45. The Pilgrims. We must now go back to the time of the great Elizabeth, when English sailors still roved the seas in search of Spanish gold-ships, and when people quarreled more over religion than over anything else.
p76 Many Englishmen wanted the queen to make changes in the ways of religious worship. These persons were called Puritans because they said they wanted a purer kind of religion. The queen would not make the changes, so a few of the Puritans refused to attend the English church and met wherever they could to worship in the way their consciences told them was right. Such Puritans were called Separatists.
But the queen and the Church of England people hated the Separatists, and sometimes even stoned them in the London streets. The officers of the law, instead of protecting the Separatists, hurried them to jail, leaving some to die there.
In the northeastern part of England, in and around the little village of Scrooby, lived a plain, honest-hearted, hard-working people. They had very poor preachers. The new postmaster at Scrooby was William Brewster, whose father had kept the post before him.
Young William had been to the great university at Cambridge, where there were many wise teachers, and where many Puritans went to school. He had become the friend of one of Elizabeth's great officers and had spent several years in Holland and in London.
But the gay life at court and the hope of becoming a great officer did not change the Puritan ways of William Brewster. p77 He resolved to go back to the quiet, simple ways at Scrooby and to assist his father. The people liked him so well that, on Sundays, they would go for many miles to the Brewster manor to hold religious meetings, instead of going to the regular church.
One Sunday morning there came to Scrooby, from a village two miles away, a promising sixteen-year‑old lad. He was William Bradford. He afterward wrote down all he could remember about this little band of Separatists. Pretty soon a very learned man, who had also studied at Cambridge, joined the little flock at Scrooby and became their preacher. He was John Robinson.
But there were dark days ahead. King James I had declared that he would have no Separatists in England. His cruel officers had already begun to keep a sharp eye on the worshipers in the old Brewster home. Brewster and Robinson knew that some quiet Sunday morning, while they were at worship, they would suddenly hear the rush of horses' feet, the clank of swords and guns, and the loud cries of the king's officers as they broke into the meeting to arrest the leaders and hurry them off to jail, leaving behind the weeping mothers and children.
46. The Beginning of their Pilgrimage. So they made up their minds to slip away to Holland, where people could worship as they pleased. It was a hard decision to make, for they loved their native land, their old homes and kindred, and did not wish to begin those wanderings which caused them to be called Pilgrims.
They at length found a ship to carry them to Holland. But the captain laid a trap for them; for no sooner were they on board than the king's officers sprang up, seized their goods, rudely searched the men and women for money, and hurried the leaders off to jail.
After a time they were set free and soon found a Dutch captain to take the company to Holland. But only a boat load of men had p78 reached the ship before the king's officers, mounted and armed, came rushing upon the little company. The Dutch captain immediately sailed away, and not even the prayers of the husbands, women, and children had any effect. Those left behind found shelter in the homes of the poor near by.
The Dutch boat reached Amsterdam, the great city of Holland, where the men made ready for those left behind, who came later. Here they found people of many countries who had come, like themselves, to find a home where they worship God as they felt to be right.
After a year, Brewster, Bradford, and Robinson decided that the old city of Leiden was a better place for them. Accordingly, about one hundred of them packed up their household goods once more, took boat on the great canal, and floated all day through thrifty Dutch villages and beautiful Dutch farms. It was springtime. What a joy the trip was to children who had been cooped up all winter in the great city! How these English farmers enjoyed once more the sight of farms, flower gardens, and pasture lands!
The Pilgrims were glad to reach Leiden, where they soon found work to do. They became weavers, spinners, masons, carpenters, bakers, or tailors, or whatever gave them a chance to earn a living. p79 It was slow work, for these farmers were used to working in fields instead of in shops. But the Pilgrims could keep together better as a church congregation by living in a city.
But could they keep together long even in a city? They were few and the Dutch were many. Their children went to Dutch schools and played with Dutch children. Their sons began to marry comely Dutch maidens, and thrifty Dutch sons found favor in the eyes of the Puritan maidens. The older heads saw that they must become wanderers again, if they were to remain English and keep their own language and customs. Their hearts yearned for their old English homes. But to go to England was to go to jail!
Some Dutch merchants wanted to carry them to a little Dutch trading post at the mouth of the Hudson. The Pilgrims really wanted to live in America under the English flag, but King James I refused to give them a charter to settle in America, although he promised not to harm them if they behaved well.
