1636 The Atlantic Encounter – Snippet 28

Chapter 18


Gordon did not want to go alone into town — he thought about giving the line he’d used in Newfoundland, that they only traveled in pairs — but Endecott left no choice; the troop formed up around him and they marched away from the wharf.

Boston was like a rural German town, but even more so. Most of the houses were no more than log structures with clay chinking in between to keep out the drafts; they were covered with thatched roofs. He could see people looking out through the windows, furtively, as if they didn’t want to get caught doing it.

The one thing that had always spooked him a little bit about down-time was that, unlike modern day where people walked along the street trying their best not to mind other people’s business, everyone in the current era seemed to be watching everyone else — maybe to see what they were doing, how they were dressed, or whether the other guy’s next move was to reach for a sword or a pistol or something.

And here in Boston, it was like that but doubled and tripled — as if everyone made it their business to watch everyone else. Endecott was particular about this task. No one seemed to want to look him in the eye as the little troop passed up the street from the dock.

There were no pilgrim hats at all. The Puritans dressed plainly, that was for sure. Unlike in Germany, where every burgher was trying to outdo every other one with ruffles and slashes and color and all, these people dressed plainly to a fault.

All except perhaps the hats. Gordon was planning on having a good laugh with Pete about that — but not when he was surrounded by armed men who didn’t seem to know how to crack a smile.

The street from the dock went up a hill. At the top on the left was a church — white painted, with a steeple but no cross on top, unlike practically every church he’d seen in Europe.

In front of the church some poor sod was locked up in a pillory — he was on the short side, and could barely stand upright with his neck and hands caught in the holes. There was a wooden sign hanging from his neck labeled blasphemer. It looked as if some of the locals had been using him for target practice with their overripe fruit.

“Does it bother you, stranger?” Endecott said. “He is a sinner and deserves his punishment.”

“It seems a little harsh.”

“A day or two in the bilboes is nothing compared to the eternal punishment the Supreme Judge will render that one if he continues to sin,” Endecott said. “But even if the Lord shows mercy to him for his crimes, only by harsh punishment will he learn to correct his ways. Do you…” Endecott thought for a moment and then said, “Do you Americans have a different way of punishing errant children? Surely you must thrash them if they are indolent or disobedient or unruly.”

“Adults and children should get different treatment,” Gordon said. “Don’t you think?”

“Of course,” Endecott said. “Children are not punished in public. Their fathers take care of it in the privacy of the home.”

I’ll bet he makes sure of that, Gordon thought.

The little group turned and followed a broad avenue that led to the edge of the built-up area. Shortly, they reached a handsome house fronting a farm.

Endecott walked up to the door of the house and knocked; he entered and left Gordon to cool his heels for several minutes.

Finally he returned and beckoned to Gordon.

“The governor will see you,” Endecott said. “And you will mind your tongue, stranger.”

Gordon took his hat off and ran a hand through his hair. No horns, he thought, but decided not to share the joke with the scowling Captain Endecott.

“I will do my best,” Gordon said, and stepped into the house.

A clerk directed him along a narrow hall and into a study, where a well-dressed man rose to face him. The study was spare, even by seventeenth-century standards: there were perhaps a hundred books, a framed print of the Smith map of New England, and a few other items that showed the man was a scholar. There were two chairs in the room; Governor Winthrop gestured Gordon to the other, and returned to his own seat.

Gordon had just a moment to size up the governor of Massachusetts. Winthrop was tall and broad-shouldered; even sitting he seemed to dominate the room. He had a carefully trimmed beard and moustache, and his hair and his clothing were dressed in modest Puritan fashion. He seemed to give complete attention to every aspect of his visitor before speaking.

“I understand,” Winthrop said at last, “that you have come from this new nation at the heart of the Old World. Brother Endecott rode all the way from Salem to Boston to confront you.”

“We come in peace, sir,” Gordon said. “We do not seek a confrontation. The only people showing weapons were the men at the dock.”

“A fair point. But we are on our own here, stranger. It may be fairly said that we have no friends.”

Imagine that, Gordon thought, but didn’t say it aloud.

“My deputy, Brother Dudley, is not here at the moment; he is on his way to our settlements on the Connecticut River to consult with them. Endecott — with my permission — took charge of your reception, in case it was hostile.

“So,” Winthrop said. “You come in peace. Tell me what you want of me.”

“This is a…trade mission, Governor.”

“It is rather more than that, I think.”

“I make no such claims, sir, and am not trying to represent Challenger’s mission as anything other than what it seems. We are here only to communicate with you and introduce ourselves.”

“You have come a long way to do that.”

“Your colony is not the only place we are visiting.”

“This is not an explicit embassy, then. Nor, obviously, an attempt at conquest. Your new kingdom: whom do you count an enemy, and whom a friend? Is our former King Charles in either camp?”

