Cape Cod – The Old Colony – Pt. 3

THE Pilgrims had been no visionaries seeking Utopia. They were members of a well-constructed joint-stock company which, as occasion offered, they adapted to the changing needs of the colony; and they were prepared to earn not only a home for themselves, but a return on the money invested in their enterprise by their financial backers, and, if they prospered, a sum sufficient to buy out such interests. It is true that they were, first, religious men seeking religious freedom for themselves, and, if God willed, they would be the bearers of good news to others. Beyond all other reasons pushing them to their adventure, wrote Bradford, was “a great hope and inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way thereunto, for the propagation and advancing of the gospel of Christ in those remote parts of the world; yea, though they should be but even as stepping stones unto others for the performing of so great a work.”

Yet money as well as zeal was necessary for such an undertaking as theirs, and the Holland exiles were poor. But arrangements were concluded with a company of promoters in London, “Merchant Adventurers” was their more romantic title then, to supply the larger part of the necessary capital, while the Pilgrims as “Planters” should furnish the man power. Their agreement set forth that: “The Adventurers and Planters do agree that every person that goeth, being aged sixteen years and upward, be rated at ten pounds, and ten pounds be accounted a single share”; that ” he that goeth in person and furnishes himself out with ten pounds either in money or other provisions be accounted as having twenty pounds in stock, and in the division shall receive a double share”; and “that all such persons as are of this Colony are to have their meat, drink, apparel, and all other provisions out of the common stock of said Company.”

Doctor Eliot, in his speech at the dedication of the Pilgrim monument at Provincetown, lucidly described the working-out of the Agreement: “It was provided that the Adventurers and Planters should continue their joint-stock partnership for a period of seven years, during which time all profits and benefits got by trading, fishing, or any other means should remain in the common stock. . . . At the end of seven years the capital and profits, namely, the houses, lands, goods, and chattels, were to be equally divided between the Adventurers and the Planters…. Who-ever should carry his wife and children or servants should be allowed for every such person aged sixteen years and upward one share in the division…. At the end of seven years every Planter was to own the house and garden then occupied by him; and during the seven years every Planter was to work four clays in each week for the Colony and two for himself and his family…. Before the seven years of the original contract with the Adventurers had expired the Pilgrims had established a considerable trade to the north and to the south of Plymouth, and had found in this trade a means of paying their debts and making a settlement with the Adventurers, which was concluded on the basis of buying out their entire interest for the sum of eighteen hundred pounds. Eight of the original Planters advanced the money for this settlement, and ‘therefore became the owners of the settlement, so far as the Adventurers’ liens were concerned. It was then decided to form an equal partnership, to include all heads of families and all self-supporting men, young or old, whether church members or not. These men, called the `Purchasers,’ received each one share in the public belongings, with a right to a share for his wife and another for each of his children. The shares were bonded for the public debt, and to the shareholders belonged everything pertaining to the colony except each individual’s personal effects. These shareholders numbered one hundred and fifty-six, namely, fifty-seven men, thirty-four boys, twenty-nine women, and thirty-six girls.” Probably the heads of these families were the men referred to as Old Corners or First Comers; namely, those who had arrived in the first three ships that brought colonists from England — the Mayflower, the Fortune, and the Anne and her consort. ” The Purchasers put their business into the hands of the eight men who had become the Colony’s bondsmen to the Adventurers, and the trade of the Colony was thereafter conducted by these eight leading Pilgrims, who were known as Undertakers.”

There is the framework of their polity; its sure foundation that they were “straitly tied to all care of each other’s good and of the whole by everyone; and so mutually” — the bedrock requirement for the successful working of any cooperative scheme. There was no playing of favorites: each man worked; each man, if for no more than his own sake, must work with good-will. “The people,” Robinson had written of them, “are for the body of them industrious and frugal, we think we may safely say, as any company of people in the world.” He knew intimately the men of whom he spoke. They were “common people” as compared with some of the aristocrats of Massachusetts Bay; yet on the Mayflower roster appeared “masters,” “servants,” and “artisans”; and each in his degree contributed to the public welfare. Action they constantly matched up with their professed attitude to God, with the result that if the expression of their belief were of an ancient pattern, the practice of it would stand well with the liberalism of today.

