, if they wished, tore-elect a new one every year. The settlement was to be a partial democracy, although women and servants were not allowed to vote.

The Pilgrims had brought with them a “shallop,” a small boat that could be rowed or sailed along the coast and up rivers. It had been stored in prefabricated sections on the Mayflower’s lower deck, but it had been damaged during storms in the Atlantic: “Having brought a large shallop with them from England, stowed in quarters in the ship, they now got her out, and set their carpenters

to work to trim her up. But being much bruised and battered in the

foul weather they saw she would be long mending (104).”

An armed party went ashore on 11th November to find much needed fresh water and wood for fuel. It contained “fifteen or sixteen men, well armed with some to fetch wood, for we had none left’: as also to see what the land was and what inhabitants they could meet with. They found it to be a small neck of land. On this side where we lay is the Bay, and on the further side the sea. The ground or earth consists of sandhills, much like the downs of Holland but much better. The crust of the earth, at a spit’s depth [i.e. below the sand], excellent black earth. All wooded with oaks, pines, sassafras, juniper, birch, holly, vines, some ash, walnut. The wood for the most part open, and without underwood; fit either to go or ride in.

“At night our people returned, but found not any person nor habitation, and laded their boat with juniper, which smelled very sweet and strong; and of which we burnt, the most part of the time we lay there (105).”

The next day was a Sunday, and the Pilgrims passed their time in prayer aboard the Mayflower. But on “Monday, the 13th of November, we unshipped our shallop, and drew her on land to mend and repair her: having been forced to cut her down in bes­towing her betwixt the decks. And she was much opened, with the people’s lying in her. Which kept us long there, for it was sixteen or seventeen days before the Carpenter had finished her. Our people went on shore to refresh themselves and our women to wash [linen] as they had great need (106).”

On Tuesday, as the shallop was not yet ready, they decided to send an advance party ashore to explore on foot: “We lay thus still, hoping our shallop would be ready in five or six days, at the furthest. But our Carpenter made slow work of it so that some of our people, impatient of delay, desired for our better furtherance to travel by land into the country (which was not without appear­ance of danger; not having the shallop with them, nor means to carry provisions but on their backs), to see whether it might be fit for us to seat [settle] in or no. And the rather, because as we sailed into the harbour, there seemed to be a river opening itself into the main land (107).”

Bradford described how this reconnaissance party, led by Captain Miles Standish, set out on the Wednesday: “A few of them volun­teered to go by land and explore the neighbouring parts, whilst the shallop was put in order; particularly since, as they entered the bay, there seemed to be an opening some two or three leagues off which the captain thought was a river. It was conceived there might be some danger in the attempt; but seeing them resolute, sbCteen of them well-armed were permitted to go under charge of Captain Standish.

“They set forth on the 15th November being landed by the ship’s boat, and when they had marched about the space of a mile by the sea-side, they espied five or six persons with a dog coming towards them They were savages, but they fled back into the woods followed by the English who wished to see if Ahey could speak with them, and to discover if there were more lying in ambush. But the Indians, seeing themselves followed, left the woods and ran along the sands as hard as they could, so our men could not come up with them but followed the track of their feet several miles (108).”

So the explorers spent their first night ashore: “At length, night came upon them; and they constrained to take up their lodging. So they set forth three sentinels; and the rest, some kindled a fire, and others fetched wood: and there we held our rendezvous [en­campment] that night (109).”‘

Next day the party moved further inland, pursuing “the Indians’ tracks till they came to a great creek, where they had left the sands and turned into the woods. But they continued to follow them by guess, hoping to find their dwellings. But soon they lost both the Indians and themselves, and fell into such thickets that their clothes and armour were injured severely. But they suffered most from want of water. At length they found some, and refreshed themselves with the first New England water they had drunk, and in their great thirst they found it as pleasant as wine or beer had been before (110).”

After a time they found a clearing where an Indian settlement had been: “Afterwards they directed their course towards the other shore, for they knew it was only a neck of land they had to cross over. At length they got to the sea-side, and marched to this supposed river, and by the way found a pond of fresh water, and shortly after a quantity of cleared ground where the Indians had formerly planted corn; and they found some of their graves. Proceeding further, they saw stubble where corn had been grown the same year, and also found a place where a house had lately been, with some planks and a great kettle [pot] and heaps of sand newly banked (111).”

