A Description of Plymouth by John Pory ~ 1622

By whom this new Plymouth (situated according to Captain Jones his computationPlymouth_Landsat in 41 degrees and 48 minutes) is now presently inhabited, your Lordship and the honorable Company do know better then my self; for whom how favorable Gods providence, without and indeed quite besides any plot or design of theirs hath wrought, especially in the beginning of their enterprise, is worthy to be observed. For whereas your Lordship knows, their voyage was intended for Virginia, being by letters from Sir Edwin Sandis and Mr. Deputy Ferrar recommended to Sir Yardly, then governor, that he should give them the best advise he could for trading in Hudson’s river, whether it were by contrarity of wind, or by the backwardness of their master or pilot, to make (as they thought it) too long a journey, they fell short both of the one and the other, arriving first at that stately harbor called Cape Cod, called by Indians Pawmet, from whence in shallop the Pilot (a more forward undertaker then performer) promised to bring them to be seated in a pleasant and fertile place called Anquam, situated within Cape Anna about 40 leagues from Plymouth. After some dangerous and almost incureable errors and mistakings, he stumbled by accident upon the harbor of Plymouth, where after the Planters had failed of their intention, and the Pilot of his, it pleased Almighty God (who had better provided for them then their own hearts could imagine) to plant them upon the seat of an old town, which divers years before had been abandoned of the Indians. So they both quietly and justly sat down without either disposing any of the natives, or being resisted by them, and without shedding so much as one drop of blood, which facility of theirs is confirmed unto them even by the voices of the savages themselves, who generally do acknowledge not only the seat, but the whole segniorie thereto belonging, to be, and do themselves disclaim all title from it, so that the right of those Planters to it is altogether unquestionable, a favor which since the first discovery of America God hath not vouchsafed, so far as ever I could learn, upon any Christian nations within that Continent, yet can it not be denied, but that these of the Summer Islands are blessed with the same priviledge according to the sayings of St. Paul, If the first fruits be holy, the lump is also holy; but to leave this priviledge to them whom it concerns, and to describe to your Lordship the excellency of this place, first, the harbor is not only pleasant for air and prospect, but most sure for shipping both small and great, being land-locked on all sides. The town is seated on the ascent of a hill, which besides the pleasure of variable objects entertaining the unsatisfied eye, such is the wholesomeness of the place (as the Governor told me) that for the space of one whole year, of the two wherein they had been there, dyed not one man, woman, or child. This healthfulness is accompanied with much plenty both of fish and fowl every day in the year, as I know no place in the world that can match it. In March the eels come forth out of places where they lie bedded all winter, into the fresh streams, and there into the sea, and in their passages are taken in pots. In September they run out of the sea into the fresh streams, to bed themselves in the ground all winter, and are taken again in pots as they return homewards. In winter the inhabitants dig them up, being bedded in gravel not above two or three feet deep, and all the rest of the year they may take them in pots in the salt water of the bay. They are passing sweet , fat, and wholesome, having no taste at all of the mud, and are as great as ever I saw any. In April & May come up another kind of fish which they call herring, or old wives, in infinite schools into a small river running under the town, and so into a great pond or lake of a mile broad where they cast their spawn, the water of the said river being in many places not above half a foot deep. Yea, when a heap of stones is reared up against them a foot high above the water, they leap and tumble over and will not be beaten back with cudgels, which confirmeth not only that of Horace, Naturam expellas furca licet, &c. But that also which was thought a fable of Friar Beatus Odericus, namely, that in some parts where he had traveled, the fish in the springtime did cast themselves out of the sea upon the dry land. The inhabitants during the said two months take them up every day in hogsheads, and with those they eat not they manure the ground, burying 2 or 3 in each hill of corn, and may, when they are able, if they see cause, lade whole ships with them. At their going up they are very fat and savory, but at their coming down, after they have cast their spawn, they are shot, and therefore lean and unwholesome.

Into another river some two miles to the north-east of Plymouth all the month of May the great smelts pass up to spawn likewise in troops innumerable, which with a scoop, or a boule, or a piece of bark, a man may cast up upon the bank. About mid-way come into the harbor the many schools of bass and blue fish, which they take with skaines,–some fishes of a foot and a half, some of two feet, and some of 3 feet long, and with hooks those of 4 and 5 feet long. They enter also at flowing water up into the small creeks, at the mouths whereof the inhabitants, speading their nets, have caught 500 and 700 at a time. These continue good May, June, July and August. Now as concerning the blue fish, in delicacy it excelleth all kind of fish that ever I tasted, I except not the salmon of the Thames in his prime season, nor any other fish. We called it by a compound name of black, white, blue, sweet, fat,–the skin and scale blue; the flesh next under the scale for an inch deep black, and as sweet as the marrow of an ox; the residue of the flesh underneath purely white, fat, and of a taste requiring no addition of sauce. By which alluring quality it may seem dangerously tending to a sarfeit, but we found by experience that having satisfied and in a manner glutted ourselves therewith, it proved wholesome unto us and most easy of digestion. In the same bay lobsters are in season during the 4 months, so large, so full of meat, and so plentiful in number, as no man will believe that he hath not seen. For a knife of 3 half pence I bought 10 lobsters that would have dined 40 laboring men; and the least boy in the ship with an hours labor, was able to feed the whole company with them for two days, which, if those of the ship that come home do not affirm upon their oaths, let me for ever lose my credit. Without the bay in the ocean sea, they have all the year long in a manner goodly fishing of cod and hake as in other parts of Canada. Within 2 miles southward from their plantation do begin goodly ponds and lakes of fresh water, continuing well nigh 20 miles into the land, some with islands in them, the water being as clear as crystal, yielding great variety of fish. Muscles and clams they have all the year long, which being the meanest of Gods blessings here, and such as these people fat their hogs with at a low water, if ours upon any extremity did enjoy in the South Colony, they would never complain of famine or want, although they wanted bread. Not but that by Gods blessing the South Colony using their industry many in few years attain to that plenty, pleasure, and strength as that they shall not need much to envy or fear the proudest nations in Europe. Oysters there are none, but at Massachusetts some 20 miles to the north of this place there are such huge ones by savages report, as I am loath to report. For ordinary ones of which there be many, they make to be as broad as a bushel, but one among the rest they compared to the great cabin in the Discovery, and being sober and well advised persons, grew very angry when they were laughed at or not believed! I would have had Captain Jones to have tried out the truth of this report, and what was the reason? If, said I, the oysters be so great and have any pearls in them, then must the pearls be answerable in greatness to the oysters, and proving round and orient also, would far exceed all other jewels in the world! Yea, what strange and precious things might be found in so rare a creature! But Captain Jones his employing his pinnance in discovery, his graveing of the ship, his hast away about other occasions and business, would not permit him to do that which often since he wished he could have done. From the beginning of September till the end of March, their bay in a manner is covered with all sorts of water fowl, in such sort of swarms and multitudes as is rather admirable then credible.

The reasons of their continual plenty for those 7 months in the year may be the continual tranquility of the place, being guarded on all sides from the fury of storms, as also the abundance of food they find at low water, the bottom of the bay then appearing as a green medow, and lastly the number of frishets running into the bay, where after their powdered sallets, their brackish shellfish, and other cates they may refresh and quench their thirst. And therefore this bay is such a pond for fowl, as in any mans knowledge of our nation that hath seen it, all America hath not the like. Thus far I proceeded and dated my letter at Angra, Jan: 13, 1622. Touching their fruit I will not speak of their meaner sorts of raspes, cherries, gooseberries, strawberries, delicate plumbs and others, but they have commonly through the country 5 several sorts of grapes, some whereof I tasted, being fairer and larger then any I ever saw in the South Colony, but of a muskadell taste, which being transplanted would prosper better in the south. But wine vines may compare with Martha’s Vineyard, which I dare say will fall to the south of 40 degrees, and will be an earthly paradise to him that can be master of it. Sassafras wanteth not all over this maine. In this land (as in other parts of this maine) they have plenty of deer and of turkeys as large and as fat as in any other place.

So much of the wholesomeness and plenty of the country. Now as concerning the quality of the people, how happy were it for our people in the Southern Colony, if they were as free from wickedness and vice as these are in this place! And their industry as well appeareth by their building, as by a substantial pallisado about their settlement of 2700 feet in compass, stronger then I have seen any in Virginia, and lastly by a blockhouse which they have erected in the highest place of the town to mount their ordinance upon, from whence they may command all the harbor. As touching their correspondency with the Indians, they are friends with all their neighbors, as namely with those of Cohasset and Massachusit to the north, and the great king of Pakanakie to the south-west, with those of Pawmet, Nausit, Capawacke and others to the east and south. And not withstanding that those of the isle Capawacke are mortal enemies to all other English, ever since Hunt most wickedly stole away their people to sell them for slaves, yet are they in good terms with them of Plymouth, because as they never did wrong to any Indian, so will they put up no injury at their hands. And though they gave them kind entertainment, yet stand they day and night precisely upon their guard. True it is that Naragansit, scituate to the west of Pakanakitt, being set on either by the French of Flemmings, sent them a snakes skin full of arrows, in token of hostility and defiance. In answer whereof having filled the same with shot and powder, they sent it back again with this message, that whensoever he should be welcome and should find them redy to entertain him. The shot and powder he liked not, nor would meddle with it, but caused it to be cast into the river. One thing which made them to be much respected was the revenge which they attempted in the night upon Corbitant, the chief man about the great king, because they were (though falsely) informed, that he had slain Tisquanto, Sir Ferdinando Gorge his Indian, who lived as their servant under their protection, interpreting the injury done to him as done to themselves. Besides when Tisquanto was earnestly required to be sent home by the great king, they chose rather to hazard a falling out with him, then to break their faith and promise to Tisquanto, who had been sure to have gone to the pot, if they had delivered him up, which faith and courage of theirs hat made other distracted Indians to retire themselves into their protection, of whose labor and service they have made good use, but especially of Tisquantoes. And since I have taken occasion to speak both of amity and enmity, give me leave to note unto your Lordship the general enimy of all, both Christian and Indians in Canada, that inhabit toward the ocean, being as they of New Plymouth relate an Indian nation of man-eaters called Monhaccke, who go armed against arrows and jacks made of cordage, and they themselves use clubs only. Of the language of the natives about Plymouth and Cape Cod I have collected a small dictionary wherein I find many words agreeing with those of the South Colony, and of the eastern shore of the bay. I have one great design, namely to find out what Sea that is, which the Frenchmen put down in their charts to west in 40 degrees over against the bottom of the said bay, whether or no an inlett of the South Sea. It must be done by the grace of God through the guidance of the Sasquasahanacks, a most barbarous nation and supposed to be man-eaters, yet upon this condition I will adventure my self with them by land, if I may have a convenient barke to keep for my security 3 or 4 hostages.

Copyright (c) Lee Drew 2013-06-06 07:00:00
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