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  • 22 Jun 2021 3:07 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Visit to Cummaquid; on to Nauset

    The Pilgrims spent the night, quite literally, “high and dry.”  “In the morning we espied savages seeking lobsters, and sent our two interpreters to speak with them, the channel being between them; where they told them what we were, and for what we were come, willing them not at all to fear us, for we would not hurt them. Their answer was, that the boy was well, but he was at Nauset; yet since we were there they desired us to come ashore and eat with them; which, as soon as our boat floated, we did, and went six ashore, having four pledges for them in the boat. They brought us to their sachem or governor, whom they call Iyanough, a man not exceeding twenty-six years of age, but very personable, gentle, courteous, and fair conditioned, indeed not like the savage, save for his attire; his entertainment was answerable to his parts, and his cheer plentiful and various.”

    The settlers also encountered disturbing evidence of the past here.  “One thing was very grievous unto us at this place; there was an old woman, whom we judged to be no less than a hundred years old, which came to see us because she never saw English, yet could not behold us without breaking forth into great passion, weeping and crying excessively. We demanding the reason of it, they told us she had three sons who, when Master Hunt was in these parts, went aboard his ship to trade with him, and he carried them captives into Spain (for Tisquantum at this time was carried away also) by which means she was deprived of the comfort of her children in her old age. We told them we were sorry that any Englishman should give them that offense, that Hunt was a bad man, and that all the English that heard of it condemned him for the same:  but for us, we would not offer them any such injury though it would gain us all the skins in the country. So we gave her some small trifles, which somewhat appeased her.”

    Iyanough and several others offered to accompany them to Nauset, about twenty miles to the east.  Unlike the winter before, when Cape Cod had been completely empty of people, the Pilgrims now found Indians wherever they looked.  “After dinner we took boat for Nauset, Iyanough and two of his men accompanying us. Ere we came to Nauset, the day and tide were almost spent, insomuch as we could not go in with our shallop, but the sachem or governor of Cummaquid went ashore and his men with him. We also sent Tisquantum to tell Aspinet, the sachem of Nauset, wherefore we came.”  They brought the shallop to within wading distance of the shore, and were soon approached by a huge number of Indians.  Given what had happened at this very place last winter, the Pilgrims ordered the crowd to back away from the boat.  Hoping that their alliance with Massasoit would ensure their safety, they also kept their weapons at the ready.  “Because we had least cause to trust them, being they only had formerly made an assault upon us in the same place, in time of our winter discovery for habitation. And indeed it was no marvel they did so, for howsoever, though snow or otherwise, we saw no houses, yet we were in the midst of them. When our boat was aground they came very thick, but we stood therein upon our guard, not suffering any to enter except two:  the one being of Maramoick, and one of those whose corn we had formerly found, we promised him restitution, and desired him either to come to Patuxet for satisfaction, or else we would bring them so much corn again, he promised to come, we used him very kindly for the present. Some few skins we got there but not many.”

  • 21 Jun 2021 3:22 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Set sail to bring home John Billington

    The Pilgrims’ horrible string of luck with bad weather continued unabated, as Mourt’s Relation described: “The 11th of June (o.s., 21 June n.s.) we set forth, the weather being very fair: but ere we had been long at sea, there arose a storm of wind and rain, with much lightning and thunder, insomuch that a spout arose not far from us: but, God be praised, it dured not long, and we put in that night for harbor at a place called Cummaquid,” a shallow harbour on Cape Cod now known as Barnstable, “where we had some hope to find the boy. Two savages were in the boat with us, the one was Tisquantum (Squanto), our interpreter, the other Tokamahamon, a special friend.  It being night before we came in, we anchored in the midst of the bay, where we were dry at low water.” While Mourt’s Relation described in some detail, and with frequent citation of exact dates, the activity of the Mayflower passengers from their arrival in New England until the death of John Carver and the election of William Bradford as governor, that regular chronicle ended abruptly at that point.  There are five other, separate parts, however, about specific events in the life of the colony before the end of 1621, mostly describing visits to Indians: in addition to this trip to Nauset, the chronicle includes visits to Massasoit and the Pokanoket Indians, and to the Massachusett Indians thereafter.  A concluding “letter” is given as a postscript.  Activities which do not involve natives are mentioned rarely, if at all.

