LOCAL HISTORY: Cape Cod and the Man of God - from Droitwich; CHRIS UPTON Continues the Story of Edward Winslow and His Journey to New England aboard the Mayflower

The Birmingham Post (England), February 23, 2008 | Go to article overview

LOCAL HISTORY: Cape Cod and the Man of God - from Droitwich; CHRIS UPTON Continues the Story of Edward Winslow and His Journey to New England aboard the Mayflower


Byline: CHRIS UPTON

Speak the name of Edward Winslow in Worcestershire and few will have heard of him; mention it on the other side of the Atlantic and you will get instant recognition. The man from Droitwich was one of America's founding fathers, a veteran of the Plymouth Brethren and governor of the Plymouth Colony.

Last week I recounted the tale of Edward Winslow's early life and his journey to New England aboard the Mayflower. For many of us, this would have been adventure enough for one life; for Winslow it was but the prelude.

The colonists arrived at Cape Cod in the middle of winter in 1620, and a bitter one it was too. Lack of permanent shelter and dwindling supplies cut down half of those who sailed over, including Winslow's wife in March 1621.

He was not to remain a widower for long. On May 12 he married Susanna White, whose husband had also fallen victim to the first winter. Their marriage, solemnised (according to their Puritan beliefs) by one of the colony's magistrates, was the first wedding in New England, and the oldest of their many children - Peregrine - was the first child to be born in the colony.

In terms of seniority Edward Winslow ranked third among the brethren and his role in the early decision-making - where to settle, what code of laws to adopt - was paramount.

His account of the first beginnings of the plantation was the earliest such document. It included descriptions of the first encounters with the native American Indians, contact that began with guns and arrows and then turned to accommodation.

The settlers' homes were not completed when that crucial first meeting took place. Winslow marched out of the encampment to meet the tribal chief of the Wampanoags, a man named Massasoit, armed only with a sword, a few gifts and a cauldron of what the colonists called "strong water".

Winslow remained as hostage with the Indians, while Massasoit and the colony's governor talked terms with the help of an interpreter. The alcohol helped to establish a principle of cohabitation, and the natives brought beaver pelts down to the stockade to establish trading relations, skins that went back on the Mayflower's return voyage to England.

By such negotiations was the Plymouth Colony established, and Winslow became official ambassador to the Indians.

It's easy to imagine that the New England colony was self-contained and isolated, with little or no contact with Old England. This was far from the case.

Not only were colonists constantly crossing the Atlantic, the colony itself relied on trade with the Old World, sending fur in return for livestock and other essential supplies.

Edward Winslow himself made the first of a number of voyages back across the Atlantic in September 1623, principally to print his account of the establishment of Plymouth, but also to bring back three heifers and a bull "the first of any cattle of that kind in the land". He was back in England the following year.

Winslow's importance as a go-between, both to the Indians and the English, saw him elected as governor of the colony on three occasions, in 1633, 1636 and 1644.

As a trading partner Winslow had the approval of the English government; his religious beliefs, however, were another matter entirely. In June 1635 Archbishop Laud had him thrown into the Fleet prison for performing marriages in the colony and preaching in church, activities for which Winslow claimed scriptural support.

It took a letter to the Privy Council (always more interested in economics than theology) to get him released.

Throughout the 1620s and 1630s Edward Winslow acted as apologist for the colony's brand of Puritanism against attacks both from England and from dissenters within the plantation itself.

But at the same time he was instrumental in putting Plymouth on a sound financial status, helping to pay off its debts in return for a monopoly on the fur trade. …

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