The Pilgrims were too poor to hire ships to carry them to America. But some English merchants promised them two ships, if they would agree to turn over to the merchants about all they earned in America until the debt was paid. These were, indeed, hard terms, but the hearts of the pilgrims were brave and so they agreed.
Only a part of the congregation could go to America. John Robinson, their noble pastor, remained behind, and Brewster, Bradford, and Miles Standish, a soldier, were to lead the little band. The Pilgrims chose Standish to be their captain.
The whole congregation went by canal to Delfshaven, where the parting took place. Friends came from Amsterdam to say good-by, and a farewell feast was held. It was a sad parting. They all knelt while the gentle Robinson lifted his voice in prayer. p80 Eyes were wet with weeping and voices were choked with sorrow as the last words were spoken before going on board the "Speedwell."
Even the Dutch bystanders were moved to tears. Listen to the words of Bradford: "So they left that goodly and pleasant city which had been their resting place nearly twelve years; but they knew they were Pilgrims, and looked not much on those things, but lifted up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits."
The "Speedwell" carried them across to England, where they found the "Mayflower." Here, too, they found John Alden, a handsome young fellow, who, with some other Englishmen, had decided to go to America. This is the same John Alden who afterwards won Priscilla from Miles Standish.
p81 In August, 1620, the two ships spread their sails for America. Twice they were forced to return — once after they had sailed three hundred miles — because the "Speedwell" was leaking, and her captain declared she would sink before reaching America.
Finally the "Mayflower," with one hundred two Pilgrims on board, started alone. Not many days passed before great storms overtook her. The waves rolled over her deck and threatened to swallow her. For many days the passengers had to spend nearly all the time below deck, not knowing what moment would be their last. Strained by the storm, the "Mayflower" also began to leak, but the stout-hearted Pilgrims would not turn back.
47. Landing of the Pilgrims in America. For days at a time, during the storm, the ship could not use her sails and was driven far out of her course, to the northward. The Pilgrims had intended to land near the mouth of the Hudson, but on November 20, 1620, the little band of exiles found themselves looking with glad hearts upon the sandy, but heavily-wooded, shores of Cape Cod. How they poured out their hearts in gratitude that they had crossed the stormy sea in safety! The men all gathered in the little cabin of the "Mayflower" to sign a compact or an agreement in regard to the government of the colony. Then they elected John Carver their first governor.
p82 Everybody was now anxious to get on shore. Captain Miles Standish, with his little army, waded ashore through the ice-cold water and disappeared in the dark forest in search of a good place to plant the colony.
For three days they tramped through forests, up and down hills, and along the sandy coast, but found no suitable place. They found springs, however, and ponds of fresh water, and some Indian mounds containing stores of corn. What should they do, take the corn, or leave it and run the risk of starvation? They decided to take only enough to plant in the spring. They afterwards paid the owners double for what they had taken.
Everywhere they saw flocks of wild fowl, good for food, and they also saw tracks of wild deer. While Bradford was examining an Indian snare set for game, he found himself suddenly swinging by one leg in the air. They had a hearty laugh and learned a new lesson in the art of catching game!
Twice again Standish led his little company to search out a place. On the third trip, as they were at breakfast, their ears were suddenly filled with the most fearful shouts. A shower p83 of arrows fell near them. It was an Indian attack. Captain Standish and his men seized their guns and fired as fast as they could. Happily, the Indians, frightened at the roar of muskets, ran away before any one was killed on either side.
On this trip they found the harbor of Plymouth, which John Smith had explored and named several years before. Its shore was now to become their home. They immediately hastened back to the ship to tell the good news, and in a few days the "Mayflower" carried the Pilgrims into Plymouth Harbor. The little party landed on December 21, 1620, and that day is still celebrated as "Forefathers' Day." The story is that when they landed they stepped on a large stone — a boulder, itself a "pilgrim," brought there by the mighty ice-sheet ages ago. This boulder is called "Plymouth Rock," and you may see it still when you visit Plymouth.
48. Their Home in the Forest. Although it was winter, the men immediately began to chop down trees and build a great log storehouse which could be used for a hospital and for worship.
Then they began building their own homes. They cut down the trees, sawed off the logs, hewed them roughly, and then dragged them by hand to the place where the house was to stand. When the logs were ready, the men lifted them up by hand or when the walls grew too high for lifting, they slid them up "skids."
