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Trent and Wells, eds. Colonial Prose and Poetry. 1901.

Vol. II. The Beginnings of Americanism: 1650–1710

Edward Johnson

CAPTAIN EDWARD JOHNSON, author of the rambling but sturdy and characteristically Puritan “Wonder-Working Providence of Zion’s Saviour in New England,” was born at Herne Hill, Kent, England, in 1599, and died at Woburn, Massachusetts, April 23, 1672. It is thought that he came to New England with Winthrop, in 1630, and certain that he took an active part in organizing the church and the town of Woburn, in 1642. He held public office almost continuously till his death, was town representative, recorder, speaker, colonial commissioner, and something of a soldier. All that can be learned of him is industriously gathered in the late Wm. F. Poole’s introduction to his valuable reprint of the “Wonder-Working Providence” (1867). Johnson seems to have been a typical Puritan layman, bold, resourceful, and stern, with a sternness that came from the abiding thought of the immediate presence of a somewhat anthropomorphic God. His historical treatise, which carries the story of Massachusetts through the year 1651, three years before its publication in London, was written to defend the colony against unjust criticisms, and was based on first-hand information. Unfortunately, the author was very uncritical, and while we cannot but admire his strenuously eulogistic tone when he writes of the great Puritan leaders and their work, we are obliged to smile at the extravagant crudity of his style, upon which he evidently expended much labor. His attempts at verse are peculiarly distressing. But when all is said, he is very interesting, and much is to be pardoned to so sturdy a patriot.

Of the First Preparation of the Merchant Adventurers in the Massachusetts.
[From the “Wonder-Working Providence,” London, 1654. Chap. IX.]

… AT the place of their abode they began to build a Town, which is called Salem, after some little space of time having made trial of the sordid spirits of the neighboring Indians, the most bold among them began to gather to divers places, which they began to take up for their own; those that were sent over servants, having itching desires after novelties, found a readier way to make an end of their masters’ provisions, than they could find means to get more. They that came over their own men had but little left to feed on, and most began to repent when their strong beer and full cups ran as small as water in a large land, but little corn, and the poor Indians so far from relieving them, that they were forced to lengthen out their own food with acorns, and that which added to their present distracted thoughts, the ditch between England and their now place of abode was so wide, that they could not leap over with a lope-staff, yet some delighting their eye with the rarity of things present, and feeding their fancies with new discoveries at the Spring’s approach, they made shift to rub out the Winter’s cold by the fire-side, having fuel enough growing at their doors, turning down many a drop of the bottle, and burning tobacco with all the ease they could, discoursing between one while and another, of the great progress they would make after the Summer’s-sun had changed the earths white furr’d gown into a green mantel.

Of the Charges expended by this Poor People, to enjoy Christ in his Purity of his Ordinances.
[From the Same. Chap. XIII.]

