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The Planters' Plea
of the Rev. John White of Dorchester, Dorset
Printed by William Jones, 1630
Small quarto, 88 pp., London, 1630

AN EXCERPT, redacted and introduced by John Beardsley.

The PLANTERS' PLEA, from which this chapter is extracted, was printed in London in 1630, soon after the sailing of Winthrop's fleet. It has generally been ascribed to the Rev. John White, of Dorchester, England. The copy which I use, and which formerly belonged to Increase Mather, has on the title page in his handwriting, "Mr. White of Dorchester, Author." This may he considered good authority, as Increase Mather probably derived his information from his father, Richard, who came over in 1635, or from some other of the first settlers. The work is an original, contemporaneous authority, of the highest value, as it contains facts relating to the earliest attempts at settlement in Massachusetts Bay, which can be found nowhere else, and these facts furnished by the persons who were themselves engaged as adventurers in these attempts. In his Preface the author says, " The reader is entreated to observe that the particulars of this small pamphlet being all ranged under these two heads, matters of fact or of opinion, in the former the author sets down his knowledge, and consequently what he resolves to justify." In the Preface to John Cotton's sermon, entitled " God's Promise to his Plantation," delivered just before the departure of Winthrop company, I.H. (which I suppose to be the initials of John Humphrey who, though chosen Deputy Governor of the Colony, remained behind and did not come over until July, 1634) says, "Ere long, (if will) thou shalt see a larger declaration of the first rise and ends this enterprise, and so clear and full a justification of this design, both in respect of that warrant it hath from God's word, and also in respect of any other ground and circumstance of weight that is considerable, in the warrant of such a work, as I hope there will easily be removed any scruple of moment which hither hath been moved about it." The Planters' Plea corresponds to the description, and I have no doubt is the work which the writer intended to announce. The Planters' Plea appears have been unknown to our historians. Neither Mather, Prince, Hutchinson, Bancroft, nor Graham make any use or mention of it. Hubbard may have had it; but I think he derived his knowledge of the first settlement of the Colony from Conant and his companions. (note by Alexander Young, 1828) THE PLANTERS' PLEA Or the Grounds of Plantations Examined, and usual Objections answered. Together with a manifestation of the causes moving such as have lately undertaken a Plantation in NEW ENGLAND : For the satisfaction of those that question the lawfulness of the Action. 2 Thess. v. 21. Prove all things, and hold fast that which is good.


The ensuing faithful and impartial narration of the first occasions, beginning, and progress of the whole work, is laid before the eyes of all that desire to receive satisfaction, by such as have been privy to the very first conceiving and contriving of this project of planting this Colony, and to the several passages that have happened since; who also, in that they relate, consider they have the searcher of all hearts and observer of all men's ways witness of the truth and falsehood that they deliver. About ten years since (1620), a company of English, part out of the Low Countries and some out of London and other parts, associating themselves into one body with an intention to plant in Virginia, in their passage thither being taken short by the wind, in the depth of winter, the whole ground being under snow, were forced with their provisions to land themselves in New England, upon a small bay beyond Mattachusets, in the place which they now inhabit and call by the name of New Plymouth. The ground being covered a foot thick with snow, and they being without shelter, and having amongst them divers women and children, no marvel if they lost some of their company. It may be wondered how they saved the rest. But notwithstanding this sharp encounter at the first, and some miscarriages afterward, yet, conceiving God's Providence had directed them unto that place, and finding great charge and difficulty in removing, they resolved to fix themselves there; and being assisted by some of their friends in London, having passed over most of the greatest difficulties that usually encounter new planters, they began to subsist at length in a reasonably comfortable manner; being, notwithstanding, men but of mean and weak estates of themselves; and after a year's experience or two of the soil and inhabitants, sent home tidings of both, and of their well-being there, which occasioned other men to take knowledge of the place, and to take it into consideration.

About the year 1623, some western merchants, who had continued a trade of fishing for cod and bartering for furs in those parts for divers years before, conceiving that a Colony planted on the coast might further them in those employments, bethought themselves how they might bring that project to effect, and communicated their purpose to others, alleging the convenience of compassing their project with a small charge, by the opportunity of their fishing trade, in which they accustomed to double-man their ships, that, by the help of many hands, they might dispatch their voyage and lade their ship with fish while the fishing season lasted; which could not be done with a bare sailing company. Now it was conceived that, the fishing being ended, the spare men that were above their necessary sailors might be left behind with provisions for a year; and when that ship returned the next year, they might assist them in fishing, as they had done the former year; and, in the mean time, might employ themselves in building, and planting corn, which, with the provisions of fish, fowl and venison, that the land yielded, would afford them the chief of their food. This proposition of theirs took so well, that it drew on divers persons to join with them in this project; the rather because it was conceived that not only their own fishermen, but the rest of our nation that went thither on the same errand, might be much advantaged, not only by fresh victual, which that Colony might spare them in time, but withal, and more, by the benefit of their ministers' labors, which they might enjoy during the fishing season; whereas otherwise, being usually upon those voyages nine or ten months in the year, they were left all the while without any means of instruction at all.

