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The Memoir of Capt. Roger Clapp of Dorchester
ca. 1640

Redacted to modern English by John Beardsley.

The brief Memoir of Roger Clapp is a first-hand account of the settling of Dorchester, 1630, and goes on to cover events in the Colony up to the time when he set down to write it, about 1680. It is our best surviving example of the voice of an "average" settler. What follows are excerpts containing all that pertains to the period up to about 1640. About half of our members are descended from Dorchester’s first-settlers, and we hope they will find this of special interest. Names have been parenthetically inserted in italics where omitted in the original.

The Memoir

I thought good, my children, to leave you with some account of God’s remarkable providences to me, in bringing me to this land, and placing me here among his dear servants, and in his house, who am most unworthy of the least of his mercies. The Scripture requireth us to tell God’s wondrous works to our children, that they may tell them to their children, that God may have glory throughout all ages. Amen.

I was born in England, in Sallcom (Salcombe Regis), in Devonshire, in the year of our lord 1609. My father was a man who feared God, and in good esteem among God’s faithful servants. His outward estate was not great, I think not above £ 80 per annum. We were five brethren, of which I was the youngest, and two sisters. God was graciously pleased to breathe by his holy spirit (I hope) in all our hearts, if in mine; which I am not altogether without hopes of. Four of us brethren lived at home. I did desire my dear father (my mother being dead) that I might live abroad, which he consented to. So I first went for trial to live with a worthy gentleman, Mr. William Southcot, who lived about three miles from the city of Exeter. He was careful to keep a godly family. There being but a very mean preacher in that place, he went every Lord’s day into the city, where were many famous preachers of the word of God. I then took such a liking to the Rev. Mr. John Warham, that I did desire to live near him. So I removed (with my father’s consent) into the city, and lived with a Mr. Mossiour, as famous a family for religion as I ever knew. He kept seven or eight men and diverse maid-servants, and he had a conference upon a question propounded once a week in his own family. With him I covenanted.

I never so much heard of New England until I heard of many godly persons that were going there, and that Mr. Warham was to go also. My master asked me if I would go. I told him, were I not engaged to him, I would willingly go. He answered me, that should be no hindrance — I might go for him, or for myself, which I would. I then wrote to my father, who lived about twelve miles off, to entreat his leave to go to New England; who was so much displeased at first that he wrote me no answer, but told my brethren that I should not go. Having no answer, I went and made my request to him, and God so inclined his heart, that he never said me nay. For now, God sent the Rev. Mr. (John) Maverick, who lived 40 miles off, a man I never saw before. He having heard of me, came to my father’s house; and my father agreed that I should be with him and come under his care, which I did accordingly. So God brought me out of Plymouth the 20th of March, in the year 1629-30, and landed me in health at Nantasket on the 30th of May, 1630, I being then about the age of 21 years.

There came many godly families in that ship (the Mary & John). We were of passengers many in number (besides seamen) of good rank. Two of our magistrates came with us, viz. Mr. (Edward) Rossiter and Mr. (Roger) Ludlow. These godly people resolved to live together. Therefore, as they had made choice of those two reverend servants of God, Mr. John Warham and Mr. John Maverick, to be their ministers, so they kept a solemn day of fasting in the New Hospital at Plymouth, in England, spending it in preaching and praying; where that worthy man of God, Mr. John White of Dorchester, in Dorset, was present, and preached unto us the word of God in the fore part of the day and in the latter part of the day, as the people did solemnly make choice of and call those godly ministers to be their officers, so also the reverend Mr. Warham and Mr. Maverick did accept thereof, and expressed the same. So we came, by the good hand of the Lord, through the deeps comfortably, having preaching or expounding of the word of God every day for ten weeks by our ministers.

