previous next

Book XV: the Massachusetts Bay colony. (A. D. 1629-1631.)

[340] The first of these extracts is from Rev. Francis Higginson's ‘True Relation of the Last Voyage to New England, written from New England, July 24, 1629,’ reprinted in Young's ‘Chronicles of the First Planters of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay:’ Boston, 1846 (pp. 235-237). The second is from the same work: (Young, pp. 232-235). The third is from ‘New England's Plantation; or, A Short and True Description of the Commodities and Discommodities of that Country,’ by Francis Higginson: London, 1630: (Young, pp. 242-256). This pamphlet attracted so much attention, that three distinct editions of it were published in a year.

The next two passages are from ‘Life and Letters of John Winthrop’ (vol. II. pp. 15-16, 64-65). The last passage is from the ‘Memoirs of Captain Roger Clap:’ (Young, pp. 351-354).


I.—The voyage of the Massachusetts colonists.

[the first large colony of the Massachusetts Bay company sailed from England in April, 1629, with two hundred people; governor Endicott, with ‘a few men,’ having preceded them the year before. The Reverend Francis Higginson was the leader of this larger party. These were the colonists properly called Puritans, as distinct from the Pilgrims, who settled Plymouth.]

Now in our passage divers things are remarkable.

First, through God's blessing, our passage was short and speedy; for whereas we had a thousand leagues, that is, three thousand miles English, to sail from Old to New England, we performed the same in six weeks and three days.

Secondly, our passage was comfortable and easy, for the most part, having ordinarily fair and moderate wind, and being freed, for the most part, from rough and stormy seas, saving one night only, which we that were not used thought to be more terrible than indeed it was; and this was Wednesday at night, May 27. [342]

Thirdly, our passage was also healthful to our passengers, being freed from the great contagion of the scurvy and other maledictions,1 which in other passages to other places had taken away the lives of many. And yet we were, in all reason, in wonderful danger all the way, our ship being greatly crowded with passengers; but, through God's great goodness, we had none that died of the pox, but that wicked fellow that scorned at fasting and prayer. There were, indeed, two little children,—one of my own, and another beside: but I do not impute it merely to the passage; for they were both very sickly children, and not likely to have lived long if they had not gone to sea. And take this for a rule, if children be healthful when they come to sea, the younger they are, the

Francis Higginson.

better they will endure the sea, and are not troubled with sea-sickness as older people are, as we had experience in many children that went this voyage. My wife, indeed, in tossing weather, was something ill; . . . but in calm weather she recovered again, and is now much better for the sea-sickness. And for my own part, whereas I have for divers years past been very sickly, . . . and was very sick at London and Gravesend, yet from the time I came on shipboard to this day I have been strangely healthful; and now I can digest our ship diet very well, which I could not when I was at land. . . . Also divers children [343] were sick of the smallpox, but are safely recovered again; and two or three passengers, towards the latter end of the voyage, fell sick of the scurvy, but, coming to land, recovered in a short time.

Fourthly, our passage was both pleasurable and profitable; for we received instruction and delight in beholding the wonders of the Lord in the deep waters, and sometimes seeing the sea round us appearing with a terrible countenance, and, as it were, full of high hills and deep valleys; and sometimes it appeared as a most plain and even meadow. And ever and anon we saw divers kinds of fishes sporting in the great waters, great grampuses and huge whales going by companies, and puffing up water-streams. Those that love their own chimney-corner, and dare not go far beyond their own town's end, shall never have the honor to see these wonderful works of Almighty God.

Ii.—The Massachusetts Bay colonists in Salem harbor.

Friday a foggy morning, but after clear, and wind calm. We saw many schools of mackerel, infinite multitudes on every side of our ship. The sea was abundantly stored with rockweed and yellow flowers like gilliflowers. By noon we were within three leagues of Cape Ann; and, as we sailed along the coasts, we saw every hill and dale, and every island, full of gay woods and high trees. The nearer we came to the shore, the more flowers in abundance,—sometimes scattered abroad, sometimes joined in sheets nine or ten [344] yards long, which we supposed to be brought from the low meadows by the tide.2 Now what, with fine woods and green trees by land, and these yellow flowers painting the sea, made us all desirous to see our new paradise of New England, whence we saw such forerunning signal3 of fertility afar off. Coming near the harbor towards night, we tacked about for sea-room.

