AMERICAN MEN OF ACTION
BURTON E. STEVENSON
AUTHOR OF "A GUIDE TO BIOGRAPHY—MEN OF MIND," "A SOLDIER OF VIRGINIA," ETC.; COMPILER OF "DAYS AND DEEDS—POETRY," "DAYS AND DEEDS—PROSE," ETC.
GARDEN CITY NEW YORK:
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
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COPYRIGHT, 1909, 1910, BY
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
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I.—A TALK ABOUT BIOGRAPHY
Summary to Chapter II
III.—WASHINGTON TO LINCOLN
Summary to Chapter III
IV—LINCOLN AND HIS SUCCESSORS
Summary to Chapter IV
Summary to Chapter V
Summary to Chapter VI
Summary to Chapter VII
Summary to Chapter VIII
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LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
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AMERICAN MEN OF ACTION
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A TALK ABOUT BIOGRAPHY
No doubt most of you think biography dull reading. You would much rather sit down with a good story. But have you ever thought what a story is? It is nothing but a bit of make-believe biography.
Let us see, in the first place, just what biography means. It is formed from two Greek words, "bios," meaning life, and "graphein," meaning to write: life-writing. In other words, a biography is the story of the life of some individual. Now what the novelist does is to write the biographies of the people of his story; not usually from the cradle to the grave, but for that crucial period of their careers which marked some great success or failure; and he tries to make them so life-like and natural that we will half-believe they are real people, and that the things he tells about really happened. Sometimes, to accomplish this, he even takes the place of one of his own characters, and tells the story in the first person, as Dickens does in "David Copperfield." That is called autobiography, which is merely a third Greek word, "autos," meaning self, added to the others. An automobile, for instance, is a self-moving vehicle. So autobiography is the biography of oneself. The great aim of the novelist is, by any means within his power, to make his tale seem true, and the truer it is—the truer to human nature and the facts of life—the greater is his triumph.
Now why is it that everyone likes to read these make-believe biographies? Because we are all interested in what other people are doing and thinking, and because a good story tells in an entertaining way about life-like people, into whom the story-teller has breathed something of his own personality. Then how does it come that so few of us care to read the biographies of real people, which ought to be all the more interesting because they are true instead of make-believe? Well, in the first place, because most of us have never tried to read biography in the right way, and so think it tiresome and uninteresting. Haven't you, more than once, made up your mind that you wouldn't like a thing, just from the look of it, without ever having tasted it? You know the old proverb, "One man's food is another man's poison." It isn't a true proverb—indeed, few proverbs are true—because we are all built alike, and no man's food will poison any other man; although the other man may think so, and may really show all the symptoms of poisoning, just because he has made up his mind to.
Most of you approach biography in that way. You look through the book, and you see it isn't divided up into dialogue, as a story is, and there are no illustrations, only pictures of crabbed-looking people, and so you decide that you are not going to like it, and consequently you don't like it, no matter how likeable it is.
It isn't wholly your fault that you have acquired this feeling. Strangely enough, most biographies give no such impression of reality as good fiction does. John Ridd, for instance, is more alive for most of us than Thomas Jefferson—the one is a flesh-and-blood personality, while the other is merely a name. This is because the average biographer apparently does not comprehend that his first duty is to make his subject seem alive, or lacks the art to do it; and so produces merely a lay-figure, draped with the clothing of the period. And usually he misses the point and fails miserably because he concerns himself with the mere doing of deeds, and not with that greatest of all things, the development of character.
All great biographies are written with insight and imagination, as well as with truth; that is, the biographer tries, in the first place, to find out not only what his subject did, but what he thought; he tries to realize him thoroughly, and then, reconstructing the scenes through which he moved, interprets him for us. He endeavors to give us the rounded impression of a human being—of a man who really walked and talked and loved and hated—so that we may feel that we knew him. But most biographies are seemingly written about statues on pedestals, and not good statues at that.
I am hoping to see the rise, some day, of a new school of biography, which will not hesitate to discard the inessential, which will disdain to glorify its subject, whose first duty it will be to strip away the falsehoods of tradition and to show us the real man, not hiding his imperfections and yet giving them no more prominence than they really bore in his life; which will realize that to the man nothing was of importance except the growth of his spirit, and that to us nothing else concerning him is of any moment; which will show him to us illumined, as it were, from within, and which will count any other sort of life-history as vain and worthless. What we need is biography by X-ray, and not by tallow candle.
Until that time comes, dear reader, you yourself must supply the X-ray of insight. If you can learn to do that, you will find history and biography the most interesting of studies. Biography is, of course, the basis of all history, since history is merely the record of man's failures and successes; and, read thus, it is a wonderful and inspiring thing, for the successes so overtop the failures, the good so out-weighs the bad. By the touchstone of imagination, even badly written biography may be colored and vitalized. Try it—try to see the man you are reading about as an actual human being; make him come out of the pages of the book and stand before you; give him a personality. Watch for his humors, his mistakes, his failings—be sure he had them, however exalted he may have been—they will help to make him human. The spectacle of Washington, riding forward in a towering rage at the battle of Monmouth, has done more to make him real for us than any other incident in his life. So the picture that Franklin gives of his landing at Philadelphia and walking up Market street in the early morning, a loaf of bread under either arm, brings him right home to us; though this simple, kindly, and humorous philosopher is one of the realest figures on the pages of history. We love Andrew Jackson for his irascible wrong-headedness, Farragut for his burst of wrath in Mobile harbor, Lincoln for his homely wisdom.
I have said that, read as the record of man's failures and successes, history is an inspiring thing. Perhaps of the history of no country is this so true as of that of ours. By far the larger part of our great men have started at the very bottom of the ladder, in poverty and obscurity, and have fought their way up round by round against all the forces of society. Nowhere else have inherited wealth and inherited position counted for so little as in America. Again, we have had no wars of greed or ambition, unless the war with Mexico could be so called. We have, at least, had no tyrants—instead, we have witnessed the spectacle, unique in history, of a great general winning his country's freedom, and then disbanding his army and retiring to his farm. "The Cincinnatus of the West," Byron called him; and John Richard Green adds, "No nobler figure ever stood in the forefront of a nation's life." He has emerged from the mists of tradition, from the sanctimonious wrappings in which the early biographers disguised him, has softened and broadened into the most human of men, and has won our love as well as our veneration.
George Washington was the founder. Beside his name, two others stand out, serene and dominant: Christopher Columbus, the discoverer; Abraham Lincoln, the preserver. And yet, neither Columbus, nor Washington, nor Lincoln was what we call a genius—a genius, that is, in the sense in which Shakespeare or Napoleon or Galileo was a genius. But they combined in singular degree those three characteristics without which no man may be truly great: sincerity and courage and singleness of purpose.
It is not without a certain awe that we contemplate these men—men like ourselves, let us always remember, but, in many ways, how different! Not different in that they were infallible or above temptation; not different in that they never made mistakes; but different in that they each of them possessed an inward vision of the true and the eternal, while most of us grope blindly amid the false and trivial. What that vision was, and with what high faith and complete devotion they followed it, we shall see in the story of their lives.
This is the basic difference between great men and little ones—the little ones are concerned solely with to-day; the great ones think only of the future. They have gained that largeness of vision and of understanding which perceives the pettiness of everyday affairs and which disregards them for greater things. They live in the world, indeed, but in a world modified and colored by the divine ferment within them. There are some who claim that America has never produced a genius of the first order, or, at most, but two; however that may be, she has produced, as has no other country, men with great hearts and seeing eyes and devoted souls who have spent themselves for their country and their race.
One hears, sometimes, a grumbler complaining of the defects of a republic; yet, certainly, in these United States, the republican form of government, established with no little fear and uncertainty by the Fathers, has, with all its defects, received triumphant vindication. Nowhere more triumphant than in the men it has produced, the story of whose lives is the story of its history.
There are two kinds of greatness—greatness of deed and greatness of thought. The first kind is shown in the lives of such men as Columbus and Washington and Farragut, who translated thought into action and who did great things. The second kind is the greatness of authors and artists and scientists, who write great books, or paint great pictures or make great discoveries, and this sort of greatness will be considered in a future volume; for all there has been room for in this one is the story of the lives of America's great "men of action." And even of them, only a sketch in broad outline has been possible in space so limited; but this little book is merely a guide-post, as it were, pointing toward the road leading to the city where these great men dwell—the City of American Biography.
