Miles Standish - John S. C. Abbott

Exploring Tours

The Lost Boy. The Expedition to Nauset.—Interesting Adventures.—The Mother of the Kidnapped Indians.—Tyanough.—Payment for the Corn.—Aspinet, the Chief.—The Boy Recovered.—Alarming Intelligence.—Hostility of Corbitant.—The Friendship of Hobbomak.—Heroic Achievement of Miles Standish.—The Midnight Attack.—Picturesque Spectacle.—Results of the Adventure. Visit to the Massachusetts.—The Squaw Sachem.—An Indian Fort—Charming Country.—Glowing Reports.

We have before spoken of the notorious John Billington and his ungovernable family. His boy John, the same one who came so near causing the Mayflower  to be blown up with gunpowder, got lost in the woods. The search to find him was unavailing. At last news came that he had, after wandering five days in the woods, living upon berries, been picked up by the Nauset Indians, the same who had attacked the Pilgrims at the First Encounter. Following an Indian trail he had reached a small Indian village, called Manomet, in the present town of Sandwich, about twenty miles south of Plymouth. The Indians treated him kindly, and took him with them still further down the Cape to Nauset, in the present town of Barnstable.

Massasoit sent word to Governor Carver where he was, and an expedition of ten men was immediately fitted out, in the shallop, to bring him back. It was a beautiful day, the latter part of July, when the boat sailed from Plymouth harbor on this short trip. They had not, however, been many hours at sea ere a tempest arose with vivid lightning and heavy peals of thunder. They ran, for shelter, into a place called Cummaquit, which was doubtless Barnstable harbor. Squantum and another Indian, by the name of Tokamahamon, accompanied them, as interpreters and aids.

It was night before they reached the harbor and cast anchor. The receding tide left them dry upon the flats. In the morning they saw several savages, on the shore, seeking for shell-fish. The two Indian interpreters were sent to communicate with them. They returned stating that the boy was well, but that he was several miles further dawn the Cape, at Nauset. The Indians also invited the white men to come on shore and eat with them. As soon as the returning tide floated the boat they drew near to the shore, and, cautiously taking four unarmed Indians on board as hostages, six of the voyagers landed. Here they had a very pleasant interview with the sachem, or chief of the tribe, a young man, by the name of Tyanough, but twenty-six years of age. He was very hospitable, and seemed to have but little of the savage in his nature. They describe him as "very personable, gentle, courteous and fair conditioned."

They met here with an aged Indian woman whom they judged to be not less than one hundred years old. She had never before seen a white man. As soon as she saw the English she burst into a convulsive fit of weeping. It appeared that she had three sons who had been lured on board the ship of the infamous Captain Hunt and kidnapped. They were carried off to Spain, and she had never heard any tidings from them. The Pilgrims spoke all the words of comfort to the poor bereaved mother which they could, assuring her that Captain Hunt was a very wicked man, whom God would punish; that all the English condemned him for his crime, and that they would not be guilty of the like wickedness for all the skins the country could afford. They made her some presents which quite cheered her.

After dinner they re-embarked, on such friendly terms with the natives that the chief and two of his men went on board with them to accompany them on the way. It was in the evening twilight when they reached Nauset, and the tide was out. The savages here seemed to be very numerous, and they crowded the shore. It is supposed that the point which they had reached here was in the present town of Eastham.

The shallop touched the flats at quite a distance from the land. Tyanough, the chief of the Cummaquit Indians, and his two men, waded over the wet and sandy flats to the beach. Squantum accompanied them, to inform Aspinet, the chief of the Nauset Indians, of their object in coming. The savages manifested great eagerness of cordiality, flocked out to the boat, and expressed more than willingness to drag it over the flats to the shore. But the Pilgrims would not allow this. They had not full confidence in their sincerity. This was the same tribe which had so fiercely assailed them in the First Encounter.

