Comic History of the United States - Bill Nye

The Episode of the Charter Oak

The Colonies of Maine and New Hampshire were so closely associated with that of Massachusetts that their history up to 1820 was practically the same.

Shortly after the landing of the Pilgrims, say two years or thereabouts, Gorges and Mason obtained from England the grant of a large tract lying between the Merrimac and Kennebec Rivers. This patent was afterwards dissolved, Mason taking what is now New Hampshire, and Gorges taking Maine. He afterwards sold the State to Massachusetts for six thousand dollars. The growth of the State may be noticed since that time, for one county cost more than that last November.

In 1820 Maine was separated from Massachusetts. Maine is noted for being the easternmost State in the Union, and has been utilized by a number of eminent men as a birthplace. White-birch spools for thread, Christmas-trees, and tamarack and spruce-gum are found in great abundance. It is the home of an industrious and peace-loving people. Bar Harbor is a cool place to go to in summer-time and violate the liquor law of the State.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


The Dutch were first to claim Connecticut. They built a trading-post at Hartford, where they swapped bone collar-buttons with the Indians for beaver-and otter-skins. Traders from Plymouth who went up the river were threatened by the Dutch, but they pressed on and established a post at Windsor.

In 1635, John Steele led a company "out west" to Hartford, and Thomas Hooker, a clergyman, followed with his congregation, driving their stock before them. Hartford thus had quite a boom quite early in the seventeenth century. The Dutch were driven out of the Connecticut Valley, and began to look towards New York.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


Soon after this the Pequod War broke out. These Indians had hoped to form an alliance with the Narragansetts, but Roger Williams prevented this by seeing the Narragansett chief personally. Thus the Puritans had coals of fire heaped on their heads by their gentle pastor, until the odor of burning hair could be detected as far away as New Haven.

The Pequods were thus compelled to fight alone, and Captain Mason by a coup d'etat surrounded their camp before daylight and entered the palisades with the Indian picket, who cried out "Owanux! Owanux!" meaning "Englishmen. Englishmen." Mason and his men killed these Pequods and burned their lodges to the ground. There has never been a prosperous Pequod lodge since. Those who escaped to the forest were shot down like jack-rabbits as they fled, and there has been no Pequoding done since that time.

The New Haven Colony was founded in 1638 by wealthy church members from abroad. They took the Bible as their standard and statute. They had no other law. Only church members could vote, which was different from the arrangements in New York City in after-years.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


The Connecticut Colony had a regular constitution, said to have been the first written constitution ever adopted by the people, framed for the people by the people. It was at once prosperous, and soon bought out the Saybrook Colony.

In 1662 a royal charter was obtained which united the two above colonies and guaranteed to the people the rights agreed upon by them. It amounted to a duly-authenticated independence. A quarter of a century afterwards Governor Andros, in his other clothes and a reigning coat of red and gold trimmings, marched into the Assembly and demanded this precious charter.

A long debate ensued, and, according to tradition, while the members of the Assembly stood around the table taking a farewell look at the charter, one of the largest members of the house fell on the governor's breast and wept so copiously on his shirt-frill that harsh words were used by his Excellency; a general quarrel ensued, the lights went out, and when they were relighted the charter was gone.

Captain Wadsworth had taken it and concealed it in a hollow tree, since called the Charter Oak. After Andros was ejected from the Boston office, the charter was brought out again, and business under it was resumed.

Important documents, however, should not be, as a general thing, secreted in trees. The author once tried this while young, and when engaged to, or hoping to become engaged to, a dear one whose pa was a singularly coarse man and who hated a young man who came as a lover at his daughter's feet with nothing but a good education and his great big manly heart. He wanted a son-in-law with a brewery; and so he bribed the boys of the neighborhood to break up a secret correspondence between the two young people and bring the mail to him. This was the cause of many a heart-ache, and finally the marriage of the sweet young lady to a brewer who was mortgaged so deeply that he wandered off somewhere and never returned. Years afterwards the brewery needed repairs, and one of the large vats was found to contain all of the missing man that would not assimilate with the beer,—viz., his watch. Quite a number of people at that time quit the use of beer, and the author gave his hand in marriage to a wealthy young lady who was attracted by his gallantry and fresh young beauty.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


Roger Williams now settled at Providence Plantation, where he was joined by Mrs. Hutchinson, who also believed that the church and state should not be united, but that the state should protect the church and that neither should undertake to boss the other. It was also held that religious qualifications should not be required of political aspirants, also that no man should be required to whittle his soul into a shape to fit the religious auger-hole of another.

This was the beginning of Rhode Island. She desired at once to join the New England Colony, but was refused, as she had no charter. Plymouth claimed also to have jurisdiction over Rhode Island. This was very much like Plymouth.

Having banished Roger Williams and Mrs. Hutchinson to be skinned by the Pequods and Narragansetts over at Narragansett Pier, they went on about their business, flogging Quakers, also ducking old women who had lumbago, and burning other women who would not answer affirmatively when asked, "Be you a witch?"

Then when Roger began to make improvements and draw the attention of Eastern capital to Rhode Island and to organize a State or Colony with a charter, Plymouth said, "Hold on, Roger: religiously we have cast you out, to live on wild strawberries, clams, and Indians, but from a mercantile and political point of view you will please notice that we have a string which you will notice is attached to your wages and discoveries."

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


Afterwards, however, Roger Williams obtained the necessary funds from admiring friends with which to go to England and obtain a charter which united the Colonies yet gave to all the first official right to liberty of conscience ever granted in Europe or America. Prior to that a man's conscience had a brass collar on it with the royal arms engraved thereon, and was kept picketed out in the king's grounds. The owner could go and look at it on Sundays, but he never had the use of it.

With the advent of freedom of political opinion, the individual use of the conscience has become popularized, and the time is coming when it will grow to a great size under our wise institutions and fostering skies. Instead of turning over our consciences to the safety deposit company of a great political party or religious organization and taking the key in our pocket, let us have individual charge of this useful little instrument and be able finally to answer for its growth or decay.

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The author wishes to extend his thanks for the use of books of reference used in the collection of the foregoing facts; among them, How to Pay Expenses though Single, by a Social Leper, How to Keep Well, by Methuselah, Humor of Early Days, by Job, Dangers of the Deep, by Noah, General Peacefulness and Repose of the Dead Indian, by General Nelson A. Miles, Gulliver's Travels, and Life and Public Services of the James Boys.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye