Miles Standish - John S. C. Abbott

The Weymouth Colonists

The Double-Dealing of Squantum.—False Alarm.—Voyage to Massachusetts.—Massasoit Demands Squantum.—The Arrival of the boat.—The Virginia Massacre.—Preparations for Defense.—Arrival of the Charity and the Swan.—Vile Character of the Weymouth Colonists.—Arrival of the Discovery.—Starvation at Weymouth.—Danger of the Plymouth Colony.—Expeditions for Food. Death of Squantum.—Voyage to Massachusetts and the Cape.

Speaking of the apprehended double-dealing of Squantum; Mr. Winslow writes:

"Thus, by degrees, we began to discover Squantum, whose ends were only to make himself great in the eyes of his countrymen, by means of his nearness and favor with us, not caring who fell so he stood. In the general, his course was to persuade them he could lead us to peace or war at his pleasure, and would oft threaten the Indians, sending them word in a private manner that we were intending shortly to kill them, that thereby he might get gifts to himself to work their peace; insomuch that they had him in greater esteem than many of their sachems. So that whereas divers were wont to rely on Massasoit for protection, and resort to his abode, now they began to leave him and seek after Squantum.

"Now, though he could not make good these, his large promises, especially because of the continued peace between Massasoit and us, he therefore raised this false alarm, hoping, while things were hot in the heat of blood, to provoke us to march into his country against him; whereby he hoped to kindle such a flame as would not easily be quenched; and hoping if that block were once removed, there were no other between him and honor, which he loved as his life, and better than peace."

The above is undoubtedly the true explanation of the strange conduct of Squantum. The Governor very severely reprimanded him for his trickery. Massasoit was so indignant that he sent a messenger to Plymouth, entreating that Squantum might be put to death. The Governor admitted that he deserved death, but he could not possibly be spared. As he alone understood both languages, without him there could scarcely be any intercourse between the Pilgrims and the Indians.

"It was, perhaps," writes Francis Baylies, "after all, but natural for Squantum, who does not appear to have possessed much influence with the natives, at the time of the arrival of the English, to endeavor to make the most of their favor. His knowledge of the English language gave him a decided advantage over all others. His own small tribe had been exterminated by the plague. He was a solitary man, unaided by the influence or favor of kindred, and he only used the means which fortune had placed in his hands to acquire wealth, consideration and influence. Another of his devices, to magnify the power of the English, and consequently his own, was to persuade the natives that the English had buried the plague in their store-house, and that they could loose it at will, and ravage the whole country. The apprehension of this kept the Indians in great fear."

The alarm created by this false rumor having subsided, Captain Standish again set out with his party to visit Massachusetts. It is to be regretted that we have not a detailed account of the incidents which occurred upon this voyage. The only record we have is contained in the few following words, by Mr. Winslow: "After this, we proceeded in our voyage to the Massachusetts, where we had good store of trade; and, blessed by God, returned in safety, though driven from before our town in great danger and extremity of weather."

Upon their return in May, they found Massasoit still in a state of great excitement in reference to the conduct of Squantum. By the treaty, which the English had entered into with the Indian King, both parties were bound to surrender criminals. Squantum, as an adopted member of the Wampanoag tribe, was a subject of Massasoit. The Indian chief now sent an imposing delegation to Plymouth, formally demanding the surrender of Squantum, that, in accordance with Indian law, he might be put to death as a traitor. With the delegation, he sent executioners to cut off Squantum's head and hands, and to bring them to him. In token of his friendship for the English he sent to the Governor a rich present of beaver skins.

Governor Bradford was much embarrassed. He sent for Squantum. The culprit, though fully aware of the object of the Indian envoys, and even that Massasoit had sent his own knife, with which to cut off his head and hands, made no effort to escape. With true Indian stolidity he yielded himself to the Governor to be delivered to death, or not, as he might think best.

The terms of the treaty seemed clear. The Governor decided that he could not, without violating his solemn pledge, refuse to surrender Squantum to Massasoit. He was just about to make this surrender, which would have resulted in the immediate death of the Indian, and which, of course, created the most intense excitement in the little colony, when all were startled by the apparition of a shallop, under full sail, rounding Hither Monomet Point, which constituted the southern boundary of Plymouth Bay. A panic pervaded the colony. It was feared that it was a French boat, accompanying some French man-of-war, and that they were approaching in concert with the Indians for the destruction of the colony. Every man sprang to arms. Captain Standish mustered his whole force for defense. It might be that the hostile Indians would rush upon them in an hour. There was no doubt that Squantum, with all his great imperfections of character, was the friend of the English. His services as interpreter, under these circumstances, became more important than ever. Governor Bradford therefore informed the envoys that he could not deliver Squantum to their custody. This roused their indignation. "Being mad with rage," writes Mr. Winslow, "and impatient at delay, they departed in great heat."