The roof was made of boards which had been split from logs of wood. These were held in place by similar logs. The wind and rain were kept out by "chinking" or daubing the cracks between the logs with mortar. The windows were few and small, for they had no glass and used oiled skins instead.
The first winter in America was the saddest the Pilgrims had ever seen. Their storehouse was turned into a hospital. They had been used to the gentler winters of England and Holland. Before p84 the warm days of spring came, one-half of the little band had perished, among them Governor Carver. But the Pilgrims bore brave hearts, and not a man or woman among those left went back to England when the "Mayflower" sailed.
49. Friendship with the Indians. Brave Miles Standish kept his little army — what was left of it — ready for any danger. He built a fort on a hill, and mounted the cannon brought over in the "Mayflower."
But the Indians were not so bad after all, for had it not been for them, the Pilgrims would have had a much harder time. One day while the leaders were talking over military affairs, they saw a fine-looking Indian coming toward them, and calling in the English language, "Welcome! Welcome!" This was a double surprise. The Indian was Samoset, who had already saved the lives of two white men taken by the Indians.
In a few days Samoset brought other Indians, dressed in deer and panther skins. They made the Pilgrims think of gypsies seen in Holland. Their long black hair was braided and ornamented with feathers and foxtails. They sang and danced for the Pilgrims.
When Samoset came again, he brought Squanto, an Indian who had been captured and carried to London, and who could speak English. They gave the news that the great Indian chief, Massasoit, was coming to visit his strange neighbors.
A messenger was sent to welcome him and to give him presents. Massasoit, and twenty other Indians without bows and arrows, were met by Captain Standish, and escorted into the p85 presence of the governor. They agreed not to harm each other, and to be friends forever. As long as Massasoit lived this pledge was kept.
Squanto taught the Pilgrims many new things. He showed them how to raise corn by putting dead fish into the hill when planting corn, how to hoe the corn while growing, and how to pound the corn to make meal. Indian corn proved to be the Pilgrims' best food crop.
They had no means of fishing, but Squanto taught them how to catch eels by wading into shallow water, and treading them out with their feet. From the Indians the white men also learned how to make Indian shoes or moccasins, snow shoes, birch-bark canoes, and other useful things.
The first summer was now over and the Pilgrims' first harvest had been gathered. Their houses had been repaired, and the health of the settlers was good. Fish and wild game were plentiful. They decided that the time for rejoicing and thanksgiving had also come, and invited Massasoit and his warriors to join them in the celebration.
p86 For three days the games, military movements, feastings, and rejoicing went on, and at the end the Pilgrims and Indians were better friends than before. This was the beginning of our custom of having a day of thanksgiving each year.
For a whole year the Pilgrims had not heard a word from the great world across the sea. How eager they must have been for just one word from their old homes! One day the Indians sent runners to tell them that a ship was in sight. The cannon boomed on the hilltop. Captain Standish and his men ran for their guns and stood ready to defend the colony against Spaniards or French. But it was a ship with news and friends from Leiden and England.
After a few weeks this ship returned to England loaded with furs, clapboards, and sassafras to pay those English merchants who had furnished the Pilgrims the "Mayflower" to bring them to America.
An Indian chief, not far away, decided that he would rather fight than be friendly. So he sent a bundle of arrows wrapped in a rattlesnake's skin, to Plymouth. Squanto told the Pilgrims that this was a challenge.
The Pilgrims were men of peace, but they were not cowards. Governor Bradford filled the skin with powder and shot and sent it back to the hostile chief. But the Indians would not touch it and the chief would not permit it to be left in his wigwam an hour, but sent it from place to place, until it again reached Plymouth.
Thus the Pilgrims went on year by year, living in peace when they could, but fighting when they must. Every year or so new p87 settlers came from their old homes, and the colony grew slowly, but steadily.
After a few years the new King of England was so hard upon the Puritans in England that thousands of them followed the example of the Pilgrims and came to America, and planted many other colonies in New England. But none have held so warm a place in the hearts of Americans as the little band brought to the New World by the "Mayflower."
50. The Puritans. While the Pilgrims were planting their home on the lonely American shore, the Puritans in England were being cruelly persecuted by Charles I. So great became their sufferings and dangers that the Puritan leaders decided to go to America, where they could worship as they pleased. Charles I, fortunately, gave them a very good charter. But even before this, some of the Puritans had already planted a colony at Salem.
