Story of Liberty - Charles Coffin

Strangers and Pilgrims

Those poor people from Scrooby and Austerfield, when they reached Holland, were in a sad condition. Their property was nearly all destroyed. They found themselves in a strange land. They could not speak a word of the language of Holland. They found the country intersected by canals, and that the people carried their cabbages and cheeses to market by water. The canals were the highways. Women, and children, and dogs tugged at the boats. A boy or girl and a dog made a little team, a woman and a donkey a big team.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The fugitives find friends in Amsterdam—people from London who have sought refuge there. Some of them have queer ideas in regard to dress, and say that no person should wear a collar or a ruff, or any ornament upon the person, and are greatly troubled because Mrs. Johnson, their minister's wife, wears whalebone in her stays, and high-heeled cork-soled shoes. The fugitives from Scrooby and Austerfield are not in a condition to indulge in ally superfluity of dress, for they are very poor. They remain at Amsterdam a short time, and then remove to Leyden—the town that made such a brave resistance to the Spaniards.

William Brewster, who used to entertain them in the old manor-house, is so poor that he has to teach school for a living, and while teaching he learns to set type, and establishes a printing-office. William Bradford becomes a weaver, and makes fustian cloth. One man learns to lay brick; another is a carpenter, another a blacksmith. In England they were all farmers, and it is hard work for them, while learning their trades, to keep the wolf from the door.

On Sunday, instead of carousing in the beer-houses and going out to have a dance in the fields, they meet at the house which they have purchased for their pastor, John Robinson, which stands just across the street from St. Peter's Church, which has been standing there for five hundred years, and from the top of which the people looked with longing eyes to see if the sea were coming in to drown out the Spaniards when the Silent Man cut the dikes. They sing and pray, and listen to the reading of the Bible; and after John Robinson has finished his sermon, they eat dinner together. They call themselves Strangers and Pilgrims in the land, hoping that ere long times will change in England, and that then they can go back. They live in peace and quietness with their Dutch neighbors, who, though they think the English are odd in dress, and rather peculiar in regard to keeping Sunday, yet like them because they are honest and truthful, and are very particular about paying their debts.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


As the years go by, the Pilgrims are troubled about their children. There are no English schools, and they are too poor to educate them. They are disturbed at the thought of their becoming like the Dutch. They love the dear old land that gave them birth, even though they are exiles. What shall they do? The men who have made such sacrifices liberty talk over the great question, and, after much deliberation, resolve to find a home beyond the sea, where they can train their children to love and reverence those truths and principles which are dearer than life. Perhaps, now that they are out of England, dames will permit them to go. John Carver and Robert Cushman visit London, where they confer with the merchants who have aided in settling the colony at Jamestown. The merchants obtain permission; but the king stipulates that they must conform to all the articles of the Church creed. That they will not do. Having left all in England for the sake of their principles, will they now surrender them? Not they.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Two years pass, and the exiles go on working at their trades. They have, by their industry, driven the wolf from their doors, and are bettering their condition. They are still thinking of the home in that far-off land, when Thomas Weston, a merchant of London, comes to see them. A new company of speculators has been formed in England, called the Plymouth Company. Earls and lords belong to it, and they have induced James to give them all the land which Captain John Smith called New England. They are anxious to send out a colony. William Brewster and two others go to London to see what the adventurers, as the speculators call themselves, will do. They are influential enough to get the king to promise not to molest the Pilgrims. An agreement is made, and a company formed. The shares of the company are fixed at fifty dollars. Every settler sixteen years of age shall be considered as equal to one share; every man who furnishes an outfit worth fifty dollars shall be entitled to an additional share; children between ten and sixteen years of age shall be counted as half a share. All the settlers bind themselves to work together for seven years, during which time all shall be supported from the common fund, and all their labor shall go into it. At the end of the seven years, the property shall be divided according to the shares. These are hard conditions. For seven years not a penny of their earnings can they claim; they must endure all the hardships, encounter all the dangers, do all the work—putting life, labor, health, on an equality with the dollars advanced by Weston and his fellow-speculators. Yet, for the sake of being free, for the sake of bringing up their children in the principles that are so dear to them, they accept the conditions. The merchants obtain two vessels—the Mayflower, of one hundred and eighty tons, and the Speedwell, of sixty. All of the company at Leyden cannot go, but those who can make preparations for their departure. They are to sail across the Channel to Southampton, where once more they may look upon the green fields of their native land.

