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

The Plague

In 1614 Captain John Smith came to Cape Cod. This Captain Smith was a wonderful man, if everything is true that is said about him. Before he was thirteen, his father died, and John ran off to sea. He fought against the Spaniards, and after a time started to try his fortune against the Turks. On the way he was set upon by robbers, stripped of his clothes and money, and left to die in the forest, but was found by a peasant and nursed back to health again.

Then he fell in with a French vessel at Marseilles, which captured a Venetian merchant ship, and he shared in the plunder.

With his pockets full of money, he joined a company of pilgrims on the way to the Holy Land, and such a violent storm arose immediately after embarking in the vessel, that these pilgrims said he was a second Jonah, and threw him overboard to the whales. The boy did not wait for a whale, but swam like a drowning rat to an island, hailed a passing ship, and soon after reached the army in Hungary, for which he had started. Here he was very useful, and invented fireworks to help drive the Turks away from Lymbach, which they were besieging.

As the Turkish army lay opposite the army of the Christians, three champion Turks, one after the other, stepped forth from the line of battle and challenged some cavalier to mortal combat. Smith encountered them, one after the other, and cut off their heads; and he was made a captain of the horse for his many feats at arms.

A Tartar prince captured him soon after with several of his countrymen, and they were sold in a slave-market near Adrianople.

A pasha bought him to be his cupbearer in a very grand palace, and Smith looked so handsome in his long embroidered robes that the wife of the pasha fell in love with him.

Then the husband, in a jealous rage, planned to sell him into worse bondage; but the beautiful wife sent him secretly to her brother on the Black Sea for safe keeping.

Instead of caring for him, this wicked brother stripped off his fine silken garments, clothed him in a coarse hair coat, girded about with a thong of skin, shaved his head and beard, riveted a great ring of iron about his neck, and made him the slave of slaves.

Smith watched and planned for an escape, and one day, when he found himself alone with his overseer, he struck him to the ground with his threshing bat, stripped the clothes from the body and hid it under the straw.

Then he dressed himself in the clothes of the Turk, filled a sack with corn, shut the door of the prison, mounted a horse, and fled to the desert, where he wandered about until he fell in with some Christians, who were making a pilgrimage. He roamed all over Europe, and at last reached England just in time to sail for America. Now everybody was talking about America at this time.

Many merchants had become rich by traffic with the Indians in furs and sassafras; and as for the fishing trade, it had created a codfish aristocracy which the nobles said would soon undermine the very foundations of polite society.

But King James was anxious to have the New World settled, and he encouraged the fisheries and the traffic in furs. He divided all the land which he claimed in America, and which was called Virginia, between two companies of merchants. To the London Company he gave South Virginia, and to the Plymouth Company he gave North Virginia, which included the Land of the Bays.

Now the London Company was just sending over ships to plant a colony in South Virginia, when Captain John Smith reached England. "Here is a chance to see something more of the world," said Smith, and without a day's delay he stepped on the hatchway of one of the vessels. The heavy sails swelled out before the winds, and in due course of time about a hundred passengers landed on the shores of a beautiful river, which they called the James, in honor of the king; and in the month of May, 1607, began to lay out Jamestown.

So Captain Smith helped to found the first permanent English settlement in America. He became governor of Jamestown, and remained there three years, exploring the coast and meeting with many adventures.

Once he was taken captive by the Indians, and spent his time for several weeks whittling dolls and making many curious playthings, for a ten-year-old Indian princess, who, it is said, saved him from death by throwing herself before him just as a cruel tomahawk was raised above his head.

Smith was wounded at last by an explosion of gunpowder, and returned to England. He was soon sought out by the Plymouth Company to go to North Virginia to take whales, and search for mines of gold and copper.

So two ships, one under command of Captain John Smith, and the other under Thomas Hunt, sailed from the Downes of England, and in March, 1614, made the shores of Penobscot Bay, which was already a famous resort for fishermen.

While Hunt and his men were busy harpooning whales and trading with the Indians, Smith explored the coast of the Land of the Bays. He drew a map from point to point, and harbor to harbor, and rowed up a broad river which he named the Charles, after the young prince of that name, and he stopped at a harbor which he called Plymouth, after the busy seaport town in England.

Now, while Captain Smith was serving his company by noting all the places where the merchant ships might anchor, and jotting down locations for the cities of the future, Captain Hunt was serving them in quite a different way. He had filled his vessel with whale blubber and furs, and then, to make his cargo still more profitable, he kidnapped twenty Indians from Plymouth, and seven from Cape Cod, to sell as slaves in the markets of Spain.

The cries of the unhappy prisoners rang out over the waters as the ship sailed away, but those who followed in canoes to rescue them, received a volley of shot and returned to the shore, vowing vengeance on the Palefaces.

So, when two French fishing smacks came sailing into Massachusetts Bay, how should these poor Indians know that they were not the English in search of more slaves?

They set upon the Frenchmen and massacred all but five, who were held in wretched bondage, and sent from one sachem to another, to perform the most degrading labor.

It is said that one of them had saved a Bible from the wreck of the ship, and after he had learned the language of the Indians, he told them that the God of the white men would send punishment upon the red men, because they had killed the French sailors, who never did them any wrong. He told them that they would one day be destroyed and wiped off the face of the earth; for the white man's God was very angry; and to prove his words, he read the passage, "'Vengeance is mine,' saith the Lord."

But the sachem of the Massachusetts tribe, by whom the men had been killed, led the Frenchman to a high hill. He looked down on the wigwams which dotted the streams and the cornfields, and the plantations of tobacco and vines along the beautiful bay. "Ah," he exclaimed, "the Massachusetts are such a great nation that the white man's God cannot destroy us all. Behold our fields and our wigwams."

A very short time after, a terrible plague swept over the fair country, and hardly one hundred of all the three thousand warriors who dwelt about the bay escaped. But the sorrow was not among the Massachusetts alone, for the Wampanoags, and all their other allies, were afflicted. Massasoit saw thousands of his people perish. He mourned deeply and prayed long hours before the little bundle of skins which hung in his lodge, imploring the Great Spirit to spare his warriors; but they were stricken down so fast by the dread disease, that soon the living could not bury the dead.

Then he looked across the bay, and saw that not one of his enemies had fallen. And when he learned that only the Massachusetts and their friends had been scourged by the plague, he remembered how the Massachusetts had slain the Frenchmen; and he said that the slave with the Bible had spoken truly, for they were being punished by the white man's God.

And so the story went about, and, like every story, grew larger and larger as it went, that the white men held the demon of the plague, and had sent it across the morning waters to destroy them.

Massasoit believed this story, and all the Indians who dwelt in the Land of the Bays believed it.