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PLYMOUTH AND PROVINCETOWN
LOSE behind Plymouth, close beside this home of the Pilgrims, close to this spot where three hundred years ago began the campaign against the wilderness, there is still an immense tract of wild and lonely woodland, there are miles and miles of wildness almost unbroken except by roads; there are seemingly endless stretches of oak trees intermingled with lovely pines and sentineled by cedars, and underneath is a tangle of huckleberries and sweet fern and bracken, with frequently the white sand gleaming through the darker soil that has tried to accumulate. In the very heart of this wilderness one may come with almost startling unexpectedness upon some old house aflame with trumpet-vine or white with flowering masses of paniculata, but the few homes are widely isolated. The region is even now wild enough for one to imagine the presence of the prowling bear and the prowling Indian of early days; and, in fact and without imagination, the deer and the fog are frequently to be met. "Ye whole countrie, full of woodes & thickets, presented a wilde & savage heiw," as Bradford himself, leader among the Pilgrims, wrote. Much of Massachusetts has reverted to wilderness; immense tracts that once were a succession of farms have gone back to scrub woodland; but nowhere is it more noticeable than here.
The ancient town of Plymouth still has much of an old-fashioned aspect in spite of the inroad of modern buildings; it is still a comely American town, sitting decorously beside the sea, with its older portion close to the water-front, where a few old houses still stand, in shingle-sided irregularity, beneath the low-rounding rise where the first burials were made in graves that were left unmarked from fear of the Indians creeping in and counting the deaths; away from this there sweeps a little stretch where the greater part of the town was built and where still is much of an aspect of staid dignity; and behind all this is the watch-hill – that became the principal graveyard of the settlement.
Little fishing boats lie at their moorings, and fishermen in yellow oil-skins lean, gregariously gossiping, against the buildings beside the piers, and nets are stretched out to dry, and sea-gulls go curving and dipping and flying, and across the water are barrier spits of sand, greened with grass, and along the shore are scattered a few attractive homes, with greenery close about them, and far out at the left of the bay and far out at the right, are jutting promontories, tree-clad. But it is not a stern and rock-bound coast; it is a sandy coast; and it is seldom that the breaking waves dash high in this sheltered nook; and yet they were inspired lines that Felicia Hemans wrote, for they represented the bravery and the loneliness of it all, the unbreakable, undaunted spirit that moved those early Pilgrims; and the lines ought never to be forgotten by Americans:
Not as the flying come,
It is curious that this British woman so felt and expressed the spirit of the band of exiles who moored their bark on this wild New England shore; and it is curious that she, who could so perfectly express the feeling of early America, has better than any other poet expressed the sense of the beauty and finish of England, in her lines beginning "The stately homes of England, how beautiful they stand!"
On this sandy shore it must have been difficult for the Pilgrims to find a boulder big enough to land upon, but, as if recognizing that posterity would really need a Plymouth Rock, they managed to find one, and here it is, carefully preserved, at the waterside, after having wandered about the town, from one stopping-place to another, in the course of the centuries, and even having suffered in its travels a fracture which was carefully repaired. It now has the protection of a stone canopy and a gated iron fence, but the gates are usually kept open, for there is such a general and profound respect for this stone that no one thinks of treating it carelessly, and I have seen even little children who have run under the canopy in a sudden shower rub their hands gently over the stone as if in reverence. It has not been chipped or spoiled, as stone monuments open to the opportunities of vandalism are so likely to be. Round about the memorial is a little grassy spot that has been made charming with roses and barberries.
The low rise that was originally the burial-hill is still surprisingly steep, for it has never been graded away; a little back from it stand a hotel and some homes, but at the very edge a little landslide a few years ago uncovered some of the bones of the very earliest settlers. Away from this low rise there runs the little stream beside which the Pilgrim leaders first met Massasoit, and the garden plots that lie behind the backs of the houses mark the original "meersteads" or homestead limits of the original allotment.
Old records have been kept, and among them is one narrating how, seven years after the landing, the Pilgrims divided by lot, with meticulous particularity, the few cattle and goats into thirteen portions each: "the Greate Black cow came in the Ann "as it is set down; "the red Cow and the Heyfers," so it is written, with freedom of spelling and capitalization, "came in the Jacob"; and there are various details in regard to "the greate white backt cow" and the other stock.