Each heap of sand had been very carefully made: “We might see how they had [smoothed] it with their hands. Which we digged up, and in it we found a little old basket full of fair Indian corn. And we digged further and found a fine new basket, full of very fair corn of this year; with some thirty-six goodly ears of corn, some yellow and some red, and others mixed with blue; which was a very goodly sight. The basket was round and narrow at the top. It held about three or four bushels which was as much as two of us could lift up from the ground, and was very handsomely and cunningly made. But whilst we were busy about these things, we set our men as sentinels in a round ring; all but two or three which digged up the corn (112).

The party had evidently stumbled upon a winter store of corn and hesitated whether or not to take some back to the ship. “We were in suspense what to do with it and the kettle. And at length, after much consultation, we concluded to take the kettle and as much of the corn as we could carry away with us. And when our shalop came, if we could find any of the people, and come to parley with them; we would give them the kettle again, and satisfy them for their corn (113).”

Feeling that they could repay the Indians later on, they “took all the ears; and put a good deal of the loose corn in the kettle for two men to bring away on a staff. Besides, they that could put any into their pockets filled the same. The rest we buried again, for we were so laden with armour that we could carry no more (114)0”

Later the Pilgrims were saved from starvation by this Indian corn. William Bradford called it “a special providence of God, and a great mercy to this poor people, that they thus got seed to plant corn the next year, or they might have starved. For they had none nor any likelihood of getting any, till too late for the planting season. Nor is it likely that they would have got it if this first voyage

had not been made, for the ground was soon all covered with snow

and frozen hard. But the Lord is never wanting unto His in their great need (115).”

Indeed, this corn was to become a valuable ingredient of the Colonists’ diet, and a later writer wrote enthusiastically of the use made of it by English settlers in America: “Their provision which grows in the field is chiefly Indian corn, which produces a vast increase yearly, yielding two plentiful harvests, of which they make wholesome bread and good bisket, which gives a strong, sound and nourishing diet. With milk I have eaten it dress’d various ways.

“Of the juice of the corn when green the Spaniards, with Chocolet aromatiz’d with Spices, make a rare drink of an excellent delicacy. I have seen the English amongst the Caribbes roast the green ear on the coals, and eat it with a great deal of pleasure. The Indians in Carolina parch the ripe corn, then pound it to a powder, putting it in a leathern bag. When they use it they take a little quantity of the powder in the palms of their hands, mixing it with water, and sup it off. With this they will travel several days. In short, it’s a grain of general use to man and beast (116).”

The time now came for the advance party to return to the Mayflower. They were “near the supposed river that they had come to seek. When they reached it,, they found that it opened into two arms, with a high cliff of sand at the entrance, but more likely to be creeks of salt water than fresh, they thought. There was good harbourage for their shallop, so they left it to be further explored when she was ready. The time allowed them having expired, they returned to the ship, lest the others should be anxious about their safety (117).”

But they had to camp out-for one more night on the open ground: “We made our rendezvous that night making a great fire, and a barricade to windward of us; and kept good watch with three sentinels all night, every one standing when his turn came while five or six inches of match were burning. It proved a very rainy night

On the way back to the Mayflower, they picked their way through a wood, where they found an abundance of game, and signs that the Indians trapped them for food. This account is probably Edward Winslow’s : “As we wandered, we came to a tree where a young sapling was bowed down over a bow, and some acorns strewed underneath. Stephen Hopkins said, It had been to catch some deer. So as we were looking at it, William Bradford being in the rear, when he came, looked also upon it. And as he went about, it gave a sudden jerk up and he was immediately caught by the leg. It was a very pretty device, made with a rope of their own making, and having a noose as artificially [cunningly] made as any roper [rope-maker] in England can make, and as like ours I as can be, which we brought away with us.

“In the, end, we got out of the wood, and were fallen about a mile too high above the creek. Where we saw three bucks, but we had rather have had one of them. We also did spring three couple of partridges. And as we, came along by the creek we saw great flocks of wild geese and ducks but they were very fearful of us (119).”

At last the men sighted the Mayflower lying offshore, and fired musket volleys to attract attention: “So we marched some while in the woods, some while on the sands, and other while in the water up to the knees, till, at length, we came near the ship; and then we shot off our pieces, and the long boat came to fetch us. Master Jones and Master Carver, being on the shore with many of our people, came to meet us (120).”

“Weary and welcome,” the party went aboard the Mayflower, “and delivered in our corn into the store, to be kept for seed. For we knew not how to come by any and therefore were very glad, purposing so soon as we could meet with any of the inhabitants of that place, to make them large satisfaction (121).”

