American History Stories—Volume I - Mara L. Pratt

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt

Plymouth Colony

The next English colony was settled in Massachusetts. One stormy day in December, 1620, there sailed into Plymouth harbor a queer little vessel named the Mayflower. On board this little craft were a hundred brave men and women, who had come from England in order to escape "religious persecution." These are rather large words for young folks; but I think it better for you to learn them just here, because they seem, somehow, to belong to these particular people. Why, you will understand later.

Now, it seems rather cruel to leave these wanderers out in the cold storm; but we must for a few moments, while we hurry over to England to learn what had happened there to force these men and women across the ocean at this stormy time of the year.

Many years before, King Henry the Eighth of England had had a great quarrel with the Pope at Rome. The Pope, being the head of the Catholic Church, sent certain orders to King Henry; for all England at that time was Catholic, and always obeyed the Pope in every point. But King Henry had made up his mind that he would obey no one and that he would be the head of the Church himself. So he announced to his subjects that no longer were they to pay any attention to the Pope's orders, but that they were to obey him instead. And so came about the English Church.

This seemed a fearful thing to some of the people. They believed God would send some terrible punishment upon them. Still, there were very many people in England who were glad of the change, and who, therefore, took the king's side in the trouble that followed.

King Henry died before the people had all grown used to the change, and left the throne to his son Edward, who believed as his father had done and held to the English Church.

Edward died very soon after he came into power, and his sister Mary took the throne. Now, Mary was an earnest Catholic, and as you would suppose, began at once bringing back the priests and doing everything in her power to restore the old religion.

But Mary's reign, too, soon came to an end, and Queen Elizabeth took the throne. Elizabeth was as strong an English Church woman as Mary had been a Catholic; and so again the country was thrown into confusion; places of worship were destroyed; priests were displaced, and all who were Catholics were expected to join the English Church, just as in Mary's reign all who were of the English Church had been expected to turn Catholics.

Queen Elizabeth was followed by James I., the king, you remember, who so cruelly caused Sir Walter Raleigh to be put to death. James was meaner than any of the Kings or Queens who had gone before him, and persecuted all, Catholics or Protestants, who opposed his ideas.

But you will begin to wonder what all this has to do with the men and women we left in Cape Cod harbor. As you will see, it has everything to do with them.

During all this trouble there, a class of people had been rising in England who believed neither in the Catholic Church nor in the English Church as it was then.

These people dressed very strangely, and acted even more strangely. Now, it was the fashion in those days for gentlemen to wear their hair long, and to dress in very elegant clothes; but these people who hated both the Churches, dressed in the very plainest of clothes, wore their hair so short that they were nick-named, "Round Heads," would not allow music in their churches, would not have the old church service, and, in short, would have nothing but the very barest and plainest of everything.

These people were called Puritans, Round Heads, Separatists, and many other names by the English Church people, who looked upon them as fools and lunatics.

You may be sure the Puritans, or Separatists, did not have a very enjoyable time in England under King James.

At last, in 1608, a little band of Separatists, from Scrooby, in England, unable to bear their persecutions any longer, went over into Holland. There they lived happily enough, but they longed for a home of their own, where they could teach their own religion and make it the religion of the country.

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt


For this reason they went back to England, obtained permission to found a colony in the new world, and with their hearts full of hope and courage, started out—in the Mayflower and the Speedwell,—for the unknown land. The Speedwell, however, was obliged to put back into port because it was found to be unseaworthy. Thus it was that the Mayflower alone came into Cape Cod harbor.

You will often hear these Puritans, who came first to America, spoken of as Pilgrims, or the Pilgrim Fathers. This was a name given them because of their pilgrimages to Holland and to America in search of a home. Try to remember this,—these plain, honest, God-fearing people were all called Puritans in England, while the few who wandered about and finally settled in Plymouth were given the name of Pilgrims.