51. John Winthrop. The Puritan leaders elected John Winthrop governor of the new colony. In the spring of 1630, nearly ten years after the "Mayflower" sailed, more than seven hundred Puritans, in eleven ships, bad good-by to their beautiful English homes, crossed the ocean, and settled what is now Boston.
p88 John Winthrop, the leader and governor of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, the name given to the Salem and Boston settlements, was then about forty years old, and had been in college at Cambridge, England. He was a man of high social position.
The Puritans who came with Winthrop were people of property, and not only parted from friends and kindred when they came to the wild shores of America, but both men and women gave up lives of comfort and pleasure for lives of suffering and hardship. In America, the men had to cut down trees, work in the fields, and fight Indians. Only brave men and women act in this way. But no one among them gave up more or was willing to suffer more than their leader. The people elected him governor almost every year until his death, in 1649.
John Winthrop was a firm man with many noble qualities, and not once, while governor, did he do anything merely to please the people if he thought it wrong.
When a leading man in the colony sent him a bitter letter, he returned it saying that he did not wish to keep near him so great a cause of ill feeling. This answer made the writer Winthrop's friend. When food was scarce in the colony, Winthrop divided his last bit of bread with the poor, and worked with his laborers in the fields.
While Winthrop was ruling the colony, hundreds of settlers came and settled many other towns around Boston. But these settlers did not always agree, especially in regard to religion and government.
p89 52. Roger Williams. One man who did not always agree with the Puritans was Roger Williams. His parents were Welsh and very poor, and it is difficult to decide where he was born, but what is of much more importance, young Roger studied so hard that a great English lawyer sent him to a famous old London school. Later Roger went to the University of Cambridge and, after graduation, he began to study law.
But religious questions were more interesting to him than the law, and he became a preacher. Very soon the king's officers found out that he was a Puritan, and Roger Williams and his wife betook themselves to Massachusetts. He was already well known to the Puritans, and Winthrop calls him a "godly minister."
He was chosen minister of the church at Salem, where his old church-house still stands. But in a few months he joined the Pilgrims at Plymouth, where he remained about ten months, preaching and studying the language and customs of the Indians. He said: "My soul's desire was to do the natives good. . . . God was pleased to give me a painful, patient spirit to lodge with them in their filthy, smoky holes to gain their tongue."
He also gained their undying love, and they gained a great p90 defender, for he soon began to declare that the Indians, and not the king, were the real owners of the land on which the settlers lived. Such teachings were then treason to the king.
Williams went back to Salem but very soon began to declare that Winthrop and his officers had no right to punish people for their religious beliefs, but ought to permit them to think for themselves. For this he was brought to trial, and because he would not change his views he was ordered by the court to return to England. But he hardly dared go back, so he bade good-by to his wife and children and fled into the wilderness.
Through the deep snow, with "knapsack and staff," he wandered for many days, sleeping in the wigwams of his Indian friends. How strange that the Puritans, driven from their English homes for conscience sake, should so soon exile one of their own number for following his conscience! Finally Roger Williams found shelter and welcome in the wigwam of his old Indian friend, Massasoit.
Although Winthrop opposed Williams in his religious views, the two men remained friends to the last.
53. The Beginning of Rhode Island. The Indians gave Roger Williams a grant of land, and in the spring, with a few companions, he founded a colony. He named it Providence (1636), and later gave the same name to his son, the first English boy born in the colony (1638), in gratitude to God for his care over them. This was the beginning of Rhode Island, a colony where all men worshiped as they pleased.
p91 Other settlers soon came, and Rhode Island set a good example of how people holding different religious views can live together.
Roger Williams did not hate the Puritans for banishing him, but he proved his friendship by keeping the Rhode Island Indians from joining the Pequots in their war against the whites. Later, he brought all the towns in Rhode Island under one government, and went to England and obtained a charter from the king. The people were so pleased with the government under this charter that they did not change it for nearly two hundred years.
Roger Williams gave away nearly all the land granted to him by the Indians, and died a poor man at the age of eighty-four. He gave himself up to doing good to others, and the world has given him high praise.
54. Thomas Hooker. Roger Williams had not been long in America before another great Puritan leader arrived. This was Thomas Hooker. He was born in England while Elizabeth was queen. He, too, went to Cambridge to study. After graduation he became a teacher in that great university, but finally chose to p92 become a preacher in a little church where the most important man was a kinsman of Sir Francis Drake, whose deeds still filled all England with wonder.