By now the Pilgrims had found that the bay was not a suitable anchorage for their ship: “Whilst our shallop was in repairing our people did make things as fitting as they could, and time would, in seeking out wood, and helving of tools, and sawing of timber, to build a new shallop. But the discommodiousness of the harbour did much hinder us. For we could neither go to, nor come from, the shore but at high water which was much to our hindrance and hurt. For often-times they waded to the middle of the thigh, and oft to the knees, to go to and come from land. Some did it necessarily, and some for their own pleasure, but it brought to the most, if not to all, coughs and colds (the weather proving suddenly cold and stormy), which afterward turned to the scurvy whereof many died (122).99

As well as wild fowl, the Pilgrims saw large numbers of whales in the bay. “If we had instruments and means to take them, we might have made a very rich return: which [instruments], to our great grief, we wanted. Our master and his mate, and others experienced in fishing, professed we might have made £3,000 or £4,000 worth of oil. They preferred it before Greenland whale-fishing, and purpose the next winter to fish for whale here (123).”

Nor was there any edible fish: “For cod we assayed, but found none. There is good store, no doubt, in their season. Neither got we any fish all the time we lay there, but some few little ones on the shore. We found great mussels, and very fat and full of sea pearl, but we could not eat them for they made us all sick that did eat, as well sailors as passengers. They caused to cast [vomit] and scour [purge]. But they were soon well again (124).”

After some days, the Pilgrims decided that a second expedition should seek out a more suitable place for a settlement. The party set out on 27th November: “When our shallop was fit (indeed before she was fully fitted, for there was two days’ work after bestowed on her) there was appointed some twenty-four men of our own, and armed, then to go and make a more full discovery of the rivers before mentioned. Master Jones was desirous to go with us and took such of his sailors as he thought useful for us. So as we were in all about thirty-four men (125).”

The expedition was gone for four days, but failed to find a good anchorage. They did find other things, “two of the Indians’ houses covered with mats, and some of their implements in them; but the people had run away and could not be seen. They also found more corn and beans of various colours. These they brought away, intending to give them full satisfaction when they should, meet with any of them—as about six months afterwards they did (126).”

They also returned with some interesting tales to tell. One was of the night when they shot some game: “At length night grew on and our men were tired with marching up and down the steep hills and deep valleys, which lay half a foot thick with snow. Master Jones, wearied with marching, was desirous we should take up our lodging, though some of us would have marched further. So we made there our rendezvous for that night under a few pine trees and, as it fell out, we got three fat geese and six ducks to our supper, which we eat with soldiers’ stomacks for we had eaten little all that day (127).9′

And in a clearing they had found an Indian grave. Here, “we found first a mat, and under that a fair bow, and there another mat, and under that a board about three-quarters of a yard long finely carved and painted, with three tynes [prongs] or broaches on the top like a crown. Also between the mats, we found bowls, trays, dishes and such like trinkets. At length, we came to a fair new mat, and under that two bundles; the one bigger, the other less. We opened the greater and found in it a great quantity of fine and perfect red powder, and in it the bones and skull of a man. The skull had fine yellow hair still on it, and some of the flesh unconsumed. There were bound up with it a knife, a pack-needle [packing needle], and two or three old iron things. It was bound up in a sailor’s canvass cassock and a pair of cloth breeches. The red powder was a kind of embalment and yielded a strong, but not offensive, smell. It was fine as any flour.

“We opened the less bundle likewise and found of the same powder in it, and the bones and head of a little child. About the legs and other parts of it were bound strings and bracelets of fine white beads. There was also by it a little bow about three-quarters of a yard long, and some other odd knacks (128).”

They told, too, of Indian wigwams “made with long young sapling trees, bended and both ends stuck in the ground. They were made round like an arbour, and covered down to the ground with thick and well wrought mats; and the door was not over a yard high, made of a mat to open. The chimney was a wide open hole in the top, for which they had a mat to cover it close when they pleased. One might stand and go upright in them. In the midst of them were four little trunches [stakes] knocked into the ground and small sticks laid over, on which they hung their pots and what they had to seethe. Round about the fire they lay on mats which are their beds. The houses were double matted, for as they were matted without so were they within, with newer and fairer mats (129).”

Inside the wigwams they found “wooden bowls, trays, and dishes, earthen pots, hand baskets made of crab shells wrought together. Also an English pail or bucket. It wanted a bail [handle], but it had two iron ears. There were also baskets of sundry sorts (bigger and some lesser, finer and some coarser). Some were curiously wrought with black and white, in pretty works and sundry other of their household stuff. We found also two or three deers’ heads, one whereof had been newly killed for it was still fresh. There was also a company of deers’ feet stuck up in the houses. Harts’ horns, and eagles’ claws, and sundry like things there were. Also two or three baskets full of parched acorns, pieces of fish, and a piece of a broiled herring. We found also a little silk grass and a little tobacco seed, with some other seeds which we knew not (130).”