It is a city peopled with heroes. There are Travis and Crockett and Bowie, who held The Alamo until they all were slain; there is Craven, who stepped aside that his pilot might escape from his sinking ship; there is Lawrence, whose last words are still ringing down the years; there is Nathan Hale, immortalized by his lofty bearing beneath the scaffold; there is Robert Gould Shaw, who led a forlorn hope at the head of a despised race;—even to name them is to review those great events in American history which bring proud tears to the eyes of every lover of his country.
Of all this we shall tell, as simply as may be, giving the story of our country's history and development in terms of its great men. So far as possible, the text has been kept free of dates, because great men are of all time, and, compared with the deeds themselves, their dates are of minor importance. But a summary at the end of each chapter gives, for purposes of convenient reference, the principal dates in the lives of the men whose achievements are considered in it.
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In the preparation of these thumb-nail sketches, the present writer makes no pretense of original investigation. He has taken his material wherever he could find it, making sure only that it was accurate, and his sole purpose has been to give, in as few words as possible, a correct impression of the man and what he did. From the facts as given, however, he has drawn his own conclusions, with some of which, no doubt, many people will disagree. But he has tried to paint the men truly, in a few strokes, as they appeared to him, without seeking to conceal their weaknesses, but at the same time without magnifying them—remembering always that they were men, subject to mistakes and errors, to be honored for such true vision as they possessed; remarkable, many of them, for heroism and high devotion, and worthy a lasting place in the grateful memory of their country.
The passage of years has a way of diminishing the stature of men thought great, and often of increasing that of men thought little. Few American statesmen, for example, loom as large to-day as they appeared to their contemporaries. Looking back at them, we perceive that, for the most part, they wasted their days in fighting wind-mills, or in doing things which had afterwards to be undone. Only through the vista of the years do we get a true perspective, just as only from a distance can we see which peaks of the mountain-range loom highest. But even the mist of years cannot dim essential heroism and nobility of achievement. Indeed, it enhances them; the voyage of Columbus seems to us a far greater thing than his contemporaries thought it; Washington is for us a more venerable figure than he was for the new-born Union; and Lincoln is just coming into his own as a leader among men.
Every boy and girl ought to try to gain as true and clear an idea as possible of their country's history, and of the men who made that history. It is a pleasant study, and grows more and more fascinating as one proceeds with it. The great pleasure in reading is to understand every word, and so to catch the writer's thought completely. Knowledge always gives pleasure in just that way—by a wider understanding. Indeed, that is the principal aim of education: to enable the individual to get the most out of life by broadening his horizon, so that he sees more and understands more than he could do if he remained ignorant. And since you are an American, you will need especially to understand your country. You will be quite unable to grasp the meaning of the references to her story which are made every day in conversation, in newspapers, in books and magazines, unless you know that story; and you will also be unable properly to fulfil your duties as a citizen of this Republic unless you know it.
For the earliest years, and, more especially, for the story of the deadly struggle between French and English for the possession of the continent, the books to read above all others are those of Francis Parkman. He has clothed history with romantic fascination, and no one who has not read him can have any adequate idea of the glowing and life-like way in which those Frenchmen and Spaniards and Englishmen work out their destinies in his pages. The story of Columbus and of the early explorers will be found in John Fiske's "Discovery of America," a book written simply and interestingly, but without Parkman's insight and wizardry of style—which, indeed, no other American historian can equal. A little book by Charles F. Lummis, called "The Spanish Pioneers," also gives a vivid picture of those early explorers. The story of John Smith and William Bradford and Peter Stuyvesant and William Penn will also be found in Fiske's histories dealing with Virginia and New England and the Dutch and Quaker colonies. Almost any boy or girl will find them interesting, for they are written with care, in simple language, and not without an engaging humor.
There are so many biographies of Washington that it is difficult to choose among them. Perhaps the most interesting are those by Woodrow Wilson, Horace E. Scudder, Paul Leicester Ford, and Henry Cabot Lodge—all well-written and with an effort to give a true impression of the man. Of the other Presidents, no better biographies exist than those in the "American Statesmen" series, where, of course, the lives of the principal statesmen are also to be found. Not all of them, nor, perhaps, even most of them are worth reading by the average boy or girl. There is no especial reason why the life of any man should be studied in detail after he has ceased to be a factor in history. Of the Presidents, Washington, Jefferson, Jackson and Lincoln are still vital to the life of to-day, and of the statesmen there are a few, like Franklin, Hamilton, Webster, Calhoun and Clay, whose influence is still felt in our national life, but the remainder are negligible, except that you must, of course, be familiar in a broad way with their characters and achievements to understand your country's story.
History is the best place to learn the stories of the pioneers, soldiers and sailors. Archer Butler Hulburt has a little book, "Pilots of the Republic," which tells about some of the pioneers; John Fiske wrote a short history of "The War of Independence," which will tell you all you need know about the soldiers of the Revolution, with the exception of Washington; and you can learn about the battles of the Civil War from any good history of the United States. There is a series called the "Great Commanders Series," which tells the story, in detail, of the lives of American commanders on land and sea, but there is no reason why you should read any of them, with the exception of Lee, Farragut, and possibly Grant, though you will find the lives of Taylor and "Stonewall" Jackson interesting in themselves. For the sailors, with the exception of Farragut, Barnes's "Yankee Ships and Yankee Sailors" will suffice; though every boy will enjoy reading Maclay's "History of the American Navy," where the story of our great sea-fights is told better than it has ever been told before.
These books may be found in almost any public library, and on the shelves there, too, you will probably find Elbert Hubbard's "Little Journeys," which give flashlight portraits of statesmen and soldiers and many other people, vivid and interesting, but sometimes distorted, as flashlights have a way of being.
Perhaps the librarian will permit you to look over the shelves where the biographies and works dealing with American history are kept. Don't be over-awed by the number of volumes, because there are scores and scores which are of no importance to you. Theodore Parker had a wrong idea about reading, for once upon a time he undertook to read all the books in a library, beginning at the first one and proceeding along shelf after shelf. He never finished the task, of course, because he found out, after a while, that there are many books which are not worth reading, and many more which are of value only to specialists in certain departments of knowledge. No man can "know it all." But every man should know one thing well, and have a general knowledge of the rest.
For instance, none but an astronomer need know the mathematics of the science, but all of us should know the principal facts concerning the universe and the solar system, and it is a pleasure to us to recognize the different constellations as we gaze up at the heavens on a cloudless night. None but a lawyer need spend his time reading law-books, but most of us want to know the broad principles upon which justice is administered. No one but an economist need bother with the abstract theories of political economy, but if we are to be good citizens, we must have a knowledge of its foundations, so that we may weigh intelligently the solutions of public problems which different parties offer.
So if you are permitted to look along the shelves of the public library, you will have no concern with the great majority of the books you see there; but here and there one will catch your eye which interests you, and these are the ones for you to read. You have no idea how the habit of right reading will grow upon you, and what a delightful and valuable habit it will prove to be. Like any other good habit, it takes pains at first to establish, an effort of will and self-control. But that very effort helps in the forming of character, and the habit of right reading is perhaps the best and most far-reaching in its effects that any boy or girl can form. I hope that this little volume, and the other books which I have mentioned, will help you to form it.
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Nearly five hundred years ago, there lived, in the beautiful old Italian city of Genoa, a poor wool-comber named Dominico Colombo, and about 1446, a son was born to him and to his wife, Susanna, and in due time christened Christoforo.
The world into which the child was born was very different to the one in which we live. Europe was known, and northern Africa, and western Asia; but to the east stretched the fabulous country of the Grand Khan, Cathay, Cipango, and farthest Ind; while to the west rolled the Sea of Darkness, peopled with unimaginable terrors.
