Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

a

colds, for our former discoveries in frost and storms, and the wading at Cape Cod, had brought much weakness amongst us, which increased so every day more and more, and after was the cause of many of their deaths.” That year, that first winter, they had to dig seven times as many graves for the dead, as they were building houses for the living. : And they levelled and sowed their graves, Mr. Holmes in his Annals tells us, for the purpose of concealment, lest the Indians, counting the number of the dead, should know the weakness of the living. Those early graves, therefore, are lost from present knowledge, though the place of the first burials is well known, and is pointed out to the visitor, a little above Forefathers' Rock, in Plymouth.

We look back to the days of that dying, yet immortal colony, as the one heroic age in our country's history; and sublimely such it was; but to them, the actors, beneath what a thick impenetrable veil, sometimes of real misery in penury and starvation, and sometimes of darkness even to the end of life, was the glory and the sunlight hidden ! And yet it was an age,—those few early years of the conflict and the triumph,-every hour of it, full of glorious germs and prophecies. It was truly an age and race to which, in the language of Mr. Choate, “the arts may go back, and find real historical forms and groups, wearing the port and grace, and going on the errands of demigods. An age far off, on whose moral landscape the poet's eye may light, and reproduce a grandeur and beauty, stately and eternal, transcending that of ocean in storm or at peace, or of mountains staying as with a charm the Evening Star in his deep course; or the twilight of a summer's day, or voice of solemn birds ; an age from whose personages and whose actions the Orator may bring away an incident or a thought that shall kindle a fire in ten thousand hearts as on altars to their country's glory ; to which the discouraged teachers of patriotism and morality to cor

rupted and expiring states may resort, for examples how to live and how to die ! ”

By the good providence of God that winter was a mild one; otherwise none of the Pilgrims could have survived it. Their journal speaks of frequent rains, and sometimes of sleet and snow, but it is evident that they experienced no severe snow storm, nor any very great degree of cold of long duration. Yet some of their first explorings were made in such rainy and freezing weather united, that their clothes became “like coats of mail.” The hectic flush of consumption was in the face of many that winter as they bent over their work, and the incurable death-cough sounded amidst their painful but persevering efforts for the preparation of dwellings, which before they were done should be exchanged for the grave. It was a winter of sad and increasing mortality, when every Pilgrim whom God took was so ill spared, and all were so dear; six deaths in December, eight in January, seventeen in February, thirteen in March, making in all forty-four, of whom twenty-one had subscribed the great compact on board the May Flower. Forty-four died in those four months out of the one hundred whom God had brought in that little vessel ; brought the seed to sow for glory. But how inexplicable are his ways! How different from man's ways! We know indeed that except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die it abideth alone; we know that that death to self, which God was carrying on towards perfection in these Pilgrims, is ever the first step to life. But that God should take so much of this precious seed, thus preparing for the multiplication and power of the great spiritual harvest, and put it literally into the ground, not to be raised again until the final resurrection; that he should bury out of human sight and reach near one half of the little handful of his servants, carrying them across the stormy ocean, and into the midst of the first painful toils and discouragements of the Colony, just to bury them; this is inscrutable to mortal

judgment. Yet, though lost from sight, they were not lost in influence. Those bodies of the dear ones, laid in graves, that had to be smoothed over and made like common soil, lest the Indians should detect the place where God's seedcorn was lying, made still a great part of the moral power of the little Colony.