Saturday a foggy morning, but, after eight o'clock in the morning, very clear. The wind being somewhat contrary at south and by west, we tacked to and again with getting little, but with much ado. About four o'clock in the afternoon, having with much pain compassed the harbor, and being ready to enter the same, (see how things may suddenly change!) there came a fearful gust of wind and rain, and thunder and lightning, whereby we were borne with no little terror and trouble to our mariners, having very much ado to loose down the sails when the fury of the storm struck us. But, God be praised! it lasted but a while, and soon abated again. And hereby the Lord showed us what he could have done with us, if it had pleased him. But, blessed be God! he soon removed this storm, and it was a fair and sweet evening.

We had a westerly wind, which brought us, between five and six o'clock, to a fine and sweet harbor4 seven miles from the head-point of Cape Ann. This harbor twenty ships may easily ride therein; where there was an island,5 whither four of our men with a boat went, [345] and brought back again ripe strawberries and gooseberries, and sweet single roses. Thus God was merciful to us in giving us a taste and smell of the sweet fruit as an earnest of his bountiful goodness to welcome us at our first arrival. This harbor was two leagues and something more from the harbor at Naimkecke,6 where our ships were to rest, and the plantation is already begun. But because the passage is difficult, and night drew on, we put into Cape Ann harbor.

The sabbath, being the first we kept in America, and the seventh Lord's Day after we parted with England.

Monday we came from Cape Ann to go to Naimkecke, the wind northerly. I should have told you before, that, the planters spying our English colors, the governor7 sent a shallop with two men to pilot us. These rested the sabbath with us at Cape Ann; and this day, by God's blessing and their directions, we passed the curious and difficult entrance into the large, spacious harbor of Naim-

Governor Endicott.

kecke. And, as we passed along, it was wonderful to behold so many islands, replenished with thick wood and high trees, and many fair, green pastures. And, being come into the harbor, we saw the ‘George,’ to our great comfort, there being come on Tuesday, which was seven days before us. [346] We rested that night with glad and thankful hearts that God had put an end to our long and tedious journey through the greatest sea in the world.

The next morning, the governor came aboard to our ship, and bade us kindly welcome, and invited me and my wife to come on shore, and take our lodging in his house, which we did accordingly.

Iii.—Fire, air, earth, and water in New England.

[as described by Francis Higginson, 1629.]

Letting pass our voyage by sea, we will now begin our discourse on the shore of New England. And because the life and welfare of every creature here below, and the commodiousness of the country whereas such creatures live, doth, by the most wise ordering of God's providence, depend, next unto himself, upon the temperature and disposition of the four elements, earth, water, air, and fire, . . . therefore I will endeavor to show you what New England is, by the consideration of each of these apart; and truly endeavor, by God's help, to report nothing but the naked truth, and that both to tell you of the discommodities as well as of the commodities. Though, as the idle proverb is, ‘Travellers may lie by authority,’ and so may take too much sinful liberty that way, yet I may say of myself, as once Nehemiah did in another case, Shall such a man as I lie? No, verily. ...


Of the earth of New England.

It is a land of divers and sundry sorts all about Masathulets8 Bay; and at Charles River is as fat black earth as can be seen anywhere; and in other places you have a clay soil; in other, gravel; in other, sandy, as it is all about our plantation at Salem; for so our town is now named.

First Church in Salem.

The form of the earth here, in the superficies of it, is neither too flat in the plainness, nor too high in hills, but partakes of both in a mediocrity, and fit for pasture, or for plough or meadow ground, as men please to employ it. Though all the country be, as it were, a thick wood for the general, yet in divers places there is much ground cleared by the Indians, and especially [348] about the plantation; and I am told, that, about three miles from us, a man may stand on a little hilly place, and see divers thousands of acres of ground as good as need to be, and not a tree in the same. . . .

