Early English Settlement

Let us consider other attempts and failures, and the permanent establishment of a settlement in New England.

The restless Captain Smith did not long remain idle after his return from Virginia. In company with four London merchants, he fitted out two ships for the purpose of discovery and traffic in the northern regions of America. Captain Thomas Hunt commanded one of the vessels, and Smith sailed in the other. They left the Downs at the beginning of March, 1614, and first landed on the island of Mohegan, about twenty miles from the mouth of the Penobscot River, where they sought whales, but finding none Smith left the crews to engage in common fishing, while he and eight men, in a small boat, should explore the neighboring coasts and gather furs. They went up the several rivers far into the interior, and explored the whole coast from the Penobscot to Cape Cod. Smith constructed a map of the region; and after an absence of seven months, the vessels returned to England with cargoes of considerable value. He laid his map before Prince Charles, the heir apparent to the throne, and a man of considerable literary and artistic taste. The Prince procured from his father a confirmation of the title of New England, which Smith had given to the country, on his map; and so that region from twenty miles eastward of the Hudson River has ever since been called. As usual, crime dimmed the lustre of these achievements. Whilst Smith was exploring the coasts, Captain Hunt, an avaricious and profligate man, wishing, apparently, to impede settlements by inflaming the wrath of the Indians, so that he and a few others might enjoy the monopoly of traffic on that coast, kidnapped twenty-seven of the Indians at Cape Cod, with Squanto their chief, and taking them to Spain sold them for slaves. Some of them were taken by benevolent friars, who educated them for missionaries among the tribes, but only Squanto returned to America. The effect of this crime satisfied the apparent wishes of Hunt. The next fishing vessels that came from New England brought word that the natives were greatly exasperated.

This news did not discourage Captain Smith. On his return he had an interview with the energetic and ever-hopeful Ferdinando Gorges, and inspired him with such desires to plant a settlement in New England, that the Plymouth Company asked Smith to lead a colony thither. He believed that the could allay the anger of the natives, as he had done in Virginia, and having accepted the invitation of the Company, he sailed with two ships and some emigrants in the spring of 1615. Smith's ship was shattered by a tempest and returned to port. On the 4th of July following he sailed again, in a bark of sixty tons, and was soon captured by a French squadron. While on board one of the Gallic vessels, he wrote an account of his voyage to New England, which was published the next year. After a brief captivity, he was released and returned home. Meanwhile, the Plymouth Company had made him admiral of New England; but, discouraged by ill luck, the association had again abandoned the project of planting a colony there. Smith now drops almost out of sight in history. He lived to see his friend, Prince Charles, seated on the throne of his father; and, not long afterwards (1631), the founder of the Virginia colony died at the age of fifty-one years.

Thus far English settlements in America had been attempted by private adventurers, or commercial associations, with no higher aim than the acquisition of wealth. That acquisition was denied, and full success was not obtained until better men, with more exalted motives, came to people the lands. These came to New England with families and were prepared to stay, not so much for the betterment of their temporal estates, as for the unmolested enjoyment of civil and religious freedom, which was denied them at home.

On the accession of James, a reputed "Presbyterian King," the Puritans indulged high hopes of toleration, perhaps of supremacy. They were doomed to wretched disappointment. Soon after James ascended the throne he called a conference at Hampton Court, in which he was the chief actor, playing the parts of brute and mountebank. The Puritan divines, some of them the most eminent scholars in the land, were annoyed by coarse browbeating by the Bishop of London, and the coarser jests of the king. Whitgift, venerable with age, was present, and when the "royal buffoon" said to the Puritan ministers: "You want to strip Christ again; away with your snivelling," and much more that was coarse and offensive, the Primate exclaimed, "Your Majesty speaks by the special assistance of God's Spirit;" and the Bishop of London fell upon his knees and said: "I protest my heart melteth for joy that Almighty God, of his singular mercy, has given us such a king as since Christ's time has not been." A brilliant modern English writer, expressing the verdict of history, says of that king: "He was cunning, covetous, wasteful, idle, drunken, greedy, dirty, cowardly, a great swearer, and the most conceited man on earth." The discussions at the Hampton Court conference, conducted with so much ill-breeding on the part of the king and some of the High Churchmen, led to the important result of the appointment of a commission of learned men to make that translation of the Bible now in use among Protestants.

