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Trent and Wells, eds. Colonial Prose and Poetry. 1901.

Vol. II. The Beginnings of Americanism: 1650–1710

John Josselyn

JOHN JOSSELYN, an English traveller in New England and a writer of almost incredible credulity, was the son of Sir Thomas Josselyn of Kent, where he was born early in the seventeenth century. The time of his death is uncertain. He visited New England first in July, 1638, when he “presented his respects to Mr. Winthrop the Governor and to Mr. Cotton the preacher of Boston Church, to whom he delivered from Mr. Francis Quarles, the poet, the translation of several psalms in English metre.” He sojourned fifteen months in the colony, and revisited it twenty-four years later, remaining eight years. On his return in 1671, he published New England’s Rarities, discovered in Birds, Beasts, Fishes, Serpents, and Plants of that Country, with a picture of Boston in 1663. This volume was reprinted with notes by Edward Tuckerman in 1865. Josselyn wrote also An Account of Two Voyages to New England, and a compilation of The Most Remarkable Passages from the First Discovery of the Continent of America to 1673, reprinted with New England’s Rarities (1865). He is frank in criticism, somewhat affected in style. His interest is more in the curiosities of nature than in questions of religious or social polity. His credulousness rises almost to genius, as when he tells us that the Indians disputed “in perfect hexameter verse.” The hornets’ nest mistaken for a rare fruit and gathered with disastrous results, as may be seen in our extract, has been made familiar by the verses of Longfellow.

Josselyn’s First Experiences.
[From “An Account of Two Voyages to New England.” 1675.]

1637.May, which fell out to be extreme hot and foggy. About the middle of May I killed within a stone’s throw of our house above four score snakes, some of them as big as the small of my leg, black of color, and three yards long, with a sharp horn on the tip of their tail two inches in length.

June, the sixth and twentieth day, very stormy, lightning and thunder. I heard now two of the greatest and fearfullest thunder claps that ever were heard, I am confident.

At this time we had some neighboring gentlemen in our house, who came to welcome me into the country; where amongst variety of discourse they told me of a young lion (not long before) killed at Piscataway by an Indian; of a sea-serpent or snake, that lay coiled up like a cable upon a rock at Cape Ann: a boat passing by with English aboard, and two Indians, they would have shot the serpent, but the Indians dissuaded them, saying, that if he were not killed outright, they would be all in danger of their lives.

One Mr. Mittin related of a triton or merman which he saw in Casco Bay. This gentleman was a great fowler, and used to go out with a small boat or canoe, and fetching a compass about a small island (there being many small islands in the bay), for the advantage of a shot, was encountered with a triton, who laying his hands upon the side of the canoe, had one of them chopt off with a hatchet by Mr. Mittin, which was in all respects like the hand of a man. The triton presently sunk, dyeing the water with his purple blood, and was no more seen. The next story was told by Mr. Foxwell, now living in the province of Maine, who having been to the eastward in a shallop, as far as Cape Anna-waggon, in his return was overtaken by the night, and fearing to land upon the barbarous shore, he put off a little further to sea. About midnight they were wakened with a loud voice from the shore, calling upon “Foxwell, Foxwell! come ashore!” two or three times. Upon the sands they saw a great fire, and men and women hand in hand dancing round about it in a ring. After an hour or two they vanished, and as soon as the day appeared, Foxwell puts into a small cove, it being about three quarters flood, and traces along the shore, where he found the footing of men, women and children shod with shoes; and an infinite number of brands ends thrown up by the water, but neither Indian nor English could he meet with on the shore, nor in the woods. These with many other stories they told me, the credit whereof I will neither impeach nor enforce, but shall satisfy myself, and I hope the reader hereof, with the saying of a wise, learned and honorable knight, that “there are many stranger things in the world, than are to be seen between London and Stanes.”…

… In the afternoon [Oct. 2] I walked into the woods on the back side of the house, and happening into a fine broad walk (which was a sledge-way) I wandered till I chanced to spy a fruit as I thought like a pine-apple plated with scales. It was as big as the crown of a woman’s hat. I made bold to step unto it, with an intent to have gathered it. No sooner had I touched it, but hundreds of wasps were about me. At last I cleared myself from them, being stung only by one upon the upper lip. Glad I was that I escaped so well; but by that time I was come into the house my lip was swelled so extremely, that they hardly knew me but by my garments.

