What Was Bred In the Bone

THE Pilgrims quickly were turned into frontiersmen under the stern instruction of their surroundings. In their second Summer at Plymouth, a sorry lot of men floated in from England. They were the first group of a colony that was being organized by Thomas Weston, a scalawag promoter in London, who had been the marplot of the Plymouth colony from the outset. Although the Pilgrims themselves were on the border line of famine, they opened their scant store of food to the hungering, unruly riffraff that had been dumped upon them.

After living off the colony several months, those newcomers set up a trading post at Wessagusett, between Plymouth and Boston, in what is now the town of Weymouth. Under the pressure of hunger, the poor wretches first robbed the Indians, then sold them their clothes and finally slaved for them to obtain food.

The Pilgrims had inspired the respect of the red men, who have a native sense of dignity and value dignity in others, and they feared that the Wessagusett crew would bring all white men into contempt. Already they had been alarmed by the news of an Indian uprising in Virginia, which the captain of a fishing vessel brought them. They had taken warning and hastily walled in Plymouth behind a long stockade, over which they kept an anxious eye upon the wilderness at their door.

While the nerves of the colony still were on edge, Massasoit fell ill, and some of the colonists visited him. In his gratitude for his recovery under their medicine and ministration, he whispered to them that Witaumet, sachem of the neighboring Massachusetts at the north, was trying to rally other tribes to a wholesale attack on the white invaders at Plymouth as well as at Wessagusett. The chief urged them to lose no time in killing the agitator before he infected the red men generally with his spirit of revolt.

No Indian ever had harmed a Pilgrim, and the Massachusetts had been reduced to a feeble band by the plague. But fear ruled the counsels of the colony, and Capt Standish was ordered to strike terror to the hears of the insurgents.

Taking with him only eight of his soldiers, instead of his full army of 12, and these leaving their muskets at home, Standish disguised his military expedition as a peace mission. When he invited the Indians to hold a parley with him in a log hut at Wessagusett, they walked into the trap. But he insisted that they told him they knew he had come to kill them; that they dared him to start killing, and brandished and whetted their knives before his face.

While he was being taunted by Witaumet on the smallness of his stature the little captain (probably he was no taller than Napolean) snatched the knife that hung from the neck of his taunter and drove it into him. At that signal all his eight men whipped out their hidden blades. Apparently they had caught the Indians wholly off their guard, as they slew seven of them without a loss on their side, and then returned home with the head of Witaumet to adorn their triumph.

When the tidings of that bloody day arrived in Leyden, Pastor Robinson was appalled by the conduct of his former parishioners. He wrote that he feared they were losing "that tenderness of the life of man (made after God's image) which is meet," and that their example might tempt others into a "ruffling course in the world."

The soul of the pastor was not troubled without cause. Like all the pioneers who were to blaze a path from Cape Cod to the Golden Gate, those gentle, rural English folk at Plymouth had pushed the frontier beyond the protection and restraint of their Government, and were quickly learning to take law and life into their own hands. They were breeding violence and lawlessness into the bone of the infant Nation.

James Morgan, Boston Daily Globe, Oct 27, 1927, p. 18