Plymouth possesses a great deal of attractiveness, and indeed real beauty. The deep blue of the water, edged by the promontoried greenery of trees, makes a charming frontage, and within the town itself there are many huge trees, some of them carefully marked with records of their planting; there are great elms, and there are lindens of giant size. In any direction one may see masses of dahlias, or the flowering honeysuckle, and there are ancient gardens charmingly in closed within the greenery of ancient box.
There are houses of red brick and there are houses of white-painted frame; there are houses with gambrel roofs and great old chimneys and pillared porticoes. There is still many a dignified old front, broad and generous with doorway of loveliness; there are still some of the old-time fan-windows over the entranceways; there are reeded pilasters; there is still much of the bulgy old-time window-glass.
On the way up the low slope from the water is an interesting looking old gambrel-roofed house with wooden front and brick ends, and somehow it pleased me to hear a little girl who was sitting on the steps called "Barbara" by her father, for the name seemed to fit the old-time house as did also the ancient looking pussy-cat sitting there in dignified sedateness. And a tablet upon this old house shows that it stands on the spot where an even more interesting house once stood for it was "erected by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to mark the site of the first house built by the Pilgrims. In that house on the 27th of February, 1621, the right of popular suffrage was exercised and Miles Standish was chosen captain by a majority vote."
Just up the slope and but a short distance from the Rock, stands an old mansion of interest as a survival of early architecture, although of a time much more recent than that of the Pilgrims; it is a house of unusually noble beauty and spaciousness and about it is a garden of flowered charm.
The modern and unattractive that have come into the town may easily be disregarded by those who desire to see old Plymouth. Much of the old, much that has made the atmosphere of the past and which rouses memories of the brave old times, is still here. A streak of meticulousness must have become implanted by the early itemizing of the thirteen shares of cattle, for in what other town would one find a notice to motorists warning them of a dangerous corner fifty-eight feet away! And as to other public notices – well, stop to gaze at some interesting-looking tablet and you will probably find it a warning that there will be a fine of twenty dollars if you spit on the sidewalk.
The First Church in Plymouth – although it is really the fifth first church – is tableted as a "meeting house," although in reality it is a solid stone building, early Norman in design. It faces the little town square, where three veteran elms shade the yellow sand that covers the open space. Diagonally across from this structure, and also looking out upon the little square, is a much older church, a highly attractive building in white painted wood, with white pillars, and attractive pillared tower. This church is called the Church of the Pilgrimage.
Burial Hill, the height that rises from these two churches, is dotted thick with gravestones, and among them are noted the boundary spots of the early fortifications. This hill was beacon hill and fort hill and burial hill in one, as if to show very materially that life and death depended upon watchfulness and fighting. On the highest part is a stone that marks the grave of doughty old Bradford, the several times governor. Looking down upon the town from this hilltop one sees a broad massing of the greenery of trees, with here and there the white or red of the houses peeping through and with three lovely belfries rising in variant charm, one being covered with copper, another being all white, and the third showing a top of gold.
Standing on top of this hill the memory came to me of the top of that hill on Hope Bay, in Rhode Island, where King Philip made his last stand against the white man; and I thought of it not only because the two hills are in a general way alike in looking over an expanse of land and water along a generally level coast line, but because the head of King Philip, that noble Indian who had been given his name by the white men from King Philip of Macedon, was brought here to Plymouth and placed publicly on a spike, where it remained a memento of ignoble triumph for many years. Webster, in an oration at Plymouth, said, "like the dove from the Ark, the Mayflower put forth only to find rest"; but the people who came in the Mayflower were certainly not all doves. The barrel of the very gun that belonged to King Philip has been preserved, not as a matter of shame but of pride, and it is shown in the museum of Plymouth in Pilgrim Hall.
It is pleasant to notice on the stones above the graves the frequency of the name of Priscilla, and the dates show that it was a common name, even before the time when Longfellow made it so famous, thus showing that from early days the history of this sweet young Pilgrim girl fascinated the general imagination; or, as Longfellow himself would have expressed. it, that the region was "full of the name and the fame of the Puritan maiden Priscilla."
Priscilla was a very real girl, and her last name was Mullines; not the "Mullins" into which the name has been rather commonized. But the name was spelled with some variety even by Governor Bradford, who mentioned it three times in his history and each time differently, the most important entry being that "Mr. Molines, and his wife, his sone and his servant, dyed the first winter. Only his dougter Priscila survied, and maried with John Alden, who are both living, and have 11 children. And their eldest daughter is married, & hath five children."
