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  • 20 Nov 2020 3:00 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    On course for Cape Cod harbour, along the coast

    Disaffection appeared among the colonists, on account of abandonment of their destination.  Bradford (in Mourt’s Relation) says: “This day before we come to harbor, observing some not well affected to unity and concord, but gave some appearance of faction, it was thought good there should be an Association and Agreement that we should combine together in one body; and to submit to such Government and Governors as we should, by common consent, agree to make and choose, and set our hands to this that follows word for word.”  Then follows the text of the Mayflower Compact.  Bradford is even more explicit in his Of Plimoth Plantation, where he says: “I shall a little returne backe and begin with a combination made by them before they came ashore, being ye first foundation of their governments in this place; occasioned partly by ye discontent & mutinous speeches that some of the strangers amongst them [i.e.  not of the Leiden contingent] had let fall from them in ye ship—That when they came ashore they would use their owne libertie: for none had power to command them, the patents they had being for Virginia, and not for New-England which belonged to another Government, with which ye London [or First Virginia] Company had nothing to doe, and partly that such an acte by them done … might be as firm as any patent, and in some respects more sure.”  Bradford speaks only of Billington and his family as those “shuffled into their company,” and while he was not improbably one of the agitators (with Hopkins) who were the proximate causes of the drawing up of the Compact, he was not, in this case, the responsible leader. It is evident from the foregoing that the “appearance of faction” did not show itself until the Mayflower was turned back toward Cape Cod Harbor, and it became apparent that the effort to locate “near Hudson’s River” was to be abandoned, and a location found north of 41° N. latitude, which would leave them without charter rights or authority of any kind.  Stephen Hopkins,—then “a lay-reader” for Chaplain Buck,—on Sir Thomas Gates’ expedition to Virginia, had, when some of them were shipwrecked on the Bermudas, advocated just such sentiments—on the same basis—as were now raised on the Mayflower, and it could hardly have been only a coincidence that the same were repeated here.  That Hopkins fomented the discord is almost certain.  His attitudes and actions caused him to receive a sentence of death for insubordination, at the hands of Sir Thomas Gates, in the first instance, from which his pardon was with much difficulty procured by his friends.  The placing of Hopkins’ two servants at the very end of the signatories of the Compact has also been noted, suggesting that they were not in full agreement with either the course of action or the mechanism of the Compact.

    * * * * *

    Two final comments on the “factionalisation” of the passengers:

    1. The more research is done, the more religious connections are discovered between the Leiden congregation and the other passengers.  The only real members of the “stranger” group appear to be those in the Billington household, with the Hopkins household keeping itself apart from the main body as well.  It is thus extremely disappointing to see so many writers in this past year, including Nathaniel Philbrick (who really should know better) in his conversation sponsored by the Massachusetts State Library earlier this month, ignoring the substantial research of the last thirty years on the numerous and manifold connections between passengers (particularly the women) and separatist communities, and simply parroting the discredited dialectic of George Willison’s Saints and Strangers.  Willison, a Marxist, was explicitly trying to enlarge the divisions and reduce the size of the separatist community, and he either did not know about or intentionally overlooked the connections.  Willison, in effect, doubled or trebled the size of the “strangers,” and way too many commentators have followed him in the intervening 70 years.

    2. Bradford’s descriptions of the Leiden congregation, and (to a lesser extent) those of Edward Winslow, echo the somewhat idealised description of the early Christian church in the Acts of the Apostles -- they held all things in common, they were of one heart and mind, they sacrificed for the common good.  As many commentators have noted over the last few years, this strikes us now as incredibly naïve; the failure of this project makes the second half of Of Plimoth Plantation much darker than the first.  But against this background of this vision for the community, any division or dissension, however small, stands in stark contrast.  We are in danger of overestimating the size of the “muntinous speeches” because Bradford gives them so much attention -- but Bradford does so not because the treasonous group of mutineers was so large, but because it was so counter in every respect to the project of the colony, which was to establish a godly community based on Gospel principles.  Saying that the Pilgrims came to the New World for “freedom of religion” (a concept they would not have understood) or to “worship as they pleased” (which addresses only a small part of their project) seriously restricts the breadth of their envisioned purpose.