The Puritans were humiliated and discouraged by this farce at Hampton Court; and when the king told them, "I will make you conform or I will harry ye out of the land," and silenced or imprisoned three hundred of their ministers, many of the thirty thousand Nonconformists in the kingdom felt like seeking refuge in a foreign country. And many of them did join their brethren already in Holland. Among them was Richard Clifton, pastor of a rural congregation in Nottinghamshire. In that congregation was John Robinson as teacher; and the most considerable private member was William Brewster, postmaster at Scrooby, and at one time a favorite of Secretary Davidson under Queen Elizabeth. The pastor and the congregation, after many trials, made their way to Amsterdam, in small companies, in 1608, where they were united. From that city, in the course of a few months, they went to Leyden, a city of seventy thousand inhabitants. Clifton was dead and Robinson was chosen to be their pastor, with William Brewster as the chief elder. After awhile they all found employment and were happy, with their families around them. The congregation became large and flourishing, for many of their persecuted brethren at home joined them.

English loyalty and patriotism asserted their power in the hearts of these exiles for conscience sake. Though driven from their native land by persecution, they had not lost their affection for it; and they yearned to live "under the protection of the state of England." They had heard of beautiful Virginia, and longed for the freedom of the forest. That band of noble men and women revealed a generous impulse when they said: "If God would be pleased to discover some place unto them, though in America, where they might live comfortably by themselves, and being freed from anti-Christian bondage, might keep their names and nature, and not only be a means to enlarge the dominions of the English state, but the Church also, if the Lord had a people among the natives, whither he would bring them; thereby they thought they might more glorify God, do more good to their country, better provide for their posterity and live to be more refreshed by their labors than ever they could do in Holland, where they were." Patriotism and Christian benevolence warmed their hearts.

"They sought not gold nor guilty ease. Upon this rock-bound shore; They left such prizeless toys as these To minds that loved them more. They sought to breathe a freer air, To worship God unchain'd- They welcomed pain and danger here, When rights like these were gain'd."

The project of emigration to America caused much discussion. They looked every difficulty square in the face-the dangers of the sea and the Indians; the burdens of fatigue that would be laid upon the weak and aged in so long a voyage; the cost of the enterprise, and the utter uncertainty that hovered around the whole project. These were all considered, and made dark shadings to the brighter pictures which faith and hope created. They pondered and prayed, and came to the conclusion to emigrate to America. The Dutch offered to send them to Hudson's River, free of charge, with their household goods and cattle, if they would settle there. They patriotically declined this generous proposal because they wished to live on "English land," somewhere within the bounds of the North Virginia domain, the proprietors whereof were then contemplating vast schemes of colonization under a new charter which they hoped to obtain from the king. That charter was granted late in 1620. It made the company absolute owners of a domain containing more than a million square miles. They superseded the original Plymouth Company, and assumed the corporate title of The Council of Plymouth.

Before the charter was granted, the congregation at Leyden sent two agents to England to ask leave of the Plymouth Company to settle within their domain, and to procure a guaranty from the king that they should enjoy religious freedom in their proposed new home. They obtained the permission of the Company, but the king would give them no written promise. Under the influence of Edward Sandys, he gave them an oral promise that they should not be disturbed so long as they should give no public offence. His word was considered no more stable than a rope of sand, and many were loth to unsettle themselves upon such a fickle tenure. But it was finally concluded to take the risk, and a deputation was again sent to England to make arrangements for the emigration. A joint-stock company with some London merchants and others was formed, by the terms of which the services of emigrants who could not contribute money were accepted as an equivalent for cash, the value of each share being fixed at Pound 10. All profits were to be reserved for seven years, at the end of which time the lands, houses, and every product of their joint industry were to be valued, and an equal portion to be divided among the shareholders. Captain Smith, the founder of Virginia, offered to accompany them, but his aristocratic notions were a bar and his offer was declined.