In our plantation we have already a quart of milk for a penny. But the abundant increase of corn proves this country to be a wonderment. Thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, are ordinary here: yea, Joseph's increase in Egypt is outstripped here with us. Our planters hope to have more than a hundred-fold this year. And all this while I am within compass: what will you say of two-hundred-fold, and upwards? It is almost incredible what great gain some of our English planters have had by our Indian corn. Credible persons have assured me, and the party himself avouched the truth of it to me, that, of the setting of thirteen gallons of corn, he hath had increase of it fifty-two hogsheads, every hogshead holding seven bushels of London measure; and every bushel was by him sold and trusted to the Indians for so much beaver as was worth eighteen shillings; and so of this thirteen gallons of corn, which was worth six shillings eightpence, he made about £ 327 of it the year following, as by reckoning will appear: where you may see how God blesseth husbandry in this land. There is not such great and plentiful ears of corn, I suppose, anywhere else to be found but in this country, being also of variety of colors, as red, blue, and yellow, &c.; and of one corn there springeth four or five hundred. I have sent you many ears of divers colors, that you might see the truth of it.

Little children here, by setting of corn, may earn much more than their own maintenance . . . . [349]

For beasts, there are some bears, and they say some lions also; for they have been seen at Cape Ann. Also here are several sorts of deer, some whereof bring three or four young ones at once, which is not ordinary in England; also wolves, foxes, beavers, martens, great wildcats, and a great beast called a molke,9 as big as an ox. I have seen the skins of all these beasts since I came to this plantation, excepting lions. Also here are great store of squirrels,—some greater, and some smaller and lesser: there are some of the lesser sort, they tell me, that by a certain skin will fly from tree to tree,10 though they stand far distant.

Of the water of New England.

New England hath water enough, both salt and fresh. The greatest sea in the world, the Atlantic Sea, runs all along the coast thereof. There are abundance of islands along the shore, some full of wood and mast, to feed swine, and others clear of wood, and fruitful, to bear corn. Also we have store of excellent harbors for ships, as at Cape Ann, and at Masathulets Bay, and at Salem, and at many other places; and they are the better, because for strangers there is a very difficult and dangerous passage into them; but unto such as are well acquainted with them they are easy and safe enough. The abundance of sea-fish are almost beyond believing; and sure I should scarce have believed it, except I had seen it with mine own eyes. I saw great store of whales, and grampuses, and such abundance of mackerels, [350] that it would astonish one to behold; likewise codfish, abundance on the coast, and in their season are plentifully taken. There is a fish called a bass, a most sweet and wholesome fish as ever I did eat: it is altogether as good as our fresh salmon; and the season of their coming was begun when we came first to New England in June, and so continued about three months space. Of this fish our fishers take many hundreds together, which I have seen lying on the shore, to my admiration. Yea, their nets ordinarily take more than they are able to haul to land; and, for want of boats and men, they are constrained to let a many go after they have taken them; and yet sometimes they fill two boats at a time with them. And, besides bass, we take plenty of skate and thornback, and abundance of lobsters; and the least boy in the plantation may both catch and eat what he will of them. For my own part, I was soon cloyed with them, they were so great and fat and luscious. I have seen some myself that have weighed sixteen pound; but others have had, divers times, so great lobsters as have weighed twenty-five pound, as they assured me. . . .

Of the air of New England.

The temper of the air of New England is one special thing that commends this place. Experience doth manifest that there is hardly a more healthful place to be found in the world that agreeth better with our English bodies. Many that have been weak and sickly in Old England, by coming hither have been thoroughly healed, and grown healthful and strong; for here is a most extraordinary clear and dry air, that is of a most [351] healing nature to all such as are of a cold, melancholy, phlegmatic, rheumatic temper of body. None can more truly speak hereof by their own experience than myself. My friends that knew me can well tell how very sickly I have been, and continually in physic. . . .

And I that have not gone without a cap for many years together, neither durst leave off the same, have now cast away my cap, and do wear none at all in the daytime. And whereas beforetime I clothed myself with double clothes and thick waistcoats to keep me warm, even in the summer-time, I do now go as thin clad as any. . . . Besides, I have one of my children, that was formerly most lamentably handled with sore breaking out of both his hands and feet, of the king's-evil; but since he came hither he is very well [as] ever he was, and there is hope of perfect recovery shortly, even by the very wholesomeness of the air, altering, digesting, and drying up the cold and crude humors of the body; and therefore I think it is a wise course for all cold complexions to come to take physic in New England; for a sup of New England's air is better than a whole draught of Old England's ale.

