Massasoit: A Story of the Indians of New England - Alma H. Burton


While the canoes of red savages clung to the coast, the ships of white outlaws scoured the high seas.

From the time of Sir Francis Drake, pirates had infested the coasts of America.

There was an ideal cove in Tortuga, where a lawless crew hid their plunder, and darted out to sea like sharks, to rob the passing ships. Their dress was a shirt and trousers, dipped in the blood of animals they killed. They wore shoes without stockings, a hat without a brim, and a leather girdle, from which hung a knife. Their vessels were boats made from the trunks of trees.

They were called buccaneers, from the way they roasted an ox. And soon the name buccaneer was given to all who followed after their evil ways.

When there were no Spanish galleons in sight, they plundered ships, loaded with cotton, sugar, tobacco and rice, from the West Indies, and sold these cargoes for round Spanish dollars.

A cargo of dried cod, a few hundred packs of beaver and mink skins, or a load of ship-timber, found ready sale in the seaports of Europe; and so the colonial ships were much sought by the buccaneers.

Many stories are told of their revels.

Once some buccaneers captured a vessel, laden with horses, from Rhode Island. They went on board, made a raid on the larder, and, when well heated with rum, led the horses on deck, mounted and rode backwards and forwards, shouting and lashing, until the animals careered about with such frenzy that two or three of the madmen were thrown from their backs.

Then they leaped up in a rage, and fell upon the crew with their sabres, declaring they deserved death for not bringing boots and spurs, without which no man might be expected to ride well. At one time, all the coast of New England was under the sway of Blackbeard.

This noted pirate received his name from the long, black beard which he twisted with ribbons into small black tails, and turned about his ears.

He usually appeared with three brace of pistols hanging to a scarf on his shoulders, and at night stuck lighted matches under his hat, which, with his fierce black eyes, gave him a very wild aspect, indeed.

The very mention of Blackbeard kept many a little New Englander wide awake for hours in the night.

Pirate Ships


His men landed at any of the ports they wished; they swaggered through the streets, picking quarrels with the people, and none dared to seize them, for fear of endangering the town.

Ships from Boston were scuttled; sloops from Connecticut, bearing cattle and sheep, were boarded; scows from Rhode Island were towed away to South American markets.

Captain Blackbeard was no respecter of flags, and plundered all ships alike. He seemed to like one nation about as well as another, and chose inlets along all coasts, where he pitched his tents and repaired his ships.

"Come down into the hold, my merry men, and we'll have a little fire and brimstone of our own," he once cried, when no sail was in sight, and time hung heavily on his hands.

With hatches shut down, this jolly captain lighted some pots of brimstone.

His own lungs were like leather, and he drank in the fumes of the sulphur, as if they were the dainty breath of a rose; and if any of his unfortunate mates fell to coughing or sneezing, they were straightway rapped on the head. Sneezing, coughing and howling with pain, the crew rushed at last for the hatchway; but there stood the captain, with a brace of pistols in each hand, and shot them down without respect to persons.

Another amusement of this jolly pirate was to make his prisoners walk: a plank stuck out over the side of the vessel. Since nothing but death awaited them at either end of the plank, they always chose the mercy of the waves.

Most of Blackbeard's time was put in, cruising between Jamaica and the colonies.

At last, he met his fate in the person of an English officer, who, after a fierce fight, seized the captain and his crew, and sailed into harbor with the head of Blackbeard nailed to the bowsprit.

Then there was Captain Tew, of New York, who won a fortune on the sea, and then retired to Rhode Island, to live in princely style off his plunder, till the old fever came on again, and he was shot in a sea-fight.

And there was Captain Avery, who robbed Moorish ships, and hid his booty in Boston. Then, for safer keeping, he took his gold and silver plate to England, and, being discovered, never dared to claim the treasure from the deposit vaults.

And there was Captain Low, who took delight in the torture of his merchant captives. He hated all men in New England, and seizing the crew of a merchant ship of New York, tortured them with burning matches, tied between their fingers.

He whipped the naked crew of a whaling vessel, off the coast of Maine, and made the master eat his own ears, with pepper and salt.