Of the youth of Christopher Columbus, as we call him, little is known. No doubt it was much like other boyhoods, and one likes to picture him, in such hours of leisure as he had, strolling about the streets of Genoa, listening to the talk, staring in at the shop-windows, or watching the busy life in the harbor. That the latter had a strong attraction for him there can be no doubt, for though he followed his father's trade till early manhood, he finally found his real vocation as a seaman. It was on the ocean that true romance dwelt, for it led to strange lands and peoples, and no one knew what wonders and mysteries lay behind each horizon. It was there, too, high courage was developed and endurance, for it was there that men did battle hand to hand with nature's mightiest forces. It was the one career of the age which called to the bold and adventurous spirit. What training Columbus received or what voyages he made we know not; but when, at about the age of thirty, he steps into the light of history, it is as a man with a wide and thorough knowledge of both the theory and practice of seamanship; a man, too, of keen mind and indomitable will, and with a mighty purpose brooding in his heart.
It was natural enough that his eyes should turn to Portugal, for Portugal was the greatest sea-faring nation of the age. Her sailors had discovered the Madeira Islands, and crept little by little down the coast of Africa, rounding this headland and that, searching always for a passage to India, which they knew lay somewhere to the east, until, at last, they had sailed triumphantly around the Cape of Good Hope. It is worth remarking that Columbus's brother, Bartholomew, of whom we hear so little, but who did so much for his brother's fame, was a member of that expedition, and Columbus himself must have gathered no little inspiration from it.
So to Lisbon Columbus went, and his ardent spirit found a great stimulus in the adventurous atmosphere of that bustling city. He went to work as a map-maker, marrying the daughter of one of the captains of Prince Henry the Navigator, from whom he secured a great variety of maps, charts and memoranda. His business kept him in close touch with both mariners and astronomers, so that he was acquainted with every development of both discovery and theory. In more than one mind the conviction was growing up that the eastern shore of Asia could be reached by sailing westward from Europe—a conviction springing naturally enough from the belief that the earth was round, which was steadily gaining wider and wider acceptance. In fact, a Florentine astronomer named Toscanelli furnished Columbus with a map showing how this voyage could be accomplished, and Columbus afterwards used this map in determining his route.
That the idea was not original with Columbus takes nothing from his fame; his greatness lies in being the first fully to grasp its meaning, fully to believe it, fully to devote his life to it. For the last measure of a man's devotion to an idea is his willingness to stake his life upon it, as Columbus staked his. The idea possessed him; there was room in him only for a dogged determination to realize it, to trample down such obstacles as might arise to keep him from his goal. And obstacles enough there were, for many years of waiting and disappointment lay before him—years during which, a shabby and melancholy figure, laughed at and scorned, mocked by the very children in the streets, he "begged his way from court to court, to offer to princes the discovery of a world." And here again was his true greatness—that he did not despair, that his spirit remained unbroken and his high heart still capable of hope.
Yet let us not idealize him too much. The eagerness to reach the Indies was wholly because of the riches which they possessed. The spice trade was especially coveted, and tradition told of golden cities of fabulous wealth and beauty which lay in the country to the east. The great motive behind all the early voyages was hope of gain, and Columbus had his full share of it. Yet there grew up within him, in time, something more than this—a love of the project for its own sake—though to the very last, a little overbalanced, perhaps, by his great idea, he insisted upon the rewards and honors which must be his in case of success.
With his route well-outlined and his plans carefully matured, Columbus turned naturally to the King of Portugal, John II., as a man interested in all nautical enterprise, and especially interested in finding a route to the Indies. That crafty monarch listened to Columbus attentively and was evidently impressed, for he took possession of the maps and plans which Columbus had prepared, under pretense of examining them while considering the project, placed them in the hands of one of his own captains and dispatched him secretly to try the route. That captain, whose name has been lost to history, must afterwards have been chagrined enough at the manner in which he missed immortal fame, for, after sailing a few days to the westward, he turned back and reported to his royal master that the thing could not be done. His was not the heart for such an enterprise.
Columbus, learning of the king's treachery, left the court in disgust, and sending his brother, Bartholomew, to lay the plan before the King of England, himself proceeded to Spain, whose rulers, Ferdinand and Isabella, were perhaps the most enlightened of the age. Of Bartholomew's adventures in England little is known. One thing alone is certain—England missed the great opportunity just as Portugal had. And for long years it seemed that, in Spain, Columbus would have no better fortune. The Spanish monarchs listened to him with interest—as who would not?—and appointed a council of astronomers and map-makers to examine the project and to pass upon its feasibility. This council, not without the connivance of the king and queen, who were absorbed in war with the Moors, and who, at the same time, did not wish the plan to be taken elsewhere, kept Columbus waiting for six years, alternating between hope and despair, and finally reported that the project was "vain and impossible of execution."
Indignant at thought of the years he had wasted, Columbus determined to proceed to Paris, to seek an audience of the King of France. His wife was dead, and he started for Palos, with his little son, Diego, intending to leave the boy with his wife's sister there, while he himself journeyed on to Paris. Trudging wearily across the country, they came one night to the convent of La Rabida, and Columbus stopped to ask for a crust of bread and cup of water for the child. The prior, Juan Perez de Marchena, struck by his noble bearing, entered into conversation with him and was soon so interested that he invited the travellers in.
Marchena had been Isabella's confessor, and still had great influence with her. After carefully considering the project which Columbus laid before him, he went to the queen in person and implored her to reconsider it. His plea was successful, and Columbus was again summoned to appear at court, a small sum of money being sent him so that he need not appear in rags. The Spanish monarchs received him well, but when they found that he demanded the title of admiral at once, and, in case of success, the title of viceroy, together with a tenth part of all profits resulting from either trade or conquest, they abruptly broke off the negotiations, and Columbus, mounting a mule which had been given him, started a second time for Paris. He had proceeded four or five miles, in what sadness and turmoil of spirit may be imagined, when a royal messenger, riding furiously, overtook him and bade him return. His terms had been accepted.
This is what had happened: In despair at the departure of Columbus, Luis de Santangel, receiver of the revenues of Aragon, and one of the few converts to his theories, had obtained an audience of the queen, and pointed out to her, with impassioned eloquence, the glory which Spain would win should Columbus be successful. The queen's patriotic ardor was enkindled, and when Ferdinand still hesitated, she cried, "I undertake the enterprise for my own crown of Castile. I will pledge my jewels to raise the money that is needed!" Santangel assured her that he himself was ready to provide the money, and advanced seventeen thousand florins from the coffers of Aragon, so that Ferdinand paid for the expedition, after all.
It is in no way strange that the demands of Columbus should have been thought excessive; indeed, the wonderful thing is that they should, under any circumstances, have been agreed to. Here was a man, to all appearances a penniless adventurer, asking for honors, dignities and rewards which any grandee of Spain might have envied him. That they should have been granted was due to the impulsive sympathy of Isabella and the indifference of her royal consort, who said neither yes nor no; though, in the light of subsequent events, it is not improbable that the thought may have crossed his mind that royal favor may always be withdrawn, and that the hand which gives may also take away.
But though Columbus had triumphed in this particular, his trials were by no means at an end. The little port of Palos was commanded by royal order to furnish the new Admiral with two small vessels known as caravels. This was soon done, but no sailors were willing to embark on such a voyage, the maddest in all history. Only by the most extreme measures, by impressment and the release of criminals willing to accompany the expedition in order to get out of jail, were crews finally provided. A third small vessel was secured, and on the morning of Friday, August 3, 1492, this tiny fleet of three boats, the Santa Maria, the Pinta and the Nina, whose combined crews numbered less than ninety men, sailed out from Palos on the grandest voyage the world has ever known.
The shore was lined with people weeping and wringing their hands for the relatives and friends whom they were sure they should never see again, and most of the sailors were certain that they were bidding farewell forever to their native land. Even at the present day, few men would care to undertake such a voyage in such ships. The two little caravels, Nina and Pinta, were decked only at stern and prow. The Santa Maria was but little larger, her length being only about sixty feet, and all three of the vessels were old, leaky, and in need of frequent repairs.