In the summer-time, in the midst of July and August, it is a good deal hotter than in Old England; and in winter January and February are much colder, so they say; but the spring and autumn are of a middle temper.

Fowls of the air are plentiful here, and of all sorts as we have in England, as far as I can learn, and a great many of strange fowls which we know not. Whilst I was writing these things, one of our men brought home an eagle which he had killed in the wood: they say [352] they are good meat. Also here are many kinds of excellent hawks, both sea-hawks and land-hawks; and myself walking in the woods, with another in company, sprung a partridge so big, that through the heaviness of his body could fly but a little way: they that have killed them say they are as big as our hens. Here are likewise abundance of turkeys often killed in the woods, far greater than our English turkeys, and exceeding fat, sweet, and fleshy; for here they have abundance of feeding all the year long, as strawberries,—in summer all places are full of them,—and all manner of berries and fruits. In the winter-time I have seen flocks of pigeons, and have eaten of them. They do fly from tree to tree, as other birds do, which our pigeons will not do in England. They are of all colors, as ours are; but their wings and tails are much longer; and therefore it is likely they fly swifter to escape the terrible hawks in this country. In winter-time this country doth abound with wild geese, wild ducks, and other sea-fowl, that a great part of winter the planters have eaten nothing but roast meat of divers fowls which they have killed.

Of the fire of New England.

Thus you have heard of the earth, water, and air of New England. Now it may be you expect something to be said of the fire, proportionable to the rest of the elements.

Indeed, I think New England may boast of this element more than of all the rest. For though it be here somewhat cold in the winter, yet here we have plenty of fire to warm us, and that a great deal cheaper than they sell billets and fagots in London: nay, all Europe [353] is not able to afford to make so great fires as New England. A poor servant here, that is to possess but fifty acres of land, may afford to give more wood for timber and fire, as good as the world yields, than many noblemen in England can afford to do. Here is good living for those that love good fires. And although New England have no tallow to make candles of, yet, by the abundance of the fish thereof, it can afford oil for lamps. Yea, our pine-trees, that are the most plentiful of all wood, doth allow us plenty of candles, which are very useful in a house; and they are such candles as the Indians commonly use, having no other; and they are nothing else but the wood of the pine-tree cloven in two little slices something thin, which are so full of turpentine and pitch, that they burn as clear as a torch. I have sent you some of them that you may see the experience of them.

A New England's Discommodities.11

Thus of New England's commodities. Now I will tell you of some discommodities that are here to be found.

First, in the summer season, for these three months June, July, and August, we are troubled much with little flies called mosquitoes, being the same they are troubled with in Lincolnshire and the fens; and they are nothing but gnats, which, except they be smoked out of their houses, are troublesome in the night season.

Secondly, in the winter season, for two months space, the earth is commonly covered with snow, which is accompanied with sharp, biting frosts, something more [354] sharp than is in Old England, and therefore are forced to make great fires.

Thirdly, this country, being very full of woods and wildernesses, doth also much abound with snakes and serpents, of strange colors and huge greatness. Yea, there are some serpents, called rattlesnakes, that have rattles in their tails, that will not fly from a man as others will, but will fly upon him, and sting him so mortally that he will die within a quarter of an hour after, except the party stinged have about him some of the

Old Planter's house at Salem.

root of an herb called snake-weed to bite on; and then he shall receive no harm. But yet seldom falls it out that any hurt is done by these. About three years since, an Indian was stung to death by one of them; but we heard of none since that time.

Fourthly and lastly, here wants as yet the good company of honest Christians, to bring with them horses, kine, and sheep, to make use of this fruitful land. Great pity it is to see so much good ground for corn and for grass as any is under the heavens, to lie altogether [355] unoccupied, when so many honest men and their families in Old England, through the populousness thereof, do make very hard shift to live one by the other.

Iv.—a sea-adventure of the Puritan colonists.

