They could penetrate the future no farther than to confide in the justice of God and the power of truth. The latter they knew must ultimately prevail, for the former was pledged to secure its triumph.”
The Pilgrims Settle Plymouth, Massachusetts, featuring a series of excerpts selected from by John S. Barry.
Previously in The Pilgrims Settle Plymouth, Massachussets. Now we continue.
Place: Plymouth, Massachussets
The Pilgrims were now ready to pass to the shore. But before taking this step, as the spot where they lay was without the bounds of their patent, and as signs of insubordination had appeared among their servants, an association was deemed necessary, and an agreement to “combine in one body and to submit to such government and governors as should by common consent” be selected and chosen. Accordingly, a compact was prepared, and signed before landing by all the males of the company who were of age; and this instrument was the constitution of the colony for several years. It was as follows:
In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are 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 the 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 one another, covenant and combine ourselves together unto 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 hereunder subscribed our names, at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our sovereign lord, King James of England, France, and Ireland, the 18th, and of Scotland the 54th, A.D. 1620.”
While on the one hand much eloquence has been expended in expatiating on this compact, as if in the cabin of the Mayflower had consciously and for the first time been discovered in an age of Cimmerian darkness the true principles of republicanism and equality; on the other hand, it has been asserted that the Pilgrims were “actuated by the most daring ambition,” and that even at this early period they designed to erect a government absolutely independent of the mother-country. But the truth seems to be that, although the form of government adopted by the emigrants is republican in its character, and remarkably liberal, at the same time its founders acknowledged suitable allegiance to England, and regarded themselves as connected with the land of their nativity by political and social ties, both endearing and enduring. Left to themselves in a wilderness land, apart from all foreign aid, and thrown upon their own resources, with none to help or advise, they adopted that course which commended itself to their calm judgment as the simplest and best; and if, under such circumstances, their compact was democratic, it seems chiefly to intimate that self-government is naturally attractive to the mind, and is spontaneously resorted to in emergencies like the present. It is as unwise to flatter our ancestors by ascribing to them motives different from those which they themselves professed as it is unjust to prefer charges against them to which they are not obnoxious. They were honest, sincere, and God-fearing men; humble in their circumstances, and guided by their own judgment; but endowed with no singular prophetic vision, and claiming no preternatural political sagacity. They could penetrate the future no farther than to confide in the justice of God and the power of truth. The latter they knew must ultimately prevail, for the former was pledged to secure its triumph.
The first care of the exiles, having established their provisional government, was to provide for their shelter. Cautiously, therefore, for fear of harm, on the same day that the compact was signed, fifteen or sixteen men, well armed, were set ashore at Long Point to explore the country; and returning at night with a boat-load of juniper, which delighted them with its fragrance, they reported that they had found “neither persons nor habitations.”
The stillness of the Sabbath was consecrated to worship — the first, probably, ever observed by Christians in Massachusetts — and on the morrow the shallop was drawn to the beach for repairs, and for the first time the whole company landed for refreshment. As the fitting of the shallop promised to be a difficult task, the adventurous, impatient of delay, were eager to prosecute a journey by land for discovery. “The willingness of the persons was liked, but the thing itself, in regard of the danger, was rather permitted than approved.” Consent, however, was obtained, and sixteen were detailed under Captain Standish, their military leader, who had served in the armies both of Elizabeth and James; and William Bradford, Stephen Hopkins, and Edward Tilly, being joined with him as “advisers and counselors,” the party debarked at Stevens’ Point, at the western extremity of the harbor, and marching in single file, at the distance of about a mile, five savages were espied, who, at their approach, hastily fled.
Compassing the head of East Harbor Creek the next day, and reaching a deep valley, fed with numerous springs, the exhausted travelers, whose provisions consisted but of “biscuit and Holland cheese, with a little bottle of aqua vita,” eagerly halted by one of these springs, and “drank their first draught of New England water with as much delight as ever they drunk drink in all their lives.” Passing thence to the shore, and kindling a beacon-fire, they proceeded to another valley, in Truro, in which was a pond, “a musket-shot broad and twice as long,” near which the Indians had planted corn. Further on graves were discovered; and at another spot the ruins of a house, and heaps of sand filled with corn stored in baskets. With hesitancy — so scrupulous were they of willfully wronging the natives — an old kettle, a waif from the ruins, was filled with this corn, for which the next summer the owners were remunerated. In the vicinity of the Pamet were the ruins of a fort, or palisade; and encamping for the night near the pond in Truro, on the following day they returned to the ship “weary and welcome” and their “Eschol” was added for their diminishing stores.