On July 21st they meet for the last time at the house of their pastor, John Robinson, who will stay with those who remain. They spend the morning in fasting and prayer, and the good minister preaches a solemn sermon. After the fasting, they sit down to a frugal feast, and sing once more, with the tears streaming down their cheeks, the psalms they used to sing in the manor-house at Scrooby, and which are sweeter and dearer than ever, now that they are about to take leave of their friends forever.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The Speedwell lies at Delftshaven, fourteen miles from Leyden. In the morning they go on board the canal-boats with their friends, who accompany them to the ship. Some come all the way from Amsterdam to bid them farewell. They spend the night in conversing with their friends, who provide a feast for them. The last hour has come, the wind is fair, and the captain in haste to be away. The beloved pastor is with them. They kneel upon the deck, and he offers once more a prayer. With tears upon their cheeks, they bid each other farewell. The vessel swings from the quay, the wind fills the sails. But there is joy in their sorrow; they are departing in obedience to their profoundest convictions of duty. Little know they of what is before them, or what they are about to do. God knows what will come of it, and in him they trust. They fire a parting salute with their muskets and their three pieces of cannon.

At Southampton they join the Mayflower, on board of which are those who have come from England. Some of them are from London, hired by the speculators. One is John Billington, a graceless fellow, so wild and reckless that his friends are rejoiced to ship him to a distant land. Thomas Weston is there. He wants the original plan changed, so that the conditions will be better for himself, and of course harder to the Pilgrims; but no change will they make, whereupon the grasping man claps his purse in his pocket, refusing to discharge an obligation of one hundred pounds, which, according to the agreement, he ought to pay. "I'll let you stand on your own legs," he says, and returns to London. To pay their bills, they sell what they sorely need, but which they can best spare—eighty firkins of butter. They will eat their bread without any butter, rather than be beholden to Thomas Weston, or in debt to any man.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


All is ready. They chose a governor for each ship, and one or two to assist him. Let us not forget this: they chose then. They are not appointed by James, or anybody else, but are elected by votes. It is the beginning of a new order of things. The Governor of Jamestown holds his commission from King James; but John Carver, governor on board the Mayflower, is elected by the people.

The ships leave the port, but are hardly out of the harbor when the captain of the Speedwell discovers that the vessel is leaking, and both ships put into Dartmouth for repairs. Two weeks pass, and they sail once more; but they are hardly on their way when the captain of the Speedwell declares that they must return, or go to the bottom, and the vessels put into Plymouth. Some of the Pilgrims are discouraged; but there are others who have not yet lost heart. There is no time to get another vessel, nor have they the means to obtain one. Those who are still anxious to go are crowded into the allay flower, with such goods as they can carry. They are one hundred and two.

On the 16th of September, the sails are spread once more, and the Mayflower, with the rights of the people and the destiny of a new world for a cargo, glides out upon the broad Atlantic. Fierce storms arise, and the vessel is tossed like an eggshell upon the waves. The main beam is wrenched from its place, and the ship is in danger of breaking in pieces. One of the Pilgrims has a great iron screw, which he brought from Leyden—why, he does not know—but now it is just what they need; the beam is forced back into its place, and the vessel is saved. One passenger falls overboard, and is lost; but a child is born, and the parents name him Oceanus.

Land! land! The joyful cry rings through the ship on November 19th. There it is—a long reach of sandy shore, with dark forest trees in the background. They sail along the coast, steering south, but soon find themselves among shoals. They dare not sail in that direction, and so bear north-west, running along a strip of land curved as one may curve his linger, double a sandy headland, and on November 21st drop anchor in the calm waters of the harbor of Cape Cod.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


That wild fellow, John Billington, and the others from London, have been obliged to behave themselves on shipboard; but, now that they are about to land, declare that they will do as they please. John Carver will have no authority on shore; they will be in the king's domain, for John Carver holds no commission from the king, nor have the Pilgrims any charter. The Pilgrims will see about that. They are men who respect law and order, and intend to have order in their community. It is their right, not derived from the king, but a natural right. In the cabin of the ship they sign their names to a solemn covenant. Thus it reads:

"In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, * * * by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid, and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and form such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience."

