Ruth of Boston: A Story of the Massachusetts Bay Colony
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When this vast body of warlike men have marched into the vacant space, they are drawn up in line, there is another flourish of trumpets, together with the rolling of drums, and Master Cotton comes out from the tent which has been set up for the use of the Governor and his assistants, to offer a prayer.
On this day, moved by the sight of the great throng, Master Cotton prayed long and fervently, whereat some of the younger soldiers, having not the fear of God in their hearts, pulled long faces one to another, or shifted about uneasily on their feet, as if weary with long standing, and I trembled lest the Governor, seeing such levity, might rebuke them openly, which would be a great disgrace at such a time.
When Master Cotton was done with praying, the soldiers began to march here and there in many ways, until one's eyes were confused with watching them, and then came the volleys, as the men shot straight over the heads of the people; but father says no one need fear such warlike work, for there were no bullets in the guns.
Of course I understood that he must needs know whether this be true or not, else he would not have spoken it; and yet I could not but shudder when so many guns were fired at one time, while the smoke of powder in the air was most painful to the eyes.
After the soldiers had marched back and forth in the most ferocious manner possible until noon, they were allowed a time for rest, and then it was that those who had set up tents, entertained their friends at table with stores upon stores of dainties of every kind.
SHOOTING FOR A PRIZE
I have heard that Sir Harry Vane declared our soldiers presented a very fine front, whatever that may be, and he is not backward about saying that even the King himself has no more warlike appearing men in his army. All of which is surely true, for Sir Harry, being the son of a Privy Councilor, must have seen His Majesty's troops many a time.
After all the people had feasted, each in his own fashion, and the soldiers had been refreshed at the expense of the town, the marching was begun again, to be continued in a manner like to make one's head swim, until the Governor gave the signal that the shooting at a target might commence, when it was that the guns were loaded with real bullets.
On this day it was Sir Harry who gave the prize to be shot for, which was a doublet of velvet trimmed with lace, the value of which, so father declares, is not less than five times as great as any prize that has ever been offered on Training Day in Boston.
Susan and I were eager to know who won it; but before the matter was settled, my mother insisted it was time for us to go home, because of the behavior of some of the soldiers' being none of the best after they have done with the training.
However, we saw the doublet, and marked well the pattern of the lace, therefore if the winner wears it on the street, there will be no question as to our knowing it again.
The training was a most enjoyable spectacle, even though Susan and I were so frightened at times that it seemed as if our hearts were really in our mouths, and when we followed mother home on that afternoon, it was with the belief that our town of Boston, although not as old as Jamestown, Plymouth or Salem, had grown, both in numbers and fashion, far beyond any other settlement in this New World.
My mother believes it would be better if Training Day were done away with entirely, for she says we spend far too much time in the pursuit of frivolity, when we have no less than one lecture day in each week.It must be that she is in the right, for father has much the same opinion, and declares a stop must be put to so many lectures, which but gives a convenient excuse for indolent people, who should be at work on the plantations or in the houses, to go gadding about the town.
You must know that Thursday is the day when we listen to lectures by some of the preachers, or those among the magistrates who have the gift of speech, and this has been the custom since the first year we came here.
In the early days the lecture hour was in the forenoon; but at the end of three years, after Boston was become a town, those in authority over us passed a law that the lecture should not begin until one of the clock in the afternoon, and this was done in order that the people might not have an excuse to spend the entire day in idleness.
I cannot see, however, that any more work is done on Thursdays now than before the law was made, for as soon as breakfast is finished and the houses have been set in order, nearly every one walks on the streets, this pleasure being forbidden on Sabbath days, until it is time to gather at the church.
Our magistrates also tried to make the rule that no minister, or other person, should lecture more often than once in every two weeks, in order that we might have less of such diversion; but no heed is given to this law, for I myself have heard Master Cotton speak to the people no less than twice on every Thursday, and this in addition to lectures by other preachers.
If father were one of the magistrates, mother would do all she might to have the hour of the meetings set back to the morning, for she believes it is wrong to make of the forenoon a time for the punishing of evil-doers, as has come to be the custom.
PUNISHMENT FOR EVIL-DOERS
Now, when we go out to mingle with the people, it is impossible not to stop here or there when one of the constables is whipping an idle fellow through the streets, laying the lashes on his bare back with such force that the blood follows nearly every blow.
Then again, it is not often that one can pass the post at the corner of Prison Lane, without seeing some wrong-doer chained there as punishment for striking one of the people, and the cage wherein are kept men and women who have offended against the laws is seldom empty on a Thursday.
The prison itself is a dreary looking place, although it is not quite so very different from the church, but somehow its barred windows make the shivers run up and down my back and I always hurry past it with as much speed as possible.
Most likely there are as many bad people in the other towns of this New World, as in Boston; but it surely seems to Susan and me as if we had among us all those in America who delight in breaking the laws.
Of all the punishments which are inflicted here, I think the most cruel is that of sentencing a man to wear, so long as he may live, a halter around his neck so that every one may see it, for thus is the wrong-doer forced to shame himself during every hour of the day, and especially on Thursdays, when he must stand not less than two hours during the forenoon on the steps of the church.
