Gateway to the Classics: Ruth of Boston by James Otis
Ruth of Boston by  James Otis

The Famine

Each day saw the store of provisions in the town grow smaller. Every family husbanded that which could be eaten, with greatest care, putting no more on the table than was absolutely necessary for a single meal, and those things which we had considered dainties, were no longer prepared.


Then came the Angel of Death, and man after man, woman after woman, laid themselves down to die, not from being starved, but, so Governor Winthrop declared, from having sickened through scurvy, which had come upon them during the voyage, after which, falling into discontent and giving way to home-sickness, they no longer struggled to live.

Before October had come to an end, food was so scarce in Boston that the poorer people had nothing save acorns, clams, and mussels to eat. During the summer it had seemed as if the sea were actually filled with fish, and yet now, when every boat that could be found in the town and nearby had been sent out, it was difficult for our men to take even fifty pounds weight in a day.

As Susan said, even the fish forsook us, as the clams and mussels would have done had they legs or fins.

The fowls of the forest also appeared to have departed, and by November the most any family could boast of was meal boiled in salt and water. In more happy days I would have turned up my nose at such food, and yet now it was like unto some sweet morsel, for so scanty had our store become that my mother would cook for each meal no more than half as much as we could have eaten.

I have heard father say that for a bushel of flour which had been brought from England, he paid in those dark days fourteen shillings, and there was so little of it even at such price, that mother saved what store we had that it might be made into gruel, or something dainty, which the sick could keep upon their stomachs.

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