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- Anne Bradstreet and Her Time - 10/59 -


The father's letter is filled with an anguish of pity for the mother and the young wife, whose health, like that of the elder Mrs. Winthrop, had made the journey impossible for both.

"I am so overpressed with business, as I have no time for these or other mine own private occasions. I only write now that thou mayest know, that yet I live and am mindful of thee in all my affairs. The larger discourse of all things thou shalt receive from my brother Downing, which I must send by some of the last ships. We have met with many sad and discomfortable things as thou shalt hear after; and the Lord's hand hath been heavy upon myself in some very near to me. My son Henry! My son Henry! Ah, poor child! Yet it grieves me much more for my dear daughter. The Lord strengthen and comfort her heart to bear this cross patiently. I know thou wilt not be wanting to her in this distress."

Not one of the little colony was wanting in tender offices in these early days when a common suffering made them "very pitiful one to another," and as the absolutely essential business was disposed of they hastened to organize the church where free worship should make amends for all the long sorrow of its search.

A portion of the people from the Arbella had remained in Salem, but on Friday, July 3Oth, 1630, Winthrop, Dudley, Johnson and Wilson entered into a church covenant, which was signed two days after by Increase Nowell and four others--Sharpe, Bradstreet, Gager and Colborne.

It is most probable that Anne Bradstreet had been temporarily separated from her husband, as Johnson in his "Wonder-working Providence," writes, that after the arrival at Salem, "the lady Arrabella and some other godly women aboad at Salem, but their husbands continued at Charles Town, both for the settling the Civill Government and gathering another Church of Christ." The delay was a short one, for her name stands thirteenth on the list. Charlestown, however, held hardly more promise of quiet life than Salem. The water supply was, curiously enough, on a peninsula which later gave excellent water, only "a brackish spring in the sands by the water side ... which could not supply half the necessities of the multitude, at which time the death of so many was concluded to be much the more occasioned by this want of good water."

Heat was another evil to the constitutions which knew only the equable English temperature, and could not face either the intense sun, or the sudden changes of the most erratic climate the earth knows. In the search for running-water, the colonists scattered, moving from point to point, "the Governor, the Deputy-Governor and all the assistants except Mr. Nowell going across the river to Boston at the invitation of Mr. Blaxton, who had until then been its only white inhabitant."

Even the best supplied among them were but scantily provided with provisions. It was too late for planting, and the colony already established was too wasted and weakened by sickness to have cared for crops in the planting season. In the long voyage "there was miserable damage and spoil of provisions by sea, and divers came not so well provided as they would, upon a report, whilst they were in England, that now there was enough in New England." Even this small store was made smaller by the folly of several who exchanged food for beaver skins, and, the Council suddenly finding that famine was imminent "hired and despatched away Mr. William Pearce with his ship of about two hundred tons, for Ireland to buy more, and in the mean time went on with their work of settling."

The last month of the year had come before they could decide where the fortified town, made necessary by Indian hostilities, should be located. The Governor's house had been partly framed at Charlestown, but with the removal to Boston it was taken down, and finally Cambridge was settled upon as the most desirable point, and their first winter was spent there. Here for the first time it was possible for Anne Bradstreet to unpack their household belongings, and seek to create some semblance of the forsaken home. But even for the Dudleys, among the richest members of the party there was a privation which shows how sharply it must have fared with the poorer portion, and Dudley wrote, nine months after their arrival, that he "thought fit to commit to memory our present condition, and what hath befallen us since our arrival here; which I will do shortly, after my usual manner, and must do rudely, having yet no table, nor other room to write in than by the fireside upon my knee, in this sharp winter; to which my family must have leave to resort, though they break good manners, and make me many times forget what I would say, and say what I would not."

No word of Mistress Dudley's remains to tell the shifts and strivings for comfort in that miserable winter which, mild as it was, had a keenness they were ill prepared to face. Petty miseries and deprivations, the least endurable of all forms of suffering, surrounded them like a cloud of stinging insects, whose attacks, however intolerable at the moment, are forgotten with the passing, and either for this reason, or from deliberate purpose, there is not a line of reference to them in any of Anne Bradstreet's writings. Scarcity of food was the sorest trouble. The Charlestown records show that "people were necessitated to live upon clams and muscles and ground nuts and acorns, and these got with much difficulty in the winter-time. People were very much tried and discouraged, especially when they heard that the Governor himself had the last batch of bread in the oven."