AND now they enter the ships, should they have cast up what it would have cost to people New England before hand, the most strongest of faith among them would certainly have staggered much, and very hardly have set sail. But behold and wonder at the admirable Acts of Christ, here it is cast up to thy hand, the passage of the persons that peopled New England cost ninety-five thousand pounds, the swine, goats, sheep, neat and horse, cost to transport twelve thousand pounds besides the price they cost, getting food for all persons for the time till they brought the woods to tillage amounted unto forty-five thousand pounds; nails, glass and other iron-work for their meeting houses, and other dwelling houses, before they could raise any means in the country to purchase them, eighteen thousand pounds. Arms, powder, bullet and match, together with their great artillery, twenty-two thousand pounds: the whole sum amounts unto one hundred ninety two thousand pound, beside that which the Adventurers laid out in England, which was a small pittance compared with this, and indeed most of those that cast into this Bank were the chief Adventurers. Neither let any man think the sum above expended did defray the whole charge of this Army, which amounts to above as much more, only this sum lies still in bank, and the other they have had the income again. This therefore is chiefly presented to satisfy such as think New England men have been bad husbands in managing their estates; assuredly here it lies in bank, put out to the greatest advantage that ever any hath been for many hundred of years before, and verily although in casting it up some hundred may be miscounted (for the Author would not willingly exceed in any respect) but to be sure Christ stands by and beholds every mite that (in the obedience of faith) is cast into this Treasury: but what do we answering men? the money is all Christ’s, and certainly he will take it well that [his] have so disposed of it to his advantage; by this means he hath had a great income in England of late, Prayers, Tears and Praise and some Reformation; Scotland and Ireland have met with much profit of this Bank, Virginia, Bermodas and Barbados have had a taste, and France may suddenly meet with the like. Therefore repent you not, you that have cast in your coin, but tremble all you that with a penurious hand have not only cast in, such as are taking out to hoard it up in your napkins; remember Ananias and Saphirah, how darest thou do it in these days, when the Lord hath need of it? Gentle Reader, make use of this memorable Providence of Christ for his New England Churches, where had this poor people this great sum of money? the mighty Princes of the Earth never opened their coffers for them, and the generality of these men were mean and poor in the things of this life, but sure it is, the work is done, let God have the glory, who hath now given them food to the full, and some to spare for other Churches.

[From the Same. Chap. XIV.]

… THE NUMBER of ships that transported passengers in this space of time [to 1643] as is supposed is 298 [query 198 as stated in XVI]. Men women and children passing over this wide ocean as near as at present can be gathered is also supposed to be 21,200 or thereabout.

Of the Fourth Church of Christ gathered at Boston, 1631.
[From the Same. Chap. XX.]

AFTER some little space of time the Church of Christ at Charles Town having their Sabbath assemblies oftenest on the south side of the river, agreed to leave the people on that side to themselves, and to provide another Pastor for Charles Town, which according they did. So that the fourth Church of Christ issued out of Charles Town, and was seated at Boston being the Center Town and Metropolis of this Wilderness work (but you must not imagine it to be a Metropolitan Church) environed it is with the brinish floods, saving one small isthmus, which gives free access to the neighbor towns; by land on the south side, on the north west, and north east, two constant ferries are kept for daily traffic thereunto; the form of this town is like a heart, naturally situated for fortifications, having two hills on the frontice part thereof next the sea, the one well fortified on the superficies thereof, with store of great artillery well mounted, the other hath a very strong battery built of whole timber, and filled with earth, at the descent of the hill in the extreme point thereof; betwixt these two strong arms lies a large cave or bay, on which the chiefest part of this town is built, over-topped with a third hill; all three like over-topping towers keep a constant watch to fore-see the approach of foreign dangers, being furnished with a beacon and loud babbling guns to give notice by the redoubled echo to all their sister-towns. The chief edifice of this citylike town is crowded on the sea-banks and wharfed out with great industry and cost, the buildings beautiful and large, some fairly set forth with brick, tile, stone and slate, and orderly placed with comely streets, whose continual enlargement presages some sumptuous city…. But now behold the admirable acts of Christ. At this his peoples, landing the hideous thickets in this place were such that wolves and bears nursed up their young from the eyes of all beholders, in those very places where the streets are full of girls and boys, sporting up and down, with a continued concourse of people. Good store of shipping is here yearly built and some very fair ones. Both tar and masts the country affords from its own soil, also store of victual both for their own and foreigner’s ships who resort hither for that end. The town is the very mart of the land, French Portugals and Dutch come hither for traffic.

Of the Great Cheerfulness of Their Soldiers in Christ in and under the Penuries of a Wilderness.
[From the Same. Chap. XXIV.]