They, therefore, warned the Indians off, and with their weapons stood guard, allowing but two to enter the boat. One of these was from Manamoick, now Chatham, and was one of the owners of the corn which the Pilgrims had taken. The Pilgrims received him with great kindness, and assured him that if he would come to Plymouth they would repay him abundantly, either in corn or other articles; or, if preferred, they would send the payment to the Indians. He promised to come to Plymouth.

Just after sunset Aspinet appeared upon the shore, leading the boy, and accompanied by a train of nearly one hundred men. Fifty of these, unarmed, came wading through the water to the side of the shallop, bringing the boy with them. The other fifty remained at a little distance, armed with bows and arrows, ready to meet any hostile demonstration. In token of peace, and of his desire to cherish friendly relations with the English, Aspinet had decorated the boy with Indian ornaments. The Pilgrims here received also the rather alarming intelligence that Massasoit had been defeated in a battle with the Narragansets. Seven men only had been left for the protection of the colony. It was feared that the hostile Narragansets might make an attack upon them. It therefore appears that as soon as the tide came in, that very night, they spread their sails for home. They made Aspinet the present of a knife, and also gave a knife to the Indian who first found the boy and protected him.

The route which they had followed along the shore was so circuitous that they estimated that they had reached a point eighty miles from Plymouth. The wind was contrary and their progress was slow. When they reached Cummaquit they put in ashore for water. Here they found Tyanough, who, having returned by land, had reached the place before them. The obliging chief took their water cask upon his own shoulders and led them a long distance through the dark to a spring of not very sweet water. The shallop was anchored near the shore. The Indian women, in manifestation of their good will, sang and danced upon the beach, clasping hands.

Again they set sail, still encountering contrary winds, but at length they reached their home in safety. Soon after their return, they learned that the defeat of Massasoit was more disastrous than had at first been reported. It seems that a portion of the Indians were much opposed to any friendly relations with the white men, and wished for the extermination of the colony. An Indian by the name of Hobbomak, who was chief of one of the minor tribes, had now strongly allied himself to the English. Consequently he and Squantum were peculiarly obnoxious to those of the savages who remained unfriendly.

One of Massasoit's petty chieftains, named Corbitant, led the hostile party. He was an audacious, insolent fellow, residing in the present town of Middleborough, at a point on the Namasket River just above the bridge, which passes from the Green to the Four Corners, on the Plymouth road. This man endeavored to excite a revolt against Massasoit, assailing the Pilgrims with the most opprobrious language, and storming at the pace which had been made with them by Massasoit and the tribes on the Cape. It seemed also that he was entering into an alliance with the Narraganset Indians against Massasoit and the Pilgrims.

Hobbomak was a war captain among the Wampanoags, and was greatly beloved by Massasoit. With Squantum he set out on a journey to visit Massasoit, with inquiries and words of cheer from the Pilgrims. They were intercepted on their way by Corbitant, and both captured. Hobbomak, being a very powerful man, broke away and escaped. The next day, breathless and terrified, he reached Plymouth, reporting what had happened. On their journey they had entered a wigwam at Namasket, when suddenly the hut was surrounded by a band of armed savages. Corbitant himself, brandishing a knife, approached Squantum to kill him, saying, "When Squantum is dead the English will have lost their tongue." Just then Hobbomak escaped, and, outrunning his pursuers, reached Plymouth, not knowing the fate of his companion.

These were sad tidings, indicating that a very perilous storm, was gathering. Governor Bradford immediately assembled all the men of the colony to decide what was to be done. After earnest prayer and deliberation, they were united in the opinion that, should they suffer their friends and allies to be thus assailed with impunity, none of the Indians, however kindly disposed, would dare to enter into friendly relations with them. They therefore resolved to send ten men, one-half of their whole number, under Captain Standish, with Hobbomak as their guide, to seize Corbitant and avenge the outrage. Never did a heroic little band set out upon a more chivalric adventure.