When we came to Nantasket, Capt. Squeb, who was captain of that great ship of 400 tons, would not bring us into Charles River as he was bound to do, but left us to shift for ourselves in a forlorn place in this wilderness. But, as it pleased God, we got a boat of some old planters, and laded her with goods and some able men, well armed, and went in her unto Charlestown, where we found some wigwams and one house. And in the house there was a man (likely Thomas Walford) that had a boiled bass, but no bread, that we could see. But we did eat of his bass, and then went up the Charles River, until the river grew narrow and shallow, and there we landed our goods with much labor and toil, the bank being steep. And night coming on, we were informed that there were hard by us 300 Indians. One Englishman that could speak the Indian language (an old planter) went to them, and advised them not to come near us that night; and they harkened unto his counsel and came not. I myself was one of the sentinels that first night. Our captain was a Low Country soldier, Mr. (Richard) Southcot, a brave soldier. In the morning, some of the Indians came and stood at a distance off looking at us, but came not near. But when they had been a while in view, some of them came and held out a great bass toward us; so we sent a man with a biscuit, and changed the cake for the bass. Afterwards, they supplied us with bass, exchanging a bass for a biscuit cake, and were very friendly unto us.

Oh, dear children! Forget not what care God had over his dear servants, to watch over us and protect us in our weak beginnings. Capt. Squeb turned ashore us and our goods, like a merciless man. But God, even our merciful God, took pity on us, so that we were supplied first with a boat, and then caused many Indians (some hundreds) to be ruled by the advice of one man not to come near us. Alas, had they come upon us, how soon they might have destroyed us! I think we were not above ten in number. But God caused the Indians to help us with fish at very cheap rates. We had not been there many days (although by our diligence we had got up a kind of shelter to save our goods in) but we had order to come away from that place, which was about (the later site of) Watertown, unto a place called Mattapan, now Dorchester, because there was a neck of land to keep our cattle on. So we removed, and came to Mattapan. The Indians there also were kind unto us.

Not long after came our renowned and blessed Governor, and diverse of his Assistants with him. Their ships came into Charles River, and many passengers landed at Charlestown, many of whom died the winter following. Gov. Winthrop purposed to set down his station about Cambridge, or somewhere on the river, but viewing the place, liked that plain neck that was called then Blackstone’s Neck, now Boston. But in the mean time, before they could build at Boston, they lived many of them in tents and wigwams at Charlestown, their meeting place being abroad under a tree, where I have heard Mr. (John) Wilson and Mr. (George) Phillips preach many a good sermon.

Now coming into this country, I found it a vacant wilderness, with respect to the English. There were indeed some English at Plymouth and Salem, and some few at Charlestown, who were very destitute when we came ashore. And planting time being past, shortly after provision was not to be had for money. I wrote wrote to my friends, namely to my dear father, to send me some provision, which accordingly he did, and also gave order to one of his neighbors to supply me with what I needed (he being a seaman); who, coming hither, supplied me with diverse things. But before this supply came, yea, and after it too (that being spent, and the then unsubdued wilderness yielding little food) many a time if I could have filled my belly, though with mean victuals, it would have been sweet to me. Fish was a good help to me and others. Bread was so very scarce, that sometimes I thought the very crusts of my father’s table would have been very sweet unto me. And when I could have meal and water and salt boiled together, it was so good, who could wish better?

In our beginning, many were in great straits for want of provision for themselves and their little ones. Oh, the hunger that many suffered, and saw no hope in an eye of reason to be supplied, only by clams and mussels and fish. We did quickly build boats, and many went a fishing. But bread was with many a very scarce thing, and flesh of all kinds as scarce. And in those days, in our straits, though I cannot say God sent a raven to feed us, as he did the prophet Elijah, yet this I can say, to the praise of God’s glory, that he sent not only poor ravenous Indians, which came with their baskets of corn on their backs to trade with us (which was a good supply unto many), but also sent ships from Holland and from Ireland with provisions, and Indian corn from Virginia, to supply the wants of his dear servants in the wilderness, both for food and raiment. And when people’s wants were great, not only in one town, but in diverse towns, such was the godly wisdom, care, and prudence (not selfishness, but self-denial) of our Governor Winthrop and his Assistants, that when a ship came laden with provisions, they did order that the whole cargo should be bought for a general stock; and so accordingly it was, and distribution was made to every town, and to every person in each town, as every man had need. Thus God was pleased to care for his people in times of straits, and to fill his servants with good and gladness. Then did all the servants of God bless his holy name, and love one another with pure hearts fervently.

