Here to return to
NOWADAYS embarking from old England for the new seems no great matter. But in that spring of 1630 when Winthrop's little fleet sailed from Cowes travelling was quite a different proposition. For it was certain that the voyage would be very long and usually it was dangerous also. On this particular occasion it took seventy-six days and was attended by all those "perils of the deep" against which some of us still have the good sense to pray. Winthrop's vessel was called the Arbella in compliment to Lady Arbella Johnson, who was one of its passengers, and among the other ships which brought over this Company of some eight hundred souls was the Mayflower, consecrated in every New England heart as the carrier, a decade earlier, of the Pilgrims of Plymouth. During the voyage Governor Winthrop wrote the simple beginnings of what is known as his "History of New England," a journal from which we glean the most that we know of the early days of the colonists. Being rather impatient, however, just as its compiler probably was, actually to land in the New World we will quote here only that paragraph which describes the end of the voyage: "Saturday 12. About four in the morning we were near our port. We shot off two pieces of ordnance and sent our skiff to Mr. Peirce his ship.... Afterwards Mr. Peirce came aboard us, and returned to fetch Mr. Endecott, who came to us about two of the clock and with him Mr. Skelton and Captain Levett. We that were of the assistants and some other gentlemen and some of the women and our captain returned with them to Nahumkeck, where we supped with a good venison pasty and good beer, and at night we returned to 'our ship but some of the women stayed behind. In the mean time most of our people went on shore upon the land of Cape Ann, which lay very near us and gathered store of fine strawberries."
The initial landing, this makes clear, was not at Boston at all but at Salem where Endicott's band had already settled. Things were not very rosy in this colony just then, however, as we see from the following passage in Dudley's letter to the Countess of Lincoln: "We found the colony in a sad and unexpected condition, about eighty of them being dead the winter before, and many of those alive weak and sick; all the corn and bread amongst them all hardly sufficient to feed them for a fortnight, insomuch that the remainder of a hundred and eighty servants we had the two years before sent over, coming to us for victuals to sustain them, we found ourselves wholly unable to feed them by reason that the provisions shipped for them were taken out of the ship they were put in; and they who were trusted to ship them in another failed us and left them behind whereupon necessity forced us, to our extreme loss, to give them all liberty, who had cost us about £16 or £20 a person furnishing and sending over." So, far from being able to take in more people, Salem had to relinquish almost two hundred of those already there! Small wonder that Dudley comments dryly, "Salem, where we landed, pleased us not."
Accordingly, Winthrop and his friends moved farther south along the coast until they came to the spot now dear to our country as the town which shelters Bunker Hill Monument. Here they established their settlement. And here, on the thirtieth of July, 1630, Winthrop, Dudley, Johnson and the pastor John Wilson adopted and signed a simple church covenant which was the foundation of the independent churches of New England. Before leaving England this band of colonists had made it clear that they were not "Separatists from the Church of England" though they admitted that they could but separate themselves from the corruptions in it in order that they might practise the positive part of Church reformation and propagate the Gospel in America. We must remember this in order to justify the stand taken by Winthrop, a little later, in dealing with Roger Williams. But it is necessary also to bear clearly in mind the fact of this established church at Charlestown. To set up a state in which there should be no established church was as far from the minds of these men as to set up a state in which there should be no established government. None the less they esteemed it their honour, as Winthrop expressly said, "to call the church of England our dear mother."
By August the little company was apparently settled for good in Charlestown, for the first Court of Assistants had now been held and recommendations as to "how the minister should be maintained" adopted. As a further step towards permanency Governor Winthrop, as we are told in the town-records, "ordered his house to be cut and framed there."
Then sickness came upon them, the Lady Arbella and her husband being among the first to pass away in the land from which they had hoped so much. Of the lady Cotton Mather has said quaintly that "she took New England in her way to Heaven." She was only one of the many who died. Johnson in his "Wonder Working Providence" records that "in almost every family lamentation, mourning and woe were heard, and no fresh food to be had to cherish them. It would assuredly have moved the most lockt up affections to tears, had they past from one hut to another, and beheld the piteous case these people were in; and that which added to their present distress was the want of fresh water. For, although the place did afford plenty, yet for present they could find but one spring, and that not to be come at, but when the tide was down."
