Pilgrims of the Mayflower

The Mayflower was brought across and anchored in the harbor, when her precious cargo of human beings, men, women, and children--the seed of a nation--were landed. There had been an addition made to the number of the emigrants since the explorers departed, for the wife of William White had given birth to a boy, who was named Peregrine. The good ship that brought them safely across the stormy Atlantic was safely moored; and in grateful recollection of the hospitalities they had received at the port from which they had sailed from England, they named the spot Plymouth.

The first care of the Pilgrims was to build houses, after they had planted their five cannon on a platform and erected a store-house for their food. But with the labor began sickness. Exposure and poor food made dreadful ravages upon their vitality that could not be stayed. There were no delicacies, and very little wholesome food. The sailors unkindly refused to let them have a variety, by sharing with the suffering their abundance of coarse food on the ship, until sickness invaded their circle, and the kindness of the Pilgrims taught them to be ashamed. Crowded in the cabin of the Mayflower, or exposed in half-finished huts, sometimes nearly buried with snowdrifts, the sufferers had little chance for recovery; and when, early in March, there came warm days and abundance of sunshine, forty-four of the passengers of the Mayflower were in their graves, doomed by quick consumption and lung fever. Governor Carver's son died soon after the landing. Six were buried in December, eight in January, seventeen in February, and thirteen in March. At one time there were only seven persons who had strength enough to wait upon the sick and bury the dead. Early in April the governor died, and his heart-broken wife soon followed him to the grave. Yet with all the discouragements of that dreadful winter, the fidelity, faith, and fortitude of the Pilgrims never faltered; and when, in March, the sun shined warmly, and the birds came and sang pleasantly, and the sickness was stayed, the living chanted songs of thanksgiving to God for his manifold mercies.

There had been, earlier than this, a cheering voice from the Indians whom the settlers so much dreaded. One day in February, when the sickness was at its height, an Indian passed through the hamlet and with plain Saxon words cried, "Welcome, Englishmen! welcome, Englishmen!" It was Samoset, a chief who had come from the island of Mohegan, where Captain Smith first landed, off the coast of Maine, and where he had learned a few English words from the sailors. He told them why they had seen so few Indians. It was because three or four years before a pestilence had almost depopulated the coast from Cape Cod to the Kennebec, as if clearing the way for Christians to plant the germs of civilization, unmolested. He came several days in succession, bringing with him other Indians, among them, at last, Squanto, whom Hunt had carried away and sold in Spain, but who had been sent back. That time Samoset came with a message from Massasoit, a neighboring king of the Wampanoags, of whom Squanto was a vassal, desiring an interview with the chief of the new comers.

Governor Carver gladly consented to hold a conference with the Indian monarch. Massasoit appeared on a neighboring hill, with sixty followers all painted and plumed. Winslow was sent with Squanto to meet him, bearing presents from the governor, whilst Captain Standish, who had been chosen military commander of the settlement, remained a little way off with several musketeers. Massasoit advanced slowly with twenty armed followers, leaving Winslow behind as a hostage or pledge, and met Standish at a dividing brook. Then the dusky men were conducted by the soldier to a building, where a rug and cushions were spread for the king and his courtiers. Sitting there in state, Massasoit received the governor, who came with the braying of a trumpet and the beating of a drum, followed by a few musketeers. After salutations and feastings, they entered into a treaty of peace and amity (Squanto acting as interpreter); and the sachem agreed to send messengers to neighboring tribes to invite them to come and make similar treaties, that they might all dwell lovingly with the pale-faces. Rising from the rug, the old chief, stretching forth his hand with dignity and pointing to the surrounding country, said, in substance: "Englishmen, take possession of the land, for there is no one left to occupy it. The Great Spirit came in his anger and swept the people from the face of the earth." That treaty was kept inviolate for forty-five years.

When the Indians had departed, the Pilgrims re-elected Carver governor of the colony, made some salutary laws, and sent the Mayflower home. She was scarcely out of sight, when the governor died suddenly from the effects of a "sun-stroke," and William Bradford was chosen to fill his place. As the season advanced hope grew stronger. Game was found to be plentiful in the forest, and fish in the streams. The survivors cultivated the land industriously, and reaped abundantly. In a short time other emigrants joined them. The whole community was free as air; and the settlement, begun with so much suffering, bereavement and discouragement, was made permanent. Within a few months after the arrival of the May-Flower, the Christian men and women who survived that winter of terrible experience, planted strong and deep, on the principles of justice and the rights of man, the foundations of the colony and the commonwealth of Massachusetts.

With the prose of suffering there was a little of the poetry of social romance at that tearful planting time. Among the victims of the famine and the fever was Rose Standish. Her husband laid her body tenderly in the earth, and feeling that it was "not good for man to be alone," almost immediately turned to Priscilla Mullins for consolation. She was a daughter of William Mullins, one of the Mayflower passengers. The captain was then thirty-seven years of age, and Priscilla had but lately bloomed into young womanhood. In Standish's family lived John Alden, a young cooper from Southampton, whom the Captain sent as an ambassador to Priscilla's father to ask his consent for the soldier to visit her with matrimonial intent. He performed the duties of his mission modestly and faithfully. The father readily gave his consent, adding, "But Priscilla must be consulted." She was summoned to the room. There sat John Alden, whom she knew well--a young man of graceful form, a handsome ruddy face and sparkling eyes, and of almost courtly manners.

Return to Our Country, Vol. I