“Our relations with him have not been friendly, although we are no longer at war,” Gordon answered. “As you may know, he ordered our embassy held hostage in the Tower of London until we succeeded in…” He was about to say “springing them” but then, figuring the colloquialism would be unknown in this day and age, settled for “liberating them by force of arms. The United States of Europe is allied with the kingdom of Sweden, and through the Union of Kalmar with the kingdom of Denmark. We have also fought the kingdom of France, though we are no longer at war with them either. But we are worried about the disposal of English claims here in North America. We have no desire to see France — or any European power, for that matter — establish a monopoly and stranglehold over the colonies in North America.”

“You no less than ourselves. I am left the governor of a stranded colony; and I do not know what this status means.”

“I can imagine. Actually, I’m…surprised to find you as the governor of the colony.”

“Why is that?”

“Well, historically…that is, in the past of the future from which I come…”

“Your Ring of Fire presents some complexity, does it not?” Winthrop said, chuckling. “Your history does not have me in office at this time? Who should be governor of our colony?”

“Well, sir, it’s not quite like that. Your deputy Thomas Dudley should have just been replaced by a man named Vane.”

“Harry Vane?”

“Yes. Sir Henry. The younger one, I think. I’d have to look it up.”

“That pup is not fit to govern here, and even if the situation were different — even if our king had not abandoned us — I could not conceive it happening. Your histories must be quite fanciful.”

“Yes, sir,” Gordon said, not sure how to reply.

“Well,” Winthrop answered. “We live in a different world, all because of your arrival. Brother Endecott is very suspicious of you, young man, and of your Ring of Fire. I have thought about it, and read of it, and prayed, and I still do not understand it. Do you have any better explanation?”

“For the Ring of Fire? No, Governor Winthrop, I surely do not. It caught all of us by surprise, and we’ve been trying to sort it out ever since.”

“With some success, I daresay.”

“American ingenuity, sir, and a will to live.”

“We may be needing some of that ingenuity, Master Chehab. When we first settled here we found ourselves surrounded by enemies — harsh winters and dangerous, Godless natives. To these we can now add the French, who claim what our king once claimed. We received a letter –“

He turned and began sorting through a series of papers stacked neatly on the side of his escritoire. “Here it is. In the late fall of 1633, most of three years ago. It invalidated our patent, saying that our land was now subject to the king of France as King Charles had disposed of his rights and claims to all holdings in the New World on the first of August.”

He brandished the letter, and Gordon saw anger in Winthrop’s eyes. “It was not an invitation to return to England: no, indeed. The canting archbishop did not want Dissenters to resume their residence in England — neither Separatist nor Nonconformist, Calvinist or Antinomian. We were directed to go seek our way in the world with no alternative — and no right of return. It has led us to make common cause with our brothers in Plymouth. There have been disputes in the past, but we have no choice other than to take them by the hand.

“We are not the only ones, sir. The Calverts are under threat in Maryland, and though they are Papists I fear for them as fellow Englishmen. As for the Virginia planters, I understand that their work of a generation is to be surrendered at the point of a gun, if the French are able to concentrate their forces.

“The French eye has not yet been turned on us, though natives in their pay have already provoked our settlers along the Connecticut River — both from Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth. And as for the natives we would like to consider friends, or at least friendly, they have shown themselves to be untrustworthy at best and savage and ruthless at worst. Our own outlying towns are not safe. It is a dire situation, and I do not see it getting better.”

Winthrop was very much like Gordon had expected. He had left England behind — and as he said, there was no England to which he could return. What was more, he earnestly believed that Massachusetts Bay was the place that God had selected as the promised land for Puritans. The idea that it would be taken away appalled him.

“I cannot offer you direct military aid,” Gordon told Winthrop. “It’s not our mission.”

“Then I must ask again: why are you here?”

“Challenger is a trading vessel –“

“We can leave off the dissembling, sir. I think we both understand what you must say. Tell me what you truly seek.”

Gordon thought for a moment. “All right. Challenger is on a scouting mission, Governor. I’m trying to see the lay of the land — what’s really happening, where everything stands. When we’ve learned all we can, we’ll return and make a report.”

“When will that be?”

“I…don’t know. Maybe in the fall. We weren’t given a specific return date, and things are somewhat in flux at the moment.”

If I still had a radio…Gordon thought, and then he thought, yeah, or a 747, or an internet connection, or a whole lot of other things that I’ll never see again.

“My employer,” Gordon said carefully, “believes that the only way to stop the French is to forge an alliance among all of their opponents. What little I know of your settlements…”

“From your future vantage point, you mean. The one in which Harry Vane is the governor.”

“What little I know,” he repeated, “tells me that as much as you would like to consider yourself the new Jerusalem, the shining city on a hill, you’ll be no match for French regular troops — or even well-armed couriers de bois and Indian allies. You need friends, sir.”

“As I said, we have already made alliance with our…brethren to the south. The Old Colony. Plymouth.” He said it this time with a hint of distaste, though far less than he had seemed to show for Archbishop Laud or the king of England. “They have a representative here in Boston; he will want to speak with you.

“But you suggest a friendship, perhaps, with your people.”

“We would welcome the opportunity. There are things we can do for you.”

“Other than fight our enemies.”

“For now.”

Winthrop waited for a moment before nodding. “I expect that will have to do.”