The world never before has seen such a paper. That writing given in the green meadows of Runnymede by John Lackland was a compact between two parties—the king and the barons; but here is only one party—the people. The paper is a constitution. It is fundamental—a new beginning—the founding of a state on a written law, emanating not from the king, but from themselves. John Billington's name is not down upon the paper; but the majority have signed it, and thenceforth and forever the majority shall rule.

Having established a government with a written constitution, the Pilgrims organize an army. It consists of only sixteen men; but they have a brave commander, Miles Standish, who has fought against the Spaniards in Holland. He was not a Pilgrim originally—did not come from Scrooby, but from the country west of that place. He has a lovely wife, hose, as beautiful in person and character as the name she bears. The army of sixteen make a landing, and march into the forest. They cut down the trees, kindle a fire of cedar wood, and warm themselves by its cheerful blaze, and inhale the fragrant odor of the wood, sweet and refreshing after their long confinement on shipboard. It is Saturday, and when night comes all repair to the ship to keep the Sabbath as they ever have kept it.

On Monday they are early astir. The men carry their pots and kettles on shore, the women land, carrying great bundles of dirty clothes. It is their washing day. While they rub and scrub the clothes, Captain Standish and his soldiers are standing guard in the forest, and the carpenter is repairing their boat. On Wednesday Captain Standish marches along the coast with his army, each soldier carrying his gun, sword, and corselet. They come upon a party of Indians, who flee so swiftly that the soldiers cannot overtake them. They find fertile places, where the Indians in other days have planted corn. They discover an iron kettle, and other indications that sailors have been cast away upon the shore. They are fortunate in finding a store of corn, and bring away all they can carry, resolving, if they ever find the owners, to pay them for what they have taken.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


On December 7th, the great boat, large enough to carry twenty-four persons, is ready for use. The captain of the Mayflower is ready with the long-boat, and they leave the ship, and row southward inside the cape: but the waves are tempestuous; so they sail into a creek, and wait for calmer weather. The next day they come to the place where Captain Standish discovered the corn, and find much more. Captain Jones fills his boat, and returns to the ship. They discover two wigwams, but the Indians have fled.

On Wednesday, December 16th, eighteen men in the large boat bid their friends farewell, and sail along the shore. They are bound for a harbor across the bay, twenty-four miles west of where the Mayflower is lying. The mate of the vessel has been there in a former voyage; but the waves are so high they do not dare to sail straight across the bay. The air is piercing cold. The spray dashes over them, and freezes on their clothing. At night they land, kindle a fire, eat their frugal fare, post their sentinels, and sleep as best they can. The next day half of the party march through the woods, and half creep along with the boat, and rest at night as before. The wolves howl around the men, who fire their guns to put the beasts to flight. They are astir before daylight, cooking their breakfast. Suddenly they hear a strange cry, and arrows fall around them. Captain Standish quickly has his army marshaled. Crack go the muskets, and one of the Indians is wounded at the first fire; the rest flee, carrying away the wounded man. Captain Standish follows them far enough to let them know that they are not afraid, nor ill any way discouraged. The Pilgrims gather the arrows, in order to send them to England, to let their friends see what weapons the savages use. The wind is favorable; they hoist their sail, and glide along the shore northward now; but suddenly the wind changes to north-east, and the waves come rolling in. When they are highest their rudder breaks, and two men, with their oars, are hardly able to steer the boat.

"Be of good cheer; I see the harbor," shouts Robert Copping, mate of the Mayflower.

It is almost night, and they hasten to reach the harbor before darkness comes on. They hoist the sail; but the mast breaks, and the sail falls into the sea, and the boat heels over on one side: they are in danger of capsizing, but gather the sail on board, and the tide carries them into a cove. The breakers are rolling upon the beach. They can see the white foam through the darkness tossed high in the air.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin

"The Lord be merciful! My eyes never saw this place before. We must run the boat ashore," cries the mate.

But a sailor sees that the boat will be swamped. "About with her!" he shouts. The rowers bend to their oars, and the boat heads from the shore. They turn a sandy point, and find themselves in smooth water. Shall they go ashore? They are weary, hungry, chilled, and wet to the skin. It will be twelve hours to dawn. Will they not perish before morning? They will land, trusting, if Indians assail them, to defend themselves. They reach the shore, kindle a fire, and dry their clothes, keeping watch the while for Indians. In the morning they find that they are on an island, which they name Clark's Island, for Edward Clark, one of their number. The sun is shining once more; but they are weak and exhausted. Time is precious; but they will rest there through the day—Saturday—and prepare themselves to keep the Sabbath.