The map which Toscanelli had given Columbus years before showed Japan lying directly west of the Canaries, so to the Canaries Columbus steered his fleet, and then set forth westward into the unknown. By a fortunate chance, it was the very best route he could have chosen, for he came at once into the region of the trade winds, which, blowing steadily from the east, drove the vessels westward day after day over a smooth sea. But this very thing, favorable as it was, added greatly to the terror of the men. How were they to get back to Spain, with the wind always against them? What was the meaning of a sea as smooth as their own Guadalquiver? They implored Columbus to turn back; but to turn back was the last thing in his thoughts. An opportune storm helped to reassure his men by proving that the wind did not always blow from the east and that the sea was not always calm.
But there were soon other causes of alarm. The compass varied strangely, and what hope for them was there if this, their only guide, proved faithless? They ran into vast meadows of floating seaweed, the Sargasso Sea, and it seemed certain that the ships would soon be so entangled that they could move neither backward nor forward. Still Columbus pushed steadily on, and his men's terror and angry discontent deepened until they were on the verge of mutiny; various plots were hatched and it was evident that affairs would soon reach a crisis.
One can guess the Admiral's thoughts as he paced the poop of his ship on that last night, pausing from time to time to strain his eyes into the darkness. Picture him to yourself—a tall and imposing figure, clad in that gray habit of the Franciscan missionary he liked to wear; the face stern and lined with care, the eyes gray and piercing, the high nose and long chin telling of a mighty will, the cheeks ruddy and freckled from life in the open, the white hair falling about his shoulders. Picture him standing there, a memorable figure, whose hour of triumph was at hand. He knew the desperate condition of things—none better; he knew that his men were for the most part criminals and cowards; at any moment they might rise and make him prisoner or throw him overboard. Well, until that moment, he would hold his ship's prow to the west! For twenty years he had labored to get this chance; he would rather die than fail.
And then, suddenly, far ahead, he saw a light moving low along the horizon. It disappeared, reappeared, and then vanished altogether. The lookout had also seen it, and soon after, as the moon rose, a gun from the Pinta, which was in the lead, announced that land had been sighted. It was soon plainly visible to everyone, a low beach gleaming white in the moonlight, and the ships hove-to until daybreak.
In the early dawn of the twelfth day of October, 1492, the boats were lowered, and Columbus and a large part of his company went ashore, wild with exultation. They found themselves on a small island, and Columbus named it San Salvador. It was one of the Bahamas, but which one is not certainly known. Columbus, of course, believed himself near the coast of Asia, and spent two months in searching for Japan, discovering a number of islands, but no trace of the land of gold and spices which he sought. One of his ships was wrecked and the captain of the third sailed away to search for gold on his own account, so that it was in the little Nina alone that Columbus at last set sail for Spain.
It was no longer a summer sea through which the tiny vessel ploughed her way, but a sea swept by savage hurricanes. More than once it seemed that the ship must founder, but by some miracle it kept afloat, and on March 15, 1493, sailed again into the port of Palos. The great navigator was received with triumphal honors by Ferdinand and Isabella, and invited to sit in their presence while he told the wonderful story of his discoveries.
Wonderful indeed! Yet what a dizziness would have seized that audience could they have guessed the truth! Could they have guessed that the proud kingdom of Spain was but an insignificant patch compared with the vast continent Columbus had discovered and upon which a score of nations were to dwell.
The life-work of the great navigator practically ended on the day he told his story to the court of Spain, for, though he led three other expeditions across the ocean, the discoveries they made were of no great importance. Not a trace did he find of that golden country, which he sought so eagerly, and at last, broken in health and fortune, in disfavor at court, stripped of the rewards and dignities which had been promised him, he died in a little house at Valladolid on the twentieth of May, 1506. He believed to the last that it was the Indies he had discovered, never dreaming that he had given a new continent to the world.
Yet is his fame secure, for the task which he accomplished was unique, never to be repeated. He had robbed the Sea of Darkness of its terrors, and while those who followed him had need of courage and resolution, it was no longer into the unknown that they sailed forth. They knew that there was no danger of sailing over the edge and dropping off into space; they knew that there were no dragons, nor monsters, nor other blood-curdling terrors to be encountered, but that the other side of the world was much like the side they lived on. That was Columbus's great achievement. To cross the Atlantic, perilous as the voyage was, was after all a little thing; but actually to start—to surmount the wall of bigotry and ignorance which, for centuries, had shut the west away from the east, to surmount that wall and throw it down by a faith which rose superior to human belief and incredulity and terror of the unknown—there was the miracle!
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Many there were to follow, each contributing his mite toward the task of defining the new continent. Perhaps you have seen a photographic negative slowly take shape in the acid bath—the sharp out-lines first, then, bit by bit, the detail. Just so did America grow beneath the gaze of Europe, though two centuries and more were to elapse before it stood out upon the map clean-cut and definite from border to border.
First to follow Columbus, and the first white men since the vikings to set foot on the North American continent, which Columbus himself had never seen, were John and Sebastian Cabot, Italians like their predecessor, but in the service of the King of England and with an English ship and an English crew prophetic of the race which was, in time, to wrest the supremacy of the continent from the other nations of Europe. They explored the coast from Newfoundland as far south, perhaps, as Chesapeake Bay, and upon their discoveries rested the English claim to North America, though they themselves are little more than faint and ill-defined shadows upon the page of history, so little do we know of them.
And just as the New World was eventually to be dominated by a nation other than that which first took possession of it, so was it to be named after a man other than its discoverer: an inconsiderable adventurer named Amerigo Vespucci, a Florentine, who accompanied three or four Spanish expeditions as astronomer or pilot, but who had no part in any real discovery in the New World. He wrote a number of letters describing the voyages which he claimed to have made, and one of these was printed in a pamphlet which had a wide circulation, so that Vespucci's name came to be connected in the public mind with the new land in the west much more prominently than that of any other man. In 1502, in a little book dealing with the new discoveries, the suggestion was made that there was nothing "rightly to hinder us from calling it [the New World] Amerige or America, i.e., the land of Americus," and America it was thenceforward—one of the great injustices of history. Since it had to be so, let us be thankful that it was Vespucci's first name which was selected, and not his last one.
Meanwhile, the Spaniards had pushed their way across the Caribbean and explored the shores of the gulf, finding at last in Mexico a land of gold. World-worn, disease-racked Ponce de Leon, conqueror and governor of Porto Rico, struggled through the everglades of Florida, seeking the fountain of eternal youth, and getting his death-wound there instead. Ferdinand Magellan, man of iron if there ever was one, seeking a western passage to the Moluccas, skirted the coast of South America, wintered amid the snows of Patagonia, worked his way through the strait which bears his name, and held on westward across the Pacific, making the first circumnavigation of the globe, a feat so startling in audacity that there is none in our day to compare with it, except, perhaps, a journey to another planet. Magellan himself never again saw Europe, meeting his death in a fight with the natives of the Philippines, but one of his ships, with eighteen men, struggled south along the coast of Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope, and so home.
Half a century was to elapse before the feat was repeated—this time by that slave-trader, pirate, and doughty scourge of the Spaniard, Sir Francis Drake, who, following in Magellan's wake, and pausing only long enough to harry the Spanish settlements in Chili and Peru and capture a Spanish treasureship, held northward along the coast as far as southern Oregon, and then turned westward across the Pacific, around the Cape of Good Hope, and home again, where Elizabeth, in spite of Spanish protests, was waiting to reward him with a touch of sword to shoulder. The Muse of History smiles ironically when she records that Drake's principal discovery in the New World was that of the potato, which he introduced into England.
Not until Drake's voyage was completed was the vast extent of the North American continent even suspected, although its interior had been explored in many directions. Hernando de Soto, with an experience gained with Pizarro in the conquest of Peru, and succeeding Ponce de Leon in the governorship of Florida, marched with a great expedition through what is now South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia, and came out, at last, upon the Mississippi, only to find burial beneath its waters, while the tattered remnant of his force staggered back to Mexico.
Francisco de Coronado, marching northward from Mexico, in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola, found only the squalid villages of the Zuni Indians, after stumbling on the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, and marching as far north as the southern line of Kansas. Jacques Cartier, following another will-o'-the-wisp to the north, and searching for the storied city of Norembega, supposed to exist somewhere in the wilderness south of Cape Breton, found it not, indeed, but laid the foundations for the great empire which France was to establish along the St. Lawrence.
