National Geographic : 1953 Jun
Founders of New England Centuries after the Pilgrims and Puritans, an Englishman Seeks Forgotten Shrines in His Homeland and Theirs 803 BY SIR EVELYN WRENCH With Illustrations by National Geographic Photographer B. Anthony Stewart AS my wife and I drove along a drowsy east-coast road, we passed a signpost directing wayfarers to New York and Boston. When we reached New York, its two streets were deserted. The residents must have been in their fields or indoors preparing a midday meal. The only sign of life was a solitary black cat. We were not in the United States, but in historic Lincolnshire, England's grain-produc ing "breadbasket." As we drove on to Boston, one village after another reminded us of name sakes in New England. The countryside itself was not much different from landscapes I re membered in Massachusetts. More than 300 years after Pilgrims and Puritans set sail for a New World wilderness, I was following their faint time-drifted foot prints in the country they left behind.* Capt. John Smith Named New England "This Virgins sister called New England" was how the redoubtable and irrepressible Capt. John Smith referred to the territory which so attracted him when he sailed along its coast in 1614. He adds that it was named New England at his "humble suit by our most gracious Prince Charles" (subsequently Charles I). In the minds of most of us, Smith's name is usually associated with Virginia rather than with New England; yet the future of this more northerly region occupied his thoughts during the last decades of his life (pages 760, 765).t A New England historian has written that in no part of England did he feel so much at home as in our eastern counties of Suffolk, Essex, and Norfolk. That observation has been confirmed by countless Americans, in cluding United States airmen stationed at the bomber bases in eastern England. The full significance to Americans of this quiet countryside which looks out across the North Sea to Flanders is a matter of more than surface resemblance. Here, hallowed by centuries of occupancy, are villages named Hingham, Framlingham, and Dedham, and ancient Norwich (pages 819, 821, and 829). In the parish registers and mossy cemeteries of slumbering English towns one finds names with a familiar American ring: Bradford, Brewster, Winthrop, Eliot (map, page 805). Englishmen, usually eager to enshrine the names and graves of their memorable dead, have but recently turned their attention to these one-time strongholds of Puritanism. Even today, few markers commemorate the fact that it was from eastern England that many of New England's founders came. Perhaps the growing knowledge that Massa chusetts was not wholly unlike their familiar surroundings helped prompt these courageous men and women to carry English speech and English ways across the Atlantic in their search for religious tolerance. The landing at Plymouth in 1620, marking the beginning of successful colonization in New England, stands also at the end of a long period of discovery. By the time the May flower sailed from Plymouth quay with its 102 hopeful Pilgrims, the groundwork had been established for the unique role of the English in the founding of New England. One is sometimes tempted to believe that Columbus had the equivalent of a 20th-cen tury public relations man working in his be half, so completely have his voyages over shadowed those of his contemporaries. Ac tually, Columbus did not see the mainland of North America until 1502, on his fourth voy age. Apart from the uncorroborated landings of Norsemen in the 11th century, the first to set eyes on the North American mainland were men of the Bristol ship Mathew in 1497, led by the Genoese navigator, John Cabot. He may have gone as far south as Maine (pages 756 and 757). Explorers Caught Codfish in Baskets As Cabot sailed along the shore of New foundland, he found codfish so plentiful that they could be scooped up in baskets. Upon his return to England he informed his Bristol employers that he had reached the country of the Grand Khan, for, like Columbus, Cabot believed the world to be much smaller than it actually is and assumed that the next continent to the west must be Asia. There are those who claim that the name "America" itself was not derived from that of * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Land of the Pilgrims' Pride," by George W. Long, August, 1947; and "Pilgrims Still Stop at Plymouth (England)," by Maynard Owen Williams, July, 1938. t See "Founders of Virginia," by Sir Evelyn Wrench, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, April, 1948.