It was soon ascertained, greatly to the relief of the colonists, that the shallop belonged to an English fishing vessel, called the Sparrow. The ship had been fitted out by Mr. Thomas Weston, a London merchant, and brought seven passengers to be landed at Plymouth. The vessel, engaged in fishing, had cast anchor at a place called Damari's Cove, near Monhegan, upon the coast of Maine, about one hundred and twenty miles northeast from Plymouth. This was famous fishing ground, and there were, at that time, thirty-five vessels riding at anchor there. The Sparrow, while most of her crew were engaged in fishing, had sent her shallop to convey the seven passengers to Plymouth.

The boat brought seven more mouths to be fed, and no provisions. It was the last of May, 1622. The colonial store of food was almost entirely consumed, and for a long time the colonists had been placed upon very short allowance. This boat brought a very friendly letter from the captain of the Swallow, John Huldston, communicating the startling intelligence that the Indians in Virginia had risen against the colony there on the 22nd of March, and four hundred of the Indians had been massacred. There could be no doubt that this success of the Indians in Virginia would be speedily communicated to all the tribes; and that it would inspire the hostile Indians in New England with the desire to imitate their example.

The crew of the shallop had barely provision sufficient to serve them until their return to the ship. The destitution of food in the colony was so great that the colonists were threatened with absolute starvation. The Governor therefore sent Mr. Winslow in the shallop, with a small crew, to the fishing vessels, to obtain from them, if possible, some supplies. The boat from the Swallow  led the way. The fishermen were very generous. Though they had but a scant supply of provisions for themselves, yet, with an abundant store of fish on board, they were in no danger of starving. They refused to take any pay for the contributions they furnished to meet the wants of the Pilgrims. Governor Bradford writes:

"What was got, and this small boat brought, being divided among so many, came but to a little. Yet by God's blessing it upheld them till harvest. It arose to but a quarter of a pound of bread a day to each person. The Governor caused it to be daily given them; otherwise, had it been in their own custody, they would have eaten it up, and then starved. But thus, with what else they could get, they made pretty shift until corn was ripe."

The question naturally arises, How was it possible that the colonists should find themselves in a state of such utter destitution, in a country so overflowing with abundance as Mr. Winslow's letter has described, where the forests were filled with game and the waters with fish. We will allow Mr. Winslow himself to reply to this question.

"I answer, everything must be expected in its proper season. No man, as one saith, will go into an orchard and in the winter to gather cherries. So he that looks for fowl there, in the summer, will be disappointed. The time they continue plenty with us is from the beginning of October to the end of March. But these extremities befell us in May and June. I confess that as the fowl decrease, so fish increase. And, indeed, their increasing abundance was a great cause of increasing our wants. For, though our bays and creeks were full of bass and other fish, yet, for want of fit and strong seines, and other netting, they for the most part broke through, and carried all away before them. And, though the sea were full of cod, yet we had neither tackling nor hawsers for our shallops. And, indeed, had we not been in a place where divers sorts of shell fish are, that may be taken with the hand, we must have perished, unless God had raised some unknown or extraordinary means for our preservation."

Mr. Winslow, upon his return from the fishing fleet, found the colony in great weakness. The hostile Indians were not blind to this. The massacre in Virginia had roused their savage natures, and many insulting speeches, by them, were reported to the English. Even Massasoit was disposed to frown, being sorely displeased at their refusal to surrender Squantum, according to the terms of the treaty.

The menaces of war had become so serious that Captain Standish deemed it necessary immediately to increase and strengthen their fortifications. They at once set to work to build a strong fort upon Burial Hill, within the limits of their palisades. It consisted of a large, square building, with a strong flat roof, made of thick planks, supported by oaken beams. Upon this roof they placed their cannon, commanding all the approaches. The large room below served them for a church. Their mode of assembling for public worship is described by Isaac de Rassieres, who visited Plymouth in 1627:



"They assemble," he writes, "by beat of drum, each with his musket or firelock, in front of Captain Standish's door. They have their cloaks on, and place themselves in order, three abreast, and are led by a sergeant without beat of drum. Behind comes the Governor, in a long robe. Beside him, on the right hand, comes the preacher, with his cloak on; and on the left hand the Captain, with his side arms and cloak on, and with a small cane in his hand. And so they march in good order, and each sets his arms clown near him."