Bradford himself did not stand much for romance, and it is from other sources that there comes the story of the courtship of John Alden. It seems, so the old story has it, that Alden first presented the proposal of Standish, not to Priscilla, but to Priscilla's father, who promptly called Priscilla into the conference, with the result that she made the forever-to-be-remembered query of the bashful John as to speaking for himself. What her father said or thought is not on record, but it was very shortly after the proposal that John and Priscilla. were married; and the tradition is, not as Longfellow gives it, that Standish and Alden again became friends, but that Alden was never forgiven by Standish. John Alden's daughter Sarah, however, did afterwards marry Standish's son Alexander.
Courtships and marriages went very quickly in those early days, when children were a decided asset to any family in aiding to clear the wilderness, and when loneliness was a great disadvantage. As an example, the wife of Winslow died in March of 1621, the husband of Susanna White died in February of the same year, and in May of that year the short-time widower Winslow and the short-time widow White married. Miles Standish, in his courtship of Priscilla, was similarly hasty; for his wife, whom he had. married in England, died late in January, 1621, and as Alden and Priscilla were married early in that year it may be seen how swift was the courtship of Standish, and also that Alden was not at all slow in following up his own desires. After this refusal Standish waited three years before he married for the second time, but it is possible that some other woman refused him meanwhile.
Plymouth, from the Graveyard on the Hill
There is a collection at Plymouth, in Pilgrim Hall, which is rich in mementoes of the very early days. There is the great circular gate-legged table, almost six feet across, rigid and strong and plain and underbraced, which was the council table when Winslow was governor. There is the very chair of the first governor, John Carver, who died in the first winter, a plain, massive turned chair which seems as severe as the popular idea of the most severe belongings. There is the veritable sword of Miles Standish, a Damascus blade. There is a dear little wicker cradle, a Dutch cradle, in shape like a basket with a hood to keep off the draft, carried with the Mayflower for little Peregrine White, named from the peregrinations of his parents, and the first white child born on the soil of New England. Little Oceanus Hopkins might have taken away the title of precedence from Peregrine had Oceanus not been born, as his name implies, before the Mayflower reached the promised land. Many other things, little and big, are preserved. There are early spoons and early needle work. There is some superb ecclesiastical silver designed for the early churches and preserved with record of where it was made.
Standing anywhere along the shore at Plymouth, or on the hill, one cannot but notice a monument that rises, lofty and striking, far out beyond the leftward stretch of the bay; and this is the monument to Miles Standish. Although he was not a Puritan, and not really a Pilgrim, for he was a soldier of fortune, who had been fighting for the Dutch against the Spanish and then as a soldier of Queen Elizabeth, a Dalgetty, who was out of employment as a fighter when the Pilgrims sailed and was engaged as an excellent man to meet the savages, he has been given a far more prominent monument than has any other of those early men; and so nobly did he develop, at Plymouth, in bravery, in self-sacrifice, in the finest qualities of manhood that he well deserves prominent remembrance. The old chronicle has it Captain Standish and Elder Brewster, more than any others, "to their great comendations be it spoken, spared no pains night nor day, but with abundance of toyle and hazard of their own strength helped others in sickness and death, a rare example worthy to be remembred"; and in addition Standish was a man of absolute bravery.
The monument is reached by a roundabout way, of several miles, from Plymouth. The figure of Standish tops the structure; and by some unexplainable freak he is made to face away from the town that honored him and for which he did so much. The monument is on the summit of a considerable hill and there is in view a long, long line of shore; and looking toward the sea one may see, as I have seen, the water dotted with the mackerel fleet, setting homeward; and a thin gray vagueness on the horizon marks the distant line of Cape Cod. Looking landward, one sees endless miles of bluish pine woods through which the white spire of a meeting house rises with effective unexpectedness, and looking across the bay toward Plymouth there is a wonderful effect as if the city is still a place crowded against the waterside at the edge of a vast wilderness.
A rather small old house, a story and a half high, sleeping under the shelter of this hill, a house with a sort of distinction in spite of its smallness, and with a great lilac bush at its front, a house that must always have been rather solitary, is the house in which some have believed that Standish lived for the last years of his life; but in reality it would seem that his own house, long vanished, stood close beside where this house stands and that this was put up by an immediate descendant.