  • 20 Jun 2021 3:47 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Plymouth learns

    Plymouth must have heard the news of John Billington’s capture at about this time, and immediately took steps to get him back.  It was a sign of the dire straits of the community that the governor sent ten men -- just about half of the adult men of the entire colony -- to return young Billington. They must have remembered, and if it was not, their Indian allies would undoubtedly have reminded them, that these were the very natives whose graves they had rifled and who had attacked them at dawn in the first encounter.  It must have been difficult to outfit the group -- too much armament would have been seen as going to war, too little would have appeared weak and courted disaster.

  • 19 Jun 2021 3:16 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Massasoit learns

    Massasoit must have learned about the captivity (not to say incarceration) of John Billington among the Nausets about today.  This whole affair had become very convoluted, and the fact that the Nausets (or the Manomets) communicated with Massasoit rather than directly with the English settlers shows that this was, at least in part, about inter-tribal rivalries.  A good deal of this is also, “Well, they are YOUR allies, not ours,” as well.  Massasoit must have decided to inform the settlers as soon as he found out, although Mourt’s Relation, the only source to describe the events in detail, simply states that the colonists learned about Billington’s captivity from Massasoit.

  • 18 Jun 2021 3:59 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Trading Posts

    Because bulky items (like furs and pelts) and people moved more easily along water, trading stations had to be set up along navigable rivers, like the Plymouth trading house in Kennebec (now in Maine).  Plymouth, however, was not in a very good harbour, and did not have access to a very extensive river system, so the settlers’ leaders had to look further afield, to the north and to the west, for better locations.  Within fifteen years, however, Plymouth had only two remote trading stations, one of which was threatened by others moving in to its territory.  Bradford complained of men who came to fish but turned to trading for furs.  Thomas Weston himself set up a rival outpost in 1622.  When this new outpost failed, Thomas Morton started another, and angered the colonists by trading guns for furs.

    The demand for pelts led to overhunting, and the population of beaver and otter decreased dramatically; this also ended Plymouth colony’s chance to make a profit.  Within twenty five years of its start, the fur trade in Plymouth colony had ended, as a result of competition, conflict and poor resource management.

  • 17 Jun 2021 3:35 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Trading

    There were two significant difficulties that the Pilgrims encountered in trying to organise trade.  As soon as Massasoit and Plymouth established an alliance, the settlers received a continual flow of visitors who came to check out the new settlement, and trade.  This stream of prospective traders, as we have seen, proved disruptive and expensive: that is why, next month, the Pilgrims asked Massasoit to put an end to it (as we shall see).  Instead of receiving one or two furs at a time, the Pilgrims wanted to negotiate a single price for the lot.  This plan, however, assumed a level of organisation in the Native communities that did not exist.  Hunting for the natives was an individual activity, and the mechanisms for collecting numerous pelts and trading for a bulk shipment did not conform to native practises.

    Another challenge was settling on an item that could be given in exchange for the furs that the Pilgrims sought.  At first, hunters accepted novelty items of European manufacture, valuable to them because they were rare: beads or other trinkets.  As the trade grew, however, and hunters grew used to having European goods, they demanded more: metal tools, European cloth, even firearms.  Competitors for trade  began arriving soon after the Mayflower, so that Plymouth found itself vying not only with the French to the north and the Dutch to the west, but with other Englishmen in their immediate area.  More traders gave the local hunters power to pick their partners, which in turn placed demands on Plymouth to supply increasingly appealing trade items.  Plymouth’s traders quickly found local people engaging with increasing sophistication in this burgeoning market economy.

  • 16 Jun 2021 3:33 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Furs

    Furs were the one locally available item that could be readily turned into money.  Even before the Pilgrims arrived in New England, John Smith had identified the two principal products which could provide prosperity for New England as furs and fish.  Fish were well known, and available in abundance: as we have mentioned already, there seems to have been a desire on the party of the financial backers of the Virginia Company and the Plymouth Company to link Jamestown and the prospective colony in “northern Virginia” (the Pilgrims’ original destination) by having the northern settlement supply fish for the southern colony.  The English were already quite active in the fish market, but Smith also saw the use of furs.  He advised the English to drive the French out of the New England region in order to crush the competition, since “their rivals often afford better trading terms” (Smith, A Description of New England [London, 1616], in Barbour, ed., Complete Works of Captain John Smith [Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press, 1986], 1:323-324, 336).  When the settlers -- finally, after months of glimpses and one hostile encounter -- met the Natives, they carefully noted what furs the natives wore.  They distributed a few trinkets and asked to start up a fur trade.  Plymouth needed to generate income: they either had to extract or to grow something that could find a market in England.  The Spanish had found mineral wealth in Central and South America, but the English never really found any mines, although that did not stop them from looking.  The first major cash crop the English found, in Virginia, was tobacco.  The second, suited to the colder climates further north, were beaver and otter pelts, along with other forest products, of which England, and particularly its navy, was in great need.  In order to obtain fish, the settlers would need equipment, boats, tools, barrels, salt, and a lot of luck (and skill, of which they had almost none at the start).  All they needed for furs was trading partners.  This proved somewhat difficult to organise, as we shall see tomorrow, although not as difficult as getting fish, at which the Pilgrims failed miserably.