Early in July two trading ships from London, the Charity  and the Swan, entered Plymouth harbor. These ships brought fifty or sixty emigrants, who intended to settle in the country as the agents of a company in England. It was their object to establish a colony to trade with the Indians. The expedition was fitted out by Mr. Thomas Weston, a wealthy merchant in London, and hence the new comers were generally called Weston's men. Many of them were utterly devoid of principle, profane and profligate. Mr. Cushman wrote in reference to them:

"They are no men for us, and I fear that they will hardly deal so well with the savages as they should. I pray you, therefore, to signify to Squantum that they are a distinct body from us, and we have nothing to do with them, nor must be blamed for their faults, much less can warrant their fidelity."

Mr. John Pierce wrote respecting them: "As for Mr. Weston's company, they are so base in condition for the most part, as in all appearance not fit for an honest man's company. I wish they might prove otherwise."

At the time of the arrival of these rude and hungry adventurers, the Pilgrims had their gardens filled with growing vegetables, and they had sixty acres planted with corn, just then in the green ear. At that time, when boiled or roasted, it made very palateable food. But it was wasteful to use it in that state unless there were great abundance. When ripened it contained much more nutriment, and would go much farther in feeding the hungry. But these wretched men, though received hospitably by the Pilgrims, and treated with the utmost kindness, requited them by robbing their gardens and their corn-field. Their little growing harvest was thus most cruelly wasted. Indeed these godless wretches seemed wantonly to destroy the growing crop. Having no religion of their own, and only a God to swear by, they insulted, with oaths and ribald jests, those devout men, who daily looked in prayer to God for guidance, and whose voices were often blended in Christian hymns.

The Pilgrims seem to have been more grieved in view of the influence the conduct of these men would exert upon the savages, than by the outrages to which they themselves were exposed. Mr. Winslow wrote:

"Nevertheless, for their master's sake, who formerly had deserved well from us, we continued to do them whatever good or furtherance we could, attributing these things to the want of confidence and discretion, expecting each day when God, in his providence, would disburden us of them, sorrowing that their overseers were not of more ability and fitness for their places, and much fearing what would be the issue of such raw and unconscionable beginnings."

The Charity, which was the larger ship, having put these men ashore, continued her voyage to Virginia. The rabble crew remained, an almost intolerable burden upon the Pilgrims, during nearly all the summer. An expedition was fitted out to explore Massachusetts Bay, in search of a suitable location for Mr. Weston's colony. The expedition at length returned, recommending a place in Boston harbor, called by the Indians Wessagusset, but to which the name of Weymouth was subsequently given.

Inexpressible was the satisfaction of the Pilgrims when they saw these miscreants take their departure. They however left behind them quite a number of sick persons, whom the Pilgrims nursed with true Christian benevolence, placing them under the care of their own skilful physician, Dr. Fuller, and, as they recovered, sending them, without any charge, to their own distant colony.

But immediately after these men landed at Weymouth, complaints came to the ears of the Pilgrims of innumerable acts of violence and injustice which they were perpetrating. They stole the corn of the Indians, insulted their females in the grossest manner, and in all things seemed to regard the Indians as not entitled to any rights which white men were bound to respect. The Pilgrims were the more annoyed by these atrocities, since the Indians, disposed to be friendly, had entreated Captain Standish to establish a colony of white men in their country, who could teach them many arts, and to whom they could sell their corn and furs. Their outrages, reported from tribe to tribe, tended also to exasperate everywhere the undiscriminating Indians against the English. But the Pilgrims had no power to redress these abuses. They remonstrated earnestly; but their remonstrances were in vain. The outrages were continued unabated.

The Weston men had brought scarcely any supplies with them. Before a month had passed they were actually in a starving condition. They had no harvest to gather in; winter was coming upon them, and death by famine stared them in the face. To add to their misery, anarchy reigned there, and the colony consisted of a rabble of profane, ungovernable men, in constant quarrels among themselves. These men had also so wasted and consumed the supplies upon which the industrious Pilgrims had been relying for the winter, that the Plymouth colony was also in great danger of perishing from want.

