Builders of Our Country: Book I  by Gertrude van Duyn Southworth

Governor Winthrop and the Puritans

The Puritans Come to America

THE chances of sending letters from Plymouth to England were very few in the early days of that settlement. Still the Pilgrims occasionally found an opportunity to write to their friends who were left behind in England, telling of their new life in the new land.

They wrote about the hardships they had to endure, the dangers from Indians and wild beasts, and the risk of starvation. And yet one great blessing they never forgot to mention. That was their liberty to worship God as they saw fit.

Now the Pilgrims were not the only people who did not agree with all the forms of the Church of England. There were others, who, while not leaving the church, wished to have the service more simple. As they expressed it, they wanted "to purify" the church. They were called Puritans.

In the early days of the Pilgrim settlement, the Puritans in England were having much the same trouble in carrying out their religious ideas, that the Pilgrims had undergone. And it did not take them many years to decide to follow their Pilgrim friends to America, where they, too, could have freedom of worship.

The first little party of Puritans to leave England called their American settlement Salem, a name which means "peace." A charter was granted the Salem colonists, but under its conditions the settlement was really governed from England. There the governor stayed and sent his orders to a deputy governor, who lived in the colony.

Many difficulties would naturally arise from such an arrangement. Still the Puritans in England could not help being strongly tempted to follow the Salem settlers. Finally twelve leading Puritans met and determined to lead a great migration to America on the condition that the colonists could take their charter with them and be governed by a governor living in New England.

All this was agreed to, and John Winthrop was appointed governor of the Puritans already in New England and of those who should sail with him. Of these last, there were over seven hundred. Many of them were from families of education and rank; and all were earnest, courageous, and sincere. They had eleven good ships to carry them and their horses, cattle, and other supplies.

It was in March, 1630, that they bade farewell to England. In June they reached the Massachusetts coast.

A very different reception awaited the Puritans from that which had greeted the Pilgrims. Even Nature was doing her best. In place of the barren, snow-covered land, which seemed to frown upon the landing of the Pilgrims, bright flowers and green trees now nodded and waved a cheerful greeting.

No friend or foe had broken the deep silence of the forests for the Pilgrims. The Puritans found the cordial, hearty welcome of a splendid dinner served by their old friends in Salem.

However, these Puritans were not well pleased with Salem and soon moved to Charlestown. Here, they had the same terrible misfortune which seems to have come to nearly all the young American colonies. A dreadful sickness broke out and caused the death of many who were not strong enough to stand the great change in conditions.

During all the suffering, Governor Winthrop proved himself most worthy of the trust the colonists had in him. He, himself, was not spared grief. His eldest son was drowned in an attempt to swim across a channel. The Governor hid his own sorrows and went among the people and cheered them by bright hopes of the future.

At last the settlers concluded that their troubles were due to the impure water of Charlestown, and that they must make another move. They found a new locality, which they called Tri-Mountain, that suited them better. Here, they would have plenty of fresh water and a beautiful spot upon which to build their homes.

Life in Boston

IT did not take the Puritans long to build a new town. They erected a church, divided their town into lots and streets, and laid in stores of grain for the coming winter. This town they named Boston.

When the Governor had built his new home, he sent to England for the rest of his family to join him. The future was full of promise.

Then the summer days grew shorter; and, as the autumn leaves were falling, the people realized that their food supply was nearly at an end. They had used all their corn and were forced to make flour of the acorn. Instead of fresh game, they had to be satisfied with clams and crabs. And with the cold, bleak winds of winter came still more suffering and famine.

A ship had long before been sent to England for fresh supplies. In vain the men would go down to the shore and strain their eyes, eagerly scanning the horizon. But they could see no signs of the longed-for vessel.

A touching story is told of the Governor, which shows how loving and kind he was to his people. One day a poor, half-starved man came to him and begged for a morsel of bread. The Governor had only one loaf left; but, seeing that the man needed it more than he did, he gave it to him. On that very day the vessel with fresh supplies arrived from England.

And many other like acts were done by Governor Winthrop. When a man once came to him and complained that a certain neighbor was stealing his wood, Governor Winthrop appeared very angry and said, "Does he so? I'll take a course with him. Go call that man to me. I'll warrant you I'll cure him of stealing."

The poor thief came, trembling and frightened. The Governor looked him over, saw how poor he appeared, and said, "Friend this is a very hard winter. I doubt you were but meanly provided with wood, wherefore I would have you help yourself at my wood pile till this cold season be over." And there was no more complaint of the man's stealing wood.

In his home, too, Governor Winthrop did all he could to set a good example to the colonists. Heartily disapproving of intemperance, he would allow no wine to be served at his table and tried to dissuade others from serving it.

By this time Boston was growing to be a large town. At the end of a year a thousand immigrants had arrived from England.

As the colony grew, it was necessary to have laws by which to govern the people. These laws were very strict. So were the Puritan leaders who enforced them. They ruled the people in a religious rather than a political way and saw that they kept, not only the laws of the State, but also the laws of the church. Only church members were allowed to vote.

Even the daily life of the settlers was lived according to rule. Sharply at nine every night a bell rang out the curfew, and all had to go at once to bed. At half-past four in the morning another bell warned the people that it was time to be up and doing.

Twice each Sunday every one must attend church. During service the men sat on one side of the church, and the women on the other. The little girls sat on low stools at their mothers' feet. The boys sat together, either in a pew or on the pulpit steps.

And there was the tithingman, too, "to watch over youths of disorderly carriage and see they behave themselves comelie, and use such raps and blows as are in his discretion meet." This tithingman had a long stick with a hare's foot on one end and a hare's tail on the other. If a boy nodded during the long sermon, he was either tickled with the tail or rapped with the foot. His punishment depended on whether it was his first offense or a bad habit.

Many of the bad habits of the Puritans were severely punished in these early colonial days. A cross, scolding woman was made to stand outside her door with a stick tied in her mouth. A man who was caught telling an untruth had to stand in some public place with a large sign hung from his neck. On the sign was plainly printed the word "liar." The same kind of punishment was given a thief.

The settlers of Boston were a very busy people. There were no stores where they could buy what they wanted, and supply-ships from England were too uncertain to be depended upon. If a housekeeper wanted linen or woolen cloth, she must weave it. If her family needed mittens or stockings, she must first spin the yarn and then knit them. Nor must she neglect making the candles and soap.

No market supplied the town with fish and meat. Each man must hunt and catch what his family were to have. He must till the soil, raise crops, and make most of the furniture and even many of the dishes for his home. And all this, after he had built the house itself, with the help of his neighbors.

This helping of one's neighbors was a noted virtue among the first colonists. When a new settler came to the colony, the men had a "chopping-bee,"  "a stump pulling," and a "raising"; and in no time his land was cleared and his house built. Or, if a man's crops were too heavy for him to handle alone, his neighbors fell to with a will and, for pay, wanted only his thanks.

It was the same with the women. They helped one another in house cleaning, rag-carpet making, and all the hard work; they visited and cared for the colony's sick, carrying them dainty dishes and nursing them back to health.

And yet with all their loving kindness, these good people had one big fault. Like the King from whom they had fled, they would allow no one to worship in any way but their way.

A young man by the name of Roger Williams soon found this out. Because of his religious opinions these hospitable, generous colonists forced him to leave their town in the dead of winter. Thanks to the help of Governor Winthrop, no serious harm befell him.

This wise and generous Governor served his colony until 1649, when he died. In the city of Boston there stands to-day a statue of John Winthrop to testify that his faithful services to the early Puritans were appreciated, not only by them, but by those who came after them.