On Monday, rested and refreshed, they sound the harbor, and find it safe and good. They pull westward to the main-land, where they find Indian-corn fields and a river of fresh water. They climb a high hill, view the landscape, and are pleased with the prospect. Under the brow of the hill, near a brook, and near springs of pure water, they will rear their homes. They return to the ship, and report their discoveries; and the Mayflower spreads her sails once more, and glides across the bay.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Winter has set in. The winds are chill, snow lies upon the hills. The spray freezes upon the shrouds of the vessel. The scene is cheerless—icebound shores, a dense forest, an unexplored wilderness, before them; a savage foe lurking beneath the pines; no homes, no welcome hearth-stone; forebodings of sickness and starvation.

On Sunday Elder Brewster preaches to them on shipboard for the last time. On Monday they examine once more the ground where they propose to rear their homes; and on Tuesday, after asking God to direct them in all that they are about to do, they take a vote as to where they shall build their houses. It is the first town-meeting ever held in America, and the majority decide. The new State—the new order of things—has begun. That which the human race has struggled for through all the ages has come at last—the right of the people to rule. Old George Buchanan, Mary of Scotland's tutor, enunciated the right to the world; but that which was theory to him has become a fact. Self-government has begun. Take note of it, ye lords, nobles, kings, and emperors, for of this beginning there will come a new order of things in human affairs!

The Mayflower is riding at anchor. The long-boat, filled with men and women, glides over the waves to the shore. They step from the boat to a rock. The new State is in possession of its future domain. January 1st, 1621, is a gloomy day, for death begins his ravages, taking one of time citizens, Degory Priest. Captain Standish goes out, with four or five soldiers, to make explorations. They find Indian wigwams, but none of the savages. The citizens are hard at work building a common house, in which they can store their goods. The boat plies between the ship and the shore, bringing boxes, and bales, and furniture—chairs, chests, pots, and pans. They build their houses of logs, and cover them with thatch; for they have not yet learned to peel the bark from the trees, or to rive the pines into shingles, for roofing. On Sunday, January 11th, they barely escape a terrible disaster, for the thatch on the common house takes fire, and they have hard work to put it out.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


On the 29th of January, a great grief comes to Captain Standish. His beautiful wife, Rose, has been fading day by day. The hardships have worn her down. Possibly she pines for the green fields and the cheerful homes of Old England, which she never more will see. Heaven is nearer than the old home. With tearful eyes and swelling hearts, the living carry her up to the burial-place upon the top of the hill. This is the entry in their journal, mournful in its briefness: "Jan. 29. Dies Rose, wife of Captain Standish."

Two days later the Pilgrims see two Indians lurking beneath the pines, but they quickly disappear. They see no other savages till March 16th, when they are greatly surprised to see an Indian march boldly into the settlement, and to hear him say, "Welcome, Englishmen!" His name is Samoset. He has been down the coast of Maine in other years, and has seen the Englishmen which have been in Sir Fernando Gorges' fishing establishment. He is kindly treated. He goes away, but soon returns with another Indian, Squanto, who was kidnapped years before by a villain named hunt, who landed and seized twenty Indians, and carried them to Spain. Squanto has been in London, and can speak English. Samoset brings three more, who have skins for sale. He informs the Pilgrims that their great chief, Massasoit, is near by. In a few minutes the chief makes his appearance with sixty Indians. This is the account which the Pilgrims give of the interview:

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


"After an hour the king comes to the top of an hill over against us, with a train of sixty men. We send Squanto to him, who brings word we should send one to parley with him. We send Mr. Edward Winslow to know his mind, and signify that our governor desires to see him, and truck (trade), and confirm a peace. Upon this the king leaves Mr. Winslow in the custody of Quadequina, and comes over the brook with a train of twenty men, leaving their bows and arrows behind them. Captain Standish and Master Williamson, with six musketeers, meet him at the brook, where they salute each other; conduct him to a house, wherein they place a green rug and three or four cushions; then instantly comes our governor, with drum, trumpet, and musketeers. After salutations, the governor kissing his hand and the king kissing his, they sit down. The governor entertains him with some refreshments, and then they agree on a league of friendship.

"After this the governor conducts him to the brook, where they embrace and part, we keeping six or seven hostages for our messenger. But Quadequina coming with his troop, we entertain and convey him back, receive our messenger, and return the hostages."