When in this alarming condition, and when the minds of the Pilgrims were agitated with great anxiety in view of the future, two ships, at the end of August, came into Plymouth harbor. One of them, the Discovery, was commanded by Captain Jones, formerly of the Mayflower. The other was one of Mr. Weston's small fishing vessels, the Swan, which had returned from a fishing expedition, and was bound for Virginia. Providentially, Captain Jones had quite a large supply of provisions. He had never been in cordial sympathy with the Pilgrims, and now he very ungenerously took advantage of their great necessities. Though the Pilgrims were consequently compelled to pay an exorbitant price for everything they obtained of him, still they were enabled to purchase such supplies as would save them from actual starvation. Mr. Winslow writes:

"And had not the Almighty, in His all-ordering providence, directed him to us, it would have gone worse with us than ever it had been, or after was. For as we had now but small store of corn for the year following, so, for want of supply, we were worn out of all manner of trucking stuff, not having any means to help us by trade. But, through God's good mercy towards us, he had wherewith, and did supply our wants, on that kind, competently."

In consequence of the destitution of Mr. Weston's colony at Weymouth, the Swan  was sent there, with a considerable supply of provisions, and with articles to trade with the Indians in exchange for corn. The Swan  was also left with the colony, to be used for coasting purposes. But not a month had passed before these reckless spendthrifts had squandered all their provisions, and were again starving. And they were in such poor repute with the Indians that none dared venture into the colony with corn to sell, lest they should be robbed.

A man by the name of John Sanders was the leading man, a sort of governor over the Weymouth colony. He wrote to Governor Bradford, wishing to unite with him in an excursion along the eastern and southern coast of Cape Cod, to purchase corn of the Indians. He would furnish the vessel for the voyage, the Swan, but the colony at Plymouth must furnish the men to trade with the Indians and the articles for traffic. The corn was to be equally divided between them. He promised to repay the Pilgrims for such trading commodities as they should contribute, when the next supplies came from Mr. Weston.

The promises of such a man were of but little value. The Weymouth colony was already in a hopelessly ruinous condition. But the Pilgrims were well aware that they were daily in danger of an irruption of the whole vagabond gang to eat out their substance, and to fill their peaceful village with clamor and violence. They had far more to fear from these wretched colonists than from the savages. Policy, therefore, as well as humanity, urged it upon them to do everything in their power to supply the wants of Weston's men, and thus keep them at a distance.

Captain Standish, with a small crew, took command of the Swan  for this trading expedition along the outer coast of Cape Cod. Squantum accompanied them as interpreter and pilot. They had succeeded in reconciling Massasoit to him. They set sail the latter part of September. But so violent a gale arose that they were compelled to put back, having suffered considerable harm. It took some time to repair damages, when again they weighed anchor. Squantum proved a very poor pilot. They were entangled among the shoals, and retarded by contrary winds; and, to add to their calamities, Captain Standish was seized with a violent fever. Thus they were compelled a second time to put back, not having accomplished anything.

These delays brought them to the month of November. The captain continuing quite sick, Governor Bradford himself took command of the vessel. The Governor had but little confidence in Squantum's knowledge of the coast. Still he had to look to him alone, for no one else knew anything of the region. At last, much bewildered and in peril, they ran into an harbor with which Squantum was familiar, at a place called, by the Indians, Manamocki, now Chatham.

The Governor, accompanied by a small party, with Squantum for interpreter, went on shore that night. But no Englishmen had visited the region before, and the natives, terrified by the sight of the vessel, had fled. Through Squantum, the Governor gradually succeeded in making his friendly intentions known, and cautiously they gathered around him. They brought venison and corn in considerable abundance, and seemed very glad to exchange them for the valuable articles which Governor Bradford offered in return. Still they manifested much fear of their visitors, and were very unwilling to let them know where their dwellings were. And when they found that the Governor intended to remain on shore all night, they suddenly disappeared, running to their wigwams, and carrying all their valuables away with them.

Again, through the intervention of Squantum, confidence was partially restored. The Governor was so successful in his trade that he purchased of them, though but a few and scattered people, eight hogsheads of corn and beans. Such facts seemed to indicate that all of the Indians did not depend so much upon the chase for sustenance as has generally been supposed. While thus engaged Squantum was taken sick of a fever, and, after a few day's illness, died. He was heard to pray, and he asked Governor Bradford to pray that God would take him to the heaven of the Englishmen. All his valuables he bequeathed to his English friends, as remembrances of his love. His death was considered a great loss to the colony Judge Davis, commenting upon it, writes:

"Governor Bradford's pen was worthily employed in the tender notice of the death of this child of nature. With some aberrations his conduct was generally irreproachable; and his useful services to the infant settlement entitle him to grateful remembrance."