Items from His Second Account.

… SO fared it with me, that having escaped the dangers of one voyage, must needs put on a resolution for a second, wherein I plowed many a churlish billow with little or no advantage, but rather to my loss and detriment. In the setting down whereof I purpose not to insist on a methodical way, but according to my quality, in a plain and brief relation as I have done already; for I perceive, if I used all the art that possibly I could, it would be difficult to please all, for all men’s eyes, ears, faith, judgment, are not of a size. There be a sort of stagnant stinking spirits, who, like flies, lie sucking at the botches of carnal pleasures, and never travelled so much sea as is between Hethferry and Lyon-Key; yet notwithstanding, (sitting in the chair of the scornful over their whifts and drafts of intoxication) will desperately censure the relations of the greatest travellers.

It was a good proviso of a learned man, never to report wonders, for in so doing, of the greatest he will be sure not to be believed, but laughed at; which certainly bewrays their ignorance and want of discretion. Of fools and madmen, then, I shall take no care. I will not invite these in the least to honor me with a glance from their supercilious eyes; but rather advise them to keep their inspection for their fine-tongued romances and plays. This homely piece, I protest ingenuously, is prepared for such only who well know how to make use of their charitable constructions towards works of this nature, to whom I submit myself in all my faculties….

There is an admirable rare creature in shape like a buck, with horns, of a gummy substance, which I have often found in the fall of the leaf upon the ground amongst the withered leaves; a living creature I cannot call it, having only the sign of a mouth and eyes. Seldom or never shall you meet with any of them whole, but the head and horns, or the hinder parts, broken off from the rest. The Indians call them tree bucks, and have a superstitious saying (for I believe they never see any of them living) that if they can see a tree buck walking upon the branches of an oak when they go out in a morning to hunt, they shall have good luck that day. What they are good for I know not, but certainly there is some more than ordinary virtue in them. It is true that nothing in nature is superfluous, and we have the Scripture to back it, that God created nothing in vain. The like creatures they have at the Barbadoes which they call Negroes’ heads, found in the sands, about two inches long, with forehead, eyes, nose, mouth, chin, and part of the neck, they are always found loose in the sands without any root, it is as black as jet, but whence it comes they know not. I have read likewise, that in the Canaries or Fortunate Islands, there is found a certain creature, which boys bring home from the mountains as oft as they would, and named them Tudesquels or little Germans: for they were dried dead carcasses, almost three-footed, which any boy did easily carry in one of the palms of his hand, and they were of an human shape; but the whole dead carcass was clearly like unto parchment, and their bones were flexible, as it were gristles; against the sun, also, their bowels and intestines were seen. “Surely,” saith my author, “the destroyed race of the Pigmies was there.”

There is also many times found upon the leaves of the oak a creature like a frog, being as thin as a leaf, and transparent, as yellow as gold, with little fiery red eyes, the English call them tree-frogs or tree-toads….

The toad is of two sorts, one that is speckled with white, and another of a dark earthy color; there is of them that will climb up into trees and sit croaking there; but whether it be of a third sort, or one of the other, or both, I am not able to affirm; but this I can testify that there be toads of the dark colored kind that are as big as a great loaf. Which report will not swell into the belief of my sceptic sirs; nor that there is a hell, being like Solomon’s fool, Prov. xxvi. 22.

The country is strangely incommodated with flies, which the English call Musketaes, they are like our gnats, they will sting so fiercely in summer as to make the faces of the English swelled and scabby, as of the small pox for the first year. Likewise there is a small black fly no bigger than a flea, so numerous up in the country, that a man cannot draw his breath, but that he will suck of them in; they continue about thirty days say some but I say three months, and are not only a pesterment but a plague to the country.

From New England’s Rarities Discovered. 1672.
A Perfect Description of an Indian Squaw in All her Bravery; with a Poem not improperly conferred upon her.

NOW, gentle Reader, having trespassed upon your patience a long while in the perusing of these rude observations, I shall, to make you amends, present you by way of divertisement or recreation, with a copy of verses made some time since upon the picture of a young and handsome gypsy, not improperly transferred upon the Indian Squaw, or female Indian, tricked up in all her bravery.

… The Men are somewhat horse-faced, and generally faucious, i.e. without beards; but the Women many of them have very good features; seldom without a “Come to me,” or Cos Amoris, in their countenance. All of them black-eyed, having even, short teeth, and very white; their hair black, thick, and long; broad-breasted, handsome, straight bodies, and slender, considering their constant loose habit; their limbs cleanly, straight, and of a convenient stature, generally as plump as partridges, and having here and there one of a modest deportment.

Their garments are a pair of sleeves of deer, or moose skin drest, and drawn with lines of several colors into Asiatic works, with buskins of the same, a short mantle of trading cloth, either blue or red, fastened with a knot under the chin and girt about the middle with a zone, wrought with white and blue beads into pretty works. Of these beads they have bracelets for their neck and arms, and links to hang in their ears, and a fair table curiously made up with beads likewise, to wear before their breast. Their hair they comb backward, and tie it up short with a border about two handfuls broad, wrought in works as the other with their beads. But enough of this.

  • The Poem.
  • Whether White or Black be best
  • Call your senses to the quest;
  • And your touch shall quickly tell
  • The Black in softness doth excel
  • And in smoothness; but the ear,
  • What, can that a color hear?
  • No, but ’t is your Black one’s wit
  • That doth catch and captive it.
  • And if Slut and Fair be one,
  • Sweet and Fair, there can be none;
  • Nor can aught so please the taste
  • As what’s brown and lovely drest.
  • And who ’ll say that that is best
  • To please one’s sense, displease the rest?
  • Maugre then all that can be said
  • In flattery of White and Red;
  • Those flatterers themselves must say
  • That darkness was before the day;
  • And such perfection here appears,
  • It neither wind nor sunshine fears.
  • New England’s Laws and Ways, an Unsympathetic View.
    [From the Same.]

    … EVERY Town sends two burgesses to their great and solemn general court.

    For being drunk, they either whip or impose a fine of five shillings; so for swearing and cursing, or boring through the tongue with a hot iron.

    For kissing a woman in the street, though in way of civil salute, whipping or a fine….

    Scolds they gag and set them at their doors for certain hours, for all comers and goers by to gaze at.

    Stealing is punished with restoring fourfold, if able; if not, they are sold for some years, and so are poor debtors.

    If you desire a further inspection to their laws, for I must refer you to them being in print, too many to be inserted into this relation.

    The governments of their churches are Independent and Presbyterial, every church (for so they call their particular congregations) have one pastor, one teacher, ruling elders and deacons.

    They that are members of their churches have the sacraments administred to them, the rest that are out of the pale as they phrase it, are denied it. Many hundred souls there be amongst them grown up to men and women’s estate that were never christened.

    They judge every man and woman to pay five shillings per day, who comes not to their assemblies, and impose fines of forty shillings and fifty shillings on such as meet together to worship God.

    Quakers they whip, banish, and hang if they return again.

    Anabaptists they imprison, fine and weary out.

    The government both civil and ecclesiastical is in the hands of the thorough-pac’d Independents and rigid Presbyterians.

    The gross Goddons, or great masters, as also some of their merchants are damnable rich; generally all of their judgment, inexplicably covetous and proud, they receive your gifts but as an homage or tribute due to their transcendency, which is a fault their clergy are also guilty of, whose living is upon the bounty of their hearers. On Sundays in the afternoon when sermon is ended the people in the galleries come down and march two a-breast up one aisle and down the other, until they come before the desk, for pulpit they have none: before the desk is a long pew where the Elders and Deacons sit, one of them with a money box in his hand, into which the people as they pass put their offering, some a shilling, some two shillings, half a crown, five shillings, according to their ability and good will, after this they conclude with a Psalm; but this by the way.

    The chiefest objects of discipline, religion, and morality they want, some are of a linsey-woolsey disposition, of several professions in religion, all like Æthiopians white in the Teeth, only full of ludification and injurious dealing, and cruelty the extremest of all vices. The chiefest cause of Noah’s flood, Prov. 27. 26. Agni erant ad vestitum tuum, is a frequent text among them, no trading for a stranger with them, but with a Grecian faith, which is not to part with your ware without ready money, for they are generally in their payments recusant and slow, great syndies, or censors, or controllers of other men’s manners, and savagely factious amongst themselves.

    There are many strange women too, (in Solomon’s sense), more the pity; when a woman hath lost her chastity she hath no more to lose.

    But mistake me not to general speeches, none but the guilty take exceptions, there are many sincere and religious people amongst them, descried by their charity and humility (the true characters of christianity) by their Zenodochy or hospitality, by their hearty submission to their sovereign the King of England, by their diligent and honest labor in their callings, amongst these we may account the royalists, who are looked upon with an evil eye, and tongue, bolted or punished if they chance to lash out; the tame Indian (for so they call those that are born in the country) are pretty honest too, and may in good time be known for honest King’s men.

    They have store of children, and are well accomodated with servants; many hands make light work, many hands make a fall fraught, but many mouths eat up all, as some old planters have experimented; of these some are English, others Negroes: of the English there are can eat till they sweat, and work till they freeze; and of the females that are like Mrs. Winter’s paddocks, very tender fingerd in cold weather.

    There are none that beg in the country, but there be witches too many, bottled-bellied witches amongst the Quakers, and others that produce many strange apparitions if you will believe report, of a shallop at sea manned with women; of a ship and a great red horse standing by the main-mast, the ship being in a small cove to the east-ward vanished of a sudden. Of a witch that appeared aboard of a ship twenty leagues to sea to a mariner who took up the carpenter’s broad axe and cleft her head with it, the witch dying of the wound at home, with such like bugbears and Terriculimentaes.

    The Men of Maine.
    [From “An Account of Two Voyages to New England.” 1675.]

    THE PEOPLE in the province of Maine may be divided into magistrates, husbandmen or planters, and fishermen; of the magistrates some be royalists, the rest perverse spirits, the like are the planters and fishers, of which some be planters and fishers both, others mere fishers.

    Handicraftsmen there are but few, the tumelor or cooper, smiths and carpenters are best welcome amongst them, shopkeepers there are none, being supplied by the Massachusetts merchant with all things they stand in need of, keeping here and there fair magazines stored with English goods, but they set excessive prices on them, if they do not gain cent per cent, they cry out that they are losers….

    The planters are or should be restless painstakers, providing for their cattle, planting and sowing of corn, fencing their grounds, cutting and bringing home fuel, cleaving of claw-board and pipe-staves, fishing for fresh water fish and fowling takes up most of their time, if not all; the diligent hand maketh rich, but if they be of a dronish disposition as some are, they become wretchedly poor and miserable, scarce able to free themselves and family from importunate famine, especially in the winter for want of bread.

    They have a custom of taking tobacco, sleeping at noon, sitting long at meals, sometimes four times in a day, and now and then drinking a dram of the bottle extraordinarily: the smoking of tobacco, if moderately used refresheth the weary much, and so doth sleep.

  • A traveller five hours doth crave
  • To sleep, a student seven will have,
  • And nine sleeps every idle knave.
  • The physician allows but three draughts at a meal, the first for need, the second for pleasure, and the third for sleep; but little observed by them, unless they have no other liquor to drink but water. In some places where the springs are frozen up, or at least the way to their springs made unpassable by reason of the snow and the like, they dress their meat in aqua cælestis, i.e., melted snow. At other times it is very well cooked, and they feed upon (generally) as good flesh, beef, pork, mutton, fowl, and fish as any is in the whole world besides.