  • 19 Nov 2020 3:24 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Sighted land at daybreak.

    The landfall was made out to be the bluffs of Cape Cod in what is now the town of Truro, Mass.  After a conference between the Master of the ship and the chief colonists, tacked about and stood for the southward.  Wind and weather fair.  Made course SSW, proposing to go to Hudson’s River, ten leagues south of the Cape.  After sailing that course about half the day, between 12 noon and 1:00 pm the ship fell amongst dangerous shoals and foaming breakers [the shoals off Monomoy].  The Mayflower got out of them before nightfall and, the wind being contrary, put round again for the Bay of Cape Cod.  Captain Jones abandoned efforts to go further south and abruptly announced this to passengers at sunset.  No one will question that Jones’ assertion of inability to proceed, and his announced determination to return to Cape Cod harbour probably fell upon many acquiescent ears, for, as Winslow says: “Winter was come; the seas were dangerous; the season was cold; the winds were high, and the region being well furnished for a plantation, we entered upon discovery.”  Tossed for sixty-seven days on the north Atlantic at that season of the year, their food and fire wood well spent, cold, homesick, and gravely ill, the mere thought of once again setting foot on any land, wherever it might be, must have been an allurement that lent Jones some potential aid in his high-handed course.

  • 18 Nov 2020 3:14 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Signs of land.  Closing in with the land at nightfall.

    It is usually supposed that the Mayflower hit on Cape Cod by accident, but the fact that the Pilgrims felt reasonably sure that the land that they saw at daybreak tomorrow morning was Cape Cod is proof enough that they knew what land it ought to be.  They were neither sailors nor navigators, and outside of one or two of them, none of them had ever seen North America before.  Two of the ship’s officers had been in that locality previously, but it would take something more definite than that to account for the Pilgrims believing it was Cape Cod until they were close enough to make it out clearly.  The logical answer is that when they sighted land Captain Christopher Jones knew that he was close to the 42nd parallel of north latitude, and was heading toward Cape Cod.  It was usual for early navigators to strike out for the parallel they wanted to reach, and then keep to that parallel.  Jones was not in a hurry to reach Cape Cod in particular, but circumstances beyond his control were getting so out of hand that he must have been quite anxious to get to land somewhere, anywhere, and soon.  They had been held back by all kinds of bad weather, and winter was closing in.  There was a broken main beam, and the ship was in no condition to handle heavy weather.  Fresh water was getting scarce, fresh provisions were getting low, they were out of all firewood.  Scurvy was breaking out among crew and passengers, and the stork was due to come on board again for the second time almost any day now.  Any decent captain would head for the nearest land he could reach with whatever wind and weather he could manage.

    The Mayflower had enjoyed clear northwest winds for a day or two now; with a good noon sight of the sun yesterday and today, Jones’ cross staff would tell him he was on the 42nd parallel of latitude, which he undoubtedly knew would lead him in to Cape Cod if he followed it.  He would probably not have known his longitudinal position, having no way to check up on it since leaving England.  But he could be sure of his latitude.

    He must have known by the change in the colour of the sea water and by the general appearance of the western clouds that land was not far off, and it is more than likely that he had caught the earthy smell of the land in an offshore breeze.  Bradford states distinctly that the weather was clear and crisp, and that there was a northwesterly breeze off the land, when daylight broke on Thursday.  The sun rose on the back side of Cape Cod tomorrow morning at 6:55 AM.  The moon, which was nine days after full, was a waning crescent in mid-sky, too thin to help.  Daybreak, when the Pilgrims say they “espied” the land, was twenty or thirty minutes before sunrise; they thus caught their first glance of Cape Cod over the bow of the Mayflower at about half past six in the morning tomorrow.