Compassion towards the fishermen, and partly some expectation of gain, prevailed so far that for the planting of a Colony in New England there was raised a stock of more than £3000, intended to be paid in five years, but afterwards disbursed in a shorter time. How this stock was employed, and by what errors and oversights it was wasted, is, I confess, not much pertinent to this subject in hand. Notwithstanding, because the knowledge thereof may be of use for other men's direction, let me crave leave, in a short digression, to present unto the reader's view the whole order of the managing of such moneys as were collected, with the success and issue of the business undertaken. The first employment, then, of this new raised stock was in buying a small ship of fifty tons, which was, with as much speed as might be, dispatched towards New England upon a fishing voyage; the charge of which ship, with a new suit of sails, and other provisions to furnish her, amounted to more than £300. Now by reason the voyage was undertaken too late, she came at least a month or six weeks later than the rest of the fishing ships that went for that coast; and by that means wanting fish to make up her lading, the master thought good to pass into Mattachusets Bay to try whether that would yield him any; which he performed, and speeding there better than he had reason to expect, having left his spare men behind him in the country at Cape Anne, he returned to a late and consequently a bad market in Spain, and so home. The charge of this voyage, with provision for fourteen spare men left in the country, amounted to above £800, with the £300 expended upon the ship, mentioned before. And the whole provenue (gross profit), besides the ship, which remained to us still, amounted not to above £200. So the expense, above the return of that voyage, came to £600, and upwards.

The next year was brought to the former ship a Flemish fly-boat of about a hundred and forty tons; which being unfit for a fishing voyage, as being built merely for burthen, and wanting lodging for the men which she needed for such an employment, they added unto her another deck (which seldom proves well with Flemish buildings) by which means she was carved so high that she proved walt (unstable) and unable to bear any sail; so that before she could pass on upon her voyage, they were fain to shift her first, and put her upon a better trim, and afterwards, that proving to little purpose, to unlade her, and take her up and fur her. Which notwithstanding it were performed with as much speed as might be, yet the year was above a month too far spent before she could dispatch to set to sea again. And when she arrived in the country, being directed by the master of the smaller ship, upon the success of his former year's voyage, to fish at Cape Anne, not far from Mattachusets Bay, sped very ill, as did also the smaller ship that led her thither, and found little fish; so that the greater ship returned with little more than a third part of her lading, and came back (contrary to her order, by which she was consigned to Bordeaux) directly for England; so that the Company of Adventurers was put to a new charge to hire a small ship to carry that little quantity of fish she brought home to market. The charge of this voyage, with both the ships, amounted to about £2200; whereof £800 and upward must be accounted for the building and other charges about the greater ship. By these two ships were left behind in the country about thirty-two men, the charges of whose wages and provision amounted to at the least £500 of the sum formerly mentioned. The provenue of both the voyages that year exceeded not the sum of £500, at the most.

The third year, 1625, both ships, with a small vessel of forty tons which carried kine with other provisions, were again set to sea upon the same voyage, with the charge of £2000, of which sum the Company borrowed and became indebted for £1000. The great ship, being commanded by a very able master, having passed on about two hundred leagues in her voyage, found herself so leaky by the carpenter's fault (that looked not well to her caulking) that she bare up the helm and returned for Weymouth, and having unladen her provisions and mended her leak, set herself to sea again, deciding to take advice of the wind whether to pass on her former voyage, or to turn into Newfoundland; which she did, by reason that the time was so far spent that the master and company despaired of doing any good in New England, where the fish falls in two or three months sooner than at Newfoundland. There she took fish, good store, and much more than she could lade home. The overplus should have sold and delivered to some sacke (fishing-vessel) or other sent to take it in there, if the voyage had been well managed. But that could not be done, by reason that the ship, before she went, was not certain where make her fish. By this accident it fell out that good quantity of the fish she took was cast away, some other part was brought home in another ship. At the return of the ships that year, fish, by reason of our wars with Spain, falling to a very low rate, the Company endeavored to send the greater ship for France. But she being taken short with contrary wind in the west country, and intelligence given in the mean time that those markets we overlaid, they were enforced to bring her back again, and to sell her fish at home as they might. Which they did, and with it the fish of the smaller ship, the New England fish about ten shillings the hundred by tally, or thereabout, the Newfoundland fish at six shillings four pence the hundred; of which was well nigh eight pence the hundred charge raised upon it after the ship's return. By this reason the fish, which at a market in all likelihood might have yielded well nigh £2000, amounted not, with all the provenue of the voyage, to above £1100.

Unto these losses by fishing were added two other no small disadvantages: the one in the country by our landsmen, who being ill chosen and commanded, fell into many disorders and did the Company little service; the other by the fall of the price of shipping, which was now abated to more than the one half; by which means it came to pass that our ships, which stood us in little less than £1200, were sold for £480. The occasions and means then of wasting this stock are apparently these: first, the ill choice of the place for fishing. The next, the ill carriage of our men at land, who having stood us in two years and a half in well nigh £1000 charge, never yielded £100 profit. The last, the ill sales of fish and shipping. By all which the adventurers were so far discouraged, that they abandoned the further prosecution of this design, and took order for the dissolving of the company on land, and sold away their shipping and other provisions.

