The Puritans and the Great Migration

WHEN President Roosevelt dedicated the tower that commemorates at Provincetown the first anchorage of the Mayflower, he loosely spoke of the Pilgrims as Puritans and a multitude arose in the land to correct him. Yet some students of history contend that it is a distinction without a difference. It may be in theology, but not in a story of the birth of the American people.

There are simple ways to memorize the difference between the two streams of migration to Massachusetts. The Pilgrims landed at the finger tip of Cape Cod and moved up to Plymouth, whence they spread out along the South Shore of Massachusetts Bay. The Puritans, coming eight and 10 years afterward, steered for Cape Ann, the opposite headland of the bay, settled the North Shore and founded Boston.

The Pilgrims, few in number and humble in station, were the extreme left wing of the great revolution that is called the Protestant Reformation. They seceded from the Episcopal Church at the outset and started a Congregational Church, without a bishop or a ritual.

The Puritans, who were far larger in numbers and far better off socially, economically and culturally, flattered themselves that they could dominate and reshape the old church. When they were thwarted in that ambition by the coming to the throne of Charles I, a few of them sailed away to set up a Puritan commonwealth in New England. The great majority remained at home, where ultimately they took up arms against the King, beheaded him, and made England herself for awhile a Puritan commonwealth under Cromwell.

Charles had been King only three years when a little vanguard of those self-exiled Puritans crossed over to Massachusetts in 1628 and landed at Naumkeag, whither they were followed the next year by 400 more. In the quaint words of an old chronicle, John Endicott and the first party were met by "Roger Conant and three sober men," who had transferred themselves from Gloucester two years before. So soberly did they object to being crowded out by the later comers, they brought to terms the iron-tempered Endicott. It was in commemoration of that happy accord that Naumkeag was renamed Salem, a Scriptural synonym for peace.

The city of New York was planted at the mouth of the longest river on the coast, and Philadelphia on the banks of the second greatest river. Boston was built around a spring, which it has long overgrown and buried from sight.

When Gov Winthrop came to Massachusetts in 1630, with perhaps 1000 colonists, he pitched his camp in Charlestown. That settlement quickly became so unsanitary that the Governor abandoned it and moved the capital of the colony across the river. Among the inducements that led him to make this new choice was the little pool that bubbled up where Spring Lane now opens a way to the Boston Postoffice, and he erected his own house by the side of it.

Probably William Blackstone, hermit of Beacon Hill, when he wearied of the madding crowd that pressed upon his retreat, regretted having pointed out to the Governor that natural water supply. He had left England, he said, to be rid of the "lord bishops," and he did not care to be under the "lord brethren" of the Puritan hierarchy. The first settler of Boston packed up his books and betook himself to a new home in the wilderness, on the banks of the river that bears his name, where he dwelt the remaining 30 years of his life, exempt from the haunts of man.

Already Blackstone had sold to the town a tract of land for the pasturage of "cowes" and "goats." Since it was held in common by the townspeople, that little patch of earth became renowned as Boston Common.

Most of the other pioneer settlers on Boston Bay had cause to regret the swarming of the Puritans. Samuel Maverick of Chelsea and blacksmith Walford of Charlestown, neither being of the 'true' faith, were driven forth from their homes.

A Sir Christopher Gardiner, who had squatted on the Neponset, also was banished, because he had the companionship of "a comely young woman" to console him in his separation from one wife in London and another in Paris. The fair lady herself was not sent away with her knight, because women always have a scarcity value in a new settlement, and she became the homiest wife of an orthodox colonist.

Another brand plucked from the burning was one of Morton's merry men. He saw the light in the sparks of John Endicott's ax as it chopped down the ungodly Maypole at Merrymount. The conversion of this penitent was so convincing that he rose to be Maj Gen Gibbons of the Puritan militia.

Around about the new metropolis, which the Indians called Shawmut and the Puritans baptized Boston, in honor of their pastor's home town, outlying settlements almost simultaneously sprang up at Dorchester, Watertown, Roxbury, Medford and Lynn. Cold and hunger had made devastating raids on the Salem colony in the Winter before. The newly-arrived colonists at the head of the bay were assailed by the same banded foes, while many of them had yet nothing but canvas tents to protect them from the blasts of a New England December, January and February.

"Those that love their chimney corner," as Rev Francis Higginson said, were not of the stuff out of which the American colonies were made. That reverent pioneer boasted that "a sup of New England's air is better than a whole draught of Old English ale;" but many English lungs, his own included, were unequal to the breath of a New England Winter. Men, women and children, accustomed to England's milder climate and to the comforts of her middle-class homes, huddled and shivered, hungered and died in hovels hastily built of sticks and sod and in dugouts and in barrels all around Boston.

Yet only a few of the survivors of that onslaught ran up the white flag when Spring came in 1631. In the manual of the forces that planted the American colonies there seems to have been no such word as surrender.

James Morgan, Boston Daily Globe, Nov 1, 1927, p. 16