  • 17 Nov 2020 3:18 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Birds sighted

    The body of William Butten was committed to the deep.  This was the first burial at sea of a passenger on this voyage; a crew member (the name of the first casualty is unknown) was buried at sea on 2 October, over a month ago.

    Sailors often see seagulls flying more than a hundred miles from the nearest shore, so the fact that birds were sighted today, while very encouraging, does not necessarily mean that the voyage is almost over.

  • 16 Nov 2020 3:50 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    First Death of a Passenger

    “In all this voyage there died but one of the passengers, which was William Butten, a youth [born perhaps in 1605], servant to Samuel Fuller.”  Today marks the 400th anniversary of the death of the first of the passengers to die on this voyage.  Caleb Johnson notes a William Butten, son of John Butten, baptised at Worksop, Nottinghamshire, on 13 March 1605 as possibly being this passenger.  Worksop was not all that far from Scrooby and briefly had a Separatist gathering in 1607.  Some members of the Worksop congregation had joined with members of the Scrooby separatist congregation in the migration to Holland in 1608 and soon thereafter.  There is at least one other possible William Butten in the area, but his birth date is too early for him to qualify as a “youth” in 1620.  Nothing else is known about this passenger, his cause of death or his origins.

    The fact that the first passenger to die was the servant to the physician does not fill us with great confidence about how well everyone else will be.

  • 15 Nov 2020 3:26 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Popham/ Sagadahoc Colony

    The Popham Colony—also known as the Sagadahoc Colony—was a short-lived English colonial settlement in New England which in many ways provides an instructive contrast with the much less well organised Pilgrim voyage.  It was established in 1607 by the proprietary Virginia Company of Plymouth and was located in the present-day town of Phippsburg, Maine, near the mouth of the Kennebec River.  The Popham Colony was the second colony in the region: the first was St. Croix Island, near what is now the town of Robbinston. (St. Croix Island was settled in June 1604, and subsequently abandoned).

    About 120 colonists (all men and boys) left Plymouth (England) on 31 May 1607, in two ships. They intended to trade precious metals, spices, furs, and show that the local forests could be used to build English ships. The ship's log and diary from the voyage and first 6 weeks of the colony is the main contemporary source of the information about the colony; it was called "Popham" after its principal financial backer, Sir John Popham.  Late summer arrival meant that there was no time to grow food.  With inadequate supplies, half of the colonists returned to England in December 1607 aboard the Gift of God and almost starved on the return trip and had to sell their cargo in the Azores.  Others faced a cold winter during which the Kennebec River froze.  Records indicate that fire destroyed parts of the storehouse and its provisions, but archaeological excavations indicate that other buildings were burned and not the storehouse.  George Popham died on 5 February 1608; he is the only colonist known to have died (in contrast to Jamestown which lost half its population that year) although the Abenaki claim that they killed eleven colonists and set fire to the site.  The first ocean-going ship built by the English in the New World was completed during the year of the Popham Colony and was sailed back to England. The pinnace, named Virginia of Sagadahoc, was apparently quite seaworthy, and crossed the Atlantic again successfully in 1609 as part of Sir Christopher Newport's nine-vessel Third Supply mission to Jamestown. The small Virginia survived a powerful three-day storm en route which was thought to have been a hurricane and which wrecked the mission's large new flagship Sea Venture on Bermuda.  In May 1608 a supply ship brought a message that Sir John Popham had died. The supply ship returned to England with a cargo. When Mary and John returned in September 1608, it brought news that Gilbert's elder brother John had died; he decided to return to England and as no other leader was found, the colony decided to disband and the remaining colonists sailed home in Mary and John and Virginia. The Popham colony was abandoned after only 14 months, apparently more due to the death of patrons and the first colony president than lack of success - this may have been on the minds of the Plymouth settlers as they drafted the Mayflower Compact.. 