And Henry Hudson, in the little Half-Moon, chartered by a company of thrifty Dutchmen to search for the northwest passage, blundered instead upon the mighty river which bears his name, explored it as far north as the present city of Albany, and paved the way for that picturesque Dutch settlement which grew into the greatest city of the New World. He did more than that, for, persevering in the search and sailing far to the north, he came, at last, into the great bay also named for him, where tragic fate lay waiting. For there, in that icy fastness of the north, his mutinous crew bound him, set him adrift in a small boat, and sailed away and left him.
So, by the beginning of the seventeenth century, the New World was fairly well defined upon the maps which the map-makers were always industriously drawing; and so were the spheres of influence where each nation was to be for a time paramount; the Spaniards in the Gulf of Mexico, the Dutch along the Hudson, the French on the St. Lawrence, and the English on the long coast to the south. But in all the leagues and leagues from the St. Lawrence to the Gulf, nowhere had the white man as yet succeeded in gaining a permanent foothold.
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Although the continent of North America had been discovered by John Cabot in 1497, nearly a century elapsed before England made any serious attempt to take possession of it. Cabot's voyages had created little impression, for he had returned from them empty-handed; instead of finding the passage to the Indies which he sought, he had discovered nothing but an inconvenient and apparently worthless barrier stretching across the way, and for many years the great continent was regarded only in that light, and such explorations as were made were with the one object of getting through it or around it. In fact, as late as 1787, opinion in Europe was divided as to whether the discovery of the New World had been a blessing or a curse.
But Spain had been working industriously. The honor of giving America to the world was hers, and she followed that first discovery by centuries of such pioneering as the world had never seen. Her explorers overran Mexico and Peru, discovered the Mississippi, the Pacific, carved their way up into the interior of the continent, looked down upon the wonders of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, founded settlements up and down the land from Kansas to Chili—yes, and did more than that. They opened the first churches, set up the first presses, printed the first books, wrote the first histories, drew the first accurate maps. They established schools among the Indians, sent missionaries to them, translated the Bible into twelve Indian dialects, made thousands of converts, and established an Indian policy as humane and enlightened—once Spanish supremacy was recognized—as any in the world. The savages with whom Spain had to contend were the deadliest, the most cruel, that Europeans ever encountered—no more resembling the warriors of King Philip and the Powhatan than a house-cat resembles a panther. They conquered them without extermination, and converted them to Christianity! An amazing feat, and one which disposes for all time of that old, outworn legend that the Spain of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries was a moribund and degenerate nation.
But a change was at hand. The world moved, and Spain, chained to an outworn superstition, did not move with it. The treasure she drew from Mexico and Peru she poured out to prop the tottering pillars of church despotism; and the end came when, in 1588, Elizabeth's doughty captains wiped out the "invincible" armada, and dethroned Spain for all time from her position as mistress of the seas.
It was then that English eyes turned toward the New World and that projects of colonization were set afoot in earnest; and the one great dominant hero of that early movement was Sir Walter Raleigh. He had accompanied his half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, on a voyage to the New World ten years earlier, and after Gilbert's tragic death, took over the patent for land in America which Gilbert held. It is worth noting that this patent provided in the plainest terms that such colonies as might be planted in America should be self-governing in the fullest sense—a provision also included in the patent granted to the company which afterwards succeeded in gaining and maintaining a foothold on the James.
Raleigh spent nearly a million dollars in endeavoring to establish a colony on Roanoke Island—a colony which absolutely disappeared, and whose fate was never certainly discovered; and it was not until the Virgin Queen, after whom all that portion of the country had been named, was dead, and Raleigh himself, shorn of his estates, was a prisoner in the Tower under charge of treason, that a new charter was given to an association of influential men known as the Virginia Company, which was destined to have permanent results. On New Year's Day, 1607, an expedition of three ships, carrying, besides their crews, one hundred and five colonists, started on the voyage across the ocean, under command of Captain Christopher Newport. Among Newport's company was a scarred and weather-beaten soldier, who was soon to assume control of events through sheer fitness for the task, and who bore that commonest of all English names, John Smith.
But John Smith's career had been anything but common. Born in Lincolnshire in 1579, and early left an orphan, he had gone to the Netherlands while still in his teens, and had spent three years there fighting against the Spaniards. A year or two later, he had embarked with a company of Catholic pilgrims for the Levant, intent on fighting against the Turk, but a storm arose which all attributed to the presence of the Huguenot heretic on board, and he was forthwith flung into the sea. Whether the storm thereupon abated, history does not state, but Smith managed to swim to a small island, from which he was rescued next day. Journeying across Europe to Styria, he entered the service of Emperor Rudolph II., and spent two or three years fighting against the Turks, accomplishing feats so surprising that one would be inclined to class them with those of Baron Munchausen, were they not, for the most part, well authenticated. He was captured, at last, but managed to escape, and made his way across the Styrian desert, through Russia, Poland, Hungary, Bohemia, and finally back to England, just in time to meet Captain Newport, and arrange to sail with him for Virginia.
It is not remarkable that a man tried by such experiences should, from the first, have taken a prominent part in the enterprise. An unwelcome part in the beginning, for scarcely had the voyage begun, when he was accused of plotting mutiny, arrested and kept in irons until the ships reached Virginia. Late in April, the fleet entered Hampton Roads, and proceeding up the river, which was forthwith named the James, came at last on May 13th, to a low peninsula which seemed suited for a settlement. The next day they set to work building a fort, which they called Fort James, but the settlement soon came to be known as Jamestown.
Once the fort was finished, Captain Newport sailed back to England for supplies, and the little settlement was soon in desperate straits for food. Within three months, half of the colonists were in their graves, and bitter feuds arose among the survivors. These were for the most part "gentlemen adventurers," who had accompanied the expedition in the hope of finding gold, and who were wholly unfitted to cope with the conditions in which they found themselves. Of all of them, Smith was by far the most competent, and he did valiant service in trading with the Indians for corn and in conducting a number of expeditions in search of game.
It was while on one of these, in December, 1607, that that incident of his career occurred which is all that a great many people know of Captain John Smith. With two companions, he was paddling in a canoe up the Chickahominy, when the party was attacked by Indians. Smith's two companions were killed, and he himself saved his life only by exhibiting his compass and doing other things to astonish and impress the savages.
He was finally taken captive to the Powhatan, the ruler of the tribe, and, according to Smith's story, a long debate ensued among the Indians as to his fate. Presently two large stones were laid before the chief, and Smith was dragged to them and his head forced down upon them, but even as one of the warriors raised his club to dash out the captive's brains, the Powhatan's daughter, a child of thirteen named Pocahontas, threw herself upon him, shielding his head with hers, and claimed him for her own, after the Indian custom. Smith was thereupon released, adopted into the tribe, and sent back to Jamestown, where he arrived on the eighth of January, 1608.
From the Indian standpoint, there was nothing especially unusual about this procedure, for any member of the tribe was privileged to claim a captive, if he wished. A century before, Ortiz, a member of De Soto's expedition, had been captured by the Indians and saved in precisely the same way, and many instances of the kind occurred in the years which followed. But to the captive, it partook of the very essence of romance; he had only the dimmest idea of what was really happening, and his account of it, written many years later, was of the most sentimental kind. Many doubts have been cast on the story, and historians seem hopelessly divided about it, as they are about many other incidents of Smith's life. Certain it is, however, that Pocahontas afterwards befriended the colony on more than one occasion; and was finally converted, married to a planter named John Rolfe, and taken to England, where, among the artificialities of court life, she soon sickened and died.
On the very day that Smith reached Jamestown with his Indian escort, the supply ship sent out by Captain Newport also arrived, bringing 120 new colonists. Of the original 105, only thirty-eight were left alive. But Smith's enemies were yet in the ascendancy, and he spent the summer of 1608 in exploration, leaving the colony to its own devices. When he returned to it in September, he found it reduced and disheartened. His brave and cheery presence acted as a tonic, and at last the colonists, appreciating him at his true value, elected him president. He put new life into everyone, and when, soon afterwards, Newport arrived again from England with fresh supplies, he found the colony in fairly good shape.