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Massasoit's palace is not so gorgeous as that at Hampton, in which King James lives: it is a hut in the woods; but the Pilgrims soon discover that the chief is a better friend than the King of England. He is a true man, and the treaty which he makes with them is faithfully kept. James has persecuted them, but Massasoit befriends them. Archbishop Whitgift has driven them from their homes, but Massasoit bids them welcome. Their Christian brothers of England are their bitterest foes; the heathen savages of the wilderness their best friends.

But a foe whom they cannot fight is upon them. Spring comes. The trailing arbutus fills the air with its fragrance; the birds returning from the distant South are singing in the forest; the sun sends down its cheerful beams upon the little settlement; but flowers, bird-songs, and the genial warmth of spring can never fill the void of aching hearts. Forty-six of the one hundred and one Pilgrims have finished their pilgrimage, and are at rest in the burial-ground on the top of the hill. They level the earth, that the Indians may not know how many have died. But the living have brave hearts. They go on with their work. On Sunday, William Brewster preaches in the common house, where their goods are piled. No bishop has licensed horn to preach; he has assumed the right to use such gifts as he may be endowed with, and his hearers respect him as their religious teacher. He has no other authority over them. The members of the Church decide all questions that arise. William Brewster is their bishop, yet his vote counts but one. Theirs is a democratic State, and a democratic Church. Men are equals. Never before has the world seen such a community.

There comes a sad day. Through the winter the Mayflower has been swinging at her anchor in the harbor, but now she is about to depart for England. The last words are spoken, the sails are spread, and the ship sails away. They who stand upon the shore see it fade in the dim distance. The last tie that bound them to their old home is severed. While the vessel remained, they had the means of returning; but now their destiny is fixed. Well for the world that it is so. Such heroic souls as they are not afraid of destiny, no matter what it may be—prosperity or privation, success or failure, life or death. They may die, but Truth and Liberty are eternal; for these they will live, or, if God so will it, die.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Death takes them one by one. On the very day that the Mayflower sails, their beloved governor, Carver, is seized with sudden sickness, which ends in death. It is a sore stroke, for he was wise and prudent in council, brave of heart, and a righteous man.

Though the governor is dead, the State lives. "The people are the only legitimate source of power." George Buchanan wrote it. The people elected John Carver, and the same people—those that are left—elect his successor, William Bradford—he who was baptized in the little old stone church in Austerfield. So the new State perpetuates its life. The State cannot die. A new truth dawns upon the world. As long as there is an individual, there will be a State.

At last, after ages of persecution and suffering, Liberty has found her home. The seed-corn of a great empire has been planted—an empire in which the lowest shall be equal with the highest; where he alone shall be king who does kingly deeds.

The contest is not yet ended between royal authority and the rights of men, between priestly prerogative and the consciences of individuals. King James will still persecute them; King George will attempt to exercise arbitrary authority; there will be persecutions, imprisonments, and banishments for conscience' sake: men cannot at once be emancipated from the ideas of the ages. The intolerance and bigotry of the Old World, like noxious weeds, will take root in the New, and many years must go by before men can be wholly free.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The little company—there are only fifty of them now—have no code of laws. In the Old World, kings, barons, nobles, archbishops, and bishops have made the laws; but these untitled, unlettered men assemble in town meeting and make their laws—each man voting. No edict from King James could add to the validity of their statutes; no archbishop or noble could frame laws more wise and just; no high constable of the kingdom could make them more effective, as John Billington finds out. He speaks words disrespectful of the new governor, and the citizens condemn him to be tied neck and heels, and fed on bread and water till he begs pardon.

The new State, composed of fifty individuals, elects its governor, frames its laws, and enforces them. Can a king do more? So the subject becomes king, ruling himself in his own God-given right. From the beginning of time kings have assumed the right to rule; but in the wilderness of the Western world the exiles from Scrooby and Austerfield take the sceptre into their own hands, and inaugurate a new era in human affairs.

Liberty is in her new home. Strong hands will subdue the wilderness, and brave hearts will establish an empire extending from the frozen regions of the North to the sunny climes of the South, from the stormy Atlantic to the peaceful Pacific. Through hardship, suffering, and sacrifice the great republic of the Western world shall rise to become a peer among the nations. Its starry flag shall be the emblem of the world's best hope; for to it the oppressed of all the earth shall turn with longing eyes, and beneath it there shall be peace and plenty, and the recognition of the rights of men.