[governor John Winthrop, with a large number of colonists, sailed from England in April, 1630. seventeen vessels came to the Massachusetts colony that year, bringing nearly a thousand people. England was then at war with Spain; and many Spanish cruisers made their rendezvous at Dunkirk, and other ports in the Spanish Netherlands, whence they were called ‘Dunkirkers.’]

April 9.—In the morning we descried from the top, eight sail astern of us, whom Captain Lowe told us he had seen at Dunnose in the evening. We supposing they might be Dunkirkers, our captain caused the gunroom and gundeck to be cleared. All the hammocks were taken down, our ordnance loaded, and our powder-chests and fireworks made ready, and our landmen quartered among the seamen, and twenty-five of them appointed for muskets, and every man written down for his quarter.12

The wind continued north, with fair weather; and after noon it calmed, and we still saw those eight ships to stand towards us. Having more wind than we, they came up apace: so as our captain, and the masters of our consorts, were more occasioned to think they might be Dunkirkers; for we were told at Yarmouth that there were ten sail of them waiting for us. Whereupon we all prepared to fight with them, and took down some [356] cabins which were in the way of our ordnance; and out of every ship were thrown such bed-matters as were subject to take fire; and we heaved out our long-boats, and put up our waist-cloths,13 and drew forth our men, and armed them with muskets and other weapons, and instruments for fireworks; and, for an experiment, our captain shot a ball of wildfire, fastened to an arrow, out of a crossbow, which burnt in the water a good time.

The Lady Arbella14 and the other women and children were removed into the lower deck, that they might be out of danger. All things being thus fitted, we went to prayer upon the upper deck. It was much to see how cheerful and comfortable all the company appeared. Not a woman or child that showed fear, though all did apprehend the danger to have been great, if things had proved as might well be expected; for there had been eight against four, and the least of the enemy's ships were reported to carry thirty brass pieces. But our trust was in the Lord of hosts; and the courage of our captain, and his care and diligence, did much encourage us.

It was now about one of the clock, and the fleet seemed to be within a league of us: therefore our captain, because he would show he was not afraid of them, and that he might see the issue before night should overtake us, tacked about, and stood to meet them. And, when we came near, we perceived them to be our friends,—the ‘Little Neptune,’ a ship of some twenty [357] pieces of ordnance, and her two consorts, bound for the straits; a ship of Flushing, and a Frenchman, and three other English ships, bound for Canada and Newfoundland. So, when we drew near, every ship, as they met, saluted each other, and the musketeers discharged their small shot; and so, God be praised! our fear and danger was turned into mirth and friendly entertainment.

V.—Governor Winthrop's night out of doors.

The governor, being at his farm-house at Mistick,15 walked out after supper, and took a piece16 in his hand, supposing he might see a wolf; for they came daily about the house, and killed swine and calves, &c. And, being about half a mile off, it grew suddenly dark, so as in coming home he mistook his path, and went till he came to a little house of Sagamore John,17 which stood empty. There he staid; and, having a piece of match in his pocket,—for he always carried about him match and a compass, and, in summer-time, snakeweed,

Governor Winthrop

—he made a good fire near the house, and lay down upon some old mats which he [358] found there, and so spent the night, sometimes walking by the fire, sometimes singing psalms, and sometimes getting wood, but could not sleep. It was, through God's mercy, a warm night,18 but, a little before day, it began to rain; and, having no cloak, he made shift by a long pole to climb up into the house. In the morning, there came thither an Indian squaw; but, perceiving her before she had opened the door, he barred her out: yet she staid there a great while, essaying to get in, and at last she went away, and he returned safe home, his servants having been much perplexed for him, and having walked about, and shot off pieces, and hallooed in the night; but he heard them not.

Vi.—The privations of the Puritans.

Now coming into this country, I found it a vacant wilderness in respect of English. There were, indeed, some English at Plymouth and Salem, and some few at Charlestown, who were very destitute when we came ashore; and, planting-time being past shortly after, provision was not to be had for money. I wrote to my friends, namely, to my dear father, to send me some provision; which accordingly he did, and also gave order to one of his neighbors to supply me with what I needed, he being a seaman, who, coming hither, supplied me with divers things. . . . Fish was a good help to me and others. Bread was so very scarce, that sometimes I thought the very crusts of my father's [359] table would have been very sweet unto me. And, when I could have meal and water and salt boiled together, it was so good, who could wish better?