But the members of the Virginia Company were growing impatient at the failure of the venture to bring any returns, and they sent out instructions by Newport demanding that either a lump of gold be sent back to England or that the way to the South Sea be discovered. Smith said plainly that the instructions were ridiculous, and wrote an answer to them in blunt soldier English. Then, turning his hand in earnest to the government of the disorderly rabble under him, he instituted an iron discipline, whipped the laggards into line, and by the end of April had some twenty houses built, thirty or forty acres of ground broken up and planted, nets and weirs arranged for fishing, a new fortress under way, and various small manufactures begun. A great handicap was the system, by which all property was held in common, so that the drones shared equally with the workers, but Smith took care that there should be few drones. There can be no doubt that his sheer will power kept the colony together, but his credit with the company was undermined by enemies in England, nor did his own blunt letter help matters. The company was re-organized on a larger scale, a new governor appointed, new colonists started on the way; and, finally, in 1609, Smith was so seriously wounded by the explosion of a bag of gun-powder, that he gave up the struggle and returned to England.
Instant disaster followed. When he left the colony, it numbered five hundred souls; when the next supply ship reached it in May, 1610, it consisted of sixty scarecrows, mere wrecks of human beings. The rest had starved to death—or been eaten by their companions! There was a hasty consultation, and it was decided that Virginia must be abandoned. On Thursday, June 7, 1610, the cabins were stripped of such things as were of value, and the whole company went on shipboard and started down the river—only to meet, next day, in Hampton Roads, a new expedition headed by the new governor, Lord Delaware, himself! By this slight thread of coincidence was the fate of Virginia determined.
The ship put about at once, and on the following Sunday morning, Lord Delaware stepped ashore at Jamestown, and, falling to his knees, thanked God that he had been in time to save Virginia. He proceeded at once to place the colony upon a new and sounder basis, and it was never again in danger of extinction, though Jamestown itself was finally abandoned as unsuited to a settlement on account of its malarious atmosphere. But Virginia itself grew apace into one of the greatest of England's colonies in America.
John Smith himself never returned to Virginia. In 1614, he explored the coast south of the Penobscot, giving it the name it still bears, New England. A year later, while on another expedition, he was captured by the French and forced to serve against the Spaniards. Broken in health and fortune, he spent his remaining years in London, dying there in 1631. There is a portrait of him, showing him as a handsome, bearded man, with nose and mouth bespeaking will and spirit—just such a man as one would imagine this gallant soldier of fortune to have been.
While the English, under the guiding hand of John Smith, were fighting desperately to maintain themselves upon the James, the French were struggling to the same purpose and no less desperately along the St. Lawrence. We have seen how Jacques Cartier explored and named that region, but civil and religious wars in France put an end to plans of colonization for half a century, and it was not until 1603 that Samuel Champlain, the founder of New France, and one of the noblest characters in American history, embarked for the New World.
Samuel Champlain was born at Brouage about 1567, the son of a sea-faring father, and his early years were spent upon the sea. He served in the army of the Fourth Henry, and after the peace with Spain, made a voyage to Mexico. Upon his return to France in 1603, he found a fleet preparing to sail to Canada, and at once joined it. Some explorations were made of the St. Lawrence, but the fleet returned to France within the year, without accomplishing anything in the way of colonization. Another expedition in the following year saw the founding of Port Royal, while Champlain made a careful exploration of the New England coast, but he found nothing that attracted him as did the mighty river to the north. Thither, in 1608, he went, and sailing up the river to a point where a mighty promontory rears its head, disembarked and erected the first rude huts of the city which he called by the Indian name of Quebec, or "The Narrows." A wooden wall was built, mounting a few small cannon and loopholed for musketry, and the conquest of Canada had begun. A magnificent cargo of furs was dispatched to France, and Champlain and twenty-eight men were left to winter at Quebec. When spring came, only nine were left alive, but reinforcements and supplies soon arrived, and Champlain arranged to proceed into the interior and explore the country.
The resources at his disposal were small, he could not hope to assemble a great expedition; so he determined to make the venture with only a few men and little baggage, relying upon the friendship of the Indians, instead of seeking to conquer them, as the Spaniards had always done. Champlain had from the first treated the Indians well, and it was this necessity of gaining their friendship that determined the policy which France pursued—the policy of making friends of the Indians, entering into an alliance with them, and helping them fight their battles. Champlain opened operations by joining an Algonquin war-party against the Iroquois, and assisting at their defeat—starting, at the same time, a blood feud with that powerful tribe which endured as long as the French held Canada. In the course of this expedition, he discovered the beautiful lake which bears his name.
He went back to France for a time, after that, and on his next return to Canada, in 1611, began building a town at the foot of a rock which had been named Mont Royal, since corrupted to Montreal. Succeeding years were spent in further explorations, which carried him across Lake Ontario, and in plans for the conversion of the Indians, to which the aid of the Jesuits was summoned. Missions were established, and the intrepid priests pushed their way farther and farther into the wilderness. To this work, Champlain gave more and more of his thought in the last years of his life, which ended on Christmas day, 1635.
Among the young men whom Champlain set to work among the Indians was Jean Nicolet. The year before his death, Champlain sent him on an exploring expedition to the west, in the course of which he visited Lake Michigan and perhaps Lake Superior. Following in his footsteps, the Jesuits gradually established missions as far west as the Wisconsin River, and, finally, in 1670, at Sault Ste. Marie, the French formally took possession of the whole Northwest.
It was at about this time there appeared upon the scene another of those picturesque and formidable figures, in which this period of American history so abounds—Robert Cavalier La Salle. La Salle was at that time only twenty years of age. He had reached Canada four years earlier and had devoted himself for three years to the study of the Indian languages, in order to fit himself for the career of western exploration which he contemplated. One day he was visited by a party of Senecas, who told him of a river, which they called the Ohio, so great that many months were required to traverse it. From their description, La Salle concluded that it must fall into the Gulf of California, and so form the long-sought passage to China. He determined to explore it, and after surmounting innumerable obstacles, actually did reach it, and descend it as far as the spot where the city of Louisville now stands, afterwards exploring the Illinois and the country south of the Great lakes, as well as the lakes themselves.
Fired by La Salle's report of his discoveries, two other Frenchmen, Louis Joliet, a native of Quebec, who had already led an expedition in search of the copper mines of Lake Superior, and Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit priest and accomplished linguist, started on a still greater journey. With five companions and two birchbark canoes, they headed down the Wisconsin river, and on June 17, 1673, glided out upon the blue waters of the Mississippi. A fortnight later, they reached a little village called Peoria, where the Indians received them well, and continuing down the river, passed the Missouri, the Ohio, and finally, having gone far enough to convince themselves that the river emptied into the Gulf of Mexico and not into the Gulf of California, they turned about and reached Green Bay again in September, having paddled more than 2,500 miles. Marquette, shattered in health, remained at Green Bay, while Joliet pushed on to Montreal to tell of his discoveries. Marquette rallied sufficiently at the end of a year to attempt a mission among the Illinois Indians, where death found him in the spring of 1675. Joliet spent his last years in a vain endeavor to persuade the government of France to undertake on a grand scale the development of the rich lands along the Mississippi.
But the story which Joliet took back with him to Quebec fired anew the ambition of La Salle. He conceived New France as a great empire in the wilderness, and he determined to descend the mighty river to its mouth and establish a city there which would hold the river for France against all comers. Such occupation would, according to French doctrine, give France an indisputable right to the whole territory which the river and its tributaries drained, and La Salle's plan was to establish a chain of forts stretching from Lake Erie to the Gulf, to build up around these great cities, and so to lay the foundations for the mightiest empire in history. We may well stand amazed before a plan so ambitious, and before the determination with which this great Frenchman set about its accomplishment.
To most men, such a scheme seemed but the dream of an enthusiast; but La Salle was in deadly earnest, and for eight years he labored to perfect the details of the plan. At last, on April 9, 1682, he planted the flag of France at the mouth of the Mississippi, naming the country Louisiana in honor of his royal master, whose property it was solemnly declared to be. That done, the intrepid explorer hastened back to France; a fleet was fitted out and attempted to sail directly to the mouth of the great river, but missed it; the ships were wrecked on the coast of Texas, and La Salle was shot from ambush by two of his own followers while searching on foot for the river.