But, like Williams, Hooker was a Puritan, and it was not long before the king's men had their eyes on him, too. He fled to Holland, and finally came to Boston. He could now preach in safety in the new Cambridge. But he, too, could not agree altogether with Governor Winthrop.
This time the dispute was not over religion, but over government. He believed that all the people in the colony should take part in the government, while Winthrop favored a government by a few.
The leaders of Massachusetts passed a law that only church members should vote. Many people in the colony did not like this plan. For this and other reasons, Hooker and a large number of people decided to move to the beautiful valley of the Connecticut River and plant a colony of their own.
About the time that Roger Williams founded Providence, Hooker led his people out into the wilderness. They took with them all of their property, driving their herds before them. There were no roads but the narrow trails of the Indians, and no bridges across the streams. How strange it must have seemed to people who had been used to the beautiful fields, wide roads, and trim lanes of old England!
55. Connecticut Colony Founded. These settlers, and those who followed them, planted the towns of Hartford, Windsor, and p93 Wethersfield. This colony was named Connecticut. It has become famous for the plan of government which Hooker probably drew up, and which the people adopted under the name of "The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut."
This was the first written constitution in America made by the people and for the people. Thomas Hooker, the great leader, had planted, next to that of Rhode Island, the freest colony in New England. He died in 1647.
56. New Hampshire Colony. So favourable were the reports sent back to England from these settlements that thousands upon thousands of Puritans came over and settled a large number of new towns in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Only one other new colony — New Hampshire — was planted in New England. Later the colony of Plymouth was united with that of Massachusetts Bay, thus reducing the New England colonies to four.
The Leading Facts. 1. Brewster, Bradford, Robinson, and the Pilgrims lived at Scrooby, England, and migrated to Holland to gain religious freedom. 2. The Pilgrims later decided to go to America, where they planted the colony of Plymouth, made peace with the Indians, and began to worship in their own way. 3. John Winthrop p94 founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony of 700 Puritans. 4. Roger Williams, driven to America for conscience sake, was in turn driven into the wilderness. 5. He founded Rhode Island colony as a refuge for persecuted people. 6. Thomas Hooker, for differences of opinion, led a great migration of Puritans from Boston to the Valley of the Connecticut. 7. He made the first written Constitution.
Study Questions. 1. Where did the Separatists begin? 2. Why did the people love to come to Brewster's manor house and what young lad joined them there? 3. Why did the Pilgrims decide to leave England? 4. What made the Pilgrims remove to Leiden? Describe their journey to Leiden. 5. What new danger threatened them in Holland? 6. Tell the story of their farewell. 7. Picture the Mayflower in a storm at sea. 8. Read Mrs. Felicia Hemans' poem "The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers." 9. Tell the story of Miles Standish and his little army. 10. Read Longfellow's poem, "The Courtship of Miles Standish." 11. What useful things did the Pilgrims learn from the Indians? 12. Why would putting dead fish in the hill help the corn to grow? 13. Why have Americans loved the Pilgrims so well? 14. How did the Pilgrims' treatment of the Indians compare with that of the Spaniards?
15. What colonies had been already planted in America on account of religious differences? 16. Tell the story of John Winthrop and the Puritans. 17. Give proof of the colonists' regard for Governor Winthrop and of his care for them.
22. Tell the story of Thomas Hooker's early life. 23. What did Hooker and Winthrop differ about? 24. What colony did Hooker found? And on what ideas did he found it? 25. How many colonies were there in New England?
Suggested Readings. Pilgrims (Brewster, Standish): Hart, Colonial Children, 133‑136, 177‑182; Glascock, Stories of Columbia, 69‑81; Pratt, Early Colonies, 113‑123; Drake, Making of New England, 67‑87; Higginson, American Explorers, 311‑337.
Puritans (John Winthrop): Hart, Colonial Children, 136‑140; Drake, Making of New England, 149‑186; Hart, Source Book, 45‑48; Higginson, American Explorers, 341‑361.
Roger Williams: Pratt, Early Colonies, 152‑157; Hawthorne, Grandfather's Chair, 27, 28; Hart, Source Book, 52‑54.
Thomas Hooker: Fiske, New England, 123‑128.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY if its URL has a total of one *asterisk. If the URL has two **asterisks, the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use. If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 1 Jun 17