THIS year, 1631, John Winthrop, Esq., was chosen Governor, pickt out for the work by the provident hand of the Most High, and enabled with gifts accordingly; then all the folk of Christ, who have seen his face and been partaker of the same, remember him in this following Meeter.
  • ********
    Why leavest thou, John, thy station, in Suffolk, thy own soil?
  • Christ will have thee a pillar be, for ’s people thou must toil.
  • He chang’d thy heart, then take his part ’gainst prelates proud invading
  • His Kingly throne, set up alone, in wilderness there shading
  • His little flocks from Prelates’ knocks. Twice ten years rul’d thou hast,
  • With civil sword at Christ’s word, and eleven times been trast,
  • By name and note, with people’s vote, their Governor to be;
  • Thy means hast spent, ’twas therefore lent, to raise this work by thee.
  • Well arm’d and strong with sword among Christ’s armies marcheth he,
  • Doth valiant praise, and weak one raise, with kind benignity.
  • To lead the van, ’gainst Babylon, doth worthy Winthrop call;
  • Thy Progeny shall battle try, when Prelacy shall fall.
  • With fluent tongue thy pen doth run, in learned Latin phrase,
  • To Swedes, French, Dutch, thy Neighbors, which thy lady rhetoric praise.
  • Thy bounty feeds Christ’s servants’ needs, in wilderness of wants;
  • To Indians thou Christ’s Gospel now ’mongst heathen people plants.
  • Yet thou poor dust, now dead and must to rottenness be brought,
  • Till Christ restore thee glorious, more than can of dust be thought.
  • Those honored persons who were now in place of Government, having the propagation of the Churches of Christ in their eye, labored by all means to make room for inhabitants, knowing well that where the dead carcass is, thither will the eagles resort. But herein they were much opposed by certain persons, whose greedy desire for land much hindered the work for a time, as indeed all such persons do at this very day—and let such take notice how these were cured of this distemper. Some were taken away by death, and then to be sure they had land enough, others fearing poverty and famishment, supposing the present scarcity would never be turned into plenty, removed themselves away, and so never beheld the great good the Lord hath done for his people.

    But the valiant of the Lord waited with patience, and in the miss of beer supplied themselves with water, even the most honored, as well as others, contentedly rejoicing in a cup of cold water, blessing the Lord that had given them the taste of that living water, and that they had not the water that slacks the thirst of their natural bodies, given them by measure, but might drink to the full; as also in the absence of bread they feasted themselves with fish. The women once a day, as the tide gave way, resorted to the mussels, and clambanks, which are a fish as big as horse-mussels, where they daily gathered their families’ food with much heavenly discourse of the provisions Christ had formerly made for many thousands of his followers in the wilderness. Quoth one, “My husband hath travelled as far as Plymouth (which is near forty miles), and hath with great toil brought a little corn home with him, and before that is spent the Lord will assuredly provide.” Quoth the other, “Our last peck of meal is now in the oven at home a-baking, and many of our godly neighbors have quite spent all, and we owe one loaf of that little we have.” Then spake a third, “My husband hath ventured himself among the Indians for corn, and can get none, as also our honored Governor hath distributed his so far, that a day or two more will put an end to his store, and all the rest, and yet methinks our children are as cheerful, fat, and lusty with feeding upon those mussels, clambanks and other fish, as they were in England with their fill of bread, which makes me cheerful in the Lord’s providing for us, being further confirmed by the exhortation of our pastor to trust the Lord with providing for us; whose is the earth and the fulness thereof.”

    And as they were encouraging one another in Christ’s careful providing for them, they lift up their eyes and saw two ships coming in, and presently this news came to their ears, that they were come from Jacland full of victuals. Now their poor hearts were not so much refreshed in regard of the food they saw they were like to have, as their souls rejoiced in that Christ would now manifest himself to be the commissary-general of this his Army, and that he should honor them so far as to be poor sutlers for his camp. They soon up with their mussels, and hie them home to stay their hungry stomachs. After this manner did Christ many times graciously provide for this his people, even at the last cast.

    Of the Gracious Goodness of God in Hearing His People’s Prayers in Time of Need, and of the Shiploads of Goods the Lord sent them in.
    [From the Same. Chap. XXVII.]