In those days God did cause his people to trust in him, and to be contented with mean things. It was not accounted a strange thing in those days to drink water, and to eat samp or hominy without butter or milk. Indeed, it would have been a strange thing to see a piece of roast beef, mutton or veal; though it was not long before there was roast goat. After the first winter, we were very health, though some of us had no great store of corn. The Indians did sometimes bring corn, and truck with us for clothing and knives; and once I had a peck of corn, or thereabouts, for a little puppy-dog. Frost-fish, mussels and clams were a relief to many. If our provision be better now than it was then, let us not, and do you, dear children, take heed that you do not, forget the Lord our God. You have better food and raiment than was in former times; but have you better hearts than your forefathers had? If so, rejoice in that mercy, and let New England then shout for joy. Sure, all the people of God in other parts of the world that shall hear that the children and grandchildren of the first planters of New England have better hearts and are more heavenly than their predecessors, they will doubtless greatly rejoice, and will say, "This is the generation whom the Lord hath blessed."

I took notice of it as a great favor of God unto me, not only to preserve my life, but to give me contentedness in all these straits; insomuch that I do not remember that I ever did wish in my heart that I had not come into this country, or wish myself back again at my father’s house. Yea, I was so far from that, that I wished and advised some of my dear brethren to come hither also; and accordingly, one of my brothers (Edward Clapp), and those two (cousin Nicholas Clapp and George Weeks) that married my two sisters, sold their means and came hither. The Lord Jesus Christ was so plainly held out in the preaching of the Gospel unto poor lost sinners, and the absolute necessity of the new birth, and God’s holy spirit in those days was pleased to accompany the word with such efficacy upon the hearts of many, that our hearts were taken off from Old England and set upon heaven. The discourse not only of the aged, but of the youth also was not, "How shall we go to England," (though some few did not only so discourse, but also went back again) but "How shall I go to heaven? Have I true grace wrought in my heart? Have I Christ or no?" Oh how did men and women, young and old, pray for grace, beg for Christ in those days. And it was not in vain. Many were converted, and others established in believing. Many joined unto the several churches where they lived, confessing their faith publicly, and showing before all the assembly their experiences of the workings of God’s spirit in their hearts to bring them to Christ; which many hearers found much good by, to help them to try their own hearts and to consider how it was with them, whether any work of God’s spirit were wrought in their own hearts or no. Oh the many tears that have been shed in Dorchester meeting house at such times, both by those that had declared God’s work on their souls, and also by those that heard them. In those days God, even our own God, did bless New England!

After God had brought me into this country, he was pleased to give me room in the hearts of his servants; so that I was admitted into the church fellowship at our first beginning in Dorchester, in the year 1630.

I now return to declare unto you some of the wonderful works of God in bringing so many of his faithful servants hither into this wilderness, and preserving us and ours unto this day, notwithstanding our great unworthiness, and notwithstanding the many assaults and strategems of Satan and his instruments againsts God’s people here. I say wondrous works. For was it not a wondrous work of God, to put it into the hearts of so many worthies to agree together, when times were so bad in England that they could not worship God after the due manner prescribed in his most holy word, but they must be imprisoned, excommunicated, etc., I say that so many should agree to make unto our sovereign lord the King to grant them and such as they should approve of, a Patent of a tract of land in this remote wilderness, a place not inhabited but by the barbarous nations? And was it not a wondrous good hand of God to incline the heart of our King freely to grant it, with all the privileges which the Patent expresseth? And what a wondrous work of God was it, to stir up such worthies to undertake such a difficult work, as to remove themselves and their wives and children from their native country, and to leave their gallant situations there, to come into this wilderness to set up the pure worship of God here — men fit for government in the magistracy and in families, and sound, learned, godly men for the ministry, and others that were very precious men and women, who came in the year 1630.