  • 15 Jun 2021 3:45 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Clothing

    All clothing and shoes had to be imported into the colony at first.  Without a shoemaker, a tanner to process the leather, and herds of cattle to slaughter for hides, shoes could only come from England -- and we have already noted the large amount of footwear brought over by William Mullins.  Once that was gone, there was none other to be obtained on this side of the Atlantic.  Clothing, for the first decade at least, was in perpetually short supply.  In response to repeated requests for more clothes and more cloth, the merchant adventurers wrote in 1624 that they were sending cloth, socks, shoes, and leather.  When a French ship foundered on the shore two years later, Plymouth got a share of what was salvaged from the wreck, but the one thing that was mentioned in the report was “clothing for the people.”  Clearly, Plymouth lacked ready access to even the most basic articles of attire.

    This was particularly problematic for indentured servants, since their contracts frequently included a legal obligation for the master to supply the servants with clothing during their term of employment.  At the end of the time, the master was not infrequently required to supply suits of clothing.  Clothes as payment for years of labour might seem rather stingy to us today, but the scarcity of clothing and the distance new clothing had to travel to come to the colony made these hard to obtain articles essential and quite valuable.  In one court case, Web Adey, having been placed in service as a punishment for “disorderly living in idleness & nastiness,” was ordered to sell or lease his house in order to pay for proper clothing (PCR 1:87, 91, 5 Jun 1638).

  • 14 Jun 2021 3:59 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Tobacco

    Tobacco is an American plant, growing as far north as New England and as far south as South America.  Natives used it for ceremonial purposes; Massasoit shared it with the Pilgrims as a way of cementing their alliance.  The English observed at that time that Massasoit carried some in a pouch, and that his people awaited his permission before they smoked.  Smoking thus was not casual -- one had to be invited by a superior.  On other occasions, it could be used as a way of making amends.  Mourt’s Relation told of a party of Englishmen journeying through the country when they encountered a former guide who had previously abandoned them.  The native tried to mend the relationship by sharing tobacco.  The English declined, believing the tobacco had been stolen, but this incident showed the use of this gesture as a means of reconciliation or emerging friendship.  It is likely that many, if not most, of the Pilgrims had smoked tobacco before coming to America; it may also have been useful for its appetite suppressing qualities.

    By 1620, smoking (or “drinking tobacco,” as the English idiom of the time had it) was well known in England, as well.  By 1604, King James I and VI authored a pamphlet against the “loathsome custom,” entitled A Counterblaste to Tobacco.  But in the decade that followed, tobacco use skyrocketed, and the Virginia Company hit on tobacco as a major export crop from Virginia, so that by 1620 and thereafter, Virginia planters shipped massive amounts of the plant to be consumed in England.

  • 13 Jun 2021 3:58 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Why did the chicken cross the Atlantic?

    Much has been made of the two dogs that came on the Mayflower, but it would appear that there were also chickens brought, as well.  When Massasoit became ill in 1623, Edward Winslow came and -- I am not making this up -- wanted to bring him chicken soup.  Winslow was with Massasoit at his winter encampment, and when the chief began to fail, Winslow sent a messenger back to Plymouth to get some chickens, STAT!  By the time the messenger returned with the fowl, Massasoit had recovered sufficiently that he asked to be able to keep and breed the chickens rather than eat them.  The natives did not have farm animals: this was very much a part of European diet.  Whether Massasoit wanted them to eat, or just to have an exotic European bird as a status symbol, is unknown.

    Although cows, pigs, and sheep came over several years later, having only chicken and dogs to start out with (as mentioned by John Smith) got me to think about what else they did not have.  As far as drinks go, there was no beer after it ran out (as we have mentioned several times), nor milk (as there were no cows or goats) or wine.  There was no bread for quite some time, as the barley they brought over really did not take.  Livestock as a source of food were a first priority; sheep (also as a source of wool for clothing) came several decades later.  There was wildfowl, of course, as well as fish (once they got the hang of it, which was not for some time).  But the diet was simple and extremely limited.

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