Anne Bradstreet and her time/Chapter III
IT is perhaps the fault of the seventeenth century and its firm belief that a woman's office was simply to wait such action as man might choose to take, that no woman's record remains of the long voyage or the first impressions of the new country.
For the most of them writing was by no means a familiar task, but this could not be said of the women on board the Arbella, who had known the highest cultivation that the time afforded. But poor Anne Bradstreet's young "heart rose," to such a height that utterance may have been quite stifled, and as her own family were all with her, there was less need of any chronicle.
For all details, therefore, we are forced to depend on the journal kept by Governor Winthrop, who busied himself not only with this, making the first entry on that Easter Monday which found them riding at anchor at Cowes, but with another quite as characteristic piece of work. A crowded storm-tossed ship, is hardly a point to which one looks for any sustained or fine literary composition, but the little treatise, "A Model of Christian Charity," the fruit of long and silent musing on the new life awaiting them, holds the highest thought of the best among them, and was undoubtedly read with the profoundest feeling and admiration, as it took shape in the author's hands. There were indications even in the first fervor of the embarkation, that even here some among them thought "every man upon his own," while greater need of unselfishness and self-renunciation had never been before a people. "Only by mutual love and help," and "a grand, patient, self-denial," was there the slightest hope of meeting the demands bound up with the new conditions, and Winthrop wrote—"We must be knit together in this work as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities for the supply of others' necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together, in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others' conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes, our commission and community in the work as members of the same body."
A portion of this body were as closely united as if forming but one family. The lady Arbella, in compliment to whom the ship, which had been first known as The Eagle, had been re-christened, had married Mr. Isaac Johnson, one of the wealthiest members of the party. She was a sister of the Earl of Lincoln who had come to the title in 1619, and whose family had a more intimate connection with the New England settlements than that of any other English nobleman. Her sister Susan had become the wife of John Humfrey, another member of the company, and the close friendship between them and the Dudleys made it practically a family party. Anne Bradstreet had grown up with both sisters, and all occupied themselves in such ways as their cramped quarters would allow. Space was of the narrowest, and if the Governor and his deputies indulged themselves in spreading out papers, there would be small room for less important members of the expedition. But each had the little Geneva Bible carried by every Puritan, and read it with a concentrated eagerness born of the sense that they had just escaped its entire loss, and there were perpetual religious exercises of all varieties, with other more secular ones recorded in the Journal. In the beginning there had been some expectation that several other ships would form part of the expedition, but they were still not in sailing order and thus the first entry records "It was agreed, (it being uncertain when the rest of the fleet would be ready) these four ships should consort together; the Arbella to be Admiral, the Talbot Vice-Admiral, the Ambrose Rear-Admiral, and the Jewel a Captain; and accordingly articles of consortship were drawn between the said captains and masters."
The first week was one of small progress, for contrary winds drove them back persistently and they at last cast anchor before Yarmouth, and with the feeling that some Jonah might be in their midst ordered a fast for Friday, the 2d of April, at which time certain light-minded "landmen, pierced a runlet of strong water, and stole some of it, for which we laid them in bolts all the night, and the next morning the principal was openly whipped, and both kept with bread and water that day."
Nothing further happened till Monday, when excitement was afforded for the younger members of the party at least, as "A maid of Sir Robert Saltonstall fell down at the grating by the cook-room, but the carpenter's man, who unwittingly, occasioned her fall caught hold of her with incredible nimbleness, and saved her; otherwise she had fallen into the hold."
Tuesday, finding that the wind was still against them, the captain drilled the landmen with their muskets, "and such as were good shot among them were enrolled to serve in the ship if occasion should be"; while the smell of powder and the desire, perhaps, for one more hour on English soil, made the occasion for another item: "The lady Arbella and the gentlewomen, and Mr. Johnson and some others went on shore to refresh themselves."
The refreshment was needed even then. Anne Bradstreet was still extremely delicate, never having fully recovered from the effects of the small-pox, and the Lady Arbella's health must have been so also, as it failed steadily through the voyage, giving the sorest anxiety to her husband and every friend on board.
It is evident from an entry in Anne Bradstreet's diary after reaching New England that even the excitement of change and the hope common to all of a happy future, was not strong enough to keep down the despondency which came in part undoubtedly from her weak health. The diary is not her own thoughts or impressions of the new life, but simply bits of religious experience; an autobiography of the phase with which we could most easily dispense. "After a short time I changed my condition and was married, and came into this country, where I found a new world and new manners at which my heart rose. But after I was convinced it was the will of God I submitted to it and joined to the church at Boston."