“ The dead were buried on the bank,” says Holmes in his American Annals, “at a little distance from the Rock where the Fathers landed; and lest the Indians should take advantage of the weak and wretched state of the English, the graves were levelled and sown for the purpose of concealment.” They would have known by the dead how few were the living ! But they could not have known how much dearer to the living was the home of the dead, nor what an element of courage and power it would have thrown into a conflict with the savages, to have fought for such graves. The spot where the first Governor Carver and his wife, with Rose Standish, were buried, became immeasurably more sacred for such a sacred deposit. By the month of November as many as fifty had died and were buried there, leaving the whole surviving band, before the reinforcement came in the Fortune, only fifty. Notwithstanding all that mortality, with the sad privations and hardships the survivors had to endure and encounter, not one Pilgrim went back to England in the May Flower. The death of Governor Carver, so beloved, so respected, so confided in, so faithful, self-denying, and laborious, was a most depressing blow to the little colony. It seemed as if God could have spared that, but he knew better than they what was for their good and his glory:

Mr. Choate has beautifully put into the lips of the venerated Brewster, in a version of those days of graves, the language of the Pilgrim souls. “This spot, he would say, this line of shore, yea, this whole land grows dearer daily, were it only for the precious dust which we have committed to its bosom. I would sleep here, when my own hour comes, rather than elsewhere, with those who have shared with us in our exceeding labors, and whose burdens are now unloosed for ever. I would be near them in the last day, and have a part in their resurrection.”

This spot of the first Pilgrim burials, so solemn, so sacred, is the first terrace or hill rising from the harbor, above the Rock of the Pilgrims' landing. The hill or terrace rose higher and more boldly at that time than it does now, but the Journal speaks of it as "a high land where there is a great deal of ground cleared, and hath been planted with corn three or four years ago ; and there is a very sweet brook under the hill-side, and many delicate springs of as good water as can be drunk.” A little above this first terrace where the earliest dead were laid, the Pilgrims set up their first habitations for the living ; the centre and beginning of the town of Plymouth. Higher still above this rose another hill, the present grave-stone mount, of which we have at first spoken, all sown thickly over with graves and covered with monuments, but which the Pilgrims at first selected for their fort, because of its commanding position. They speak of it "as a great hill on which we point to make a platform, and plant our ordnance, which will command all round about. From thence we may see into the bay, and far into the sea; and we may see thence Cape Cod.”

This place, called at first Fort Hill, afterwards changed its name to that of the Burying Hill, for it began to be used as the place of burial soon after the first year of the Pilgrims' settlement. In building the fort, they so constructed it as to make it serve also for the house of public worship, where they could calmly praise God, without fear of any sudden incursion from the savages. The foundations of the fort are still distinctly marked, but the last mention of it in the town records is in 1679, at the close of King Philip's war, when the defences were no longer needed. On this hill are the graves of several of the May

[ocr errors]

Flower Pilgrims, Gov. Bradford's among others, and that of John Howland and his wife Elizabeth. The grave of

. Thomas Clarke, the mate of the May Flower, is here. This is the place also of the grave of the last ruling elder of the first church in Plymouth, Mr. Thomas Faunce. He died not till the year 1745, in the 99th year of his age, and of course was long the living repository of the authentic unwritten traditions concerning the first generation of the Pilgrims. The great age to which those lived, who survived the dreadful trials of the first few years, is remarkable. John Alden, who came in the May Flower, died at the age of 89, in 1687, and one of his direct descendants, John Alden of Middleborough, died at the age of 102, in the year 1821. The wife of Governor Bradford died at the age of 80. Elder Brewster, John Howland and his wife Elizabeth, Elder Cushman and his wife Mary, were all from 80 to 90 years of age when they died. Thomas Clarke, the supposed mate of the May Flower, was 98. The grave stones over these Pilgrims, if you find them on Burying Hill, are not so old as their deaths; they are said to have been brought over from England, and in some cases were not put up till long after the graves of the whole generation were made.

From the midst of these graves you have, as we have seen, a great commanding view over the country and the

It is a place for deep meditation, not merely on the character and toils of those gone to their rest, but upon the wonderful Providence of God in the history and government of our race, in the progress of the great plan of redemption. Looking back to those days of toil and death in the planting of the colony, and abroad now also upon the face of the earth, it seems as if the whole history of man. kind passed through those straits, as through a gate, or lock, into a new expansion. The influence of those days is even now at work in Europe, overturning thrones, and preparing for the great reign of righteousness and freedom

sea.

« VorigeDoorgaan »