That Standish was a short man, sinewy and robust, and that his little library actually contained, just as the poet has described it, the Commentaries of Caesar, are among the rather slender facts known in regard to his personality, but an inventory of the property left by him at his death itemizes that in his possession, among other things, were 4 bedsteads and 1 settle bed, 5 feather beds with blankets and sheets, 1 tablecloth and 4 napkins, 4 iron pots, 3 brass kettles and one dozen wooden plates-with no plates of any better material mentioned. There were muskets and sword; and, as if in defiance of the spinning-wheel of Priscilla which, after all, was more a matter of concern to Alden than to him, there were two spinning wheels. Horses and cattle must have increased in the colony since the earliest days for he left at his death 2 mares, 2 colts and 1 young horse, 4 oxen, 6 cows, 3 heifers, 1 calf, 8 sheep, 2 rams, 1 wether and 14 swine.
At quite a distance, naturally, from this spot, is where John Alden and Priscilla lived, but, like this, within the limits of Duxbury. It is a pleasant drive across country, from one place to the other, through a region of blue inlets setting in from the blue, blue sea, with much of pine woods, and of the little bushes that bear beach plums.
The house built here by John Alden has disappeared, but the present building stands on its site and, it is believed, was built by a grandson. But it looks old enough to have been built toward the end of John Alden's long life, and it is possible, though not probable, that he actually lived in it. Often, it is impossible to fix the precise date of construction of an ancient house, as the only definite records are likely to be of land alone and not the buildings.
This Alden house stands on the top of a low mound; it is shingled-sided; and the present occupant confided to me that if he did not keep a close eye on visitors every silvery old shingle would soon be stripped off as a souvenir! The entire front of the house is massed in a luxurious greenery of grapevines, entwined with scarlet dotted trumpet-vines; a peach tree is espaliered on the side and a great trumpet-vine has clambered upon the roof; and nearby is a field that, when I saw it, was a great yellow splendor of golden-rod, bordered empurplingly with asters.
How strange it must all have seemed to Alden! He never intended to be a Pilgrim. He was a cooper, hired at Southampton when the Mayflower touched there, and it was expected that he would return in the ship from America. But he was "a hopfull young man," and the leaders quietly hoped that he would remain – and Priscilla did the rest. It is so pleasant to think of the poetic wedding journey with the bride mounted on the white bull, that it is needlessly iconoclastic to point out that the very first cattle, three heifers and a bull, did not reach Plymouth until 1624.
It is sometimes forgotten that the first landing of the Pilgrims in the New World was not made at Plymouth but at the inside of the tip of Cape Cod; where, not long after their visit, the settlement of Provincetown was made.
Cape Cod, at the time of their visit, was a desolate region, but had earlier been visited by others. First, the Norsemen; afterwards, Bartholomew Gosnold, who gave the cape its fishy name; even the picturesque Champlain made a brief stop here, as did the equally picturesque Captain John Smith, who described the fields of corn and "salvage gardens." So many people were here before the Pilgrims as to give almost an effect of crowded life! But it was lonely enough when the Pilgrims actually came, though they did finally see some Indians, who, although they ran off, did so, "whistling to their dogge"!
Sand is the principal product of Provincetown. The whole Cape is shifting sand, that changes with every wind, and that makes hills into valleys and valleys into hills, and that threatens to destroy the little town itself.
Many have been the wrecks on Cape Cod; and most interesting was that of the Somerset; on the outer edge of the narrow cape. This was the big man-of-war, of from forty to sixty cannon and a crew of almost five hundred men, under whose lee, when it was in Boston harbor, Paul Revere was rowed when starting with the message to Lexington. It aided in the bombardment of the Americans on the day of Bunker Hill, and afterwards won a cruel reputation for its seizures of American shipping. In a great storm in 1778 it was driven ashore here, and the tradition of the Cape has it that, most of the men being absent on military duty, the women took an active share in holding captive the men from the wreck and in getting the guns to land to save them for the use of the American army. The wreck was completely dismantled; gradually it was covered with sand and the very place was forgotten. Years afterwards, a storm uncovered it, and then the sands covered it again, and many years later it was again uncovered and fully identified by details of its structure from official records furnished by the Admiralty in London. Before the sands covered it again I saw it myself, with its grim and blackened vertebrae; and it was fascinating to find such a memento of the Revolution lying on this lonely outward shore, so near little Provincetown.