This rebellion must have been from the beginning, for every inch of English soil was dear to her, but she concealed it so thoroughly, that no one suspected the real grief which she looked upon as rebellion to the will of God. Conservative in thought and training, and with the sense of humor which might have lightened some phases of the new dispensation, almost destroyed by the Puritan faith, which more and more altered the proportions of things, making life only a grim battle with evil, and the days doings of absolute unimportance save as they advanced one toward heaven, she accepted discomfort or hardship with quiet patience.
There must have been unfailing interest, too, in the perpetual chances and changes of the perilous voyage. They had weighed anchor finally on the 8th of April, and were well under way on the morning of the 9th, when their journey seemed suddenly likely to end then and there. The war between Spain and England was still going on, and privateers known as Dunkirkers, were lying in wait before every English harbor. Thus there was reason enough for apprehension, when, "In the morning we descried from the top, eight sail astern of us. . . . We supposing they might be Dunkirkers, our captain caused the gun room and gun deck to be cleared; all the hammocks were taken down, our ordnance loaded, and our powder chests and fireworks made ready, and our landmen quartered among the seamen, and twenty-five of them appointed for muskets, and every man written down for his quarter.
"The wind continued N. with fair weather, and after noon it calmed, and we still saw those eight ships to stand towards us; having more wind than we, they came up apace, so as our captain and the masters of our consorts were more occasioned to think they might be Dunkirkers, (for we were told at Yarmouth, that there were ten sail of them waiting for us); whereupon we all prepared to fight with them, and took down some cabins which were in the way of our ordnance, and out of every ship were thrown such bed matters as were subject to take fire, and we heaved out our long boats and put up our waste cloths, and drew forth our men and armed them with muskets and other weapons, and instruments for fireworks; and for an experiment our captain shot a ball of wild fire fastened to an arrow out of a cross bow, which burnt in the water a good time. The lady Arbella and the other women and children, were removed into the lower deck, that they might be out of danger. All things being thus fitted, we went to prayer upon the upper deck. It was much to see how cheerful and comfortable all the company appeared; not a woman or child that shewed fear, though all did apprehend the danger to have been great, if things had proved as might well be expected, for there had been eight against four, and the least of the enemy's ships were reported to carry thirty brass pieces; but our trust was in the Lord of Hosts; and the courage of our captain, and his care and diligence did much to encourage us.
"It was now about one of the clock, and the fleet seemed to be within a league of us; therefore our captain, because he would show he was not afraid of them, and that he might see the issue before night should overtake us, tacked about and stood to meet them, and when we came near we perceived them to be our friends—the little Neptune, a ship of some twenty pieces of ordnance, and her two consorts, bound for the Straits, a ship of Flushing, and a Frenchman and three other English ships bound for Canada and Newfoundland. So when we drew near, every ship (as they met) saluted each other, and the musketeers discharged their small shot, and so (God be praised) our fear and danger was turned into mirth and friendly entertainment. Our danger being thus over, we espied two boats on fishing in the channel; so every one of our four ships manned out a skiff, and we bought of them great store of excellent fresh fish of divers sorts."
It is an astonishing fact, that no line in Anne Bradstreet's poems has any reference to this experience which held every alternation of hope and fear, and which must have moved them beyond any other happening of the long voyage. But, inward states, then as afterward, were the only facts that seemed worthy of expression, so far as she personally was concerned, and they were all keyed to a pitch which made danger even welcome, as a test of endurance and genuine purpose. But we can fancy the dismay of every house-wife as the limited supply of "bed matters," went the way of many other things "subject to take fire." Necessarily the household goods of each had been reduced to the very lowest terms, and as the precious rugs and blankets sunk slowly, or for a time defied the waves and were tossed from crest to crest, we may be sure that the heart of every woman, in the end at least, desired sorely that rescue might be attempted. Sheets had been dispensed with, to avoid the accumulation of soiled linen, for the washing of which no facilities could be provided, and Winthrop wrote of his boys to his wife in one of his last letters, written as they rode at anchor before Cowes, "They lie both with me, and sleep as soundly in a rug (for we use no sheets here) as ever they did at Groton; and so I do myself, (I praise God)."