    HERE again the admirable Providence of the Lord is to be noted, that whereas the country is naturally subject to drought, even to the withering of their summer’s fruits, the Lord was pleased, during these years of scarcity, to bless that small quantity of land they planted with seasonable showers, and that many times to the great admiration of the Heathen. For thus it befell. The extreme parching heat of the sun (by reason of a more constant clearness of the air than usually is in England) began to scorch the herbs and fruits, which was the chiefest means of their livelihood. They beholding the Hand of the Lord stretched out against them, like tender-hearted children, they fell down on their knees, begging mercy of the Lord for their Saviour’s sake, urging this as a chief argument, that the malignant adversary would rejoice in their destruction, and blaspheme the pure Ordinances of Christ, trampling down his Kingly Commands with their own inventions; and in uttering these words, their eyes dropped down many tears, their affections prevailing so strong, that they could not refrain in the Church Assembly. Here admire and be strong in the Grace of Christ, all you that hopefully belong unto him, for as they poured out water before the Lord, so at that very instant, the Lord showered down water on their gardens and fields, which with great industry they had planted, and now had not the Lord caused it to rain speedily, their hope of food had been lost; but at this these poor worms were so exceedingly taken, that the Lord should show himself so near unto their prayers, that as the drops from Heaven fell thicker and faster, so the tears from their eyes by reason of the sudden mixture of joy and sorrow. And verily they were exceedingly stirred in their affections, being unable to resolve themselves which mercy was greatest, to have a humble begging heart given them of God, or to have their request so suddenly answered.

    The Indians hearing hereof, and seeing the sweet rain that fell, were much taken with Englishmen’s God, but the Lord seeing his poor people’s hearts were too narrow to beg, his bounties exceeds toward them at this time, as indeed he ever hitherto hath done for this Wilderness People, not only giving the full of their requests, but beyond all their thoughts, as witness his great work in England of late, in which the prayers of God’s people in New England have had a great stroke. These people now rising from their knees to receive the rich mercies of Christ, in the refreshed fruits of the earth; behold the sea also bringing in whole ship-loads of mercies, more being filled with fresh forces for furthering this wonderful work of Christ. And indeed this year came in many precious ones, whom Christ in his grace hath made much use of in these his Churches and Commonwealth, insomuch that these people were even almost over-balanced with the great income of their present possessed mercies. Yet they address themselves to the sea-shore, where they courteously welcome the famous servant of Christ, grave, godly and judicious Hooker, and the honored servant of Christ, Mr. John Haynes, as also the Reverend and much desired Mr. John Cotton, and the rhetorical Mr. Stone, with divers others of the sincere servants of Christ, coming with their young, and with their old, and with their whole substance, to do him service in this desert wilderness. Thus this poor people having now tasted liberally of the salvation of the Lord every way, they deem it high time to take up the cup of thankfulness, and pay their vows to the most high God, by whom they were holpen to this purpose of heart, and accordingly set apart the 16th day of October (which they call the eighth month, not out of any peevish humor of singularity, as some are ready to censure them with, but of purpose to prevent the heathenish and Popish observation of days, months and years, that they may be forgotten among the people of the Lord). This day was solemnly kept by all the seven Churches, rejoicing in the Lord, and rendering thanks for all their benefits.

    Of the Laborious Work Christ’s People have in planting this Wilderness, set Forth in the building the Town of Concord, being the First Inland Town.
    [From the Same. Chap. XXXVI.]

    … AFTER they had thus found out a place of abode they burrow themselves in the earth for their first shelter, under some hillside, casting the earth aloft upon timber; they make a smoky fire against the earth at the highest side and thus these poor servants of Christ provide shelter for themselves, their wives and little ones, keeping off the short showers from their lodgings, but the long rains penetrate through to their great disturbance in the night season. Yet in those poor wigwams they sing psalms, pray and praise their God till they can provide them houses, which ordinarily was not wont to be with many till the earth by the Lord’s blessing brought forth bread to feed them, their wives and little ones, which with sore labor they attained, every one that can lift a hoe to strike it into the earth standing stoutly to their labors, and tear up the roots and bushes, which the first year bears them a very thin crop, till the sward of the earth be rotten and therefore they have been forced to cut their bread very thin for a long season. But the Lord is pleased to provide for them great store of fish in the spring time, and especially alewives, about the bigness of a herring. Many thousands of these they used to put under their Indian corn which they plant in hills five foot asunder, and assuredly when the Lord created this corn he had a special eye to provide his people’s wants with it, for ordinarily five or six grains doth produce six hundred….