Enter, thereupon, Mr. William Blackstone, as the saviour of the enterprise! Blackstone was one of those who had come over with Sir Robert Gorges and had remained in spite of untoward conditions. On Shawmut (afterwards Boston) he possessed large holdings by virtue of a title Winthrop and his men later acquired by purchase. Now, therefore, "he came and acquainted the Governor of an excellent Spring there; withal inviting him and soliciting him thither. Whereupon after the death. of Air. Johnson and divers others, the Governor, with Mr. Wilson, and the greatest part of the church removed thither; whither also the frame of the Governor's house, in preparation at this town, was also (to the discontent of some) carried; where people began to build there houses against winter; and this place was called Boston." Thus does the record incorporated in Frothingham's "History of Charlestown" tell the tale of Boston's actual birth. There are those who maintain that the story of our city's growth could very effectively be told by a series of historical tableaux; for the initial number on the program they name with excellent judgment the picture of Blackstone, the gentle recluse, exhibiting to John Winthrop the "excellent spring" of his own domain.
This act of Blackstone's was the more praiseworthy because he was a "solitary" by nature and frankly disliked men even remotely of Puritan stripe. He was at this time about thirty-five and had dwelt in his lonely but on the west slope of what is now Beacon Hill, not far from Beacon and Spruce streets, for about five years, spending his quiet days in trade with the savages and in the cultivation of his garden. Just why he had left England is not more clear than just why he later left Boston. But when he died in Rhode Island (May 26, 1675) he left behind him "10 paper books" in which it is believed he may have told the story of his mysterious life. These were unfortunately destroyed by the Indians when they burned his house, however, and all that we further know of him is that he returned to Boston, after he had ceased to be an inhabitant of the place, and married the widow of John Stephenson, who lived on Milk street, on the site of the building in which Franklin was born.
In regard to a name for the
new settlement there seems to have been absolute unanimity. By common
it was called after the old-world city, St. Botolph's town, or
Lincolnshire, England, from which the Lady Arbella Johnson and her
come and in whose noble parish church John Cotton was still preaching.
order of the Court of Assistants, — Governor Winthrop
presiding, — "That Trimontaine shall be called Boston" was passed on the 17th of September,
1630, thus giving the death blow to Carlyle's picturesque statement in
on Cromwell concerning Cotton's share in the matter: " Rev. John Cotton
a man still held in some remembrance among our New England
friends. He had
been minister of Boston in Lincolnshire; carried the name across the
him; fixed it upon a new small home he found there, which Las become a
one since, — the big busy capital of Massachusetts, —
Boston so called. John
Cotton, his mark, very curiously stamped on the face of this planet;
continue for some time." This is superb writing, of course, but
lame history. Cotton did not come to the new world until nearly four
after this settlement was named Boston.
St. Boltoph's Church, Boston, England
But, since it is a fact that the St. Botolph's town, in which Cotton was still living, exercised a profound influence upon that to which he presently came let us turn aside and make a little pilgrimage there. Hawthorne did this during one of his trips abroad and he printed the result in the Atlantic Monthly of January. 1862. We cannot do better, I think, than to follow as he leads: "In mid-afternoon we be-held the tall tower of Saint Botolph's Church (three hundred feet high, the same elevation as the tallest tower of Lincoln Cathedral) looming in the distance. At about half-past four we reached Boston (which name has been shortened, in the course of ages, by the quick and slovenly English pronunciation, from Botolph's town) and were taken by a cab to the Peacock, in the market-place. It was the best hotel in town, though a poor one enough; and we were shown into a small stifled parlor, dingy, musty, and scented with stale tobacco smoke, — tobacco smoke two days old, for the waiter assured us that the room had not more recently been fumigated. An exceedingly grim waiter he was, too, apparently a genuine descendant of the old Puritans of this English Boston.
"In my first ramble
about the town, chance led me to the riverside, at that quarter where
is situated.... Down the river I saw a brig, approaching rapidly under
The whole scene made an odd impression of bustle and sluggishness and
and a remnant of wholesome life; and I could not but contrast it with
mighty and populous activity of our own Boston, which was once the
infant of this old English town; — the latter, perhaps, almost
since that day, as if the birth of such an offspring had taken away its
principle of growth. I thought of Long Wharf and Faneuil Hall, and
street and the Great Elm and the State House, and exulted lustily,
— but yet
began to feel at home in this good old town, for its very name's sake,
never had before felt in England."