Besides the buccaneering off the coast of New England, the wars between New England and New France caused much privateering. Now, privateering was thought to be only a war on the sea. To capture and plunder each other's vessels, and take the crews prisoners, was a good way to weaken the enemy.

Once a fleet of seven sail of French privateers, ran down from Louisburg, at the mouth of the St. Lawrence, captured Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, and Block Island, and lay in wait for English ships.

The harbor of Newport was a favorite resort for them in winter. The white savages seemed worse than the red ones, and kept the country in a state of constant terror. Many settlers took what they had in Hartford, and the towns along the coast, and sought homes out of reach of the sea rovers.

Rhode Island prepared to defend her commerce. Seven high watch-towers were erected; heavy guns were placed on Block Island. Then many English privateering vessels were fitted up in New England.

But, strange to say, it very often happened that when a merchant put cannon at his loopholes, received a commission from his governor to capture the French vessels, and sailed away, breathing vengeance on the pirates, and promising to bring back the head of the last one of them, he also turned pirate himself, and was soon off in the Spanish Main, coasting for any ship that might bring plunder. This turning of privateers into pirates became notorious; and, what seemed worse yet, the fisher-folk along the coast were tempted to harbor these English pirates, and divide the spoils with them. At first they did this with a very good conscience. They said the French were enemies, and it was the duty of patriotic citizens to impoverish the French.

But when the cargoes were bales of raw silk, and chests of opium, jewels and perfumes from India, they learned to ask no questions about what ships had been seized.

Now, all this plundering raised a great scandal among the staid Puritans of New England.

And when King William heard of it, he said it was a disgrace to his colonies, and must be stopped.

So proclamations were published by drum-beats through every town, requiring officers to arrest suspected pirates, and warning people not to harbor any such, on pain of punishment.

Then the New England governors looked about for a man who could best make war on Eng1:ish privateers who had turned pirates, and Captain Kidd seemed the very best man they could find.

He had been commander of a merchant vessel sailing between New York and London. He was celebrated for his skill, and knew most of the men who were rovers of the sea.

So Captain Kidd was put in command of the Adventure, a cruiser with thirty guns, and set sail from Plymouth, under the great seal of the admiral.

"Ho, for the pirates! "was the song at the wheel, as the crew sailed out of Plymouth harbor.

Kidd cruised around for a year, and, not finding any privateers worth running down, set his sails for the Red Sea, and turned pirate himself.

He plundered Moorish ships off the coast of Madagascar, and ravaged the Indian Ocean, from the Red Sea to Malabar. Then he returned to Rhode Island, to store away his treasures. For many years he preyed on the commerce of all nations, and hid his plunder on the islands of Narragansett Bay.

He used to hide himself and his vessel among the curious rocks in Sachem Head Harbor, and there, to this day, is the hollow stone, called Kidd's Punch Bowl, where, tradition declares, he used to carouse with his men.

Never, in the old days, was a band of Indian warriors at Sachem Head more lawless than Captain Kidd and his crew.

Once they landed on Gardiner's Island, and requested a supper of Mrs. Gardiner. The good woman, fearing the displeasure of the sea-robber, roasted a pig in her very best style. As a reward for the toothsome meal she prepared, Kidd presented his hostess with a cradle-blanket of cloth-of-gold.

Another time he buried a curious casket of jewels on Gardiner's Island.

Now, the king had sent word to the governors of all the colonies, to arrest Captain Kidd, if ever he should return to his old haunts; but the command was easier to give than to execute.

Kidd hovered about the lovely bay of Narragansett, like the moth about a candle; people said it was because he had such vast treasure hidden there. At last he ventured into Rhode Island; and was captured. He was taken to Boston. Then he was sent to London, where he was tried, condemned and hanged.

But for many years he still lived in the minds of the simple fisher-folk of New England.

When the winds were high, and the tides swept in, they fully believed that the coast was haunted by Captain Kidd and his crew.

As for the Indians who dwelt on Nantucket and the neighboring islands, where the pirate ship sailed past, when they heard of helpless sailors tortured and thrown overboard to the whales, they shuddered with fear, and drew closer the mats at the doors of their wigwams.

"Why," they said, "do white men talk so much about the cruelty of red men!"