The death of Squantum left the Governor without either pilot or interpreter. He did not venture, therefore, to go any further south, where he would encounter numerable shoals, and where he would find himself among strange Indians. These considerations induced him to turn to the north. He was acquainted with the waters of Massachusetts Bay, and the Indians residing on those shores were in friendly relations with the Pilgrims. Indeed, they had been induced to plant more corn than usual, that they might have the means to purchase the valuable articles which the Pilgrims could offer them in exchange.

With a fair wind they soon entered Boston harbor. Here they found, to their grief, a fearful pestilence raging among the Indians, and many of them were dying. Bitter complaints were also brought to the Governor respecting the Weymouth colonists. The Massachusetts Indians were so exasperated by the infamous conduct of these men, that they were plotting for their utter extermination, many intending to follow up the massacre of the Weymouth colonists by the destruction of the Plymouth colony also. They were in no mood for peaceful traffic.

The Governor, therefore, speedily weighed anchor and spread his sails for Nauset, on the inner shore of Cape Cod. It will be remembered that the Pilgrims had formerly found some corn stored there, which, in their great need they took, but for which they afterwards fully paid the Indians. Captain Standish had also visited the region in search of the lost boy. Aspinet, the chief of the tribe, residing there, was very friendly. They landed in a small bay, between Barnstable and Yarmouth harbors. They had hardly made their port when a terrible storm arose. The gale was so furious that, notwithstanding their shelter, they came very near shipwreck. The shallop, attached to the Swan, was torn from them and driven they knew not where. This was a great calamity. The shoal water rendered it necessary to cast anchor at some distance from the shore, according to their estimate nearly six miles, and they had now no means of bringing on board such provisions as they might purchase. They had indeed one small boat, but it was so small and leaky that they scarcely ventured to go ashore in it, even in the most pleasant weather, for wood and water.

The Governor, however, opened a very successful trade with the Indians. He seems to have had much confidence in their honesty, for, having purchased a large quantity of corn, he stored it away, simply covering it with mats, and hired a neighboring Indian to watch and protect it from vermin till he could return and fetch it. In the meantime Aspinet had sent his men to traverse the shore in search of the shallop, which the storm had wrenched from them. It was found at the distance of several miles, much broken, and half buried in the sand at high water mark. It was entirely unserviceable until it should be repaired by a ship carpenter, and there was no carpenter on board the Swan.

The Governor, for some unexplained reason, decided to return to Plymouth by land, a distance of fifty miles. He took with him a single Indian guide, and traversing the wilderness on foot through the Indian trails, reached Plymouth in safety, weary and footsore. The Indians on the way treated him with great respect and hospitality. Three days after his arrival the Swan entered the harbor, and the portion of corn she had brought, which, by the division, belonged to the Weymouth colony, was immediately sent in the vessel to them.

Captain Standish having now recovered his health, took another shallop and a ship carpenter, and sailed in the Swan, which came back to Plymouth from Weymouth, across the bay to Nauset, to fetch the corn which they had stored there, and to repair and bring home the wrecked shallop. He found all safe. While the carpenter was repairing the shallop, he was busy with the other boat, transporting the corn out to the vessel, which, as we have mentioned, it was necessary to anchor at quite a distance from the shore.

It was the month of January, cold and stormy. The exposure and the labor were painful, for often the sea was very rough. The coast of Eastham, off which the Swan lay, abounds with creeks. Into one of these the shallop ran to take in its load. While in the creek one day, an Indian stole some beads, scissors, and other trifles from the boat. Captain Standish took one or two of his men with him, and going to the sachem, demanded the restitution of the articles, or he should take the law into his own hands and obtain redress. With this menace he left the chief, refusing to receive any hospitality from him. It so happened that the thief was known, and the sachem could, without difficulty, restore the stolen articles, were he disposed to do so.

The next morning Aspinet came to Captain Standish with a very imposing retinue. Both he and his men saluted the Captain, in the style of Indian homage, kissing his hand, indeed licking it, and bowing the knee very humbly before him. He then delivered up all the articles which had been taken, expressed his deep regret at the occurrence, and assured Captain Standish that the thief had been severely beaten for his crime. In token of his regret and friendship, the Indian women were ordered to bring to the Captain quite a supply of freshly-baked corn bread.

The Swan  returned to Plymouth with about twenty-eight hogsheads of corn and beans, which were equally divided between the two colonies, as before. In the two colonies there were now about one hundred and fifty hungry mouths to be fed. Of course such a supply would soon disappear. It became immediately necessary to fit out new expeditions in search of food.