    In this wilderness work men of estates speed no better than others, and some much worse for want of being inured to such hard labor having laid out their estates on cattle at five and twenty pound a cow, when they come to winter them with inland hay and feed upon such wild fodder as was never cut before they could not hold out the winter, but ordinarily the first or second year after their coming up to a new plantation many of their cattle died, especially if they wanted salt marshes; and also those who supposed they could feed upon swine’s flesh were cut short, the wolves commonly feasting themselves before them…. As for those who laid out their estates in sheep they speed worse than any at the beginning, although some have sped the best of any now, for until the land be often fed with other cattle sheep cannot live, and therefore they never thrive till these latter days. Horse had then no better success, which made many an honest gentleman travel afoot for a long time…. As also the want of English grain, wheat, barley and rye, proved a sore affliction to some stomachs…. Instead of apples and pears they had pumpkins and squashes of divers kinds. Their lonesome condition was very grievous to some, which was much agitated by continual fear of the Indians approach, whose cruelties were much spoken of…. Thus this poor people populate this howling desert, marching manfully on, the Lord assisting, through the greatest difficulties and sorest labors that ever any with such weak means have done.

    Of the First Promotion of Learning in New England and the Extraordinary Providences that the Lord was pleased to send for furthering of the Same.
    [From the Same, Book II. Chap. XIX.]

    TOWARD the latter end of this summer came over the learned, reverend, and judicious Mr. Henry Dunster, before whose coming the Lord was pleased to provide a patron for erecting a college, as you have formerly heard, his provident hand being now no less powerful in pointing out with his unerring finger a president abundantly fitted, this his servant, and sent him over for to manage the work. And as in all the other passages of this history the Wonder-working Providence of Sion’s Saviour hath appeared, so more especially in this work, the fountains of learning being in a great measure stopped in our native country at this time, so that the sweet waters of Shilo’s streams must ordinarily pass into the churches through the stinking channel of prelatical pride, beside all the filth that the fountains themselves were daily encumbered withal, insomuch that the Lord turned aside often from them, and refused the breathings of his blessed Spirit among them, which caused Satan (in these latter days of his transformation into an angel of light) to make it a means to persuade people from the use of learning altogether, that so in the next generation they might be destitute of such helps as the Lord hath been pleased hitherto to make use of, as chief means for the conversion of his people and building them up in the holy faith, as also for breaking down the Kingdom of Antichrist. And verily had not the Lord been pleased to furnish New England with means for the attainment of learning, the work would have been carried on very heavily, and the hearts of godly parents would have vanished away with heaviness for their poor children, whom they must have left in a desolate wilderness, destitute of the means of grace.

