Ridpath's History of the United States
Volume I

Colonial History - Continued
A.D. 1620-1754
New England

Chapter I

The spring of 1621 brought a ray of hope to the distressed Pilgrims of New Plymouth. Never was the returning of sun more welcome. The ftal winter had swept off one-half of the number. Governor Carver himself sickened and died, and the broken-hearted wife found rest in the same grave with her husband. But now, with the apporach of warm weather, the destroying pestilence was stayed, and the spirits of the survivors revived with the season. Out of the snows of winter, the desolations of disease, and the terrors of death the faith of the Puritan had come forth triumphant.

For a while the colonists were apprehensive of the Indians. In February, Miles Standish was sent out with his soldiers to gther information of the numbers and disposition of the natives. The army of New England consisted of six men besides the general. Deserted wigwams were found here and there; the smoke of campfires arose in the distance; savages were occasionally seen in the forest. These fled, however, at the approach of the English, and Standish returned to Plymouth.

A month later the colonists were astonished by the sudden appearance in their midst of a Wampanoag Indian named Samoset. He ran into the village and bade the strangers welcome. He gave an account of the numbers and strength of the neighborning tribes, and recited the story of a great plague by which, a few years before, the country had been swept of its inhabitants. Another Indian, by the name of Squanto, who had been carried away by Hunt in 1914, and had learned to speak English, came also to Plymouth, and confirmed what Samoset had said.

By the influence of these two natives friendly relations were at once established with the Wampanoags. Massasoit, the great sachem of the nation, was invited to visit the settlement, and came attended by a few of his warriors. The Pilgrims received him with as much parade and ceremony as the colony could provide; Captain Standish ordered out his soldiers, and Squanto acted as interpreter. Then and there was ratified the first treaty made in New England. The terms were few and simple. There should be peace and friendship between the whites and the Red men. No injury should be done by either party to the other. All offenders should be given up to be punished. If the English engaged in war, Massasoit should help them; if the Wampanoags were attacked unjustly, the English should give aid against the common enemy. Mark that word unjustly; it contains the essence of Puritanism.

The treaty thus made and ratified remained inviolate for fifty years. Other chiefs followed the example of the great sachem and entered into friendly relations with the colony. Nine of the leading tribes acknowledged the sovereignty of the English king. One chieftain, Canonicus, king of the Narragansetts, sent to William Bradford, who had been chosen governor after the death of Carver, a bundle of arrows wrapped in the skin of a rattlesnake; but the undaunted governor stuffed the skin with powder and balls and sent it back to the chief, who did not dare to accept the dangerous challenge. The hostile emblem was borne about from tribe to tribe, until finally it was returned to Plymouth.

The summer of 1621 was unfruitful, and the Pilgrims were brought to the point of starvation. To make their condition still more grievous, a new company of immigrants, without provisions or stores, arrived, and were quartered on the colonists during the fall and winter. For six months together the settlers were obliged to subsist on half-allowance. At one time only a few grains of parched corn remained to be distributed, and at another there was absolute destitution. In this state of affairs some Englilsh fishing-vessels came to Plymouth and charged the starving colonists two prices for good enough to keep them alive.

The intruding immigrants just mentioned had been sent to America by Thomas Weston, of London, one of the projectors of the colony. They remained with the people of Plymouth until the summer of 1622, then removed to the south side of Boston Harbor and began a new settlement called Weymouth. Instead of working with their might to provide against starvation, they wasted the fall in idleness, and attempted to keep up their stock of provisions by defrauding the Indians. Thus provoked to hostility, the natives formed a plan to destroy the colony; but Massasoit, faithful to his pledges, went to Plymouth and revealed the plot. Standish marched to Weymouth at the head of his regiment, now increased to eight men, attacked the hostile tribe, killed several warriors, and carried hom the chief's head on a pole. The tender-hearted John Robinson wrote from Leyden: "I would that you had converted some of them before you killed any."

