The Pilgrim Fathers
U NDER James I., King of England, there was a little sect of Protestants, known as Puritans, who were sorely persecuted. They were very strict in their ideas of worship. They wished everything to be more Lutheran. They thought it wrong to amuse themselves. It, was, in their eyes, a sin to hunt, a sin to put starch into a ruff, to play at chess.
At last a little band of these Puritans made up their minds to sail over to Holland, "where," they heard, "was freedom of religion for all men." They hoped in a new land, among new people, to spread their views, and, at any rate, to be left in peace. So across the sea to Holland they went, arriving at Amsterdam in the year 1608. For twelve years they lived at Leyden among the Dutch; but they lived as exiles in a strange land, and Puritanism did not spread as they had hoped. So they turned their eyes across the seas to the New World, where colonisation was now going on apace. There they might preach their Puritan gospel; there, on the shores of the New World, they might start life afresh.
Now the Dutch people had grown very fond of the English Puritans.
"These English," they said, "have lived among us for twelve years, and yet we have not anything to say against one of them."
It was the summer of 1620 when the Puritans left Leyden for the New World. A crowd was waiting by the shore to see these Pilgrim Fathers off. In floods of tears the Dutch bade farewell to these people they had learnt to love, and they were not able to speak for their sorrow.
"But the tide, which stays for no man," bore the Pilgrim Fathers away, and with a fair wind the little ship reached Southampton, where two larger ships, the Mayflower and the Speedwell, awaited them. Here there were many delays, and it was late in the summer before the ships left the shores of England. The Speedwell soon put back, and only the little Mayflower, with forty-one emigrants and their families, was left to face the perils of the great Atlantic Ocean. It was not long before great gales set in, and the long swell of the Atlantic almost washed over the little ship. Still the Mayflower went forward, struggling gallantly with wind and weather. Once or twice the poor Pilgrims were tempted to turn and go home, so great was the misery of those on board. They were terribly crowded together, sea-sick, and frightened at the high waves which broke over the little ship, but still they went forward. So sixty-four days passed away on a voyage which now takes about a week, when early one November morning the Pilgrims first caught sight of America. Together they rejoiced and praised God, "that had given them once again to see the land."
The low sandhills of Cape Cod seemed a very haven of rest to the poor storm-beaten Pilgrims. Their voyage, indeed, was at an end, but the prospect before them was dreary enough. The wintry wind howled through the battered little ship, and its icy blasts went through the thin frames of the old Pilgrims, worn by hardship and sickness.
Sixteen of them were put ashore to find a suitable place to settle. These landed and marched wearily about, through sandy woods, sleeping amid forests; but, finding no place for a settlement, they returned sadly to the ship. Then they explored the coast. The weather grew very cold, the salt spray of the sea froze upon their clothes, so that they seemed cased all over as in coats of iron.
At last they left Cape Cod and landed in Plymouth Bay, so called from the last place they had left in England. There was plenty of fish here, springs of water and good harbours. So, leaving the women and children on board, they began to lay out streets and houses. But the winter was on them, and they had already borne all they could.
One by one they sickened, one by one they died, till only half the little band was left.
At last the warm spring days followed the bitter winter weather, and the Pilgrims, under their stout-hearted leader Miles Standish, took fresh hope. They made friends with the Indians, they tilled the soil and planted seeds from England.
Then there came a day, nearly four months after their landing, when the Mayflower must go back to England. She had been riding at anchor in the bay, "battered and blackened and worn by all the storms of the winter."
Here is the heroism of the story. Not one of the Pilgrims went home in her.
With overflowing eyes they stood on the sea-shore watching with heavy hearts the homeward-bound ship as she bounded over the waters, leaving them alone in the desert.
Months and years of hardships followed, but resolutely they worked and toiled, and slowly things grew better. A shipful of friends followed them from England. In ten years there were 300 settlers; every year the numbers grew until, forty-two years later, it became part of that State now known as Massachusetts. In that Plymouth across the seas a statue now stands marking the spot where the Pilgrim Fathers landed all these long years ago. Their heroism and perseverance were never forgotten.
"Let it not grieve you that you have broken the ice for others who come after," said their English friends. "The honour shall be yours to the world's end."