However rapidly we have sketched, in the preceding pages, the history of the Pilgrims from their settlement in Holland to their removal to America, no one can fail to have been deeply impressed with the inspiring lessons which that history teaches.
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 whole of this first winter was a period of unprecedented hardship and suffering. Mild as was the weather, it was far more severe than that of the land of their birth; and the disease contracted on shipboard, aggravated by colds caught in their wanderings in quest of a home, caused a great and distressing mortality to prevail. In December six died; in January, eight; in February, seventeen; and in March, thirteen; a total of forty-four in four months–of whom twenty-one were signers of the compact. It is remarkable that the leaders of the colony were spared. The survivors were unwearied in their attentions to their companions; but affection could not avert the arrows of the Destroyer. The first burial-place was on Cole’s Hill; and as an affecting proof of the miserable condition of the sufferers it is said that, knowing they were surrounded by warlike savages, and fearing their losses might be discovered and advantage be taken of their weakness to attack and exterminate them, the sad mounds formed by rude coffins hidden beneath the earth were carefully leveled and sowed with grain!
However rapidly we have sketched, in the preceding pages, the history of the Pilgrims from their settlement in Holland to their removal to America, no one can fail to have been deeply impressed with the inspiring lessons which that history teaches. As has been well said:
Their banishment to Holland was fortunate; the decline of their little company in the strange land was fortunate; the difficulties which they experienced in getting the royal consent to banish themselves to this wilderness was fortunate; all the tears and heartbreakings of that ever-memorable parting at Delfthaven had the happiest influence on the rising destinies of New England. All this purified the rank of the settlers. These rough touches of fortune brushed off the light, uncertain, selfish spirits. They made it a grave, solemn, self-denying expedition, and required of those who were engaged in it to be so too.”
Touching also is the story of the “long, cold, dreary autumnal passage” in that “one solitary, adventurous vessel, the Mayflower, of a forlorn hope, freighted with the prospects of a future state and bound across the unknown sea.” We behold it “pursuing with a thousand misgivings the uncertain, the tedious voyage. Suns rise and set, and winter surprises them on the deep, but brings them not the sight of the wished-for shore. The awful voice of the storm howls through the rigging. The laboring masts seem straining from their base; the dismal sound of the pumps is heard; the ship leaps, as it were, madly from billow to billow; the ocean breaks, and settles with engulfing floods over the floating deck, and beats with deadening, shivering weight against the staggering vessel.”
Escaped from these perils, after a passage of sixty-six days, and subsequent journeyings until the middle of December, they land on the ice-clad rocks of Plymouth, worn out with suffering, weak and weary from the fatigues of the voyage, poorly armed, scantily provisioned, surrounded by barbarians, without prospect of human succor, without the help or favor of their king, with a useless patent, without assurance of liberty in religion, without shelter, and without means!
Yet resolute men are there: Carver, Bradford, Brewster, Standish, Winslow, Alden, Warren, Hopkins, and others. Female fortitude and resignation are there. Wives and mothers, with dauntless courage and unexampled heroism, have braved all these dangers, shared all these trials, borne all these sorrows, submitted to all these privations. And there, too, is “chilled and shivering childhood, houseless but for a mother’s arms, couchless but for a mother’s breast.”
But these sepulchers of the dead! — where lie Turner, Chilton, Crackston, Fletcher, Goodman, Mullins, White, Rogers, Priest, Williams, and their companions — these touch the tenderest and holiest chords. Husbands and wives, parents and children, have finished their pilgrimage, and mingled their dust with the dust of New England. Hushed as the unbreathing air, when not a leaf stirs in the mighty forest, was the scene at those graves where the noble and true were buried in peace. “Deeply as they sorrowed at parting with those, doubly endeared to them by the remembrance of what they had suffered together, and by the fellowship of kindred griefs, they committed them to the earth calmly, but with hope.” No sculptured marble, no enduring monument, no honorable inscription, marks the spot where they were laid. Is it surprising that local attachments soon sprung up in the breasts of the survivors, endearing them to the place of refuge and their sorrows? They had come “hither from a land to which they were never to return. Hither they had brought, and here they were to fix, their hopes and their affections.” Consecrated by persecutions in their native land, by an exile in Holland of hardship and toil, by the perils of the ocean voyage and its terrible storms, by their sufferings and wanderings in quest of a home, and by the heartrending trials of the first lonely winter — by all these was their new home consecrated and hallowed in their inmost thoughts; and forward to the future they looked with confidence in God and a cheerful reliance upon that beneficent Providence which had enabled them with patience to submit to his chastenings, and, Phoenix-like, to rise from the ashes of the dead and from the depths of the bitterest affliction and distress, with invincible courage, determined to subdue the wilderness before them, and to “fill this region of the great continent, which stretches almost from pole to pole,” with freedom and intelligence, the arts and the sciences, flourishing villages, temples of worship, and the numerous blessings of civilized life, baptized in the fountain of the Gospel of Christ.
This ends our series of passages The Pilgrims Settle Plymouth, Massachussets by John S. Barry. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.