It was agreed that only a portion of the congregation at Leyden--"the youngest and strongest"--should first go to America under the spiritual guidance of Elder Brewster, then a little more than fifty years of age, while the larger portion should remain with Mr. Robinson and follow the next year if the report of the pioneers should be favorable. Two small vessels were purchased for the voyage--the Speedwell, of sixty tons burthen, and the May-Flower, of one hundred and eighty tons. In the summer of 1620, a portion of the congregation at Leyden embarked in the former vessel at Delft Haven, for England, where she was joined, at Southampton, by the latter. These emigrants, like their brethren left behind, feeling that they had no home--no abiding place--but were pilgrims and strangers, assumed the name of Pilgrims, by which they are known in history--"The Pilgrim Fathers."

The embarkation at Delft Haven was a picturesque and interesting scene. A large portion of the congregation at Leyden followed the emigrants to the port, fourteen miles distant, after those who were to remain had feasted the pioneers at the house of the pastor. At the port, after another feast, they all engaged in religious exercises--prayers and psalm-singing--the voyagers on the deck of the Speedwell and the others on the quay. When the sails of the vessel were spread and she had left her moorings, the emigrants gave their brethren a parting salute with musketry and three small cannon.

The two ships sailed for America on the 6th of August. The Speedwell was soon reported to be too leaky to proceed, and both vessels went back to Dartmouth. She was repaired, and when again she was well out upon the Atlantic she was reported to be unseaworthy, and returned. It was believed that her captain and some of the company lost courage, and untruly reported her to be in a dangerous condition. She did not again sail for the Western world. The more courageous of her company joined those on the May-Flower, and on the 6th of September the latter sailed from Plymouth with forty-one men as settlers with their families, numbering in all one hundred-and-one souls. Among these were William Brewster and his numerous family, and William Bradford, of Scrooby; John Carver, a deacon in the Church at Leyden; young Edward Winslow and his bride, the richest couple of the flock; Miles Standish, a fiery little soldier, and his beautiful wife Rose; John Alden, the youngest of the Pilgrims, being only twenty-one years of age, and a favorite of Standish; John Allerton and Dr. Edward Fuller, all of whom were distinguished in the history of the colony.

After a boisterous voyage of sixty-three days, the Mayflower arrived off Cape Cod. Her destination was some "point near Hudson's River, but within the territory of the London Company" -- somewhere on the shores of New Jersey. Turning southward, the ship encountered "perilous shoals," perhaps those off Nantucket, when she was made to retrace her line, double the headland, and come to anchor in the bay inclosed by the long peninsula of Cape Cod sixty miles in length, in what is now the roadstead of Province-town. The weather was fine and the air was crisp, for it was early in November. To prevent anarchy when they should from a settlement, the following instrument was drawn up, and on a little table in the cabin of the Mayflower was signed by the entire company of forty-one adult masculine emigrants:

"In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are here underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, etc., having undertaken for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian Faith, and honor 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 of one 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 hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the region of our sovereign lord, King James, of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini, 1620."

This was the first constitution of government ever signed by a whole people. More than a month passed after this act before the Pilgrims landed. Explorations of the coasts of the great Bay were made in search of a good place for a settlement. In a shallop and on foot the explorers wandered, often suffering much from the biting cold of winter, which came early with binding frost, and blinding, hindering snow. They saw few natives, and these were shy or hostile. They found some graves; some remains of human habitations; many deserted wigwams; some heaps of maize or Indian corn, and some tokens of civilized visitors here and there, when they touched the shores. They were assailed by a few Indians who knew the English as kidnappers, for it was only a few years before that Hunt had carried away more than a score of their people. At length the explorers came to a snug harbor, and landed upon a rock on the site of Plymouth, almost due west across the water from where the Mayflower lay. It seemed a goodly place for a settlement, and they chose it as such. That landing took place on the 22d of December, 1620. It was an important event in the history of New England, and since the year 1767 its anniversary has been celebrated; and fragments of the rock--"Plymouth Rock," which has been called the "Blarney Stone of New England,"--are preserved on the spot with care.

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