Among minor trials this was not the least, for the comfort we associate with English homes, had developed, under the Puritan love of home, to a degree that even in the best days of the Elizabethan time was utterly unknown. The faith which demanded absolute purity of life, included the beginning of that cleanliness which is "next to godliness," if not an inherent part of godliness itself, and fine linen on bed and table had become more and more a necessity. The dainty, exquisite neatness that in the past has been inseparable from the idea of New England, began with these Puritan dames, who set their floating home in such order as they could, and who seized the last opportunity at Yarmouth of going on shore, not only for refreshment, but to wash neckbands and other small adornments, which waited two months for any further treatment of this nature.
There were many resources, not only in needlework and the necessary routine of each day, but in each other. The two daughters of Sir Robert Saltonstall, Mrs. Phillips the minister's wife, the wives of Nowell, Coddington and others made up the group of gentlewomen who dined with Lady Arbella in "the great cabin," the greatness of which will be realized when the reader reflects that the ship was but three hundred and fifty tons burden and could carry aside from the fifty or so sailors, but thirty passengers, among whom were numbered various discreet and reputable "young gentlemen" who, as Winthrop wrote, "behave themselves well, and are conformable to all good orders," one or two of whom so utilized their leisure that the landing found them ready for the marriage bells that even Puritan asceticism still allowed to be rung.
Disaster waited upon them, even when fairly under way. Winthrop, whose family affection was intense, and whose only solace in parting with his wife had been, that a greatly loved older son, as well as two younger ones were his companions, had a sore disappointment, entered in the journal, with little comment on its personal bearings. "The day we set sail from Cowes, my son Henry Winthrop went on shore with one of my servants, to fetch an ox and ten wethers, which he had provided for our ship, and there went on shore with him Mr. Pelham and one of his servants. They sent the cattle aboard, but returned not themselves. About three days after my servant and a servant of Mr. Pelham's came to us in Yarmouth, and told us they were all coming to us in a boat the day before, but the wind was so strong against them as they were forced on shore in the night, and the two servants came to Yarmouth by land, and so came on shipboard, but my son and Mr. Pelham (we heard) went back to the Cowes and so to Hampton. We expected them three or four days after, but they came not to us, so we have left them behind, and suppose they will come after in Mr. Goffe's ships. We were very sorry they had put themselves upon such inconvenience when they were so well accommodated in our ship."
A fresh gale on the day of this entry encouraged them all; they passed the perils of Scilly and looked for no further delay when a fresh annoyance was encountered which, for the moment, held for the women at least, something of the terror of their meeting with supposed "Dunkirkers."
"About eight in the morning, . . . standing to the W. S. W. we met two small ships, which falling in among us, and the Admiral coming under our lee, we let him pass, but the Jewel and Ambrose, perceiving the other to be a Brazilman, and to take the wind of us, shot at them, and made them stop and fall after us, and sent a skiff aboard them to know what they were. Our captain, fearing lest some mistake might arise, and lest they should take them for enemies which were friends, and so, through the unruliness of the mariners some wrong might be done them, caused his skiff to be heaved out, and sent Mr. Graves, one of his mates and our pilot (a discreet man) to see how things were, who returned soon after, and brought with him the master of one of the ships, and Mr. Lowe and Mr. Hurlston. When they were come aboard to us, they agreed to send for the captain, who came and showed his commission from the Prince of Orange. In conclusion he proved to be a Dutchmen, and his a man of war from Flushing, and the other ship was a prize he had taken, laden with sugar and tobacco; so we sent them aboard their ships again, and held on our course. In this time (which hindered us five or six leagues) the Jewel and the Ambrose came foul of each other, so as we much feared the issue, but, through God's mercy, they came well off again, only the Jewel had her foresail torn, and one of her anchors broken. This occasion and the sickness of our minister and people, put us all out of order this day, so as we could have no sermons."
No words hold greater force of discomfort and deprivation than that one line, "so as we could have no sermons," for the capacity for this form of "temperate entertainment," had increased in such ratio, that the people sat spell bound, four hours at a stretch, both hearers and speaker being equally absorbed. Winthrop had written of himself at eighteen, in his "Christain Experience": "I had an insatiable thirst after the word of God; and could not misse a good sermon, though many miles off, especially of such as did search deep into the conscience," and to miss this refreshment even for a day, seemed just so much loss of the needed spiritual food.