All fared alike so far as possible, the richer and more provident distributing to the poor, and all watching eagerly for the ship sent back in July in anticipation of precisely such a crisis. Six months had passed, when, on the fifth of February, 1631, Mather records that as Winthrop stood at his door giving "the last handful of meal in the barrel unto a poor man distressed by the wolf at the door, at that instant, they spied a ship arrived at the harbor's mouth with provisions for them all." The Fast day just appointed became one of rejoicing, the first formal proclamation for Thanksgiving Day being issued, "by order of the Governour and Council, directed to all the plantations, and though the stores held little reminder of holiday time in Old England, grateful hearts did not stop to weigh differences. In any case the worst was past and early spring brought the hope of substantial comfort, for the town was 'laid out in squares, the streets intersecting each other at right-angles,' and houses were built as rapidly as their small force of carpenters could work. Bradstreet's house was at the corner of 'Brayntree' and Wood Streets, the spot now occupied by the familiar University Book- store of Messrs. Sever and Francis on Harvard Square, his plot of ground being 'aboute one rood,' and Dudley's on a lot of half an acre was but a little distance from them at the corner of the present Dunster and South Streets." Governor Winthrop's decision not to remain here, brought about some sharp correspondence between Dudley and himself, but an amicable settlement followed after a time, and though the frame of his house was removed to Boston, the town grew in spite of its loss, so swiftly that in 1633, Wood wrote of it:

"This is one of the neatest and best compacted Towns in New England, having many fair structures, with many handsome contrived streets. The inhabitants most of them are very rich and well stored with Cattell of all sorts."

Rich as they may have appeared, however, in comparison with many of the settlements about them, sickness and want were still unwelcome guests among them, so that Dudley wrote: "there is not a house where there is not one dead and in some houses many. The natural causes seem to be in the want of warm lodging and good diet, to which Englishmen are habituated at home, and in the sudden increase of heat which they endure that are landed here in summer, the salt meats at sea having prepared their bodies thereto; for those only these two last years died of fevers who landed in June and July; as those of Plymouth, who landed in winter, died of the scurvey, as did our poorer sort, whose houses and bedding kept them not sufficiently warm, nor their diet sufficiently in heart."

Thus far there were small inducements for further emigration. The tide poured in steadily, but only because worse evils were behind than semi-starvation in New England. The fairest and fullest warning was given by Dudley, whose letter holds every strait and struggle of the first year, and who wrote with the intention of counteracting the too rosy statements of Higginson and Graves: "If any come hither to plant for worldly ends that can live well at home, he commits an error, of which he will soon repent him; but if for spiritual, and that no particular obstacle hinder his removal, he may find here what may well content him, viz., materials to build, fuel to burn, ground to plant, seas and rivers to fish in, a pure air to breathe in, good water to drink till wine or beer can be made; which together with the cows, hogs and goats brought hither already, may suffice for food; for as for fowl and venison, they are dainties here as well as in England. For clothes and bedding, they must bring them with them, till time and industry produce them here. In a word, we yet enjoy little to be envied, but endure much to be pitied in the sickness and mortality of our people. And I do the more willingly use this open and plain dealing, lest other men should fall short of their expectations when they come hither, as we to our great prejudice did, by means of letters sent us from hence into England, wherein honest men, out of a desire to draw over others to them, wrote something hyperbolically of many things here. If any godly men, out of religious ends, will come over to help us in the good work we are about, I think they cannot dispose of themselves nor their estates more to God's glory and the furtherance of their own reckoning. But they must not be of the poorer sort yet, for divers years; for we have found by experience that they have hindered, not furthered the work. And for profane and debauched persons, their oversight in coming hither is wondered at, where they shall find nothing to content them."

This long quotation is given in full to show the fair temper of the man, who as time went on was slightly less in favor than in the beginning. No one questioned his devotion to the cause, or the energy with which he worked for it, but as he grew older he lost some portion of the old urbanity, exchanging it disastrously for traits which would seem to have been the result of increasing narrowness of religious faith rather than part of his real self. Savage writes of him: "a hardness in publick and ridgidity in private life, are too observable in his character, and even an eagerness for pecuniary gain, which might not have been expected in a soldier and a statesman." That the impression was general is evident from an epitaph written upon him by Governor Belcher, who may, however, have had some personal encounter with this "rigidity," which was applied to all without fear or favor.

"Here lies Thomas Dudley, that trusty old stud, A bargain's a bargain and must be made good."

Whatever his tendencies may have been they did not weigh heavily


Anne Bradstreet and Her Time - 10/59

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