Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  The Wages of Discontent

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Wages of Discontent

By Captain Edward Johnson (1599?–1672)

[From Wonder-working Providence of Sion’s Saviour in New England. 1654.]

TO end this year 1641 the Lord was pleased to send a very sharp Winter, insomuch that the harbor where ships ordinarily Anchor, was frozen over of such a thickness, that it became passable, both for horses, carts, and oxen, for the space of five weeks. And here the Reader must be minded of the wonder-working providence of Christ for his poor Churches, in altering the very season for their comfort, to the wonder of English and Indians, the Winter and Summer proving more moderate, both for heat and cold, unmasking many by this means, it being a frequent thing with some, that after the novelties of a new land began to be stale with them, and the sweet nourishment of the soul by the presence of Christ in the preaching of his Word, began to dry up through the hot-heady conceit of some new conceived opinion, then they wanted a warmer country, and every North-west wind that blew, they crept into some odd chimney-corner or other, to discourse of the diversity of Climates in the Southern parts, but chiefly of a thing very sweet to the palate of the flesh, called liberty, which they supposed might be very easily attained, could they but once come into a place where all men were chosen to the office of a Magistrate, and all were preachers of the Word, and no hearers; then it would be all Summer and no Winter.

This consultation was to be put in practice speedily, as all headstrong motions are, but the issue proved very sad both to these and others also. For thus it befell: when the time of the year was come that a sea voyage might be undertaken, they having made sale of a better accommodation than any they could afterward attain unto, prepare for the voyage with their wives and children, intending to land them in one of the Summer Islands, called the Isle of Providence. And having wind and seas favoring them, as they supposed, or to speak more proper, the provident hand of the most high God directing it, they were brought so near the shore for convenient landing, that they might have heaved a biscuit-cake on land. Their Pilot wondering he could not see the English colors on the Fort, he began to mistrust the Island was taken, and more especially because they saw not the people appear upon the shores as they usually did when any vessel was a-coming in, but now and then they saw some people afar off wafting to them to come in, till they were even come to an Anchor; and then, by the hoisting up and down the heads of those on shore, they were fully confirmed in it, that the Island was taken, as indeed it was, by the Spaniards, who, as soon as they tacked about to be gone, made shot at them, and being in great fear they made all the sail they could. But before they could get out of shot, the Master of the vessel was slain, the main-sail shot through, and the bark also. The people some of them returned back again for New England, being sore abashed at this providence that befell them, that they would never seek to be governed by liberty again to this very day. Yet others there are were so strongly bent for the heat of liberty, that they endured much pinching penury upon an uninhabited Island, till at length meeting some others like-minded with themselves, they made a voyage to another Island (the chiefest part of their Charter of Freedom was this, That no man upon pain of death should speak against another’s Religion), where they continued, till some of them were famished, and others even forced to feed on rats and any other thing they could find to sustain nature, till the provident hand of God brought a ship to the place, which took them off the Island and saved their lives. But upon this the Winter’s discourse ceased, and projects for a warmer Country were hushed and done.