So ended La Salle's part in the accomplishment of a plan which, grandiose as it was, reached a sort of realization—for a great French city near the mouth of the river was built and a thin chain of forts connecting it with Canada, where the French power remained unbroken for three quarters of a century longer; while not until the beginning of the nineteenth century, when the royal line of Louis had been succeeded by a soldier of fortune from Corsica, did the great territory which La Salle had named Louisiana pass from French possession.
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On the nineteenth day of November, 1620, fourteen years after the settlement of Jamestown and twelve after the settlement of Quebec, a storm-beaten vessel of 120 tons burthen crept into the lee of Cape Cod and dropped anchor in that welcome refuge. The vessel was the Mayflower, and she had just completed the most famous voyage in American history, after that of Columbus. The colonists she carried, about a hundred in number, Separatists from the Church of England, have come down through history as the "Pilgrim Fathers." Among them was one destined to rule the fortunes of the colony for more than a quarter of a century. His name was William Bradford, and he was at that time thirty years of age.
Bradford was born in 1590 at Austerfield, in Yorkshire, England, and at the age of sixteen, joined a company of Puritans or Separatists, which met for a time at the little town of Scrooby, but, being threatened with persecution, resolved to remove to Holland. Most of the congregation got away without interference, but Bradford and a few others were arrested and spent several months in prison. As soon as he was released, he joined the colony in Amsterdam, and afterwards, in 1609, removed with it to Leyden. But the newcomers found themselves out of sympathy with Dutch customs and habits of thought, and after long debate, determined to remove to America and found a colony of their own. A patent was obtained, the Mayflower chartered, the congregation put aboard, and the voyage begun on the fifth day of September, 1620.
The colonists expected to settle somewhere near the mouth of the Hudson, but, whether by accident or design, their captain brought up off Cape Cod, and it was decided to land there. After some days' search, a suitable site for a settlement was found, work was begun on houses and fortifications, and the place was named New Plymouth.
Jonathan Carver had been chosen the first governor and guided the colony through the horrors of that first winter; the story of Jamestown was repeated, and by the coming of spring, more than half the colonists were dead. Among them was Carver himself, and William Bradford was at once chosen to succeed him. There can be no doubt that it was to Bradford's wise head and strong hand the colony owed its quick rally, and its escape from the prolonged misery which makes horrible the early history of Virginia. He seems to have possessed a temper resolute, but magnanimous and patient to an unusual degree, together with a religion sincere and devoted, yet neither intolerant nor austere. What results can be accomplished by a combination of qualities at once so rare and so admirable is shown by the work which William Bradford did at Plymouth, over which he ruled almost continuously until his death, thirty-seven years later.
Bradford's success lay first in his courage in doing away with the pernicious system by which all the property was held in common. In doing this, he violated the rules of his company, but he saw that utter failure lay the other way. He divided the colony's land among the several families, in proportion to their number, and compelled each family to shift for itself. The communal system had nearly wrecked Jamestown and would have wrecked Plymouth had not Bradford had the courage to disregard all precedent and make each family its own provider. Years afterwards, in commenting on the results of this revolutionary change, he wrote, "Any general want or suffering hath not been among them since to this day."
And, indeed, this was true. Under Bradford's guidance, the little colony increased steadily in wealth and numbers, and became the sure forerunner of the great Puritan migration of 1630, which founded the colony of Massachusetts, into which the older colony of Plymouth was finally absorbed. Of Bradford himself, little more remains to be told. The establishment of Plymouth Plantation was his life work. He was a far bigger man than most of his contemporaries, with a broader outlook upon life and deeper resources within himself. One of these was a literary culture which fairly sets him apart as the first American man of letters. He wrote an entertaining history of his colony, as well as a number of philosophical and theological works, all marked with a style and finish noteworthy for their day.
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The government of the colony of Massachusetts presented, for over half a century, the most perfect union of church and state ever witnessed in America. The secular arm was ever ready to support the religious, and to compel every resident of the colony to walk in the strait and narrow way of Puritanism. This was a task easy enough at first, but growing more and more difficult as the character of the settlers became more diverse, until, finally, it had to be abandoned altogether.
One of the first and most formidable of all those who dared array themselves against this bulwark of Puritanism was Roger Williams. He was the son of a merchant tailor of London, had developed into a precocious boy, had shown a leaning toward Puritan doctrines, and had ended by out-Puritaning the Puritans. This was principally apparent in an intolerance of compromise which led him to remarkable extremes. He refused to conform to the use of the common prayer, and so cut himself off from all chance of preferment; he renounced a property of some thousands of pounds rather than take the oath required by law; and at last was forced to flee the country, reaching Massachusetts in 1631.
He was, of course, soon at war with the constituted authorities over questions of doctrine, and at last it was decided to get rid of him by sending him back to England. He was at Salem at the time, and hearing that a warrant had been despatched from Boston for him, he promptly took to the woods, and, making his way with a few followers to Narragansett Bay, broke ground for a settlement which he named Providence. It was the beginning of the first state in the world which took no cognizance whatever of religious belief, so long as it did not interfere with civil peace. He was soon joined by more adherents, and a few years later, he obtained from the king a charter for the colony of Rhode Island.
Almost from the moment of his landing in America, Williams had interested himself greatly in the welfare of the Indians. The principal cause of his expulsion from Massachusetts was his contention that the land belonged to the Indians and not to the King of England, who therefore had no right to give it away, so that the colony's charter was invalid. His town of Providence was built on land which the Indians had given him, and he soon acquired considerable influence among them. He learned to speak their language with great facility, translated the Bible into their tongue, and on more than one occasion saved New England from the horrors of an Indian war. But, despite his lofty character, it is impossible at this day, to regard Williams with any degree of sympathy or liking, or to think of him except as a trouble-maker over trifles. Intolerance, happily, is fading from the world, and with it that useless scrupulosity of behavior, which accomplishes no good, but whose principal result is to make uncomfortable all who come in contact with it.
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Meanwhile, just to the south of Rhode Island, a prosperous little settlement had been established, which was soon to grow into the most commercially important on the continent. We have seen how Henry Hudson, in 1609, in a vessel chartered by the Dutch West India Company, entered the Hudson river and explored it for some hundred and fifty miles. The Dutch claimed the region as the result of that voyage, and during the next few years, Dutch traders visited it regularly and did a lively business in furs; but no attempt was made at colonization until 1624, although small trading-posts had existed at various points along the river for ten years previously.
All of this country was included in the patent granted the Virginia Company, and it was for the mouth of the Hudson that the Pilgrims had sailed in the Mayflower. The charge has since been made that their captain had been bribed by the thrifty Dutch to land them somewhere else, and at any cost, to keep them away from the neighborhood of the Dutch trading-posts. From whatever cause, this was certainly done, and many years were to elapse before there came another English invasion.
In 1626, Peter Minuit, director for the Dutch West India Company, purchased Manhattan Island from the Indians, giving for it trinkets and merchandise to the value of $24, and founding New Amsterdam as the central trading depot. From the first, the settlement was a cosmopolitan one, just as it is to-day, and in 1643, it was said that eighteen languages were spoken there.
The most notable figure in this prosperous and growing colony was that of Peter Stuyvesant, an altogether picturesque and gallant personality. Born in Holland in 1602, he had entered the army at an early age, and, as governor of Curacao, lost a leg in battle. In 1646, he was appointed director-general of New Netherlands, and reached New Amsterdam in the spring of the following year. So much powder was burned in firing salutes to welcome him that there was scarcely any left. His speech of greeting was brief and to the point.
"I shall govern you," he said, "as a father his children, for the advantage of the chartered West India Company, and these burghers, and this land."
And he proceeded to do it, having in mind the old adage that to spare the rod is to spoil the child. There was never any doubt in Stuyvesant's mind that the first business of a ruler is to rule, and popular government seemed to him the merest idiocy. "A valiant, weather-beaten, mettlesome, obstinate, leathern-sided, lion-hearted, generous-spirited old governor"—the adjectives describe him well; a sufficiently imposing figure, with his slashed hose and velvet jacket and tall cane and silver-banded wooden leg, he ruled the colony for twenty years with a rod of iron, fortifying it, enlarging it, settling its boundaries, keeping the Indians over-awed, the veriest dictator this continent ever saw, until, one August day in 1664, an English fleet sailed up the bay and summoned the city to surrender.