In our beginning, many were in great straits for want of provision for themselves and their little ones. Oh the hunger that many suffered, and saw no hope in an

Famine among the Pilgrims.

eye of reason to be supplied, only by clams and mussels and fish! We did quickly build boats, and some went a-fishing. But bread was with many a very scarce thing, and flesh of all kind as scarce.

And in those days, in our straits, though I cannot say God sent a raven to feed us, as he did the prophet Elijah, yet this I can say to the praise of God's glory, that he sent not only poor ravenous Indians, who came [360] with their baskets of corn on their backs to trade with us, which was a good supply unto many; but also sent ships from Holland and Ireland with provisions, and Indian-corn from Virginia, to supply the wants of his dear servants in this wilderness, both for food and raiment. And when people's wants were great, not only in one town, but in divers towns, such was the godly wisdom, care, and prudence—not selfishness, but self-denial—of our Governor Winthrop and his assistants, that, when a ship came laden with provisions, they did order that the whole cargo should be bought for a general stock; and so accordingly it was, and distribution was made to every town, as every man had need. Thus God was pleased to care for his people in times of straits, and to fill his servants with food and gladness. Then did all the servants of God bless his holy name, and love one another with pure hearts fervently.

In those days God did cause his people to trust in him, and to be contented with mean things. It was not accounted a strange thing in those days to drink water, and to eat samp or hominy without butter or milk. Indeed, it would have been a strange thing to see a piece of roast beef, mutton, or veal; though it was not long before there was roast goat. After the first winter, we were very healthy, though some of us had no great store of corn. The Indians did sometimes bring corn, and truck with us for clothing and knives; and once I had a peck of corn, or thereabouts, for a little puppy-dog. Frost-fish, mussels, and clams, were a relief to many. If our provision be better now than it was then, let us not, and do you, dear children, take heed that youth do not, forget the Lord our God. [361] You have better food and raiment than was in former times; but have you better hearts than your forefathers had? If so, rejoice in that mercy, and let New England then shout for joy. Sure, all the people of God in other parts of the world, that shall hear that the children and grandchildren of the first planters of New England have better hearts and are more heavenly than their predecessors, they will doubtless greatly rejoice, and will say, ‘This is the generation whom the Lord hath blessed.’ [362]

1 Maladies.

2 These may have been buttercups washed from the shore. It has also been supposed that they might be actinioe, or sea-anemones, torn from the rocks.

3 i.e., signs of fertility, seen in advance.

4 Gloucester harbor.

5 Ten-Pound Island.

6 Afterwards Salem.

7 John Endicott, who had arrived in September, 1628.

8 Massachusetts.

9 Probably the moose. The lions were imaginary.

10 The flying-squirrel, which has a membrane connecting the fore and hind paws on each side.

11 inconveniences.

12 i.e., assigned to a certain place in the ship.

13 To protect the sides of the vessel.

14 Lady Arbella Johnson, daughter of the Earl of Lincoln, and wife of Isaac Johnson, to whom the settlement of Boston was chiefly due. She died soon after her arrival.

15 A part of Medford, Mass. The farm still retains the name which he gave it,—‘Ten-Hills Farm.’

16 Gun.

17 This chief is described by Governor Dudley as ‘a handsome young man, conversant with us, affecting English apparel and houses, and speaking well of our God.’

18 Oct. 11, 1631

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
John Winthrop (5)
Francis Higginson (5)
John Endicott (3)
English (2)
Young (1)
True Relation (1)
Lowe (1)
Lincoln (1)
Isaac Johnson (1)
Arbella Johnson (1)
Sagamore John (1)
Canadian Indians (1)
Fish (1)
England (1)
Dudley (1)
Roger Clap (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1629 AD (2)
July (2)
1846 AD (1)
October 11th, 1631 AD (1)
1631 AD (1)
April, 1630 AD (1)
1630 AD (1)
July 24th, 1629 AD (1)
April, 1629 AD (1)
September, 1628 AD (1)
June (1)
May 27th (1)
April 9th (1)
February (1)
January (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: