Wednesday, June 15, 2016
1631 Boston area Native Americans are dying en masse, as a Young New England Colonist sends an Urgent Plea to his Parents Back in England
Writing in 1634 from Boston, less than 4 years after the city had been founded, John Winthrop (1588-1649), the 1st governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, & the chief figure among the Puritan founders of New England, described a population of 4,000 settlers. The American Indian population did not fare as well. Epidemic diseases introduced by European fishermen & fur traders reduced the population of New England’s coastal tribes by about 90 percent by the early 1620s. Their numbers continued to dwindle after Winthrop’s colony arrived in 1630, a development he took as a blessing: “For the natives, they are near all dead of the smallpox, so the Lord hath cleared our title to what we possess.” This sentence—the last in this letter mostly about the weather & crops—reveals a belief in divine providence that would shape relations with Native peoples for centuries to come.
Abenakis couple. The Abenaki (Abnaki, Alnôbak) are a Native American tribe & First Nation. They are one of the Algonquian-speaking peoples of northeastern North America. The Abenaki live in Quebec & the Maritimes of Canada & in the New England region of the United States.
From the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 2nd Series, vol. 8 (Boston, 1892-1894). The writer is unidentified.
March 15, 1631
To my loving father William Pond, at Etherston in Suffolk give this.
MOST LOVING & KIND FATHER & MOTHER, My humble duty remembered unto you, trusting in God you are in good health, & I pray remember my love unto my brother Joseph & thank him for his kindness that I found at his hand at London...I know, loving father, & do confess that I was an undutiful child unto you when I lived with you & by you, for the which I am much sorrowful & grieved for it, trusting in God that he will guide me that I will never offend you so any more & I trust in God that you will forgive me for it.
My writing unto you is to let you understand what a country this New England is where we live. Here are but few [Indians], a great part of them died this winter, it was thought it was of the plague. They are a crafty people & they will...cheat, & they are a subtle people, & whereas we did expect great store of beaver here is little or none to be had. They are proper men...many of them go naked with a skin about their loins, but now sum of them get Englishmen's apparel; & the country is very rocky and hilly & some champion ground & the soil is very [fruitful], & here is some good ground and marsh ground, but here is no Michaelmas. Spring cattle thrive well here, but they give small store of milk. The best cattle for profit is swines & a good swine is her at £5 price, and a goose worth £2 a good one got. Here is timber good store & acorns good store, and here is good store of fish if we had boats to go for & lines to serve to fishing...people here are subject to diseases, for here have died of the scurvy & of the burning fever nigh too hundred & odd; beside as many lie lame & all Sudbury men are dead but three & three women & some children, & provisions are here at a wonderful rate...
If this ship had not come when it did we had been put to a wonderful straight, but thanks be to God for sending of it in. I received from the ship a hogshead of meal, & the Governor telleth me of a hundred weight of cheese the which I have received part of it. I humbly thank you for it. I did expect two cows, the which I had none, nor I do not earnestly desire that you should send me any, because the country is not so as we did expect it. Therefore, loving father, I would entreat you that you would send me a ferckeine of butter & a hogshead of malt unground, for we drink nothing but water, & a coarse clothe of four pound price so it be thick. For the freight, if you of your love will send them I will pay the freight, for here is nothing to be got without we had commodities to go up to the East parts amongst the Indians to truck, for here where we live here is no beaver. Here is no cloth to be had to make no apparel, & shoes are a 5s a pair for me, & that cloth that is worth 2s 8d is worth here 5s. So I pray, father, send me four or five yards of cloth to make some apparel, & loving father, though I be far distant from you yet I pray you remember me as your child, & we do not know how long we may subsist, for we can not live here without provisions from old England.
Therefore, I pray do not put away your shop stuff, for I think that in the end, if I live, it must be my living, for we do not know how long this plantation will stand, for some of the magnates that did uphold it have turned off their men & have given it over. Besides, God hath taken away the chiefest stud in the land, Mr. Johnson & the lady Arabella his wife, which was the chiefest man of estate in the land & one that would have done most good. Here came over 25 passengers & their came back again four score & odd persons, & as many more would a come if they had wherewithal to bring them home, for are many that came over the last year which was worth two hundred pounds afore they came ought of old England that between this & Micahelmas will be hardly worth £30. So here we may live if we have supplies every year from old England, otherwise we can not subsist.
I may, as I will, work hard, set an acre of [English] wheat, & if we do not set it with fish & that will cost 20 s., if we set it without fish they shall have but a poor crop. So father, I pray, consider of my cause, for here will be but a very poor being, no being without loving father, your help with provisions from old England. I had thought to come home in this ship, for my provisions were almost all spent, but that I humbly thank you for your great love & kindness in sending me some provisions or else I should & mine a been half famished, but now I will, if it please God that I have my health, I will plant what corn I can, & if provisions be not cheaper between this & Michaelmas & that I do not hear from you what I was best to do, I purpose to some home at Michaelmas.
My wife remembers her humble duty unto you & to my mother, & my love to brother Joseph & to Sarey Myler. Thus I leave you to the protection of Almighty God.
Watertown, New England, Unsigned