Deborah’s tired eyes, stinging red from the endless onslaught of salt spray, gazed westward from her awkward and uncomfortable perch, amongst her one remaining trunk and assorted small cloth bags that had been tossed carelessly within the small heavy wood-planked dinghy. The endless forests laid just beyond the beach with its canopy of thick green pierced by the scattered plumes of acrid blue and gray wood smoke. She darted back for a last quick glance to the once majestic but sea-worn and musty ship that slowly delivered her and her four sons to this land of promise her husband and father had, sight unseen, sown their hopes upon. Was she truly up to the task? From where, or from whom, shall she draw her strength from to protect her sons, the adventurous young men that they had so quickly become, now that her husband had passed, she wondered.
The silence was broken by seventeen year old Daniel’s pronouncement, as he pointed towards the figure standing in the dry sands of the beach growing larger and more familiar. It was Christopher, husband of Deborah’s younger sister, Theodate, who deboarded the "William & Francis" a few hours earlier.
Daniel’s older brothers, John and Steven, prepared to unload what remained of their family’s once appreciably large complement while he tended to his mother. Matthew, the youngest at 14, simply continued to fidget, reluctant to make the last final steps of the long journey. The elder Stephen, Deborah’s young-at-heart 71 year old father, tall and broad shouldered with long shocking white hair, sprung abruptly to his feet. He quickly adjusted his hat and straightened his long-coat, and lept into the knee-deep surf. His gait was that of a man half his age, determined and fluid, as he bound anxiously for the dry earth, eager to seek out at long last the full devastating detail of his meticulously laid plans and personal investment in the dream that was to be the founding of the Colony of Lygonia. Absent from his mind were any immediate concerns for his distressed daughter or four excited grandsons. He stopped only momentarily to speak with Christopher and then quickly disappeared into the distant woods.
Christopher offered an easy reassuring smile as Deborah approached with her wet dress hiked up above her ankles. He stepped towards her and relieved Daniel by grasping her elbow and escorting her to the security of the firm brown soil a few yards from the waters edge.
“We have secured temporary quarters,” he quietly announced, pointing towards a distant plume of smoke almost a half hours walk away.
A gathering of men, consisting mostly of whom had sailed together aboard the "William and Francis", convened at the small home of Goodwife Wing at the request of her brother Nathaniel and brother-in-law Christopher Hussey. They assembled to assess the misfortunes and growing injustices shared by the several families who had become bound together to an ageless dream of achieving the liberty to worship God. The arbitrary constraints forced upon them by John Wonthrop's stern fledgeling colonial government, however, had already begun denying them in short notice the freedom to act in accordance with their own good conscience.
Deborah sat stiffly alongside Theodate, who cradled her newborn son in her arms, on the rough-sawn bench nearest to the crude stone and mud mortared fireplace. Busying herself with needlework, she pretended to not listen to the small gathering of men that gathered at the table in the center of the crowded cabin.
She studied the eager and intense face of her oldest son, John, who was fully engaged in the conversation. 'He looks so much like his father,' she admired. She knew he wished to be a learned man of letters like him and his grandfather. Stephen and Daniel, still considered too young to be included in the discussion, each gleaned what they could from the huddled conversation as they hovered about the room in the shadows. What they obviously lacked in skill, she was convinced, they overcame with integrity, hard work and determination. As honest young men, they had taken to labor and were intent on learning a marketable trade.
Then, there was Matthew. Deborah worried most about him. Typically an animated boy, he had grown uncharacteristically quiet and sullen. She pressed Daniel a few days after noticing Matthew would slip away unseen mid-day after assisting her with the morning chores around the hastily constructed thatched roof home until dusk. Daniel quietly informed her that he would find him at the shoreline atop the rocks staring out over the ocean with tears tracking down his sun-burned face.
“You have witnessed it for yourself !” Nathaniel spoke, “Have you forgotten the fire of contempt that flared from the eyes of Welde when we appealed to quietly assemble during the long days of our journey?” referring to Thomas Welde while upon the ship. “It is ten-fold here in this great land and, I fear, growing more perverse!” he added.
Branded as Familists and Libertines by the colonial government of John Winthrop immediately upon arrival, quite probably under the advisement of Rev Thomas Welde, Rev Bachiler and his family of followers were shunned by those in presumed civil authority for their unconventional perspective regarding man's relationship with God. They believed in a forgiving and compassionate God of universal acceptance of an imperfect but malleable man, and because of such beliefs, afforded the same benefit towards others. But such a belief system however wasnt considered conducive towards the goals of an authoritarian Winthrop, nor his immediate predecessors, who desired a strong central government.
Daniel nodded. His sense of the thinly veiled disdain directed towards him when he solicited work from his neighbors had been affirmed. They would watch him intently as he labored, he recalled, skeptical, as though they sought to notice the mark of the beast be revealed should he falter from his guarded words or rehearsed movements.
“Were we not called by Him into this wild place?" rhetorically queried John Carmen, the fully impoverished but determined lone remaining hearty adventurer of "The Plough". "Should we not then forbear the hardship as testimony?” The room grew silent of its subdued, private conversations.
The missionary team aboard "The Plough" sent by the "Company of Husbandmen" in advance of the families traveling across the Atlantic on the "William and Francis" floundered, underfunded and leaderless, once their vessel suffered significant damage as it thrashed about its moorings along the Maine Coast during a seasonal storm. They quickly abandoned their mission and sought relative refuge in the more established Massachusetts Colony where they dispersed. Adding insult to injury, Rev Bachiler was forced to face the reality that his personal financial investment of his life savings in the "Company " and his intention of becoming the Pastor of the new colony of Lygonia in modern day Maine, as they had hoped to establish, was founded upon a fraud. Sir Ferninand Gorges' illegitimately claimed the right to issue official Royal Charters and Grants on behalf of the King. He had no such right or authority. Rev Bachiler therefore found himself broke and without a mission, so he immediately applied for and was granted by the small synod of seven churches the post of Pastor at the rustic and rudimentary church in Saugus where he began presiding just one week following the family's arrival.