It is on lecture day that one may see the latest notices put up on the church, together with the announcements of those who intend to be married, and Susan and I have great pleasure in reading these, for then are we aware of anything important about to take place.
Of course there are times when we are not so well pleased at being forced to sit still five or six long hours, listening to this preacher or that who feels a call to speak during the lecture time; but if we failed to do so, we should not be allowed to go on the street wheresoever we please, therefore I hope that mother will not be able to have the lecture hour changed to the morning.
THE MURDER OF JOHN OLDHAM
It was six years after we had come to live in Boston, that a most terrible crime was committed by the savages of the Narragansett tribe, for then they killed Captain John Oldham, and three other men, who were sailing on Long Island Sound. The vessel was taken by the Indians, after they had murdered all on board, and we in Boston were moved to great fear, believing the brown men around us were making ready to murder the white people.
Sir Harry Vane, the Governor, sent five of our chief men to the head savage of the Narragansett tribe, to inquire into the matter, and these messengers were told that none save the Indians living on Block Island had any hand in the matter.
Then it was that Governor Vane commanded Master Endicott of Salem, to take a large number of fighting men in three vessels, and punish the murderers as they deserved.
Master Endicott did according to the command; but when he was come to Block Island, the brown people had run away; therefore all he could do was to burn the huts, destroy the canoes, and shoot the dogs that were prowling around the deserted village.
This Master Endicott did not believe was punishment enough for what had been done, therefore he crossed over to the mainland where the Indians who call themselves Pequots live, and there he killed more than twenty of these people, besides seizing their corn. He also burned, or destroyed in some other way, all the goods belonging to the savages that he could find, and then came back to Boston, where the people of the town turned out to give him a noble welcome.
We had a thanksgiving day because of what had been done, and believed, or, at least, Susan and I did, that we need fear nothing more from the savages, for surely the brown people would not dare molest any white man again after being so severely punished.
SAVAGES ON THE WAR-PATH
It was not many days, however, before word was brought to Boston that the Pequot Indians were trying to coax the Narragansett savages to join them in killing every Englishman that could be found in the land.
Father had said that this might be done, if the brown people all over the country should come together, and we who lived in Boston and Salem were in great fear.
The soldiers were called together from every village. The gates of the fort on the Neck were kept closed, with men stationed there night and day to see that no enemy came through, and the preachers prayed most fervently that our lives might be spared because of our doing our utmost to serve God as He would have us.
Then it was that the Lord heard our prayers, else had we all been killed, and it was brought about in a way such as, my mother said, heaped coals of fire upon our heads.
The same Master Roger Williams who had been driven out into the wilderness, because of holding a belief contrary to ours, and who had lived with the Narragansett Indians since then, so pleaded with the savages of the tribe that they sent some of their chief people to Boston, with promises of friendliness.
Sir Harry Vane received the visitors with great state. All our soldiers were paraded through the streets, and in front of the Governor's house. The drummers marched to and fro making music, and the people came out on the streets that the Indians might believe we had not been afraid.
It was much like Training Day, save that only the magistrates of the town were allowed to know what was being done in the Governor's house after the savages had gone into the building, decked out in a brave array of feathers, and in clothing embroidered with fanciful colored quills of porcupines, and with their faces painted in a most hideous fashion.
We were told, after the Indians had marched out of the town, near to sunset, one behind the other in a manner as solemn as if they were coming from church, that the tribe of Narragansett savages had promised to aid us white people against the brown men of the Pequot tribe, in every way possible, and greatly did we rejoice that night, for it seemed as if all trouble had passed.
The Englishmen who had settled in the colony known as Connecticut, soon found that the Pequot savages could do much of wickedness, even though the Narragansetts had said they would be friends with the white people, for within a very short time after Master Roger Williams had sent the Indians to us in peace, did a season of murder begin.
Because of my being a girl, who is not supposed to understand affairs of state, and who could only cower in fear and trembling by the side of her mother when word was brought of the dreadful deeds done by the Pequot savages, I shall not set down anything whatsoever concerning that terrible winter, when we heard nothing save stories of blood and direst suffering.
No one could say whether, despite all Master Roger Williams might be able to do, the savages nearabout would not fall upon us of Boston as they had upon the white people of Connecticut, and, therefore, as soon as the shadows of evening had begun to gather, we girls sought the protection of our mothers.
Seated before the roaring fires, not daring to move about the house even after the doors and shutters were securely barred, we started in alarm at every sound, hearing in the roaring of the wind, or the crackling of the fire, some token that the brown people were skulking around striving to get inside that they might shed our blood.
It was far worse than the time of the famine, for then we knew just what might come to us, and if death entered the house, we would meet it in the arms of those we loved; but from all which had been told by those affrighted people who came to us from Connecticut, we realized that horrors such as could not even be imagined, would be upon us with the coming of those savages who had sworn to make an end of the white settlers in the New World.
It is not well even that I set down in words the distress of mind which was ours during that long dreadful winter; but this I may say in all truth, as the parting word, that nowhere in the Massachusetts Bay Colony could have been found a more distressed or unhappy girl, than this same Ruth of Boston.
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