James VI. of Scotland, I. of England—The Story of the Mayflower
W HEN Henry VIII. broke away from the Church of Rome he did not make much change in the services or in the ruling of the Church. He merely said that the Pope had nothing to do with the Church in England, and he commanded the services to be read in English, instead of Latin. But by degrees many Protestants began to think that the Church of England was too like the Church of Rome. They wanted to have no prayer book at all. They wanted to have very simple services and very simple churches. These people were called Puritans. They were very stern and grave, but many of the best and bravest men in England joined them.
At this time men did not wear plain, dark clothes as they do now. They wore bright colors and their clothes were often made of silk and velvet, and trimmed with lace. They wore their hair long and curly, and they had feathers in their hats. But the Puritans thought this gay dress was wicked. They cut their hair short and wore dark clothes and plain linen collars, instead of lace and feathers and gay-coloured silks and satins. They even spoke in a slow and sad tone of voice, using curious and long words, and they very seldom laughed.
The Puritans felt that in England they could not worship God in what seemed to them the right way. So, although they loved their country, they resolved to leave it, and sail away over the sea to the new lands which had been discovered. There they would found a New England where they could be free.
The first of these Puritans who left England were called the Pilgrim Fathers. The ship they sailed in was called the Mayflower. There were only one hundred of them—men, women, and children.
Before they started there were many sad partings. All left dear friends behind; some said good-bye for ever to fathers and mothers; some left their wives and little children, hoping one day to be able to send for them, when they had made a new home, far over the sea. But sad as they were, their hearts were full of hope, and in spite of tears they sang hymns.
They started in the summer, but they had so many delays and misfortunes that it was winter before they reached America. They did not come to the part of America to which they had expected to come, but reached land much further north, where the winter was very cold—far colder than the English winter.
As the little Mayflower drew near, the shore of their new home looked very dark and dreary to those Pilgrim Fathers. There were no people to greet them on the beach, no houses with twinkling lights by night and cheerful smoke by day. There was nothing but the rough, rocky shore, and beyond it, a mass of bare, brown trees. There was no sound but the roar of the waves, the call of sea-birds, and the cry of wild animals.
The little band of pilgrims felt very lonely when they landed in this strange country, hundreds and hundreds of miles from any white people. Dark woods and wilderness lay in front, behind the cold grey sea separating them from all their loved ones; and round them, day and night, the fear of attack from the wild Red Indians who inhabited the land.
But in spite of dangers and hardships they did not lose heart. Soon the noise of axe and saw was heard in the forest as the Pilgrim Fathers felled trees and cut them into planks with which to build their houses. Through cold and wind and rain they worked, and a little town of wooden houses rose round the little wooden meeting-house, as they called their church.
The building went on slowly for all the Pilgrim Fathers could not work at once. Some of them had to keep watch in case of attack from the Red Indians, while the remainder built the houses and laid out the gardens.
The little band struggled bravely. They were often cold and hungry, weary and afraid, still they did not give up hope. They had very little to eat. Sometimes they did not even know at night if they would have anything for breakfast in the morning. Once an eagle was shot, and they thought it was a great treat. It tasted something like mutton. Once a sailor found a herring on the shore. As it was only enough for one, the captain had it for supper. But many of the pilgrims, unused to such hardships, died during the winter.
At last the dark days passed, and with the sunshine of the spring came brighter times. And with the spring the Mayflower, which had lain in the bay all winter, sailed back to England.
With sad hearts the pilgrims saw it go. It was the last link which bound them to their old home. Yet in spite of the longing in their hearts for the green fields and white cliffs of England, in spite of all the hardships they had suffered, not one pilgrim returned home with the Mayflower. They knelt upon the shore, watching with tear-dimmed eyes till the last glimmer of its white sails died away in the distance, then they turned back to their work. But for many days after, the bay seemed sad and empty with no little Mayflower riding at anchor in it.
The Pilgrim Fathers named their town Plymouth, after the town in England from which they had sailed. From these few settlers the great American nation has grown, and although America is no longer a British colony, but a separate nation, it is a nation which has grown out of the British nation.
If you look at the map of America you will see Plymouth marked in the State of Massachusetts. In that town there is a hall called Pilgrim Hall, and in front of it stands a rock which is railed round and carefully preserved. It is the rock which the feet of the Pilgrim Fathers first touched when they landed to found New England. The people of America are proud to remember that they are descended from those stern, brave men and women, so they guard the stone as something precious, and the 22nd of December, the day on which the Pilgrim Fathers landed, is called Forefathers' Day and is kept as a holiday.