While the party was away, some of the Pilgrims tried (with nearly disastrous results) to shoot a curious whale which swam near to the anchored Mayflower: “There was once one, when the sun shone warm, came and lay above water as if she had been dead for a good while together, within half a musket shot of the ship. At which two were prepared to shoot to see whether she would stir or no. He that gave fire first, his musket flew in pieces, both stock and barrel. Yet thanks be to God neither he nor any man else was hurt with it, though many were there about. But when the whale saw her time, she gave a snuff and away! (131).”

About this time the first child was born in America to the wife of one of the Pilgrims: “Whilst some were employed in this dis covery, it pleased God that Mistress White was brought to bed of a son, which was called Peregrine (132). ” Peregrine meant “pilgrim,” and this particular pilgrim was destined to live to the ripe age of eighty-three.

When the second party returned to the Mayflower, it was agreed that the most pressing problem was to find a proper place for settlement, especially as “the heart of winter and unseasonable weather was come upon us: so that we could not go upon coasting [surveying] and discovery without danger of losing men and boat; upon which would follow the overthrow of all, especially con­sidering what variable winds and sudden storms do there arise. Also cold and wet lodging had so tainted our people (for scarce any of us was free from vehement coughs) as if they should continue long in that estate, it would endanger the lives of many, and breed diseases and infection amongst us.

“Again, we had yet some beer, butter, flesh and other such victuals which would quickly be all gone. And then we should have nothing to comfort us in the great labour and toil we were like to undergo at the first. It was also conceived, whilst we had competent victuals, that the ship would stay with us, but when that grew lo they would be gone and let us shift as we could (133).”

As a result, it was decided to send out yet a third party, but on Tuesday, 5th December, the day before it went ashore, the May­flower was nearly blown up by a boy’s thoughtless escapade. One of Francis Billington’s sons, in his father’s absence, “had got gun­powder, and had shot off a piece [musket] or two and made squibs. And there being a fowling piece charge in his father’s cabin, shot her off in the cabin; there being a little barrel of powder half full scattered in and about the cabin; the fire being within four feet of the bed between the decks; and many flints and iron things about the cabin; and many people about the fire—and yet by God’s mercy no harm done (134).”

The third party planned to explore the bay of Cape Cod: “The month of November being spent in these affairs, and foul weather coming on, on the sixth of December they sent out their shallop again with ten of their principal men and some sailors upon further discovery, intending to circumnavigate the deep bay of Cap Cod. The weather was very cold, and it froze so hard that the spray of the sea froze on their coats like glass (135).”

As they landed on the southern shore early that night they saw “ten or twelve Indians very busy about something. They landed about a league or two from them; though they had much ado to put ashore anywhere, it was so full of flats. It was late when they landed, so they made themselves a barricade of logs and boughs as well as they could in the time, and set a sentinel and betook them to rest, and saw the smoke of the fire the savages made that night (136).”

That night their sleep was disturbed by a terrible howling sound: “They made a barricade as they did every night, with logs, stakes, and thick pine boughs, the height of a man, leaving it open to lee­ward; partly to shelter them from the cold wind, making their fire in the middle and lying round it, and partly to defend them from any sudden assault of the savages, if they should try to surround them. So being very weary, they betook them to rest. But about midnight they heard a hideous cry, and their sentinel called ‘Arm, arm!’ So they bestirred themselves and stood to their arms, and shot a couple of muskets and then the noise ceased. They concluded it was a pack of wolves or some such wild beasts, for one of the sailors told them he had often heard such noises in Newfoundland. So they rested till about five o’clock in the morning (137).”

At daybreak they found where the Indians had been a large fish, which they called a grampus. It was actually a blackfish : “When morning came they divided their party, some to coast along the shore in the boat, and the rest to march through the woods to see the land, and if possible to find a fit place for their settlement. They came to the place where they had seen the Indians the night before, and found they had been cutting up a great fish like a grampus, covered with almost two inches of fat like a hog. The shallop found two more of the same kind of fish dead on the sands, a usual thing after storms there, because of the great flats of sand.

“They ranged up and down all that day, but found no people nor any place they liked. When the sun got low they hastened out of the woods to meet their shallop, making signs to it to come into a creek hard by, which it did at high water. They were very glad to meet, for they had not seen each other since the morning (138).”

Next morning they had their first encounter with a group of Indians: “After prayer they prepared for breakfast, and it being day dawning, it was thought best to be carrying things down to the boat. Some said it was not best to carry the guns down; others said they would be the readier, for they had wrapped them up in their coats to keep them from the dew. But some three or four would not carry their guns down to the boat till they went themselves. How­ever, as the water was not high enough, the others laid theirs down on the bank of the creek and came up to breakfast.