The next day Hawthorne visited "a vacant spot of ground where old John Cotton's vicarage had stood till a very short time since. According to our friend's description it was a humble habitation, of the cottage order, built of brick, with a thatched roof. In the right-hand aisle of the church there is an ancient chapel, which at the time of our visit was in process of restoration, and was to be dedicated to Cotton, whom these English people consider as the founder of our American Boston.... The interior of St. Botolph's is very fine and satisfactory, as stately almost as a cathedral, and has been repaired — as far as repairs were necessary — in a chaste and noble style.... When we came away the tower of St. Botolph's looked benignantly down; and I fancied that it was bidding me farewell, as it did Mr. Cotton, two or three hundred years ago, and telling me to describe its venerable height and the town beneath it, to the people of the American city, who are partly akin, if not to the living inhabitants of old Boston, yet to some of the dust that lies in its churchyard."
It is of this tower with its beacon and its bells that we hear in Jean Ingelow's touching poem, "High Tide On the Coast of Lincolnshire." St. Botolph, the pious Saxon monk of the seventh century, who is believed to have founded the town, received his name, indeed, — Bot-holp, i.e. Boat-help, — from his service to sailors; and the high tower was originally designed to be a guide to those out at sea, six miles down the river. An account of the town written in 1541 tells the whole story in one terse paragraph: "Botolphstowne standeth on ye river of Lindis. The steeple of the church 'being quadrata Turris' and a lanthorn on it, is both very high & faire and a mark bothe by sea and land for all ye quarters thereaboute."
Perhaps it was remembrance of what the beacon in St. Botolph's tower had meant to the people of Lincolnshire which caused the Court of Assistants, assembled in new Boston, to pass the following resolution March 4, 1634: "It is ordered that there shalbe forth with a beacon sett on the Centry hill at Boston to give notice to the Country of any danger, and that there shalbe a ward of one pson kept there from the first of April to the last of September; and that upon the discovery of any danger the beacon shalbe fired, an allarum given, as also messengers presently sent by that town where the danger is discov'red to all other townes within this jurisdiction."
Hawthorne hints, too, that it is to the influence of the old St. Botolph's town that the winding streets of our modern city may be attributed. "Its crooked streets and narrow lanes reminded me much of Hanover street, Ann street, and other portions of our American Boston. It is not unreasonable to suppose that the local habits and recollections of the first settlers may have had some influence on the physical character of the streets and houses in the New England metropolis; at any rate here is a similar intricacy of bewildering lanes and a number of old peaked and projecting-storied dwellings, such as I used to see there in my boyish days. It is singular what a home feeling and sense of kindred I derived from this hereditary connection and fancied physiognomical resemblance between the old town and its well-grown daughter."
Somewhat less romantic but still appealing is the explanation of our crooked streets volunteered by Bynner. "The first houses [of the colonial period] were necessarily of the rudest description and they seem to have been scattered hither or thither according to individual need or fancy. The early streets, too, obedient to the same law of convenience, naturally followed the curves of the hills, winding around their bases by the shortest routes and crossing their slopes at the easiest angles. To the pioneer upon the western prairie it is comparatively easy to lay out his prospective city in squares and streets of unvarying size and shape, and oftentimes be it said, of wearying sameness; to the colonist of 1630 upon this rugged promontory of New England it was a different matter. Without the power of leisure to surmount the natural obstacles of his new home, he was contented to adapt himself to them.
"Thus the narrow winding streets, with their curious twists and turns, the crooked alleys and short-cuts by which he drove his cows to pasture up among the blueberry bushes of Beacon Hill, or carried his grist to the windmill over upon Copp's steeps, or went to draw his water at the spring-gate, or took his sober Sunday way to the first rude little church, — these paths and highways, worn by his feet and established for His convenience, remain after two centuries and a half substantially unchanged, endeared to his posterity by priceless associations. And so the town, growing at first after no plan and with no thought of proportion, but as directed and shaped by the actual needs of the inhabitants, became a not unfitting exponent of their lives, — the rough outward garb, as it were, of their hardy young civilization."
Truth, however, demands the statement that our forefathers made brave efforts to compel a ship-shape city. In 1635 it was ordered: "That from this day there shall noe house at all be built in this towne neere unto any of the streetes or laynes therein but with the advise and consent of the overseers... for the more comely and commodious ordering of them." At a subsequent meeting in the same month John Gallop was summarily told to improve the alignment of the "payles at his yard's end." Very likely he fought off the order, however; and very likely dozens of others did the same, regulating their homes in the fashion attributed to those settlers of Marblehead who are said to have remarked, each to the other, "I'm a'goin' to set here; you can set where you're a mind to." Apparently just that had happened in the old St. Botolph's town; not improbably that was what also happened in the new.Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.