But the wind, which blew "a stiffe gale," had no respect of persons, and all were groaning together till the afternoon of the next day, when a device occurred to some inventive mind, possibly that of Mistress Bradstreet herself, which was immediately carried out. "Our children and others that were sick and lay groaning in the cabins, we fetched out, and having stretched a rope from the steerage to the main mast, we made them stand, some of one side and some of the other, and sway it up and down till they were warm, and by this means they soon grew well and merry."
The plan worked well, and three days later, when the wind which had quieted somewhat, again blew a "stiffe gale," he was able to write: "This day the ship heaved and set more than before, yet we had but few sick, and of these such as came up upon the deck and stirred themselves, were presently well again; therefore our captain set our children and young men, to some harmless exercises, which the seamen were very active in, and did our people much good, though they would sometimes play the wags with them."
Wind and rain, rising often till the one was a gale and the other torrents, gave them small rest in that first week. The fish they had secured at Yarmouth returned to their own element, Winthrop mourning them as he wrote: "The storm was so great as it split our foresail and tore it in pieces, and a knot of the sea washed our tub overboard, wherein our fish was a-watering." The children had become good sailers, and only those were sick, who, like "the women kept under hatches." The suffering from cold was constant, and for a fortnight extreme, the Journal reading: "I wish, therefore, that all such as shall pass this way in the spring have care to provide warm clothing; for nothing breeds more trouble and danger of sickness, in this season, than cold.
From day to day the little fleet exchanged signals, and now and then, when calm enough the masters of the various ships dined in the round-house of the Arbella, and exchanged news, as that, "all their people were in health, but one of their cows was dead." Two ships in the distance on the 24th of April, disturbed them for a time, but they proved to be friends, who saluted and "conferred together so long, till his Vice Admiral was becalmed by our sails, and we were foul one of another, but there being little wind and the sea calm, we kept them asunder with oars, etc., till they heaved out their boat, and so towed their ship away. They told us for certain, that the king of France had set out six of his own ships to recover the fort from them."
Here was matter for talk among the travellers, whose interest in all that touched their future heightened day by day, and the item, with its troublous implications may have been the foundation of one of the numerous fasts recorded.
May brought no suggestion of any quiet, though three weeks out, they had made but three hundred leagues, and the month opened with "a very great tempest all the night, with fierce showers of rain intermixed, and very cold. . . . Yet through God's mercy, we were very comfortable and few or none sick, but had opportunity to keep the Sabbath, and Mr. Phillips preached twice that day."
Discipline was of the sharpest, the Puritan temper brooking no infractions of law and order. There were uneasy and turbulent spirits both among the crew and passengers, and in the beginning swift judgment fell upon two young men, who, "falling at odds and fighting, contrary to the orders which we had published and set up in the ship, were adjudged to walk upon the deck till night, with their hands bound behind them, which accordingly was executed; and another man for using contemptuous speeches in our presence, was laid in bolts till he submitted himself and promised open confession of his offence."
Impressive as this undoubtedly proved to the "children and youth thereby admonished," a still greater sensation was felt among them on the discovery that "a servant of one of our company had bargained with a child to sell him a box worth three-pence for three biscuits a day all the voyage, and had received about forty and had sold them and many more to some other servants. We caused his hands to be tied up to a bar, and hanged a basket with stones about his neck, and so he stood two hours."
Other fights are recorded, the cause a very evident one. "We observed it a common fault in our young people that they gave themselves to drink hot waters very immoderately."
Brandy then as now was looked upon as a specific for sea-sickness, and "a maid servant in the ship, being stomach sick, drank so much strong water, that she was senseless, and had near killed herself."
The constant cold and rain, the monotonous food, which before port was reached had occasioned many cases of scurvy and reduced the strength of all, was excuse enough for the occasional lapse into over indulgence which occurred, but the long penance was nearly ended. On the 8th of June Mount Mansell, now Mt. Desert, was passed, an enchanting sight for the sea-sad eyes of the travellers. A "handsome gale" drove them swiftly on, and we may know with what interest they crowded the decks and gazed upon these first glimpses of the new home. As they sailed, keeping well in to shore, and making the new features of hill and meadow and unfamiliar trees, Winthrop wrote: "We had now fair sunshine weather, and so pleasant a sweet air as did much refresh us, and there came a smell off the shore like the smell of a garden."
Peril was past, and though fitful winds still tormented them, the 12th of May saw the long imprisonment ended, and they dropped anchor "a little within the islands," in the haven where they would be.