    Their servants, which are for the most part English, when they are out of their time, will not work under half a crown a day, although it be for to make hay, and for less I do not see how they can, by reason of the dearness of clothing. If they hire them by the year, they pay them fourteen or fifteen pound, yea, twenty pound at the year’s end in corn, cattle and fish: some of these prove excellent fowlers, bringing in as many as will maintain their master’s house; besides the profit that accrues by their feathers. They use (when it is to be had) a great round shot, called Barstable shot (which is best for fowl), made of a lead blacker than our common lead; to six pound of shot they allow one pound of powder; cannon powder is esteemed best.

    The fishermen take yearly upon the coasts many hundred quintals of cod, hake, haddock, pollack, etc., which they split, salt and dry at their stages, making three voyages in a year. When they share their fish (which is at the end of every voyage) they separate the best from the worst, the first they call merchantable fish, being sound, full grown fish and well made up, which is known when it is clear like a Lanthorn horn and without spots; the second sort they call refuse fish—that is, such as is salt burnt, spotted, rotten, and carelessly ordered: these they put off to the Massachusetts merchants; the merchantable for thirty and two and thirty reals a quintal (a quintal is an hundred and twelve pound weight); the refuse for nine shillings and ten shillings a quintal. The merchant sends the merchantable fish to Lisbon, Bilbao, Bordeaux, Marseilles, Toulon, Rochelle, Rouen, and other cities of France, to the Canaries with claw-board and pipe-staves which is there and at the Caribs a prime commodity: the refuse fish they put off at the Carib Islands, Barbadoes, Jamaica, etc., who feed their negroes with it.

    To every shallop belong four fishermen, a master or steersman, a midshipman, and a foremastman, and a shoreman who washes it out of the salt, and dries it upon hurdles pitched upon stakes breast high and tends their cookery; these often get in one voyage eight or nine pound a man for their shares, but it doth some of them little good, for the merchant to increase his gains by putting off his commodity in the midst of their voyages, and at the end thereof comes in with a walking tavern, a bark laden with the legitimate blood of the rich grape, which they bring from Fayal, Madeira, Canaries, with brandy, rum, the Barbadoes strong water, and tobacco. Coming ashore he gives them a taster or two, which so charms them, that for no persuasions that their employers can use will they go out to sea, although fair and seasonable weather, for two or three days—nay, sometimes a whole week—till they are wearied with drinking, taking ashore two or three hogsheads of wine and rum to drink off when the merchant is gone. If a man of quality chance to come where they are roistering and gulling in wine with a dear felicity, he must be sociable and rollypooly with them, taking off their liberal cups as freely, or else be gone, which is best for him, for when wine in their guts is at full tide they quarrel, fight and do one another mischief, which is the conclusion of their drunken compotations. When the day of payment comes, they may justly complain of their costly sin of drunkenness, for their shares will do no more than pay the reckoning; if they save a quintal or two to buy shoes and stockings, shirts and waistcoats with, ’tis well, otherwise they must enter into the merchant’s books for such things as they stand in need of, becoming thereby the merchant’s slaves, and when it riseth to a big sum are constrained to mortgage their plantation, if they have any; the merchant when the time is expired is sure to seize upon their plantation and stock of cattle, turning them out of house and home, poor creatures, to look out for a new habitation in some remote place, where they begin the world again. The lavish planters have the same fate, partaking with them in the like bad husbandry; of these the merchant buys beef, pork, pease, wheat and Indian-corn, and sells it again many times to the fishermen. Of the same nature are the people in the Duke’s province, who not long before I left the country petitioned the governor and magistrates in the Massachusetts to take them into their government. Birds of a feather will rally together….

    Josselyn’s Conclusion.

    NOW by the merciful providence of the Almighty, having performed two voyages to the northeast parts of the western world, I am safely arrived in my native country, having in part made good the French proverb—travel where thou canst, but die where thou oughtest, that is, in thine own country.