The morning of the 14th of August was dark and stormy. Regardless of wind and rain Captain Standish led his valiant companions in single file through the narrow and dripping paths of the forest. It was late in the afternoon when they reached a secluded spot within four miles of Namasket. Here they concealed themselves that they might suddenly fall upon their foe in the darkness of night. Cautiously Captain Standish, who was alike prudent and intrepid, led his band. Every man received minute instructions as to the part he was to perform. The night was so dark, with clouds and driving rain, that they could hardly see a hand's breadth before them. They lost their way, and after groping for some time in the tangled thickets, happily again found their trail. It was after midnight when, wet and weary, they arrived within sight of the glimmering fires of Namasket. After silently refreshing themselves from their knapsacks they crept along to the large wigwam, where they supposed that Corbitant, surrounded by several of his warriors, was sleeping. The darkness of the night and the wailings of the storm caused even the wary Indians to be deaf to their approach.

"At a signal, two muskets were fired to terrify the savages, and Captain Standish, with three or four men, rushed into the hut. The ground floor, dimly lighted by some dying embers, was covered with sleeping Indians, men, women, and children. A scene of indescribable consternation and confusion ensued. Through Hobbomak, Captain Standish ordered every Indian to remain in the wigwam, assuring them that he had come for Corbitant, the murderer of Squantum, and that, if he were not there, no one else should be injured.

"But the savages, terrified by the midnight surprise, and by the report of the muskets, were bereft of reason. Many of them endeavored to escape, and were severely wounded by the Pilgrims in their attempts to stop them. The Indian boys, seeing that the Indian women were not molested, ran around, frantically exclaiming, 'I am a girl! I am a girl!'

"At last order was restored, and it was found that Corbitant was not there, but that he had gone off, with all his train, and that Squantum was not killed. A bright fire was now kindled, that the hut might be carefully searched. Its blaze illuminated one of the wildest of imaginable scenes. The wigwam, spacious and rudely constructed of boughs, mats and bark; the affrighted savages, men, women and children, in their picturesque dress and undress, a few with ghastly wounds, faint and bleeding; the bold colonists, in their European dress and armor; the fire blazing in the centre of the hut, all combined to present a scene such as few eyes have ever witnessed."

By this time all the inmates of the adjoining wigwams were aroused. Hobbomak, in the darkness, climbed to the top of the wigwam and shouted aloud for Squantum. In his response to his well-known voice, Squantum soon appeared. Captain Standish deprived all the Indian warriors of their bows and arrows, and having established a watch, sought such repose as they could find until morning.

Many of these Indians were friendly to the English, and they, with the earliest light of the morning, gathered around Captain Standish. The hostile Indians, who belonged to the faction of Corbitant, fled during the night. It seemed, however, that a majority were disposed to be friendly, for a large group gathered around Captain Standish, with pledges of their good will. He addressed them in words of conciliation, and yet of firmness, assuring them that, though Corbitant had for the present escaped, if he continued his hostility he could find no retreat from the avenging hand of the white man. He also assured them that if the Narragansets continued their assaults upon Massasoit or upon any of his subjects, the white men would punish them by the utter overthrow of their tribe. He expressed much regret that any of the Indians had been wounded, but told them that it was their own fault, as he had assured them that they should not be harmed if they would remain in the hut. He also offered to take home with him any who were wounded, that they might be carefully nursed. Two of the wounded availed themselves of this offer. The surgeon of the Pilgrim company, Mr. Samuel Fuller, tenderly cared for them.

Captain Standish led his triumphant little band back, accompanied by Squantum, and many other friendly Indians. The heroic achievement taught the friendly Indians that they could rely upon the protection of the white men, and was a loud warning to those who were disposed to be hostile. The enterprise occupied but two days. As the result of this adventure, many Sachems sent in the expression of their desire to enter into a friendly alliance with the Pilgrims. Corbitant himself was frightened by such an exhibition of energy, and by his own narrow escape. He sought reconciliation through the intercession of Massasoit, and subsequently signed a treaty of submission and friendship. Even Canonicus, the hostile and warlike chief of the Narragansets, sent an embassy to Plymouth, not improbably as spies, but with the professed object of treating for peace. The friendship of Massasoit, and his influence over the chiefs of the smaller tribes, contributed much to this happy result:

The Blue Hills of Milton were then called Mount Massachusetts. Many rumors had reached the colonists that the tribes residing in that vicinity, about forty miles north from Plymouth, were very unfriendly, had uttered many threats, and were preparing for hostile measures. The Pilgrims decided to send an expedition to that region, to establish, if possible, friendly relations with the natives, and they also wished to examine the country.