    It being a work (in the apprehension of all whose capacity could reach to the great sums of money the edifice of a mean college would cost) past the reach of a poor pilgrim people, who had expended the greatest part of their estates on a long voyage, travelling into foreign countries being unprofitable to any that have undertaken it, although it were but with their necessary attendance, whereas this people were forced to travel with wives, children, and servants; besides they considered the treble charge of building in this new populated desert, in regard of all kind of workmanship, knowing likewise, that young students could make up a poor progress in learning, by looking on the bare walls of their chambers, and that Diogenes would have the better of them by far, in making use of a tun to lodge in; not being ignorant also, that many people in this age are out of conceit with learning, and that although they were not among a people who counted ignorance the mother of devotion, yet were the greater part of the people wholly devoted to the plough (but to speak uprightly, hunger is sharp, and the head will retain little learning, if the heart be not refreshed in some competent measure with food, although the gross vapors of a glutted stomach are the bane of a bright understanding, and brings barrenness to the brain). But how to have both go on together, as yet they know not. Amidst all these difficulties, it was thought meet learning should plead for itself, and (as many other men of good rank and quality in this barren desert) plot out a way to live. Hereupon all those who had tasted the sweet wine of Wisdom’s drawing, and fed on the dainties of knowledge, began to set their wits a work, and verily as the whole progress of this work had a farther dependency than on the present-eyed means, so at this time chiefly the end being firmly fixed on a sure foundation, namely, the glory of God and good of all his elect people the world throughout, in vindicating the truths of Christ and promoting his glorious Kingdom, who is now taking the heathen for his inheritance and the utmost ends of the earth for his possession, means they know there are, many thousand uneyed of mortal man, which every day’s Providence brings forth.

    Upon these resolutions, to work they go, and with thankful acknowledgment readily take up all lawful means as they come to hand. For place they fix their eye upon New-Town, which to tell their posterity whence they came, is now named Cambridge. And withal to make the whole world understand that spiritual learning was the thing they chiefly desired, to sanctify the other and make the whole lump holy, and that learning being set upon its right object might not contend for error instead of truth, they chose this place, being then under the orthodox and soul-flourishing ministry of Mr. Thomas Shepard, of whom it may be said, without any wrong to others, the Lord by his Ministry hath saved many a hundred soul. The situation of this College is very pleasant, at the end of a spacious plain, more like a bowling-green than a wilderness, near a fair navigable river, environed with many neighboring towns of note, being so near, that their houses join with her suburbs. The building thought by some to be too gorgeous for a wilderness, and yet too mean in others’ apprehensions for a college, it is at present enlarging by purchase of the neighbor houses. It hath the conveniences of a fair hall, comfortable studies, and a good library, given by the liberal hand of some magistrates and ministers, with others. The chief gift towards the founding of this college was by Mr. John Harvard, a reverend minister; the country, being very weak in their public treasury, expended about £500 towards it, and for the maintenance thereof, gave the yearly revenue of a ferry passage between Boston and Charles-Town, the which amounts to about £40 or £50 per annum. The commissioners of the four united colonies also taking into consideration of what common concernment this work would be, not only to the whole plantations in general, but also to all our English Nation, they endeavored to stir up all the people in the several colonies to make a yearly contribution toward it, which by some is observed, but by the most very much neglected. The government hath endeavored to grant them all the privileges fit for a college, and accordingly the Governor and magistrates, together with the President of the College for the time being, have a continual care of ordering all matters for the good of the whole.

    This college hath brought forth and nurst up very hopeful plants, to the supplying some churches here, as the gracious and godly Mr. Wilson, son to the grave and zealous servant of Christ, Mr. John Wilson; this young man is pastor to the Church of Christ at Dorchester; as also Mr. Buckly, son to the reverend Mr. Buckly, of Concord; as also a second son of his, whom our native country hath now at present help in the ministry, and the other is over a people of Christ in one of these Colonies, and if I mistake not, England hath I hope not only this young man of New England nurturing up in learning, but many more, as Mr. Sam. and Nathaniel Mathers, Mr. Wells, Mr. Downing, Mr. Barnard, Mr. Allin, Mr. Brewster, Mr. William Ames, Mr. Jones. Another of the first-fruits of this college is employed in these western parts in Mevis, one of the Summer Islands; besides these named, some help hath been had from hence in the study of physic, as also the godly Mr. Sam. Danforth, who hath not only studied divinity, but also astronomy; he put forth many almanacs, and is now called to the office of a teaching elder in the Church of Christ at Roxbury, who was one of the fellows of this College. The number of students is much increased of late, so that the present year, 1651, on the twelfth of the sixth month, ten of them took the degree of Bachelors of Art, among whom the Sea-born son of Mr. John Cotton was one….