Their greatest hardship was the compact with the merchants. The Pilgrims were poor and their funds were limited.
The Pilgrims Settle Plymouth, Massachussets, featuring a series of excerpts selected from by John S. Barry.
Previously in The Pilgrims Settle Plymouth, Massachussets. Now we continue.
Place: Plymouth, Massachussets
Next followed a discussion “as to how many and who should go first.” All were ready and anxious to embark; but funds were wanting to defray their expenses. It was concluded, therefore, that the youngest and strongest should be the pioneers of the Church, and that the eldest and weakest should follow at a future date. If the Lord “frowned” upon their proceedings the first emigrants were to return, but if he prospered and favored them they were to “remember and help over the ancient and poor.” As the emigrants proved the minority, it was agreed that the pastor should remain in Holland, and that Mr. Brewster, the elder, should accompany those who were to leave. Each party was to be an absolute church in itself; and as any went or came they were to be admitted to fellowship without further testimonies. Thus the church at Plymouth was the first in New England established upon the basis of Independent Congregationalism.
Early the next spring Mr. Weston visited Leyden to conclude the arrangements for “shipping and money,” and Messrs. Carver and Cushman returned with him to England to “receive the money and provide for the voyage.” The latter was to tarry in London, and the former was to proceed to Southampton; Mr. Christopher Martin, of Billerrica, in Essex, was to join them; and from the “county of Essex came several others, as also from London and other places.”
Pending these negotiations, the property of those who were to embark was sold, and the proceeds were added to the common fund, with which vessels, provisions, and other necessaries were to be obtained. But Mr. Weston already half repented his engagements, and, more interested in trade than in religion, he informed his associates that “sundry honorable lords and worthy gentlemen” were treating for a patent for New England, distinct from the Virginia patent, and advised them to alter their plans and ally with the new company. At the same time their agents sent word that “some of those who should have gone fell off and would not go; other merchants and friends that professed to adventure their money withdrew and pretended many excuses: some disliking they went not to Guiana; others would do nothing unless they went to Virginia; and many who were most relied on refused to adventure if they went thither.” Such discouragements would have disheartened men of a less sanguine temperament, and for a time the Pilgrims were “driven to great straits”; but as the patent for New England had not passed the seals, it was deemed useless to linger longer in uncertainty, and they “resolved to adventure with that patent they had.”
Their greatest hardship was the compact with the merchants. The Pilgrims were poor and their funds were limited. They had no alternative, therefore, but to associate with others; and, as often happens in such cases, wealth took advantage of their impoverished condition. By their instructions the terms on which their agents were to engage with the adventurers were definitely fixed, and no alteration was to be made without consultation. But time was precious; the business was urgent; it had already been delayed so long that many were impatient; and to satisfy the merchants, who drove their bargain sharply and shrewdly, some changes were made, and by ten tight articles the emigrants were bound to them for the term of seven years. At the end of this period, by the original compact, the houses and improved lands were to belong wholly to the planters; and each colonist having a family to support was to be allowed two days in each week to labor for their benefit. The last is a liberty enjoyed by “even a Wallachian serf or a Spanish slave”; and the refusal of the merchants to grant so reasonable a request caused great complaint; but Mr. Cushman answered peremptorily that, unless they had consented to the change, “the whole design would have fallen to the ground, and, necessity having no law, they were constrained to be silent.” As it was, it threatened a seven years’ check to the pecuniary prosperity of the colony; but as it did not interfere with their civil or religious rights, it was submitted to with the less reluctance, though never acceptable.
At this critical juncture, while the Pilgrims were in such perplexity, and surrounded by so many difficulties, the Dutch, who were perfectly acquainted with their proceedings, and who could not but be sensible that the patent they had obtained of the Virginia Company, if sanctioned by the government of England, would interfere seriously with their projected West India Company, and with their settlement at New Netherland, stepped forward with the proposals of the most inviting and apparently disinterested and liberal character. Knowing that but a portion of the Church were preparing to embark for America, and that all would be glad to emigrate in a body, overtures were made to Mr. Robinson, as pastor, that he and his flock, and their friends in England, would embark under the auspices of the Lords States-General, themselves should be transported to America free of expense, and cattle should be furnished for their subsistence on their arrival. These are the “liberal offers” alluded to in general terms by early Pilgrim writers, and which are uniformly represented as having originated with the Dutch, though recently it has been suggested, and even asserted, that the overtures came from the Pilgrims themselves. But there is an inherent improbability in this last representation, arising from the fact that much time had been spent in procuring a patent in England, and in negotiating with the adventurers for the requisite funds, and an avowed object with the Pilgrims in leaving Holland was to preserve their nationality. They had no motive, therefore, to originate such a proposition, though when made to them by the Dutch it may have proved so attractive that they were willing to accept it upon certain conditions, of which one was that the government of Holland should guarantee to protect them.