    The exact site of the Popham Colony was lost until 1888 when a plan for the site was found in the General Archives in Simancas, Spain. This plan exactly matches the location at Sabino Head near Popham Beach State Park. Later archaeology in 1994 confirmed the location and the accuracy of the plan.

  • 14 Nov 2020 2:35 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Charter of the Council of New England

    “JAMES, by the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, &c. to all whom these Presents shall come, Greeting, Whereas, upon the humble Petition of divers of our well disposed Subjects, that intended to make several Plantations in the Parts of America, between the Degrees of thirty-ffoure and ffourty-five; We according to our princely Inclination, favouring much their worthy Disposition, in Hope thereby to advance the in Largement of Christian Religion, to the Glory of God Almighty, as also by that Meanes to streatch out the Bounds of our Dominions, and to replenish those Deserts with People governed by Lawes and Magistrates, for the peaceable Commerce of all, that in time to come shall have occasion to traffique into those Territoryes, … And lastly, because the principall Effect which we can desire or expect of this Action, is the Conversion and Reduction of the People in those Parts unto the true Worship of God and Christian Religion, in which Respect, Wee would be loath that any Person should be permitted to pass that Wee suspected to affect the Superstition of the Ch[urch] of Rome, Wee do hereby declare that it is our Will and Pleasure that none be permitted to pass, in any Voyage from time to time to be made into the said Country, but such as shall first have taken the Oathe of Supremacy; for which Purpose, Wee do by these Presents give full Power and Authority to the President of the said Councill, to tender and exhibit the said Oath to all such Persons as shall at any time be sent and imployed in the said Voyage.”

    Note three things:

    (1) the purpose of the grant is for the conversion of “the people in those parts” and the furtherance of the Gospel;

    (2) not only Roman Catholics, who were treasonous, but also anyone who refused to accept the King’s supremacy over the English Church were excluded (and thus, presumably, the Separatists, who denied not only the Royal Supremacy but also the legitimacy of the English Church as a whole);

    (3) the territory overlapped in its southern and western region with the northern region of the (first) Virginia Company.  The land on which the Pilgrims landed thus was covered by a royal charter at the time of their arrival, but they had been at sea for so long that they were unaware of that grant.

  • 13 Nov 2020 3:09 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    The Council of New England

    The Council of New England was established on this day four hundred years ago (3 November 620, o.s.), and was disbanded (although with no apparent changes in land titles) in 1635. It provided for the establishment of the Plymouth Colony, the Colony (and eventually the State) of New Hampshire, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the New Haven Colony, and the eventual State of Maine. It was largely the creation of Sir Ferdinando Gorges.  Some of the persons involved had previously received a charter in 1606 as the Plymouth Company and had founded the short-lived Popham Colony within the territory of northern "Virginia" (in present-day Maine). The company had fallen into disuse following the abandonment of the 1607 colony.  In the new 1620 charter granted by James I, the company was given rights of settlement in the area now designated as New England, which was the land previously part of the Virginia Colony north of the 40th parallel, and extending to the 48th parallel.  The Council would have full legal rights of governance and administration over the colonial plantation, and the members of the Council would elect a President to oversee administrative affairs.  Although this explicitly covered the land that the Pilgrims would eventually land on and settle, they were ignorant of this grant because they had been at sea for more than two months when the charter was issued.  They only found out about it when the Fortune arrived in November 1621, over a year from now.