Captain Miles Standish was, of course, the one to be entrusted with the command of the important enterprise. He took a party in the shallop, of nine of the colonists, and three Indians, as interpreters, one of whom was Squantum. They set sail at midnight, in consequence of the favoring tide. It was Tuesday morning, the 18th of September, O. S. A gentle southerly breeze pressed their sails, and they glided over a smooth sea until they reached a point which they estimated to be about sixty miles from the port which they had left. As they had been informed that the tribes were numerous and warlike, as well as unfriendly, and it was a mild autumnal night, Captain Standish did not deem it prudent to land, but they al remained until morning in the boat.

They had entered a bay, which was doubtless Boston harbor, and anchored but a short distance from a cliff, which some have supposed to have been Copp's Hill, at the north end of Boston. This cliff rose about fifty feet from the water, and presented a precipitous front on the seaward shore.

The next morning they put in for the shore and landed. Here they found quite a quantity of lobsters which the savages had collected, but for some unknown reason had left. Captain Standish, with characteristic prudence, left three men to guard the shallop, and stationed two as sentinels, in a commanding position on the shore, to give warning of any appearance of danger. Then, with characteristic enterprise and courage, taking four men with him, and an Indian as guide and interpreter, he entered one of the well-trodden trails of the forest and pressed forward in search of the habitations of the Indians. It was a bold deed; for, though they had guns, a hundred Indian warriors, shooting their barbed arrows from behind trees, would soon lay them all weltering in blood.

They had not gone far before they met an Indian woman who, it seems, owned some of the lobsters, and was going to the shore to get them. But the colonists had feasted upon the savory food. They paid the woman, however, abundantly, to her entire satisfaction. She informed them that the small tribe to which she belonged, and whose chieftain's name was Obbatinewat, resided in a village a little farther along the coast. They therefore sent Squantum forward to the Indian village to inform Obbatinewat that the Pilgrims were coming to make him a friendly visit. Captain Standish returned to the shallop to continue their voyage to the settlement.

It required but a short sail. The Indian chief and his people, being prepared for their coming, received them kindly. It is a remarkable fact that the chief of the Massachusett tribe, probably the most powerful tribe then in these borders, was a woman—a squaw. Upon the death of her husband, Nanepashemet, she had been recognized as his successor. She was known as the Squaw Sachem, and was at war with Obbatinewat. Captain Standish offered his services to promote reconciliation. This was certainly magnanimous, for according to the principles of selfish worldly policy, it would have seemed expedient to keep the tribes warring against each other, thus to prevent their combining against the Pilgrims, and thus enabling the Pilgrims to retain what is called the balance of power. But Miles Standish, a straight-forward, honest man, scorned all such arts of expediency.

Obbatinewat resided near the bottom of the inner Massachusetts Bay. He was ever trembling in view of the incursions of a powerful tribe of Indians, who resided on the Kennebec, the Penobscot, and other rivers of Maine. They came in great numbers in time of harvest, robbing them of their corn and committing all manner of savage outrages.

Very gladly Obbatinewat, who seems to have been an amiable, peace-loving man, availed himself of the friendly offer of Captain Standish, and, with some of his people, accompanied him in the shallop across the harbor, it is supposed from Quincy to what is now Charlestown, to visit the squaw sachem. Mr. Winslow describes the visit in the following words:

"Again we crossed the bay, which is very large, and hath at least fifty islands in it; but the certain number is not known to the inhabitants. Night it was before we came to that side of the bay where this people were. On shore the savages went, but found nobody. That night also we rode at anchor aboard the shallop.