In the following spring most of the Weymouth settlers abandoned the place and returned to England. the summer of 1623 brought a plentiful harvest to the people of the older colony, and there was no longer any danger of starvation. The natives, preferring the chase, became dependent on the settlement of corn, and furnished in exchange an abundance of game. The main body of Pilgrims still tarried at Leyden. Robinson made unwearied efforts to bring his people to America, but the adventurers of London who had managed the enterprise would provide no further means either of money or transportation; and now, at the end of the fourth year, there were only a hundted and eighty persons in New England. The managers had expected profitable returns, and were disappointed. They had expended thirty-four thousand dollars; there was neither profit nor the hope of any. Under this discouragement the proprietors made a proposition to sell out their claims to the colonists. The offer was accepted; and in November of 1627 eight of the leading men of Plymouth purchased from the Londoners their entire interest for the sum of nine thousand dollars.

The year 1624 was marked by the founding of a settlement at Cape Ann. John White, a Puritan minister of Dorchester, England, collected a small company of imigrants and sent them to America. The colony was established, but after two years of discouragement the cape was abandoned as a place unsuitable, and the company moved farther south to Naumkeag, afterward called Salem. Here a settlement was begun, and in 1628 was made permanent by the arrival of a second colony, in charge of John Endicott, who was chosen governor. In March of the same year the colonists obtained a patent from the Council of Plymouth; and in 1629 Charles I. issued a charter by which the proprietors were incorporated under the name of The Governor and Company of Massachusetts Bay in New England. In July two hundred additional immigrants arrived, half of whom settled at Plymouth, while the other half removed to a peninsula on the north side of Boston Harbor and laid the foundation of Charlestown.

At the first it had been decided that the charter of the colony should be left in England, and that the governor should reside there also. After further discussion, this decision was reversed, and in September it was decreed that the whole government should be transferred to America, and that the charter, as a pledge of liberty, should be intrusted to the colonists themselves. As soon as this liberal action was made known imigration began on an extensive scale. In the year 1630 about three hundred of the best Puritan families in the kingdom came to New England. Not adventurers, not vagabonds, were these brave people, but virtuous, well-educated, courageous men and women, who for conscience' sake left comfortable homes with no expectation of returning. It was not the least of their good fortune to choose a noble leader.

If ever a man wa worthy to be held in perpetual remembrance, that man was John Winthrop, governor of Massachusetts. Born a royalist, he cherished the principles of republicanism. Himself an Episcopalian, he chose affliction with the Puritans. Surrounded with affluence and comfort, he left all to share the destiny of the persecuted Pilgrims. Calm, prudent, and peaceable, he joined the zeal of an enthusiast with the sublime faith of a martyr.

A part of the new immigrants settled at Salem; others at Cambridge and Watertown, on Charles River; while others, going farther south, founded Roxbury and Dorchester. The governor, with a few of the leading families, resided for a while at Charlestown, but soon crossed the harbor to the peninsula of Shawmut and laid the foundation of Boston, which became henceforth the capital of the colony and the metropolis of New England. With the approach of winter sickness came, and the distress was very great. Many of the new-comers were refined and tender people who could not endure the bitter blasts of Massachusetts Bay. Coarse fare and scanty provisions added to the griefs of disease. Sleet and snow drifted through the cracks of the thin board huts where enfeebled men and delicate women maoned out their lives. Before midwinter two hundred had perished. A few others, heartsick and despairing, returned to England; but there was heard neither murmur nor repining. Governor Winthrop wrote to his wife: "I like so well to be here that I do not repent my coming."

At a session of the general court of the colony, held in 1631, a law was passed restricting the right of suffrage. It was enacted that none but members of the church should be permitted to vote at the colonial elections. The choice of governor, deputy-governor, and assistant councilors was thus placed in the hands of a small minority. Nearly three-fourths of the people were excluded from exercising the rights of freemen. Taxes were levied for the support of the gospel; oaths of obedience to the magistrates were required; attendnce on public worship was enforced by law; none but church-members were eligible to offices of trust. It is strange indeed that the very men who had so recently, through perils by sea and land, escaped with only their lives to find religious freedom in another continent, should have begun their career with intolerance and proscription. The only excuse that can be found for the gross inconsistency and injustice of such legislation is that bigotry was the vice of the age rather than of the Puritans.