“But soon, all of a sudden, they heard a great and strange cry, which they knew to be the same as they had heard in the night, though with various notes. One of the company who was outside came running in and cried: ‘Men; Indians, Indians!’ and at that their arrows came flying amongst them!

“The men ran down to the creek with all speed to recover their guns, which by the providence of God they succeeded in doing. In the meantime two of those who were still armed discharged their muskets at the Indians; and two more stood ready at the entrance of the rendezvous, but were commanded not to shoot till they could take fell aim at them. And the other two loaded again at full speed, there being only four guns there to defend the barricade when it was first assaulted (139).”

The party managed to beat off the Indians, despite the temerity of one of them: “The cry of the Indians was dreadful, especially when they saw the men run out of the rendezvous towards the shallop to recover their guns, the Indians wheeling about them. But some of the men, armed with coats of mail and with cutlasses in their hands, soon got their guns and let fly among them which quickly stopped their violence.

“There was one big Indian, and no less valiant, who stood behind a tree within half a musket-shot and let his arrows fly at them. He was seen to shoot three arrows, which were all avoided. He stood three musket-shots, till one of them made the bark and splinters of the tree fly about his ears, at which he gave an extraordinary shriek and away all of them went.

“The men left some of the party to guard the shallop and followed the Indians about a quarter of a mile, shouting once or twice, and shooting off two or three guns, and then returned. They did this so that the natives might not think they were afraid of them (140).”

A member of the party told how they took up arrows as trophies at the place, which they named after the fight: “We took up eighteen of their arrows which we have sent to England by Master Jones, some whereof were headed with brass, others with harts’ horn, and others with eagles’ claws. Many more no doubt were shot, for these we found were almost covered with leaves. Yet by the especial Providence of God, none of them either hit or hurt us, though many came close by us and on every side of us, and some coats which hung up in our barricade were shot through and through. So after we had given God thanks for our deliverance we took our shallop and went on our journey, and called this place the First Encounter (141).”

They now continued their search for a good anchorage, making all speed “to a spot which their pilot, a Mr. Coppin, who had been in the country before, assured them was a good harbour, which he had been in, and which they might fetch before night. Of this they were glad, for the weather began to be foul. After some hours’ sailing, it began to snow and rain, and about the middle of the afternoon the wind increased and the sea became very rough. They broke their rudder, and it was as much as two men could do to steer herwith a couple of oars. But the pilot bade them be of good cheer, and said he saw the harbour.

“But the storm increasing and night drawing on they carried all the sail they could to get in while they could see. Then their mast broke in three pieces, and the sail fell overboard in a very heavy sea, so that they were in danger of being wrecked; but by God’s mercy they recovered themselves, and having the tide with them, struck in towards the harbour (142).”

But John Coppin, the Mayflower second mate, had made a mistake. The members of the party now had to spend the night on an island in darkness and driving rain: “But when they came to, the pilot found he had mistaken the place, and said the Lord be merciful to them, for he had never seen the place before. And he and the mate were about to run her ashore in a cove full of breakers before the wind. But one of the seamen, who steered, bade the rowers, if they were men, about with her, or they would all be cast away; which they did with speed. So he bid them be of good cheer and row lustily, for there was a fair sound before them, and he did not doubt but they would find a place where they could come to safely.

“Though it was very dark and rained hard, they ultimately got under the lee of a small island, and remained there safely all night. But they did not know it was an island till morning. They were divided in their minds. Some wished to stay in the boat for fear there would be more Indians. Others were so weak and cold they could not endure it, but got ashore and with much ado made a fire – everything being wet—and then the rest were glad enough to join them. For after midnight the wind shifted to the northwest and it froze hard (143).”

Nevertheless, their many discomforts and difficulties were at last rewarded: “Though this had been a night of much hardship and danger, God gave them a morning of comfort and refreshment, as He usually doth to His children. For the next day was a fair sun-shining day, and they found they were on an island secure from the Indians, where they could dry their stuff, fix their arms, and rest themselves and give God thanks for His mercies in their manifold deliverances. This being the last day of the week they prepared to keep the Sabbath there.

“On Monday they sounded the harbour and found it fit for shipping. And marching inland they found several cornfields and little running brooks—a place, as they supposed, fit for a settle­ment. At least it was the best they could find, and considering the season of the year and their present necessity they were thankful for it. So they returned with this news to the rest of their people aboard the ship, which cheered them greatly (144).” This was to be the birthplace of the tiny New Plymouth Colony.