Two things withal may be intimated by the way: the first, that the very project itself of planting by the help of a fishing voyage can never answer the success it seems to promise, which experienced fishermen might easily have foreseen beforehand, and by that means have prevented divers ensuing errors. Whereof, amongst divers other reasons, these may serve for two: first, that no sure fishing place in the land is fit for planting, nor any good place for planting found fit for fishing, at least near the shore; and, secondly, rarely any fishermen will work at land, neither are husbandmen fit for fishermen but with long use and experience. The second thing to be observed is, that nothing new fell out in the managing of this stock, seeing experience hath taught us that, as in building houses, the first stones of the foundation are buried under ground and are not seen, so in planting colonies, the first stocks employed that way are consumed, although they serve for a foundation to the work .

But to return to our former subject, from which we digressed. Upon the manifestation of the Western Adventurers' resolution to give off their work, most part of the landsmen, being sent for, returned. But a few of the most honest and industrious resolved to stay behind, and to take charge of the cattle sent over the year before; which they performed accordingly. And not liking their seat at Cape Anne, chosen especially for the supposed commodity of fishing, they transported themselves to Nahum Keike (later called Salem), about four or five leagues distant to the south-west from Cape Anne. Some, then, of the Adventurers, that still continued their desire to set forward the plantation of a Colony there, conceiving that if some more cattle were sent over to those few men left behind, they might not only be a means of the comfortable subsisting of such as were already in the country, but of inviting some other of their friends and acquaintance to come over to them, adventured to send over twelve kine and bulls more; and conferring casually with some gentlemen of London, moved them to add unto them a many more. By which occasion, the business came to agitation afresh in London, and being at first approved by some and disliked by others, by argument and disputation it grew to be more vulgar (popular); insomuch that some men showing some good affection to the work, and offering the help of their purses if fit men might be procured to go over, inquiry was made whether any would be willing to engage their persons in the voyage.

By this inquiry it fell out that among others they lighted at last on Master ENDECOTT, a man well known to divers persons of good note, who manifested much willingness to accept of offer as soon as it was tendered; which gave encouragement to such as were upon the point of resolution to set on this work of erecting a new colony upon the old foundation. Hereupon divers persons having subscribed for the raising of a reasonable sum of money, a patent was granted with large encouragements every way by his most excellent Majesty (King Charles). Master Endecott was sent over as Governor, assisted with a few men, and arriving in safety there September, 1628, and uniting his own men with those which were formerly planted in the country into one body, they made up in all not much above fifty or sixty persons. His prosperous journey, and safe arrival of himself and all his company, and good report which he sent back of the country, gave such encouragement to the work, that more adventurers joining with the first undertakers, and all engaging themselves more deeply for the prosecution of the design, they sent over the next year about three hundred persons more, mostly servants, with a convenient proportion of rother-beasts to the number of sixty or seventy, or therabout, and some mares and horses; of which the kine came safe for the most part, but the greater part the horses died, so that there remained not above twelve or fourteen alive.

By this time the often agitation of this affair in sundry parts of the kingdom, the good report of Captain Endecott's government, and the increase of the Colony, began to awaken the spirits of some persons of competent estates, not formerly engaged. Considering that they lived either without any useful employment at home, and might be more serviceable in assisting the planting of a Colony in New England, (they) took at last a resolution to unite themselves for the prosecution of that work. And, as it usually falls out, some other of their acquaintance, seeing such men of good estates engaged in the voyage, for love to their persons, and others upon other respects, united unto them; which together made up a competent number, (perhaps far less than is reported) and embarked themselves for a voyage to New England, where I hope they are long since safely arrived.

This is an unpartial though brief relation of the occasion of planting of this Colony. The particulars whereof, if they could be entertained, were clear enough to any indifferent judgment, that the suspicious and scandalous reports raised upon these gentlemen and their friends (as if, under the color of planting a Colony, they intended to raise and erect a seminary of faction and separation) are nothing else but the fruits of jealousy of some distempered mind, or, which is worse perhaps, savor of a desperate malicious plot of men ill affected to religion, endeavoring, by casting the undertakers into the jealousy of State, to shut them out of those advantages which otherwise they do and might expect from the countenance of authority. Such men would be entreated to forbear that base and unchristian course of traducing innocent persons under these odious names of Separatists and enemies to the Church and State, for fear lest their own tongues fall upon themselves by the of His hand who will not fail to clear the innocence of the just, and to cast back into the bosom of every slanderer the filth that be rakes up to throw in other men's faces. As for men of more indifferent and better tempered minds, they would be seriously advised to beware of entertaining and admitting, much more countenancing and crediting such uncharitable persons as discover themselves by their carriage, and that in this particular, to be men ill affected towards the work itself, if not to religion, at which it aims, and consequently unlikely to report any truth of such as undertake it.

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