One manly voice was lifted up against this odious statute. It was the voice of young Roger Williams, minister of Salem. To this man belongs the shining honor of being first in America or in Europe to proclaim the full gospel of religious toleration. He declared to his people that the conscience of man may in no wise be bound by the authority of the magistrate; that civil government has only to do with civil matters, such as the collection of taxes, the restraint and punishment of crime, and the protection of all men in the enjoyment of equal rights. For these noble utterances he was obliged to quit the ministry of the church at Salem and retire to Plymouth. Finally, in 1634, he wrote a paper in which the declaration was made that grants of land, though given by the king of England, were invalid until the natives were justly recompensed. This was equivalent to saying that the colonial charter itself was void, and that the people were really living upon the lands of the Indians. Great excitement was occasioned by the publication, and Williams consented that for the sake of public peace the paper should be burned. But he continued to reach his doctrines, saying that compulsory attendance at religious worship, as well as taxation for the support of the ministry, was contrary to the teachings of the gospel. When arraigned for these doctrines, he crowned his offenses by telling the court that a test of church-membership in a voter or a public officer was as ridiculous as the selection of a doctor of physic or the pilot of a ship on account of his skill in theology.

These assertions raised such a storm in court that Williams was condemned for heresy and banished from the colony. In the dead of winter, he left home and became an exile in the desolate forest. For fourteen weeks he wandered on through the snow, sleeping at night on the ground or in a hollow tree, living on parched corn, acorns, and roots. He carried with him one precious treasure--a private letter from Governor Winthrop, giving him words of cheer and encouragement. Nor did the Indians fail to show their gratitude to the man who had so nobly defended their rights. In the country of the Wampanoags he was kindly entertained. Massasoit invited him to his cabin in Pokanoket, and Canonicus, king of the Narragansetts, received him as a friend and brother. Soon the information came that he was still within the territory of Plymouth colony, and another removal became necessary. With five companions, who had joined him in banishment, he embarked in a canoe, passed down the river, and crossed to the west side of the bay. Here he was safe; his enemies could hunt him no farther. A tract of land was honorably purchased from Canonicus; and in June of 1636 the illustrious founder of Rhode Island laid out the city of Providence.

Meanwhile, his teachings were bearing fruit in Massachusetts. In 1634 a representative form of government was established against the opposition of the clergy. To make the reform complete, a Ballot-box was substituted for the old method of public voting. The restriction on the right of suffrage was the only remaining bar to a perfect system of self-government in New England.

During the next year three thousand new immigrants arrived. It was worth while--so thought the people of England--to come to a country where the principles of freedom were spreading with such rapidity. The newcomers were under the leadership of Hugh Peters and Sir Henry Vane; the former the Puritan pastor of some English exiles at Rotterdam, in Holland, and the latter a young nobleman who afterward played an important part in the history of England. Such was his popularity with the people of Massachusetts, and such his zeal and piety, that in less than a year after his arrival he was chosen governor of the colony.

By this time the settlements around Massachusetts Bay were thickly clustered. To enlarge the frontier, to plunge into the wilderness and find new places of abode, became a necessity. One little company of twelve families, led by Simon Willard and Peter Bulkeley, marched through the woods until they came to some open meadows sixteen miles from Boston, and there laid the foundations of Concord. A little later in the same year, another colony of sixty persons left the older settlements and pressed their way westward as far as the Connecticut River. the march itself was a grievous hardship, but greater toils and suffeings were in store for the adventurous company. A dreadful winter overtook them in their new homes but half-provided. Some died; others, disheartened, waded back through the dreary untrodden snows and came half-famished to Plymouth and Boston; but the rest, with true Puritan heroism, outbraved the winter and triumphed over the pangs of starvation. Spring brought a recompense for hardship the heroic pioneers crept out of their miserable huts to become the founders of Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield, the oldest towns in the Connecticut valley.