The first year of the little colony was difficult enough, and before the winter was over they might have starved had it not been for the fisheries and the kindness of their Indian neighbors. Yet of their neighbors’ good-will they were not too confident, and they levelled the graves of their dead lest the number should be known to the Indians, and for the discouragement of prospective colonists. Before the spring was over, one half of the one hundred and two souls that sailed by the Mayflower had died, and of the eighteen women only four survived the hardships of the first six months. Yet they would not lose heart. “It is not with us as with other men whom small things can discourage or small discontentments cause to wish themselves home again,” William Brewster and John Robinson had declared. “If we should be driven to return, we should not hope to recover our present helps and comforts, neither indeed look ever for ourselves to attain unto the like in any other place during our lives.” Wherein one may read how bitter had been the years of their exile, how constant their longing for freedom and the abiding comfort of justice. They meant now to hold on and succeed, and if possible to encourage others to join them, in the place where their own courage and initiative had set them; for it seems to have been a fact that the Pilgrims displayed not only indomitable spirit in their optimistic reports to correspondents in the old country, but also the considered policy of shrewd men who would enlist ‘recruits for their enterprise. Even their critic, John Smith, was moved to admiration for these men who, to be sure, had invited trouble by ” accident, ignorance, and wilfulness,” yet “have endured, with a wonderful patience many losses and extremities.” And he marvels that “they subsist and prosper so well, not any of them will abandon the country, but to the utmost of their powers increase their numbers.”

Somehow, in spite of sickness and death and short rations, they won through the dark months of that first winter, and fortunately for them the spring broke early. On March 19 and 20, “we digged our grounds and sowed our garden seeds”; and these Yorkshire farmers, at any cost, must have been glad to be out in the open again planting their seeds. “I never in my life remember a more seasonable year than we have here enjoyed,” Winslow had the courage to write in his “Brief and True Declaration.” “For the temper of the air here, it agreeth well with that in England, and if there be any difference at all, this is somewhat hotter in summer. Some think it to be colder in winter, but I cannot out of experience so say. The air is very clear and not foggy, as hath been reported.” It is a cheerful report, persuasive reading for would-be colonists, that Winslow sent back to England by the Fortune which, in the autumn of 1621, brought over the Pilgrims that had perforce remained behind when the Speedwell broke down. And among the new colonists was one William Hilton, who was so pleased with the prospect that he sent back post-haste for his family.

“Loving cousin,” wrote he, “At our arrival . . . we found all our friends and planters in good health, though they were left sicke and weake with very small meanes, the Indians round about us peaceable and friendly, the country very pleasant and temperate, yeelding naturally of itself great store of fruites. We are all free-holders, the rent day doth not trouble us; and all of those good blessings we have, of which and what we list in their seasons for taking. Our companie are for the most part very religious honest people; the word of God sincerely taught us every Sabbath: so that I know not anything a contented mind can here want. I desire your friendly care to send my wife and children to me, where I wish all the friends I have in England, and so I rest Your loving kinsman.”

William Hilton had arrived in time for the celebration of their first Thanksgiving Day, which was kept after the kindly manner of the Harvest Home in Old England. Here is Winslow’s description of the festivity: “Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might, after a more special manner, rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labours. They four in a day killed as much fowl as, with a little help besides, served the company almost a week. At which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us. And amongst the rest their greatest king, Massasoyt, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted. And they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the Plantation, and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us; yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.” A memorable feast; and twenty-five years later Brad-ford wrote: “Nor has there been any general want of food amongst us since to this day.” The fine healthy temper of the pioneers shines out in these simple words — the words of men who could pass lightly over the uncertainties and privations of that first difficult winter, when more than once it must have seemed to them that all their hope and labor were in vain and their adventure doomed, to emphasize only the good things that had come to them.

And Robert Cushman who, with his family, arrived by the Fortune, sent report back to his “loving friends the Adventurers of New England” that New England it was not only because Prince. Charles had named it so, but “because of the resemblance that is in it of England, the native soil of Englishmen; it being much the same for heat and cold in summer and winter; it being champaign ground, but no high mountains, somewhat like the soil in Kent and Essex; full of dales and meadow ground, full of rivers and sweet springs, as England is.”