Let us go back to Cape Cod harbor now, and see what these Pilgrims have been doing all this time. It was one of those snowy, windy days that we, who live in the North Eastern States, expect to have now and then in the winter time. Not a pleasant sort of day to spend on the ocean even in the snuggest and warmest of vessels. Much less pleasant it must have been to these wanderers in their rudely built vessel, drifting about at the mercy of the wind and tide.

The Pilgrims had intended to land much farther south, where it was pleasanter and warmer; but the storm was so severe that the captain of the Mayflower said he must make port wherever he could.

I am afraid they were not over-pleased when their vessel came into Cape Cod harbor; for there they found only a sandy, desolate shore awaiting them; and, as it was in the dead of winter, you can imagine how cold and bare it looked. The trees were leafless, the ground was frozen, and the waters about the shores were covered with sheets of ice.

But they were brave and sturdy; and, although they would have been glad to be welcomed by the pleasant warmth of the southern lands as they left their weather-beaten vessel, still they bravely accepted what was before them, perfectly sure that they had been guided to this shore by Divine Providence.

As soon as they had all landed, they gathered together about that large rock at the water's edge, known now as Plymouth Rock, and kneeling down, thanked God for their safe deliverance from the perils of the sea.

Then they went sturdily to work. These men were not idle, lazy good-for-nothings, as many of those first colonists in Virginia had been. They did not need a John Smith to urge them to be industrious. They were all terribly in earnest. They had left their native land and, with their brave wives, had come over to this wilderness to build homes for themselves.

Can you not fancy their axes ringing in the still winter days, as they felled the trees for lumber with which to build their rude houses?

Can you not fancy the brave, tender-hearted wives and mothers working cheerfully on in the bitter cold of their old, uncomfortable houses, washing, ironing, baking, brewing, pounding the corn, spinning the cloth, and making the homes comfortable and even cheerful, in the thousand ways which only mothers and wives can understand?

And the little boys and girls, too! There were not very many of them to be sure; but you may be sure the children of such noble men and women would bravely bear the cold and hunger without a tear, and would try in all their little ways to do their part toward helping their fathers and mothers to build up their village.

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt


And there were two little babies, too; little baby boys, who were born during the voyage from England to America. I am afraid these little babies didn't have all the beautiful little dresses, puffs and powders that our babies have. I should not wonder if the little strangers were wrapped in very ordinary shawls and blankets, and that the mothers were very thankful they could keep them from the cold. Nevertheless, I suspect these little babies had a very warm welcome from all these sturdy, hard-working men and women, and were the pets of the whole colony. Can you not see the women coming every day to look in upon the new babies, and the men, each glad to stop and amuse the little ones for a minute as they went to and fro; and the children only too happy to be allowed to take care of them?

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt



The breaking waves dashed high

On a stern and rock-bound coast,

And the woods against a stormy sky,

Their giant branches tossed;

And the heavy night hung dark

The hills and waters o'er,—

When a band of exiles moored their bark

On the wild New England shore.

Not as the conqueror comes,

They, the true-hearted, came;

Not with the roll of stirring drums,

And the trumpet that sings of fame;

Not as the flying come,

In silence and in fear;—

They shook the depths of the desert's gloom

With their hymns of lofty cheer.

Amidst the storm they sang,

Till the stars heard, and the sea;

And the sounding aisles of the dim woods rang

To the anthem of the free.

The ocean-eagle soared

From his nest by the white wave's foam,

And the rocking pines of the forest roared;

This was their welcome home.

There were men with hoary hair

Amidst that pilgrim band;

Why had they come to wither there,

Away from their childhood's land?

There was woman's fearless eye,

Lit by her deep love's truth;

There was manhood's brow serenely high,

And the fiery heart of youth.

What sought they thus afar?—

Bright jewels of the mine?

The wealth of seas? the spoils of war?

They sought a faith's pure shrine.

Ay, call it holy ground,

The land where first they trod!

They have left unstained what there they found,—

Freedom to worship God!

—Mrs. Hemans.
[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt