There are a few published eyewitness reports of early Plymouth Colony. The most famous is William Bradford’s history Of Plimoth Plantation that actually begins in 1550 and runs through 1647-8. Perhaps the next best known is the journal known as Mourt’s Relation that mainly covers the period from the Pilgrims’ departure from England in September 1620 through the first winter to 23 March 1621. Here, Morrell’s observations, recorded in both Latin hexameters and his own translation into English, were published in 1625.
New England. Or a briefe enarration of the ayre, Earth, Water, Fish and Fowles of that Country. With a Description of the Natures, Orders, Habits and Religion of the Natives; in Latine and English Verse (London, 1625)
There are a few published eyewitness reports of early Plymouth Colony. The most famous is William Bradford’s history Of Plimoth Plantation that actually begins in 1550 and runs through 1647-8. Perhaps the next best known is the journal known as Mourt’s Relation that mainly covers the period from the Pilgrims’ departure from England in September 1620 through the first winter to 23 March 1621. It appears to be a joint effort of both Bradford and Edward Winslow and was published in England in 1622. Edward Winslow, in his Good Newes from New England published in 1624, picks up the story with the arrival of the next ship, “Fortune”, in November 1621, up through the arrival of the “Anne” and “Little James” in September 1623. Winslow also includes a chapter on the “manners, customs, religious opinions and ceremonies of the Indians.” Caleb Johnson’s www.MayflowerHistory.com website includes a few letters from Plimoth settlers during the first decade as well as from Bradford’s 1624-1630 Letter Book.
A lengthy discourse on the Colony and its surrounds in poetry was published by the Church of England (Episcopal) clergyman and Cambridge graduate William Morrell in 1625. In 1623 he had accompanied Capt. Robert Gorges who had been sent to establish a second settlement in what is now Weymouth. The settlement being a failure, Gorges had returned to England that same year, leaving Morrell behind. Morrell had a commission from the Ecclesiastical Court in England to be a superintendent of the churches that might be established in New England. Finding that everything was well organized, he decided to remain in the Colony and study the flora and fauna of New England and also the native people. Morrell does not name any individuals in his poem. Bradford does mention Morrell, however, in his account of the events of 1623 in which he states that he was unaware of Morrell’s reason for coming to New England until Morrell’s departure in 1624 or 1625, as Morrell had never made the reason known.
Morrell’s observations, recorded in both Latin hexameters and his own translation into English, were published in 1625. It is interesting to compare both his and Winslow’s description in Good Newes of the native people. Both were recorded at about the same time. Winslow departed for England shortly after Morrell’s arrival. Some readers may be disturbed by Reverend Morrell’s typical white/English 17th-century mind-set. Others may find Morrell’s 17th-century spelling amusing. The bottom line, however, is that, like many others writing home from New England, the new settlers were trying to entice others to join them. As Morrell states:
“A grand-childe to earth’s paradize is borne,
Well lim’d, well nerv’d, faire, riche, sweete, yet forlorne,
Thou blest director, so direct my verse
That it may winne her people, friends, commerce.”
The following English text is from the poem’s publication in 1896 in the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Volume 1, pages 125-139 courtesy of The Pilgrim Hall Museum. It appears with the original spelling and punctuation. Multiples of five line numbers have been added. Those who wish to read the Latin text will find it in that same source.
Stacy B. C. Wood, Jr.
Morrell’S POEM ON NEW ENGLAND
ADDRESSED TO KING CHARLES I.
New England so nam’d by your Princely Grace,
Dread Soveraigne, now most humbly sues to see
Your Royal Highnes in your regall place,
Wishing your Grace all peace, blisse, soveraignty,
Trusting your goodnesse will her state and fame
Support, which goodnesse once vouchsaf’d her name.
1 Feare not poore muse, ‘cause first to sing her fame,
That’s yet scarce known, unless by map or name;
A grand-childe to earth’s paradize is borne,
Well lim’d, well nerv’d, faire, riche, sweete, yet forlorne,
5 Thou blest director, so direct my verse,
That it may winne her people, friends, commerce;
Whilst her sweet ayre, rich soile, blest seas, my penne
Shall blaze and tell the natures of her men.
New-England, happie in her new true stile,
10 Wearie of her cause she’s to sad exile
Expos’d by her’s unworthy of her land,
Intreates with teares Great Brittaine to command.
Her empire, and to make her know the time,
Whose act and knowledge onely makes divine.
15 A royall worke well worthy England’s king,
These natives to true truth and grace to bring.
A noble worke for all those noble peares
Which guide this state in their superiour spheres,
You holy Aarons let your sensors nere
20 Cease burning, till these men Jehovah feare.
Westward a thousand leagues a spatious land,
Is made unknown to them that it command.
Of fruitful mould, and no lesse fruitlesse maine
Inrich with springs and prey high-land and plaine.
25 The light well tempred, humid ayre, whose breath
Fils full all concaves betwixt heaven and earth,
So that the region of the ayre is blest
With what earth’s mortals wish to be possest.
Great Titan darts on her his heavenly rays
30 Whereby extreames he quells, and overswayes.
Blest is this ayre with what the ayre can blesse;
Yet frequent ghusts doe much this place distresse;
Here unseene ghusts doe instant on-set give,
As heaven and earth they would together drive.
35 An instant power doth surprize their rage,
In their vast prison, and their force asswage.
Thus in exchange a day or two is spent,
In smiles and frownes: in great yet no content.
The earth grand parent to all things on earth,
40 Cold, dry, and heavie, and the next beneath
The ayre, by nature’s arme with low discents,
Is as it were intrencht; againe ascents
Mount up to heaven by Jove’s omnipotence,
Whose looming greenesse joyes the sea-mans sence.
45 Invites him to a land if he can see,
Worthy the thrones of stately soveraigntie.
The fruitfull and well watered earth doth glad
All hearts, when Flora’s with her spangles clad,
And yeelds an hundred fold for one,
50 To feede the bee and to invite the drone:
Oh happie planter, if you knew the height
Of planter’s honours where ther’s such delight;
There nature’s bounties, though not planted are,
Great store and sorts of berries great and faire:
55 The filberd, cherry, and the fruitful vine,
Which cheares the heart and makes it more divine.
Earth’s spangled beauties pleasing smell and sight;
Objects for gallant choyce and chiefe delight.
A ground-nut there runnes on a grassie threed,
60 Along the shallow earth as in a bed,
Yealow without, thin filmd, sweete, lilly white,
Of strength to feede and cheare the appetite.
From these our natures may have great content,
And good subsistance when our meanes is spent.
65 With these the natives do their strength maintaine
The winter-season, which time they retaine
Their pleasant verture, but if once the spring
Returne, they are not worth the gathering.
All ore that maine the vernant trees abound,
70 Where cedar, cypres, spruce, and beech are found.
Ash, oake, and wal-nut, pines, and junipere;
The hasel, palme, and hundred more are there.
Ther’s grasse and hearbs contenting man and beast,
On which both deare, and beares, and wolves do feast.
75 Foxes both gray and blacke (though black I never
Beheld) with muscats, lynces, otter, bever,
With many other which I here omit,
Fit for to warme us, and to feede us fit.
The fowles that in those bays and harbours feede,
80 Though in their seasons they doe else-where breede,
Are swans and geese, herne, phesants, duck and crane,
Culvers and divers all along the maine:
The turtle, eagle, partridge, and the quaile,
Knot, plover, pigeons, which doe never faile,
85 Till sommer’s heate commands them to retire,
And winter’s cold begets their old desire.
With these sweete dainties man is sweetly fed,
With these rich feathers ladies plume their head;
Here’s flesh and feathers both for use and ease
90 To feede, adorne, and rest thee, if thou please.
The treasures got, on earth, by Titan’s beames,
They best may search that have best art and meanes.
The ayre and earth if good, are blessings rare,
But when with these the waters blessed are,
95 The place is compleat; here each pleasant spring,
Is like those fountains where the muses sing.
The easie channels gliding to the east,
Unlesse oreflowed, then post to be releast,
The ponds and places where the waters stay,
100 Content the fowler with all pleasant prey.
Thus ayre and earth and water give content,
And highly honour this rich continent.
As nature hath this soile blest, so each port
Abounds with blisse, abounding all report.
105 The carefull naucleare may a-farre discry
The land by smell, as’t loomes below the skie,
The prudent master there his ship may more,
Past winde and weather, then his God adore.
Man forth each shallop with three men to sea,
110 Which oft returne with wondrous store of prey;
As oysters, cra-fish, crab, and lobsters great,
In great abundance when the seaes retreate:
Torteise, and herring, turbut, hacke and base:
With other small fish, and fresh bleeding place;
115 The mighty whale doth in these harbours lye,
Whose oyle the careful mearchant deare will buy.
Besides all these and others in this maine:
The costly codd doth march with his rich traine:
With which the sea-man fraughts his merry ship:
120 With which the merchant doth much riches get:
With which plantations richly may subsist,
And pay their merchants debt and interest.
Thus ayre and earth, both land and sea yeelds store
Of nature’s dainties both to rich and poore;
125 To whom if heavens a holy vice-roy give,
The state and people may most richly live:
And there erect a pyramy of estate,
Which onely sinne and heaven can ruinate.
Let deepe discretion this great work attend,
130 What’s well begun for th’ most part well doth end:
So may our people peace and plenty finde,
And kill the dragon that would kill mankinde.
Those well seene natives in grave natures hests,
All close designes conceale in their deepe brests:
135 What strange attempts so ere they doe intend,
Are fairly usherd in, till their last ende.
Their well advised talk evenly conveyes
Their acts to their intents, and nere displayes
Their secret projects, by high words or light,
140 Till they conclude their end by fraud or might.
No former friendship they in mind retaine,
If you offend once, or your love detaine:
They’re wondrous, cruell, strangely base and vile,
Quickly displeasd, and hardly reconcild;
145 Stately and great, as read in rules of state;
Incensd, not caring what they perpetrate.
Whose hayre is cut with greeces, yet a locke
Is left; the left side bound up in a knott:
Their males small labour but great pleasure know,
150 Who nimbly and expertly draw the bow;
Traind up to suffer cruell heat and cold,
Or what attempt so ere may make them bold;
Of body straight, tall, strong, mantled in skin
Of deare or bever, with the hayre-side in;
155 As otter skin their right armes doth keepe warme,
To keepe them fit for use, and free from harme;
A girdle set with formes of birds or beasts,
Begirts their waste, which gentle gives them ease,
Each one doth modestly bind up his shame,
160 And deare-skin start-ups reach up to the same;
A kind of pinsen keeps their feet from cold,
Which after travels they put off, up-fold,
Themselves they warme, their ungirt limbes they rest
In straw, and houses, like to sties: Distrest
165 With winter’s cruell blasts, a hotter clime
They quickly march to, when that extreame time
Is over, then contented they retire
To their old homes, burning up all with fire.
Thus they their ground from all things quickly cleare,
170 And make it apt great store of come to beare.
Each people hath his orders, state, and head,
By which they’r rul’d, taught, ordered, and lead.
The first is by descent their lord and king,
Pleas’d in his name likewise and governing:
175 The consort of his bed must be of blood
Coequall, when an of spring comes as good,
And highly bred in all high parts of state,
As their commanders of whom they’re prognate,
If they unequal loves at Hymen’s hand
180 Should take, that vulgar seede would nere command
In such high dread, great state and deepe decrees
Their kingdoms, as their kings of high degrees:
Their kings give lawes, rewardes to those they give,
That in good order, and high service live.
185 The aged widow and the orphanes all,
Their kings maintaine, and strangers when they call
They entertaine with kind salute for which
In homage, they have part of what’s most rich.
These heads are guarded with their stoutest men,
190 By whose advice and skill, how, where, and when,
They enterprise all acts of consequence,
Whether offensive or for safe defence.
These potents doe invite all once a yeare,
To give a kind of tribute to their peere,
195 And here observe thou how each childe is traind;
To make him fit for armes he is constraind
To drink a potion made of hearbes most bitter,
Till turnd to blood with casting, whence he’s fitter,
Induring that to under-goe the worst
200 Of hard attempts, or what may hurt him most.
The next in order are their well seene men
In herbes, and rootes, and plants, for medicen,
With which by touch, with clamors, teares, and sweat,
With their curst magicke, as themselves, they beat,
205 They quickly ease: but when they cannot save,
But are by death surprizd, then with the grave
The divell tells them he could not dispence;
For God hath kild them for some great offence.
The lowest people are as servants are,
210 Which doe themselves for each command prepare:
They may not marrynor tobacco use,
Till certain years, least they themselves abuse.
At which yeares to each one is granted leave,
A wife or two, or more, for to receive.
215 By having many wives, two things they have;
First, children which before all things to save
They covet, ‘cause by them their kingdomes fild,
When as by fate or armes their lives are spild.
Whose death as all that dye they sore lament,
220 And fill the skies with cries: impatient
Of nothing more than pale and fearful death,
Which old and young bereaves of vitall breath.
Their dead wrapt up in mats to th’ grave they give,
Upright from th’ knees with goods whilst they did live,
225 Which they best lov’d: their eyes turn’d to the east,
To which after much time, to be releast
They all must march, where all shall all things have
That heart can wish, or they themselves can crave.
A second profit, which by many wives
230 They have, is corne, the staffe of all their lives.
All are great eaters; he’s most rich whose bed
Affords him children, profit, pleasure, bread.
But if fierce Mars begins his bow to bend,
Each king stands on his guard, seekes to defend
235 Himselfe, and his, and therefore hides his graine
In earth’s close concaves, to be fetch’d againe,
If he survives: Thus saving of himselfe,
He acts much mischiefe, and retains his wealth.
By this deepe wyle, the Irish long withstood
240 The English power, whilst they kept their food,
Their strength of life their corne; that lost, they long
Could not withstand this nation, wise, stout, strong.
By this one art, these natives oft survive
Their great’st opponents, and in honour thrive.
245 Besides, their women, which for th’ most part are
Of comely formes, not blacke, nor very faire:
Whose beautie is a beauteous blacke laid on
Their paler cheeke, which they most doat upon:
For they by nature are both faire and white,
250 Inricht with graceful presence, and delight;
Deriding laughter, and allprattling, and
Of sober aspect, grast with grave command:
Of man-like courage, stature tall and straight,
Well nerv’d with hands and fingers small and right.
255 Their slender fingers on a grassie twyne,
Make well form’d baskets wrought with art and lyne;
A kind of arras, or straw-hangings, wrought
With divers formes, and colours, all about
These gentle pleasures, their fine fingers fit,
260 Which nature seem’d to frame rather to sit;
Rare stories, princes, people, kingdomes, towers,
In curious finger-worke, or parchment flowers:
Yet are these hands to labours all intent,
And what so ere without doores, give content.
265 These hands doe digge the earth, and in it lay
Their fair choyce corne, and take the weeds away,
As they doe grow, raysing with earth each hill,
As Ceres prospers to support it still.
Thus all worke-women doe, whilst men in play,
270 In hunting, armes, and pleasures, end the day.
The Indians whilst our Englishmen they see
In all things servile exercisd to be;
And all our women freed, from labour all
Unless what’s easie; us much fooles they call,
275 ‘Cause men doe all things; but our women live
In that content which God to man did give.
Each female likewise long reteines deepe wrath,
And’s nere appeas’d till wrongs reveng’d shee hath:
For they when forraigne princes armes up take
280 Against their leige, quickly themselves betake
To th’ adverse armie, where they’re entertaind
With kind salutes, and presently are daign’de
Worthy fair Hymen’s favours; thus offence
Obtaines by them an equall recompence.
285 Lastly, though they no lynes, nor altars know,
Yet to an unknowne God these people bow:
All feare some God, some God they worship all,
On whom in trouble and distresse they call;
To whom of all things they give sacrifice,
290 Filling the ayre with their shrill shrikes and cries,
The knowledge of this God they say they have
From their forefathers, wond’rous wise and grave;
Who told them of one God, which did create
All things at first, himself though increate.
295 He our first parents made, yet made but two,
One man, one woman, from which stocke did grow
Royall mankinde, of whom they also came
And tooke beginnings, being, forme, and frame
Who gave them holy lawes for aye to last,
300 Which each must teach his childe til time be past.
Their grosse fed bodies yet no letters know,
No bonds nor bills they value, but their vow.
Thus without art’s bright lampe, by nature’s eye,
They keep just promise, and love equitie.
305 But if once discord his fierce ensigne weare,
Expect no promise unless’t be for feare:
And, though these men no letters know, yet their
Pan’s harsher numbers we may some where heare;
And vocall odes which us affect with griefe;
310 Though to their mindes perchance they give reliefe.
Besides these rude insights in nature’s brest,
Each man by some meanes is with sence possest
Of heaven’s great lights, bright starres, and influence,
But chiefely those of great experience.
315 Yet they no feasts (that I can learne) observe,
Besides their Ceres, which doth them preserve.
No dayes by them descernd from other dayes,
For holy certaine service kept alwayes.
Yet they when extreame heate doth kill their corne,
320 Afflict themselves some dayes, as men forelorne.
Their times they count not by the yeare as we,
But by the moone their times distingui’sht be;
Not by bright Phoebus, or his glorious light,
But by his Phoebe and her shadowed night.
325 They now accustom’d are two Gods to serve,
One good, which gives all good, and doth preserve;
This they for love adore: the other bad,
Which hurts and wounds, yet they for feare are glad
To worship him. See here a people who
330 Are full of knowledge, yet do nothing know
Of God aright: yet say his lawes are good,
All, except one, whereby their will’s withstood
In having many wives; if they but one
Must have, what must they doe when they have none.
335 O how farre short comes nature of true grace.
Grace sees God here; hereafter face to face:
But nature quite encru’d of all such right,
Reteines not one poore sparkle of true light.
And now what soule dissolves not into teares,
340 That hell must have ten thousand thousand heires,
Which have no true light of that truth divine,
Or sacred wisdome of th’ eternall Trine.
O blessed England far beyond all sence,
That knowes and loves this Trine’s omnipotence.
345 In briefe survey here water, earth, and ayre,
A people proud, and what their orders are:
The fragrant flowers, and the vernant groves,
The merry shores, and storme-astranting coves.
In briefe, a briefe of what may make man blest,
350 If man’s content abroad can be possest.
If these poore lines may winne this country love,
Or kinde compassion in the English move;
Perswade our mightie and renowned state,
This pore-blinde people to comiserate;
355 Or painefull men to this good land invite,
Whose holy workes these natives may inlight:
If heavens graunt these, to see here built I trust,
An English kingdome from this Indian dust.