"On the morrow we went ashore, all but two men, and marched, in arms, up in the country. Having gone three miles we came to a place where corn had been newly gathered, a house pulled down, and the people gone. A mile from hence Nanepashemet, their king, in his lifetime, had lived. His house was not like others: but a scaffold was largely built with poles and planks, some six feet from the ground, and the house upon that, being situated on the top of a hill.

"Not far from here, in a bottom, we came to a fort, built by their deceased king; the manner thus: There were poles, some thirty or forty feet long, stuck in the ground as thick as they could be set one by another. With these they enclosed a ring, some thirty or forty feet long. A trench, breast-high, was digged on each side. One way there was to go into it with a bridge. In the midst of this palisade stood the frame of a house, wherein, being dead, he lay buried.

"About a mile from here we came to such another, but seated on the top of a hill. Here Nanepashemet was killed; none dwelling in it since the time of his death. At this place we staid, and sent for two savages to look for the inhabitants, and to inform them of our ends in coming, that they might not be fearful of us. Within a mile of this place they found the women of the place together, with their corn on heaps, whither we supposed them to have fled for fear of us; and the more, because in divers places they had newly pulled down their houses, and for haste, in one place, had left some of their corn, covered with a mat, and nobody with it.

"With much fear they entertained us, at first; but seeing our gentle carriage towards them, they took heart, and entertained us in the best manner they could, boiling cod and such other things as they had for us. At length, with much sending for, came one of their men, shaking and trembling for fear. But when he saw we intended them no hurt, but came to truck, he promised us his skins also. Of him we inquired for their queen. It seemed that she was far from thence. At least we could not see her.

"Here Squantum would have had us rifle the savage women, and take their skins and all such things as might be serviceable for us; for, said he, they are a bad people, and have often threatened you. But our answer was, 'Were they never so bad, we would not wrong them, or give them any just occasion against us. For their words we little weighed them; but if they once attempted any thing against us, then we would deal far worse than he desired."

Having passed the day thus pleasantly, they returned to the shallop. Nearly all the women accompanied them. The Indians had quite a quantity of beaver skins, from which very comfortable garments were made. The Pilgrims were eager to purchase these skins, and the Indian women were so eager to obtain, in exchange for them, such articles as the English had to dispose of, that we are told "they sold their coats from their backs, and tied boughs about them, but with great shamefacedness, for indeed they are more modest than some of our English women are."

The savages reported that there were two rivers emptying into the bay, the Mystic and the Charles. The Pilgrims, however, saw but one, and they had not time to explore even that. They saw evidences that most of the islands in the harbor had been inhabited, having been cleared, and prepared for corn from end to end. But they were now desolate, the plague having swept the whole of their populations into the grave. The food of the exploring party becoming scarce, and there being a bright moon and a fair wind, they set sail in the evening, and by noon of the next day, Saturday, September 22nd, they reached home, having been absent four days. Mr. Winslow was one of the party, and it is supposed that he wrote the account from which we have quoted.

The adventurers brought back so glowing a report of the harbor, with its beautiful and fertile islands, the rivers and the rich soil, that the colonists quite regretted that they had not found that spot for their settlement. The country of the Massachusetts," said they, is the paradise of all those parts, for here are many isles, all planted with corn, groves, mulberries and savage gardens.

The summer had passed away with the Pilgrims very pleasantly and prosperously. Friendly relations had been established with the Indians, and a lucrative traffic opened in valuable furs. There had been no want of provisions. Fishing had been successful, furnishing them with an abundant supply of cod and bass. Water fowl, such as ducks and wild geese, abounded, and the forests were filled with deer and turkeys. In the autumn they gathered in a fine harvest of corn, and though they had no mills to grind it, by hand-pounding they converted it into meal, with which they made very palatable cakes. Thus amply supplied with food, they made their houses more tight and comfortable, aid gathered their fuel for the winter fires. They wrote home such glowing letters of their prosperity, that very many others were inspired with the desire to join them. One of these letters, written by Edward Winslow, will be given in the next chapter.