Those that came then were magistrates — men of renown were Mr. (John) Winthrop, Governor, Mr. (Thomas) Dudley, Deputy Governor, Sir Richard Saltonstall, Mr. (Isaac) Johnson, Mr. (Edward) Rossiter, Mr. (Roger) Ludlow, Mr. (Increase) Nowel, and Mr. (Simon) Bradstreet. Mr. (John) Endicott came before, and others came then, besides those named. And there came famous ministers in that year, and afterward, as, to name some: Mr. (John) Wilson, Mr. (John) Warham, Mr. (John) Maverick, and Mr. (George) Phillips. In our low estate, God did cheer our hearts in sending good and holy men and women, and also famous preachers of the word of God, as Mr. (John) Eliot, Mr. (Thomas) Weld, Mr. (John) Cotton, Mr. (Thomas) Hooker, Mr. (Peter) Bulkeley, Mr. (Samuel) Stone, Mr. Nathaniel Rogers, and Mr. Ezekiel Rogers, Mr. (Thomas) Shepard, Mr. (Richard) Mather, Mr. (Hugh) Peters, Mr. (John) Davenport, Mr. (Samuel) Whiting, Mr. (Thomas) Cobbett, Mr. (Peter Hobart or) Hubbard, Mr. (Edmund) Brown, Mr. (Henry) Flint, Mr. (William) Thomson, Mr. (Samuel) Newman, Mr. (Peter) Prudden, Mr. (Edward) Norris, Mr, (Ephraim) Huit, Mr. (Nicholas) Street, and many others. Thus did God work wonderfully for his poor people here.

Before I proceed any further, I will inform you that God stirred up his poor servants to use means in their beginning for their preservation; though a low and weak people, yet a willing people to lay out their estates for the defence of themselves and others. They having friends in diverse places who thought it best for our safety to build a fort upon the island now called Castle Island, at first they built a castle with mud walls, which stood diverse years. First Capt. (Nicholas) Simpkins was commander thereof, and after him Lieut. Monish for a little space. When the mud walls failed, it was built again with pine trees and earth, and Capt. (Richard) Davenport was commander...

Now as Satan has been a lying spirit to deceive and ensnare the mind, to draw us from God by error, so hath he stirred up evil men to seek the hurt of this country. But God hath delivered his poor people here from time to time; sometimes by putting courage into our magistrates to punish those that did rebel, and sometimes God hath wrought for us by his providence in other ways. Here was one (Philip) Ratcliff spoke boldly and wickedly against the government and Governors here, using some words as some judged deserving death. He was for his wickedness whipped, and had both his ears cut off in Boston, AD 1631. I saw it done. There was one (Thomas) Morton that was a pestilent fellow, a troubler of the country, who did not only seek our hurt here, but went to England and did his utmost there, by false reports against our Governor. But God wrought for us and saved us, and caused all his designs to be of no effect. There arose up against us one (Dixy) Bull, who went to the eastward a trading and turned pirate, and took a vessel or two and plundered some planters thereabouts, and intended to return into the Bay and do some mischief to our magistrates here in Dorchester and other places. But, as they were weighing anchor, one of Mr. (Abraham) Short’s men shot from the shore, and struck the principal actor dead, and the rest were filled with fear and horror. They having taken one Anthony Dicks, a master of a vessel, did endeavor to persuade him to pilot them to Virginia, but he would not. They told him that they were filled with such fear and horror, that they were afraid of the very rattling of the ropes. This Mr. Dicks told me with his own mouth. These men fled eastward, and Bull himself got into England. But God destroyed this wretched man. There was also one Capt. (John) Stone, about the year 1633 or 1634, who carried himself very proudly and spoke contemptuously of our magistrates, and carried it lewdly in his conversation. For his misdemeanor, his ship was stayed, but he fled and would not obey authority. And there came warrants to Dorchester to take him dead or alive. So all our soldiers were in arms, and sentinels were set in divers places, and at length he was found in a great cornfield where we took him and carried him to Boston. But for want of one witness when he came to his trial, he escaped with his life. He was said to be a man of great relation, and had great favor in England, and he gave out threatening speeches. Though he escaped with his life, not being hanged for adultery, there being but one witness, yet for other crimes he was fined, and paid it. And being dismissed, he went toward Virginia. But by the way putting into the Pequot country to trade with them, the Pequots cut off both him and his men, took his goods, and burnt his ship. Some of the Indians reported that they roasted him alive. Thus did God destroy him that so proudly threatened to ruin us by complaining against us when he came to England. Thus God destroyed him, and delivered us at that time also.

About that time, or not long after, God permitted Satan to stir up the Pequot Indians to kill diverse Englishmen, as Mr. (John) Oldham and (John) Tilly and others. And when the murderers were demanded, instead of delivering them, they proceeded to destroy more of our English about Connecticut. Which put us upon sending out soldiers, once and again, whom God prospered in their enterprises until the Pequot people were destroyed...

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