  • 12 Nov 2020 2:59 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    The Shoals

    When we look carefully at Captain John Smith’s map, it is startling to see that it is blank in the area known as “the back side of Cape Cod.”  Heading south from the northern tip of Cape Cod (named “Cape James” by Captain Smith after the reigning monarch) on the eastern side of the peninsula, no ship would meet any serious obstacle until passing what is now Chatham.  At that point, sailors met a barrier of shifting, barely submerged sandbars lying easterly off Monomoy Point, and almost blocking the entrance to Nantucket Sound.  They begin about seven or eight miles southeast of Chatham.  These sandbars were dumped on top of clay beds by retreating glaciers during the last ice age, and were constantly shifting because of the actions of winds and sea.  Smith notes what the Indians told him about the shoals lying south and southwest of Cape Cod, but he himself in his 1614 voyage did not go much further south than Peaked Hill at the Head of the Cape.  He says that he took the Indians’ word for it that the “shoales beginne from the main at Pawmet, to the Ile of Nausit, and so extends beyond their knowledge into the sea.”  The description aligns with Point Care (observed by Bartholomew Gosnold in 1602) and Malle-barre (so named by Champlain in 1605 and called “a very dangerous place” on his return in 1606).  Although the shoals were not on the more recent maps, previous explorers such as Gosnold and Champlain had left notice of their shifting shape and their dangerous currents. 

    Captain Gosnold obtained backing to found an English colony in the New World and in 1602 he sailed from Falmouth in Cornwall with thirty-two men, intending to establish a colony in New England. Gosnold pioneered a direct sailing route due west from the Azores to what later became New England, arriving in May 1602 at Cape Elizabeth in Maine.  On 15 May 1602, he sailed into Provincetown Harbour, where he is credited with naming Cape Cod for the abundant fish.  Continuing down the Atlantic coast of Cape Cod, pivoting on Gilbert's Point, they coasted westward, observing numerous natives on shore, many running after them to gaze.  Following the coastline for several days, he discovered Martha's Vineyard which they explored but found seemingly uninhabited.  Gosnold named it after his deceased daughter, Martha, and the wild grapes that covered much of the land.  An attempt was made to settle on Cuttyhunk Island (the outermost of a chain of small islands extending southwest from the southern coast of Cape Cod at the outer edge of Buzzards Bay), where the colonists harvested sassafras.  The post was abandoned in June after a month when settlers decided to return to England since they feared they had insufficient provisions to carry them through the winter.

  • 11 Nov 2020 2:50 AM | Soule (Administrator)


    The last set of navigation tools to look at would be charts and calculation tools, such as dividers and parallel rulers.  Captain John Smith wrote about what was available before his 1614 voyage to New England that the charts available to him “of those Northern parts” were “so unlike each to other; and most so differing from any true proportion, or resemblance of the Countrey, as they did mee no more good, then so much waste paper, though they cost me more.”   Smith and his foolhardy band of sailors, nonetheless, covered 350 miles, from the Bay of Fundy down to Cape Cod, in an open boat probably no more than 30 feet long. And, with a humble set of surveying tools — a crude compass, astrolabe, sextant, a lead line to measure depth, a quill pen and paper — they gathered notes for their very own map of what Smith named for the first time “New England.” The official map was published alongside Smith’s book, A Description of New England, in 1616. Smith was actually the first to call the site where the Pilgrims finally settled “New Plimouth” on his map four years earlier.  In fact, in A Description of New England, Smith astutely noted that Plymouth was “an excellent good harbor, good land; and now want of any thing, but industrious people.”  It is unlikely that the Mayflower carried either the charts of Champlain or Lescarbot; Captain Jones definitely had John Smith’s published description and map of his 1614 voyage, but the map as originally published had no description of the back side of Cape Cod -- Smith only sailed as far south as the tip of Cape Cod, and he took the word of the Indians for what lay further south.  The old Dutch trade route from Holland to the trading post on Manhattan had skirted the shoals of Cape Cod for years, but they had not published any information about these (perhaps trying to guard their “trade secrets”).  The Pilgrims may have gained some information about the Atlantic Coast from their Dutch acquaintances, and perhaps even obtained Dutch charts for the area for which they were headed.  It was not until the beginning of the nineteenth century that the area around the shoals was mapped with any degree of accuracy.

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