After a prolonged pause, Edward Dillingham, a reserved and thoughtful man, cleared his throat in preparation to speak. Stephen noticed his mother looking discreetly in the direction of her devoted friend and trustworthy married confidante. He smiled to himself gratefully.
"By what manner of travesty is this Oath of Fidelity that I shall swear by my God an obedience to the Government?" he fervently questioned. The Oath of Fidelity would entitle them to the right to file legal suits, conduct basic business transactions and voice their concerns of community issues, but it also obligated them to many political, legal and administrative responsibilities which positioned these candidates to become potentially required to fulfill unreasonable demands that stand in direct opposition to their perception and fulfillment of the Will of God.
"Ahem! And I quote," he added, as he pulled from his pocket a parchment from the small, primitive Saugus church Rev Bachiler provided him,
"that 'I, Edward Dillingham, being by God’s Providence an inhabitant and Freeman within the jurisdiction of this commonwealth, do fully acknowledge myself to be SUBJECT TO THE GOVERNMENT thereof; and therefore do here swear by the great and dreadful name of the ever living God, that I will be true and faithful to the same, and will accordingly yield assistance and support thereunto, with my person and estate, as IN EQUITY I AM BOUND; and will also truly endeavor to maintain and preserve all the liberties and privileges thereof, SUBMITTING MYSELF to the wholesome Lawes and orders made and established by the same, and further, that I will not plot or practice any evil against it, or consent to any that shall so do, but will truely discover and reveal the same to lawful authority now here established for the speedy preventing thereof. Moreover I do solemnly BIND MYSELF in the sight of God, that when I shall be called to give my voice touching any such matter of this State in which Freemen are to deal I will give my vote and suffrage as I shall judge in mine own conscience may best conduce and TEND TO THE PUBLIC WEAL OF THE BODY WITHOUT RESPECT TO PERSONS or favor of any man. So help me God in the Lord Jesus Christ'."
When John Winthrop and Thomas Dudley were unfortunately engaged in a personal test of wills regarding the physical location of their new home upon their arrival in 1630 to “Trimountain” (modern-day Boston), and squandering precious time at great mortal expense to their weary companions needed to build before the arrival of winter, it had been quickly determined through their own strict personal interpretation of the Puritan Philosophy that the only way a man could enjoy basic civil rights was to first prove himself before a jury of “saintly men”, similar to the long established process of representation within local English jurisdictions. This jury typically consisted of members of the Court of Assistants, and ranking Pastors who would determine that he had in fact been called upon as one of “God’s Elect” and therefore deemed to be virtuous, moral and beyond reproach to become a leader among ordinary men.
The Court of Assistants administered to the affairs of the 'common' settlers and established a rule of law within the challenging early days of the founding of Massachusetts. But there were less than a dozen original investors and Charter signers who came to America with the political and legal "authority" eligible to be include within this court. So rules were therefore eventually implemented to slowly phase in and admit select segments of the general male population. “Mechanics”, surveyors, engineers and other skilled specialized tradesmen were encouraged to submit to the Oath of Fidelity and become “Freemen”. They would help aid a growing and diverse band of refugees who had found themselves pressed along the edges of a formidable wilderness in desperate squalor transform into a functional, prosperous and God-faring society.
These requirements were perceived by many, including those who had gathered in Deborah's home, as very subjective, if not too stringent, and deterred many potential candidates from being seduced into an obedience to the personal whims of a developing theocratic or oligarchic ruling class. Therefore, a second phase was implemented within a few short years in response to the demands of a growing population. This new “phase” included the “oath of allegiance” which was opened to any man who faithfully attended to Church and proved to his peers of being of good social standing and moral personal character.
While many of those who emigrated to America as Puritans simply sought religious and social refuge from England, history seems to tragically indicate that they were manipulated through their need for religious and civil guidance as they set out to bring into reality Winthrop’s grand vision of God’s “City upon the hill”. The Puritans intentionally established no channels independent from the church hierarchy through which the communities could freely communicate and express their individual concerns. Political control was successfully leveraged by manipulating the settlers with the fear of God. This was exercised through the influence of wealthy educated “ecclesiasts” and “divines” whose politically motivated religious propaganda castigated those who worshiped outside their particularly strict religious doctrine, but more specifically, justified the Colony’s harsh actions and maintained their oppressive influence over the already stressed and desperately dependent planters.
In the minds of many, little had changed but the geography.
"Have we foolishly risked our mortal lives to trade one tyrant for the throne of yet another, or is it through faith in His Grace we seek asylum in this wilderness, where one man can, and SHALL, draw his breath as freely as his brethren? Are we truly the better for dismissing the niceties England afforded us if we must endure their burdens in perpetuity?" Goodman Dillingham concluded in inquisitive fashion.
"Grant me, I do not fail to appreciate the gravitas," Daniel absently retorted, "however, is this land not as boundless as...." his voice trailed off under the disapproving glare of the elders.
"Granted," his uncle, John Sanborne, acknowledged, "however it is foolhardy to traipse into the wilderness where..." he paused, "...we may blindly stumble upon the vulgar camps of naked savages. I do not fancy us, with our sensitive women and hungering babes, as bold frontiersmen. Nor should you, young Daniel!" he warned.
© Copyright 2016 Dennis Wing. All rights reserved.
Book / Historical Fiction
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