Gateway to the Classics: Short Stories from American History by Albert F. Blaisdell
Short Stories from American History by  Albert F. Blaisdell

On the Plymouth Shore

O N the Friday after the return of the shallop the Mayflower weighed anchor, unfurled her stiffened sails, and headed for the mainland, straight across the great bay of Cape Cod. There was a strong head wind, however, and it was not until the next day, Saturday, December 21, 1620, that the good ship reached the harbor.

Six years before this, Captain John Smith of Virginia had visited this region and made a map of the harbor. The place where the Pilgrims decided to go ashore to explore was at the spot marked Plymouth on his map.

At this point the water was shallow and the Mayflower had to anchor more than a mile from the shore. At low tide it would be a long wade through the icy waters and even at high tide only a few at a time could be landed.

We are told that a young girl named Mary Chilton was allowed to go with the first party that left the ship. In her eagerness to get ashore she is said to have jumped from the boat to a large stone that lay half buried in the sand.

Whether this story is true or not nobody knows. At any rate the stone which rests under the canopy at Plymouth, and is now known as Plymouth Rock, is supposed to have been the landing place of the Pilgrims.

When the men slowly climbed the snow-covered hill they expected to find Indians lurking in the underbrush; but not a living creature was to be seen except the sea gulls which screamed over the heads of these strange visitors.

Here the brave Pilgrims meant to live the rest of their days. A town was laid out and a building lot was given to each member of the colony. The first street was called Leyden Street, from Leyden, Holland, where the Pilgrims first settled after leaving England. You may still walk along the same street, now nearly three hundred years old. But all work was slow. It took a long time to go to and from the vessel. Besides, the winter days were short, and rain and snow often put a stop to everything.

On Christmas the first house was raised. It was twenty feet square. In it the settlers stored their goods.

They next began to build their own log houses. Each house had a single large room, with a fireplace that nearly filled one end. The children sitting at twilight by the great log fires could look up the big throat of the chimney and see the blue sky and the bright stars shining down upon them.


A Pilgrim's Log House

One day in the early spring an Indian came boldly into the little village. To their surprise, when he walked past the row of cabins, he called out, "Welcome, English! welcome, English!"

The Indian's name was Samoset. He was tall and straight and naked to the waist. He carried no weapons except a bow and two arrows. From the fishermen on the coast of Maine he had picked up a few English words.


Samoset's First Visit to the Pilgrims

The Pilgrims gave their guest "some biscuit, butter, cheese, and pudding" to eat. They let him stay over night in the log house of Stephen Hopkins; but one of the men watched him to see that he did no harm. The next day he was sent away with presents of a knife, a bracelet, and a ring.

In a few days Samoset came back with another Indian, named Squanto, who spoke English pretty well, for some years before this he had been stolen by a sea captain and carried to England.

After a time Squanto came to live with the Pilgrims. He showed his new friends how to hunt and fish and to tread eels out of the mud; best of all, perhaps, he taught them how to catch the little fishes called alewives, and to put two or three of them into every hill of corn to make it grow faster.

Another Indian paid a friendly visit to the white-faced strangers who had come to dwell among the trees of the great forest. This was Massasoit, the chief of the Indians in this region. He came with sixty warriors.

The Pilgrims made a great noise with their drum and their trumpet, and the little company of soldiers put on their steel armor and fired off their guns.

Governor Bradford escorted King Massasoit to the largest log cabin, seated him on a mat, and placed cushions round him. He then gave him a copper chain and some colored beads.

All this greatly pleased the chief. He said he would be a good friend to the white men, and he kept his word until he died, more than fifty years afterward.

But the first winter was long and full of hardship. The Pilgrims did not have enough food to eat nor proper clothes to wear. The men had to wade to the shore through the icy water and work all day in their wet clothing. Until the log houses were built the women and children lived on board the Mayflower. They breathed the bad air of the small cabin and suffered from cold and hunger.

Then came sickness and death. On the twenty-first of November one hundred and two people had found shelter behind the long arm of Cape Cod, but before the first of April nearly half of them, including Governor Carver, had died. At one time there were only seven persons in the whole settlement well enough to wait on the sick. The good doctor, Samuel Fuller, must have been a busy man.

Captain Miles Standish, brave as a lion, but tenderhearted as a child, nursed the sick, cooked the food, and even washed the clothes.

Stout-hearted Elder Brewster, who could tend the sick as well as preach long sermons, kept up the courage of his people.

"It is not with us," he said, "as with men whom small things can discourage."

For fear the Indians might find out how many had died, the ground was made smooth over the graves of their loved ones, and corn was planted in the spring over their place of burial.

Bright and early after the sad winter came the spring. The south winds blew, the sun melted the snowdrifts, and by the third of March, as we read in Governor Bradford's Journal, the grass was green and the birds were singing merrily. Then the April showers pattered down, and the Pilgrims knew that spring had really come.

It was the sixteenth of April, and the morning on the Plymouth shore was warm and full of sunshine. Two young Pilgrim girls, Remember Allerton and Humility Cooper, had just come back from a walk in the woods. Their hands were full of rose-tinted flowers they had picked among the dead leaves.

"God be praised! behold our mayflower here!" the good Elder Brewster had said only a few days before when he first found the little sweet-smelling flower lifting its tender blossoms from beneath the edge of a snow bank.

This was many years ago; but ever since that time in the early days of spring boys and girls have been picking sweet mayflowers in the Plymouth woods.

This morning of April 16, 1621, was long remembered in the little Plymouth settlement. Five months before, the weather-beaten Mayflower had brought the Pilgrims across the stormy ocean to the sandy shores of Cape Cod. This morning, on the full tide, she was ready to sail back to England.

"Look, girls!" said Remember Allerton; "see Desire Minter, Love Brewster, and Mary Chilton climbing Burial Hill. They are going to watch the Mayflower sail for our old home."

"Yes, so they are," said Humility Cooper, shading her eyes with her hand; "let us run and get to the top of the hill first. See! there is Captain Miles Standish getting ready to fire the cannon."

With pale and sober faces the Pilgrims said farewell to the Mayflower, which had so long been their only home.


Pilgrims Watching the Return of the Mayflower

"Long in silence they watched the receding sail of the vessel,

Much endeared to them all, as something living and human;

Then, as if filled with spirit, and wrapt in a vision prophetic,

Baring his hoary head, the excellent Elder of Plymouth

Said, 'Let us pray!' and they prayed, and thanked the Lord and took courage.

Mournfully sobbed the waves at the base of the rock, and above them

Bowed and whispered the wheat on the hill of death, and their kindred

Seemed to awake in their graves, and to join in the prayer that they uttered.

Sun-illumined and white, on the eastern verge of the ocean,

Gleamed the departing sail, like a marble slab in a graveyard;

Buried beneath it lay forever all hope of escaping."

Yet in their hardships not one of the Pilgrims wanted to go back to England. They had crossed the ocean to make homes for themselves in America. Here they could live in peace and worship God in their own simple way. They were content and happy.

And so, although they did not know it, this handful of earnest men and women on the Plymouth shore were beginning one of the first permanent settlements in the history of a great nation.

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