The emigration of the Englishmen who settled at Plymouth had been prompted by religious dissent. In what manner Robinson, who was capable of speculating on political tendencies, or Brewster, whose early position had compelled him to observe them, had augured concerning the prospect of public affairs in their native country, no record tells; while the rustics of the Scrooby congregation, who fled from a government which denied them liberty in their devotions, could have had but little knowledge and no agency in the political sphere. The case was widely different with the founders of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay. That settlement had its rise in a state of things in England which associated religion and politics in an intimate alliance. . . .
Winthrop, then forty-two years old, was descended from a family of good condition, long seated at Groton, in Suffolk, where he had a property of six or seven hundred pounds a year, the equivalent of at least two thousand pounds at the present day. His father was a lawyer and magistrate. Commanding uncommon respect and confidence from an early age, he had moved in the circles where the highest matters of English policy were discust, by men who had been associates of Whitgift, Bacon, Essex, and Cecil. Humphrey was "a gentleman of special parts, of learning and activity, and a godly man"; in the home of his father-in-law, Thomas, third earl of Lincoln, the head in that day of the now ducal house of Newcastle, he had been the familiar companion of the patriotic nobles.
Of the assistants, Isaac Johnson, esteemed the richest of the emigrants, was another son-in-law of Lord Lincoln, and a landholder in three counties. Sir Richard Saltonstall of Halifax, in Yorkshire, was rich enough to be a bountiful contributor to the company's operations. Thomas Dudley, with a company of volunteers which he had raised, had served, thirty years before, under Henry IV of France; since which time he had managed the estates of the Earl of Lincoln. He was old enough to have lent a shrill voice to the huzzas at the defeat of the armada, and his military services had indoctrinated him in the lore of civil and religious freedom. Theophilus Eaton, an eminent London merchant, was used to courts and had been minister of Charles I in Denmark. Simon Bradstreet, the son of a Non-conformist minister in Lincolnshire, and a grandson of "a Suffolk gentleman of a fine estate," had studied at Emanuel College, Cambridge. William Vassall was an opulent West India proprietor. "The principal planters of Massachusetts," says the prejudiced Chalmers, "were English country gentlemen of no inconsiderable fortunes; of enlarged understandings, improved by-liberal education; of extensive ambition, concealed under the appearance of religious humility."
But it is not alone from what we know of the position, character, and objects of those few members of the Massachusetts Company who were proposing to emigrate at the early period now under our notice, that we are to estimate the power and the purposes of that important corporation. It had been rapidly brought into the form which it now bore, by the political exigencies of the age. Its members had no less in hand than a wide religious and political reform--whether to be carried out in New England, or in Old England, or in both, it was for circumstances, as they should unfold themselves, to determine. The leading emigrants to Massachusetts were of that brotherhood of men who, by force of social consideration as well as of the intelligence and resolute patriotism, molded the public opinion and action of England in the first half of the seventeenth century. While the large part stayed at home to found, as it proved, the short-lived English republic, and to introduce elements into the English Constitution which had to wait another half-century for their secure reception, another part devoted themselves at once to the erection of free institutions in this distant wilderness.
In an important sense the associates of the Massachusetts Company were builders of the British, as well as of the New England, commonwealth. Some ten or twelve of them, including Cradock, the Governor, served in the Long Parliament. Of the four commoners of that Parliament distinguished by Lord Clarendon as first in influence, Vane had been governor of the company, and Hampden, Pym, and Fiennes--all patentees of Connecticut--if not members, were constantly consulted upon its affairs. The latter statement is also true of the Earl of Warwick, the Parliament's admiral, and of those excellent persons, Lord Say and Sele and Lord Brooke, both of whom at one time proposed to emigrate.
The company's meetings placed Winthrop and his colleagues in relations with numerous persons destined to act busy parts in the stirring times that were approaching--with Brereton and Hewson, afterward two of the Parliamentary major-generals; with Philip Nye, who helped Sir Henry Vane to "cozen" the Scottish Presbyterian Commissioners in the phraseology of the Solemn League and Covenant; with Samuel Vassall, whose name shares with those of Hampden and Lord Say and Sele the renown of the refusal to pay shipmoney, and of courting the suit which might rain them or emancipate England; with John Venn, who, at the head of six thousand citizens, beset the House of Lords during the trial of Lord Strafford, and whom, with three other Londoners, King Charles, after the battle of Edgehill, excluded from his offer of pardon; with Owen Rowe, the "firebrand of the city"; with Thomas Andrews, the lord mayor, who proclaimed the abolition of royalty. . . .
He who well weighs the facts which have been presented in connection with the principal emigration to Massachusetts, and other related facts which will offer themselves to notice as we proceed, may find himself conducted to the conclusion that when Winthrop and his associates prepared to convey across the water a charter from the King which, they hoped, would in their beginnings afford them some protection both from himself and through him from the powers of Continental Europe, they had conceived a project no less important than that of laying, on this side of the Atlantic, the foundations of a nation of Puritan Englishmen, foundations to be built upon as future circumstances should decide or allow. It would not perhaps be pressing the point too far to say that in view of the thick clouds that were gathering over their home, they contemplated the possibility that the time was near at hand when all that was best of what they left behind would follow them to these shores; when a renovated England, secure in freedom and pure in religion, would rise in North America; when a transatlantic English empire would fulfil, in its beneficent order, the dreams of English patriots and sages of earlier times. . . .
The Arbella arrived at Salem after a passage of nine weeks, and was joined in a few days by three vessels which had sailed in her company. The assistants, Ludlow and Rossiter, with a party from the west country, had landed at Nantasket a fortnight before, and some of the Leyden people, on their way to Plymouth, had reached Salem a little earlier yet. Seven vessels from Southampton made their voyages three or four weeks later. Seventeen in the whole came before winter, bringing about a thousand passengers. . . .
It is desirable to understand how this population, destined to be the germ of a state, was constituted. Of members of the Massachusetts Company, it cannot be ascertained that so many as twenty had come over. That company, as has been explained, was one formed mainly for the furtherance, not of any private interests, but of a great public object. As a corporation, it had obtained the ownership of a large American territory, on which it designed to place a colony which should be a refuge for civil and religious freedom. By, combined counsels, it had arranged the method of ordering a settlement, and the liberality of its members had provided the means of transporting those who should compose it. This done, the greater portion were content to remain and await the course of events at home, while a few of their number embarked to attend to providing the asylum which very soon might be needed by them all.
The reception of the newcomers was discouraging. More than a quarter part of their predecessors at Salem had died during the previous winter, and many of the survivors were ill or feeble. The faithful Higginson was wasting with a hectic fever, which soon proved fatal. There was a scarcity of all sorts of provisions, and not corn enough for a fortnight's supply after the arrival of the fleet. "The remainder of a hundred eighty servants," who, in the two preceding years, had been conveyed over at heavy cost, were discharged from their indentures, to escape the expense of their maintenance. Sickness soon began to spread, and before the close of autumn had proved fatal to two hundred of this year's emigration. Death aims at the "shining mark" he is said to love. Lady Arbella Johnson, coming "from a paradise of plenty and pleasure, which she enjoyed in the family of a noble earldom, into a wilderness of wants," survived her arrival only a month; and her husband, esteemed and beloved by the colonists, died of grief a few weeks after. "He was a holy man and wise and died in sweet peace."
1From Palfrey's "History of New England." By permission of and by arrangement with the authorized publishers, Houghton, Mifflin Co. Copyright, 1873.