Stuyvesant set his men to work repairing the fortifications, and was for holding out, but the town was really defenseless against the frigates, which had only to sail up the river and bombard it from either side; his people were disaffected and to some extent not sorry to be delivered from his rule; the terms offered by the English were favorable, and though Stuyvesant swore he never would surrender, a white flag was finally run up over the ramparts of Fort Amsterdam. The city was at once renamed New York, in honor of the Duke of York, to whom it had been granted; and the hard-headed old governor spent the remaining years of his life very comfortably on his great farm, the Bouwerie, just outside the city limits.
This conquest, bloodless and easy as it was, was fraught with momentous consequences. It brought New England into closer relations with Maryland and Virginia by creating a link between them, binding them together; it gave England command of the spot designed by nature to be the commercial and military centre of the Atlantic sea-board, and confirmed a possession of it that was never thereafter seriously disturbed, until the colonies themselves disputed it. Had New Amsterdam remained Dutch, dividing, as it did, New England from the South, there would never have been any question of revolution or independence. The flash of that little white flag on that September day, decided the fate of the continent.
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The Duke of York, being of a generous disposition and having many claims upon him, used a portion of the great territory granted him in America to reward his friends, and thereby laid the foundation for another great commonwealth with a unique history. New Jersey was given jointly to Sir George Carteret and Lord Berkeley, and in 1673, Lord Berkeley sold his share, illy-defined as the "southwestern part," to a Quaker named Edward Byllinge. Byllinge soon became insolvent, and his property was taken over by William Penn and two others, as trustees, and the seeds sown for one of the most interesting experiments in history.
There are few figures on the page of history more admirable, self-poised, and clear-sighted than this quiet man. He was born in London in 1644, the son of a distinguished father, and apparently destined for the usual career at the court of England. But while at Oxford, young Penn astonished everybody and scandalized his relatives by joining the Society of Friends, or Quakers, founded by George Fox only a short time before. His family at once removed him from Oxford and sent him to Paris, in the hope that amid the gayeties of the French capital he would forget his Quaker notions, but he was far from doing so. He returned home after a time, and his father threatened to shut him up in the Tower of London, but he retorted that for him the Tower was the worst argument in the world. We get some amusing glimpses of the contention in his household.
"You may 'thee' and 'thou' other folk as much as you like," his angry father told him, "but don't you dare to 'thee' and 'thou' the King, or the Duke of York, or me."
The Quakers insisted upon the use of "thee" and "thou," alleging that the use of the plural "you" was not only absurd, but a form of flattery, and this manner of address has been persisted in by them to this day. Penn, of course, continued to use them, much to his father's indignation, and even went so far as to wear his hat in the king's presence, an act of audacity which only amused that merry monarch. The story goes that the king, seeing young Penn covered, removed his own hat, remarking jestingly, "Wherever I am, it is customary for only one to be covered"; a neat reproof, as well as a lesson in manners which would have made any other young man's ears tingle, but Penn calmly enough replied, "Keep thy hat on, Friend Charles."
After his father's death, in 1670, Penn found himself heir to a great estate, and began to devote himself entirely to the defense and explanation of Quakerism. Again and again, he was thrown into prison and kept there for months on end, but gradually he began to win for the Friends a certain degree of respect and consideration, perhaps as much because of his high social station, gallant bearing and magnetic personality, as because of any of his arguments. In 1677, he made a sort of missionary tour of Europe, returning to England to set actively afloat the project for Quaker colonization in America which he had long been turning over in his mind.
Three years, however, passed before he could secure from the Duke of York a release of all his powers of sovereignty over West Jersey, but this was finally accomplished, and soon afterwards he secured from the crown a charter for a great strip of country in that region. Penn named this region "Sylvania," or "Woodland," but when the King came to approve the charter, he wrote the name "Penn" before "Sylvania," and when Penn protested, assured him laughingly that the name was given the country not in his honor but in that of his father, and so it stood.
Penn had been allowed a free hand in shaping the policy of his colony, and forthwith proclaimed such a government as existed nowhere else on earth. Absolute freedom of conscience was guaranteed to everyone; it was declared that governments exist for the sake of the governed, that to reform a criminal is more important than to punish him, that the death penalty should be inflicted only for murder or high treason, and that every man had a right to vote and to hold office. All of which are such matters of course to-day that we can scarcely realize how revolutionary they were two centuries ago.
To all who should come to his colony, Penn offered land at the rate of forty shillings for a hundred acres, and the experiment, denounced at first as visionary and certain of failure, was so successful that within a year, more than three thousand persons had sailed to settle along the Delaware. In the summer of 1682, Penn himself sailed for the New World, and late in the following autumn, at a spot just above the junction of the Schuylkill and Delaware, laid out a city as square and level as a checker-board, and named it Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. Before taking possession of the land, he concluded a treaty with the Delaware Indians, to whom it belonged, "the only treaty," as Voltaire says, "between savages and Christians that was never sworn to and never broken." Penn's stately and distinguished bearing, his affability and kindness of heart, made a deep impression upon the Indians; they always remembered him with trust and affection; and seventy years elapsed before Pennsylvania tasted the horrors of Indian warfare.
The growth of the new city was phenomenal. Settlers came so fast that cabins could not be built for them, and many of them lived for a time in caves along the river. The remainder of Penn's life was spent for the most part in England, where his interests demanded his presence, but he built a handsome residence in the city which he had founded and lived there at intervals until his death.
No consideration, however brief, of his life and work can be complete without some reference to the remarkable effect the establishment of his colony had on emigration to America. Pennsylvania gave a refuge and home to the most intelligent and progressive peoples of Europe, chafing under the religious restrictions which, at home, they could not escape. The Mennonites, the Dunkers, and the Palatines were among these, but by far the most important were the so-called Scotch-Irish—Scotchmen who, a century before, had been sent to Ireland by the English government, in the hope of establishing there a Protestant population which would, in time, come to outnumber and control the native Irish. The Scotch were Presbyterians, of course, and finding the Irish environment distasteful, began, about 1720, to come to America in such numbers that, fifty years later, they formed a sixth part of our entire population. Nearly all of them settled in Western Pennsylvania, from which a steady stream flowed ever southward and westward, furnishing the hardy pioneers of Kentucky and Tennessee, and forming the main strength of American democracy. We shall see, in the chapters which follow, how many of the men eminent in the country's history, traced their descent from this stock.
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One more interesting experiment in colonization, conceived and carried out by a man of unusual personality, remains to be recorded. James Oglethorpe, born in 1689, for forty years led the usual life of the wealthy English gentleman—first the army, then a period of quiet country life, and finally parliament. There, however, he took a place apart, almost at once, by his interest in prison reform. The condition of the English prisons of the day was indescribably foul and loathsome, and as horror after horror was unearthed by his investigations, a great project began to take shape in his mind. This was nothing less than the founding in America of a colony where prisoners for debt should be encouraged to settle, and where they should be given means to make a new start in life. For in those days, a man who could not pay his debts was cast into prison and kept there, frequently in the greatest misery, as though that helped matters any.
In 1732, Oglethorpe succeeded in securing a charter for such a colony, which he named Georgia, in honor of the King. Trustees were appointed, the support of influential men secured, and on November 16, 1732, the first shipload of emigrants left England. Oglethorpe himself accompanied them. He had undertaken to establish the colony on the condition that he receive no recompense, and was authorized to act as colonial governor.
Charleston, South Carolina, was reached about the middle of January, and, after some exploration, Oglethorpe selected as the site of the first settlement a bluff on the rich delta lands of the Savannah. Thither the emigrants proceeded, and at once began to build the town, which was named Savannah after the river flowing at its feet. Oglethorpe himself was indefatigable. He concluded a treaty with the Indians, provided for the defense of the colony against the Spaniards, who held Florida, and, most important of all, welcomed a colony of Jews, who had come from London at their own expense, and who soon became as valuable as any of Savannah's citizens. Probably never before in history had a Christian community welcomed a party of this unfortunate race, which had been despised and persecuted from one end of Europe to the other, which could call no country home, nor invoke the protection of any government.