Growing wild in hollows among the dunes, with scrub pines and oaks, is the marvelously fragrant bayberry from which the early settlers made their candles and from which a later generation made bay rum. And in these hollows wild roses grow in luxurious-ness, and innumerable red beach-plums.
Provincetown is distinctly a sailor's town; there are sailors here who have been all over the world; but it will be noticed that "barges" are not boats but wagons! A figurehead from some old ship leans forward from a post; fish-shaped weather-vanes turn with the varying winds; you naturally see a seamen's bank; a profusion of binoculars pervades the place; you may even catch sight of the backbone of a whale in a captain's yard; wreckage is stacked for fire-wood; and in some of the old pilastered or porticoed houses there are preserved the original logs of whaling trips, showing whales, pictured in ink that long since yellowed, to mark the days of fortunate catches.
Every sailor seems to have the title of captain; most, in fact, have a right to the title, for each has been in charge of at least a fishing-boat; and these captains are men of individual interest. One is a gatherer of ambergris (romantic name!), and he also sells watch-makers' oil, which he poetically procures from porpoise heads. Another of the captains, a gentle soul, is a story-teller who, unfortunately, has so out-told himself that the same narratives are given over and over. "Have I ever told this before?" I heard him interrupt himself to ask one day; and when the goaded interlocutor, another captain, replied that he had, the first captain responded, gently tolerant,
"Oh, well, I'll tell it again then." Another captain, confiding to me that he had been married fifty-five years, gravely added, as he pointed to his old dog lying beside him, "And that is all I've got left to show for it." Another told of a life-time sea-friend who had recently died at the age of ninety-two.
"Did he leave any family?" "No," said the captain. "His father and mother were both dead." When, speaking with another, I commented on the roses growing in profuse loveliness in the gardens of the town, in spite of the difficulties of sand, he replied, from some pessimistic association of ideas: "Yes, but if there is ever a year when the rose-bugs don't get after the roses the dogfish are sure to get after the mackerel." But optimism is the prevailing note, as with a captain, an ancient, earnest citizen, who exclaimed to me: "Why, the man who would complain of this Cape Cod climate would complain if he were going to be hung!" Another still tells the story of a sea-serpent that he saw many years ago; and I was told that when his townsmen ridiculed him and frankly told him, from knowledge of his idiosyncrasies, that he must have been drinking, he went before a notary and made affidavit that "I was not drinking on the day I saw the sea-serpent" – and he still fails to see why everybody laughs. Another, speaking of the general truthfulness of the place, deemed it measurably referable to ancient strictness of law, giving as an example that in the good old formative days "a captain was fined five dollars for lying about a whale."
The Portuguese, always locally referred to as "Portygees," have come in so freely from the Azores and the Cape de Verde Islands, that they give a markedly alien touch, with their distinctive language, religion, dress and costumes. The town is permeated by them. They are active rivals, on the sea, of the descendants of the early Americans, and I remember that a sailing race, open to all, was won by a boat whose captain and crew were all Portuguese; but none the less did Provincetown royally welcome the victors, and deck its streets with brooms and buckets. A still further alien touch is given by a lofty monument, set up a few years ago as a memorial to the landing here of the Pilgrims, and which, from some odd reason, is of distinctly Italian style.
A town-crier still busies himself with the crier's ancient duties, and the townsfolk claim that the custom has kept on undisturbed from early times.
The talk and interests of Provincetown are of cod and mackerel and haddock, and when a boat comes in with a catch the event is eagerly discussed along the entire three miles of far-flung water front. The town is principally one long and sinuous and attenuated street, but there are also little lanes twisting away from it. A few old-time houses still remain with silver-gray shingles on their roofs and sides. Everywhere is an aspect of scrupulous neatness, as if on shipboard, and the houses in general have a snuggled and tucked-in look as if triced down for a storm. Many are shaded by big trees; and it is curious that there are so many great elms and enormous swamp-willows in spite of the discouraging environment.
When the tide sweeps out, great flats of green and yellow and gray stretch off in front of the town, and amphibious horses, half submerged, draw far out, in the track of the receding tides, little carts, likewise half-submerged, into which to unload such fishing boats as return at a time when they cannot reach the piers.
But sand is the prevailing feature. Surely, round about Provincetown is where the Walrus and the Carpenter walked together. You remember the lines?