HOW YOUNG SIR HARRY VANE FOUND HIMSELF
IN HOT WATER.
lived in old England a remarkable boy; he grew to be a remarkable man.
As you enter the great Public Library in Boston, you may see in a niche
to the left of the entrance, in the wide vestibule, a bronze statue of
heroic size and splendid workmanship. It is Macmonnies’s statue of
this remarkable Englishman,—Sir Harry Vane, the boy governor of
He was not exactly a boy governor; but he was
scarcely twenty-four years old when the freemen of the Massachusetts Bay
colony elected him governor, and twenty-four, it must be admitted, is
rather young for a governor of Massachusetts.
He was born in a fine old manor house
in the village of Hadlow, in the county of Kent in England, in the year 1612.
He was but eight years old when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth,
but even at that age he made a sensation.
His father was a great officer of state, who loyally
served the obstinate King Charles I.; but this small boy was
almost as obstinate in his opinions as was the king in his. For about
the time the Pilgrims landed, and when young Harry
Vane was a small boy in his
English home, he became so stout a little Puritan
that he absolutely refused to take the oath of conformity to the king’s
religion in the church at Westminster, because his conscience would not
permit! And later, when he was a young man, although his father
commanded and the king begged him to "conform" to the
established religion, "young Sir Harry Vane," as he was always
called, to distinguish him from the elder Sir Harry, his father,
persistently refused to change his opinions, because lie believed so
thoroughly in what is termed "liberty of conscience and religious
Hoping to find this larger liberty in America, young
Sir Harry Vane forsook his English home and came over the sea to
Massachusetts. He was then but twenty-three. He was received with a
salute of cannon
and a great flourish of trumpets, for the son of the
king’s comptroller was considered a great addition.
Sir Harry Vane was a bright, earnest, energetic, and
young man, and he soon became so popular with the people of Boston and
the bay that the very next year after his arrival they elected him
governor of the Massachusetts Bay colony; and the first thing he did was
to get the royal standard of the king from one of the ships in the
harbor, and unfurl it, with a mighty salute, above the fort in the town;
then he appointed a committee to revise the colony laws. That’s like
most young men, you know, when they get into power. First they say
"See me!" and then they start in to change
things. And young Sir Harry Vane was only twenty-four!
That was in 1636, the very year in which brave
William Pvnchon broke his way through the forests and by the Bay Path to
the settlement of Springfield, and the opening up
of the western lands of Massachusetts. But
popularity does not always mean success. It is, indeed, a most uncertain
condition. And this Sir Harry Vane speedily discovered.
Already there were entering into the little colony
disturbing elements. One Roger Williams, called by future ages the
"apostle of religious liberty," stirred up the stricter
Puritans at Boston and Salem and Plymouth to protest and anger. In fact,
he led so many" astray," as the ministers declared, and
rendered himself so obnoxious to the government, that it was finally
voted to get rid of him by shipping him home to England. But Roger
Williams was not to be caught napping. He
men, naturally looked to the stronger colony for aid
when the Pequot Indians, stirred to revenge by the persecutions and
encroachments of the traders and borderers, broke out into retaliation.
The horrors of an Indian war were too terrible to allow any risk to be
run, and at once Governor Vane acted. Endicott, the stern flag cutter,
was sent with three ships to destroy the Indians on Block Island, at the
mouth of Long Island Sound. He did this cruelly but effectively. The
Pequots, retaliating, laid waste the Connecticut valley, whereupon
Captain John Mason, with ninety men from Plymouth and Boston, charged
down, in May, 1637, upon
the palisaded Pequot village, near where the town of Stonington now
stands. Four hundred Indian allies joined the expedition; but they
deserted before the fight, which was brief and bloody. The Pequot
village was surprised, stormed, set on fire, and most of its inhabitants
killed. In this stern but horrible manner were the Pequots overthrown
and well-nigh exterminated, and the immediate danger of Indian invasion
averted. Not for a generation did the Indians again break out into war.
Connecticut was brought into closer relations with Massachusetts, and
the tide of emigration from old England to New England steadily
But war does not by any means stop progress,—it is
often a developer; and it was while this Pequot war was going on that
the governor, young Sir Harry Vane, presided over the assembly which
voted a sum of money to found a college.
On the beautiful west or main gate of Harvard
University you may read the story. Carved in a stone tablet
gave the Boston authorities the slip,—literally
to the woods," was befriended by the Indians,
and at last founded Rhode Island, or what were first called the
Following on the heels of this came Indian troubles,
almost the first in the history of the colony. Irresponsible and
meddling strangers worried into war the strong tribe of Indians known as
the Pequots, boldest and bravest of New England Indians. The colonies
along the bay were threatened with massacre, and almost before he knew
it Sir Harry Vane had an Indian war on his hands.
This Pequot war of Sir Harry Vane’s day began in
Connecticut. That colony, settled by Massachusetts
set in the brick pier of the north wall is this
inscription in the quaint spelling of our forefathers:
"By the General Court of
Massachusetts Bay, 28 October 1636, Agreed to give 400 £ towards a
schole or colledge whereof 200 £ to be paid next year & 200 £ when
the work is finished and the next Court to appoint wheare and what
building. 15 November 1637 the colledge is ordered to bee at Newe Towne.
2 May 1638 It is ordered that New Towne shall henceforward be called
Cambridge. 15 March 1639 it is ordered that the colledge agreed upon
formerly to bee built at Cambridge shall bee called Harvard Colledge."