The banishment of Roger Williams, instead of bringing peace, brought strife and dissension to the people of Massachusetts. The ministers were stern and exacting. Every shade of popular belief was closely scrutinized; the slightest departure from orthodox doctrines was met with a charge of heresy, and to be a heretic was to become an outcast. Still, the advocates of free opinion multiplied. The clergy, notwithstanding their great influence among the people, felt insecure. Religious debates became the order of the day. Every sermon had to pass the ordeal of review and criticism.

Most prominent among those who were said to be "as bad as Roger Williams, or worse," was mrs. Anne Hutchinson, a woman of genius, who had come over in the ship with Sir Henry Vane. She desired the privilege of speaking at the weekly debates, and was refused. Women had no business at these assemblies, said the elders. Indignant at this, she became the champion of her sex, and declared that the ministers who were defrauding women of the gospel were no better than Pharisees. She called meetings of her friends, spoke much in public, and pleaded with great fervor for the full freedom of conscience. The liberal doctrines of the exiled Williams were reaffirmed with more power and eloquence than ever. Many of the magistrates were converted to the new beliefs; the governor himself espoused the cause of Mrs. Hutchinson; and many of the people of Boston inclined to her opinions.

For a while there was a reign of discord; but as soon as Sir Henry's term of office expired a call was issued for a meeting of the synod of New England. The body convened in August of 1637; a decree was proposed; Mrs. Hutchinson and her friends were declared unfit for the society of Christians, and banished from the territory of Massachusetts. With a large number of friends the exiles wended their way toward the home of Roger Williams. Miantonomoh, a Narragansett chieftain, made them a gift of the beautiful island of Rhode Island; there, in the month of March, 1641, a little republic established, in whose constitution freedom of conscience was guaranteed and persecution for opinion's sake forbidden.

The year 1636 was an important epoch in the history of Massachusetts. The general court of the colony passed an act appropriating between one and two thousand dollars to found and endow a college. The measure met with popular favor; the Puritans were an educated people, and were quick to appreciate the advantages of learning. Newtown was selected as the site of the proposed school. Plymouth and Salem gave gifts to help the enterprise; and from villages in the Connecticut valley came contributions of corn and wampum. In 1638, John Harvard, a young minister of Charlestown, died, bequeathing his library and nearly five thousand dollars to the school. To perpetuate the memory of the noble benefactor, the new institution was named Harvard College; and in honor of the place where the leading men of Massachusetts had been educated, the name of Newtown was changed to Cambridge. Thus early did the people of New England stamp their approval on the cause of education. In spite of sterile soil and desolate landscapes--in spite of destroying climate and wasting disease--in spite even of superstition and bigotry--the people who educate will ever be great and free.

The Printing-press came also. In 1638, Stephen Daye, an English printer, arrived at Boston, bringing a font of types, and in the following year set up a press at Cambridge. The first American publication was an almanac calculated for New England, and bearing date of 1639. During the next year, Thomas Welde and John Eliot, two ministers of Roxbury, and Richard Mather, of Dorchester, translated the Hebrew Psalms into English verse, and published their rude work in a volume of three hundred pages--the first book printed on this side of the Atlantic.

The rapid growth of Massachusetts now became a source of alarm to the English government. The principles of religion and politics which were openly avowed and gloried in by the citizens of the new commonwealth were hateful to Charles I. and his ministers. The archbishop of Canterbury was much offended. Something must be done to check the further growth of the Puritan colonies. The first measure which suggested itself was to stop emigration. For this purpose an edict was issued as early as 1634, but was of no effect. The officers of the government neglected to enforce the law. Four years later, more vigorous measures were adopted. A squadron of eight vessels, ready to sail from London, was detained by the royal authority. Many of the most prominent Puritan familes in England were on board of these ships. Historians of high rank have asserted--but without sufficient proof--that John Hampden and Oliver Cromwell were of the number who were turned back by the detention. At all events, it would have been the part of wisdom in King Charles to allow all Puritans to leave his realm as fast as possible. By detaining them in England he only made sure the Revolution, and by so much hastened his own downfall.

Return to Ridpath's History of the United States Table of Contents
Return to E-Books Index
Return to California AHGP Home Page
Return to Sacramento County AHGP Home Page

© 2000-2002 by Jacque Rogers