This last record, now inscribed in stone, was made
after Sir Harry Vane had gone home to England, and when a certain John
Harvard, minister of the church at Charlestown, dying without children,
left his library and one half of all his possessions to help on the new
college. Thus it became Harvard College, now developed into the great
university. A bronze statue of the gentle founder and benefactor stands
in the green triangle before Memorial Hall; and in the old burying
ground at Charlestown, upon a tall granite shaft, you may read on the
eastern face: "On the twenty-sixth day of September, A.D. 1828,
this stone was erected by the graduates of the university at Cambridge,
in honor of its founder, who died at Charlestown on the twenty-sixth day
of September, A.D. 1638."
So the terrors of Indian war and the triumphs of
education came in the midst of other experiences to mark the
governorship of young Sir Harry Vane. Scarcely, however, had these been
recorded before fresh
trouble came. A new religious dissension shook the
little colony like an ague. It was all due to a woman, quite as
remarkable in her way as any of those early New England men. This was
Mrs. Anne Hutchinson, who held advanced religious opinions, and was the
first woman lecturer and founder of the first woman’s club in New
England. She was so bright in intellect and brilliant in conversation,
so very impulsive and sometimes so very unwise in action, that not one
of the ministers of the colony could stand against her, and so they
But before the end came she had drawn all the Bay
into her dispute with the ministers, and people took sides for or
against her; and among those who took her part was the governor, Sir
Harry Vane himself.
The united ministers of the Bay colony were, however,
too strong for Mrs. Anne Hutchinson and Sir Harry Vane. But the fight
waxed fierce and hot. The colony became divided into two political
parties, for in that day religion was politics.
Mrs. Anne Hutchinson had a sharp tongue and knew how
to use it. She did not spare her opponents. The ministers, as they
believed, had right on their side, and they did not spare Mrs.
Hutchinson or those who followed her lead. They plainly called them
heretics, and heresy in those stern days was one of the things that the
law stamped out with heroic measures.
Sir Harry protested as the champion of woman’s
rights and freedom of speech; the ministers stormed and threatened; and
there is no telling to what extremes they might not have gone had not
and wise John Winthrop stepped in as a sort of
arbitrator and settled things for a while.
Young Sir Harry Vane did not find it any easier to
secure religious and personal liberty in New England than in old
England. He wished to do the right thing, too, but he found it hard work
to believe that other people were right.
He sided with Mrs. Anne Hutchinson against the
ministers; so did Boston ; but the "
suburbs" sided with the ministers, and it
became a question whether Boston should rule the colony or the colony
Sir Harry Vane was very bold and bright; but, like
most young men, he dearly loved to have his own way. When he found he
could not, he "got mad," like any boy, and said he
"wouldn’t play." In other words, he threatened to give up
the governorship and go home to England. Then he thought better of it
and said he was " sorry."
But things got no better, and at last, in the spring
of 1637 (on Cambridge Common, because the "suburbs" did not
dare to go to Boston), the "freemen" of the Bay colony held an
open-air convention, that almost ended in a free fight over the question
of religious and political rights. The ministers and the colony won. Sir
Harry Vane was defeated. John Winthrop was again elected governor, and
young Sir Harry Vane turned his back on the colony and went home at last
As for Mrs. Anne Hutchinson, she was driven into
exile,—" banished from Boston! "—and later was killed by
the Indians in a terrible massacre in the New York
near what is now New Rochelle. It is a sad story, and one that we, in
this enlightened age, can
scarcely understand. But the ministers did have law
on their side. They were authorized by their charter to rid
themselves of all objectionable persons, and Mrs. Anne Hutchinson certainly was, in their estimation, most
objectionable. The safety of the commonwealth, they believed, depended
upon her banishment, and so she had to go.
Young Sir Harry Vane had not been of great benefit to
the colony, apparently; but he had led the people to think for
themselves, and to make a stand against
what in these days one might call the "church trust," which
almost held Massachusetts in thrall.
He was defeated, but that very defeat left the people thoughtful, and
out of his stand for what he considered. Fright and justice
came in due time that final separation of church and state which is the
very keynote of American liberty, of freedom of thought and speech and
action. Let us be thankful for young Sir Harry Vane.
He became a great man in England, the honest supporter of the
Commonwealth, the stout opponent of what he
believed to be Oliver Cromwell’s personal power. Read English history
and the dramatic story of Cromwell’s famous
burst of temper: " Oh,
Sir Harry Vane! Sir Harry Vane! The Lord deliver me from Sir Vane!"
To the last Vane stood boldly out for the liberties of England,
and when the great Cromwell was succeeded by the petty Charles Stuart,
second of the name, Sir Harry Vane was declared by that spiteful monarch
"too dangerous to let live."
Charges were trumped up against him, and he died upon the scaffold,— a
martyr to liberty, a hero to the last.
His connection with the story of Massachusetts was
brief but eventful, and it is for us to remember that to Sir Harry Vane
Americans and Englishmen owe very much, as the man who, alike in America
and England, boldly withstood what he considered tyranny, and
gladly died a martyr to the cause of liberty.
That spirit lived again in the brave men of one
hundred and fifty years later, who, profiting by his example, dared to
stand out against the tyranny of an English king, and to show America
the open door to freedom.
As governor of Massachusetts he had a stormy
experience, and found himself, indeed, in hot water; but Massachusetts
honors and reveres the memory of her boyish governor, young Sir Harry