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

Vol. I. The Transplanting of Culture: 1607–1650

John Underhill

JOHN UNDERHILL, one of the annalists of the Pequot War, was born in Warwickshire, England, it is not known when, and died at Oyster Bay, Long Island, about 1672. He had served in the Netherlands and at Cadiz before his advent in New England with John Winthrop. He soon took a prominent place in the Puritan colony and was representative in the Assembly. Appointed by Sir Henry Vane to be Commander of the Colony’s troops, he conducted their operations so efficiently as utterly to break the power of the Pequot Indians in the campaign described with much verve in his brief News from America (1638). His companion in this undertaking was Captain John Mason, who will speak for himself presently. His religious opinions and private morals were less acceptable to the colony than his soldierly qualities. He was banished from Boston, and went to England, where we find him in 1641 governor of Exeter and Dover. He returned, however, to America, settling first in Stamford, Conn., then in Flushing, L.I., having in the meantime held an important command in the hostilities carried on by the Colonies against the Indians and Dutch. He was prominent in public affairs until his death. His destruction of the Pequots was so warmly appreciated by the rival Mantinenoc Indians, that they presented him with 150 acres of land, still held by his descendants. Underhill is most remarkable for his skill in discerning special providences, and in laying to his soul the flattering unction of godliness, while abetting cruel barbarities.

How Underhill Escaped Death at Block Island.
[From “News from America or a Late Experimental Discovery of New-England,” 1638.]

DRAWING near to the place of landing, the number that rose from behind the barricado were between fifty or sixty able fighting men—men as straight as arrows, very tall, and of active bodies—having their arrows notched. They drew near to the water-side, and let fly at the soldiers, as though they had meant to have made an end of us all in a moment. They shot a young gentleman in the neck through a collar for stiffness as if it had been an oaken board, and entered his flesh a good depth. Myself received an arrow through my coat-sleeve, a second against my helmet on the forehead; so as if God in his providence had not moved the heart of my wife to persuade me to carry it along with me, (which I was unwilling to do,) I had been slain. Give me leave to observe two things from hence: first, when the hour of death is not yet come, you see God useth weak means to keep his purpose unviolated; secondly, let no man despise advice and counsel of his wife, though she be a woman. It were strange to nature to think a man should be bound to fulfil the humor of a woman, what arms he should carry; but you see God will have it so, that a woman should overcome a man. What with Delilah’s flattery, and with her mournful tears, they must and will have their desire, when the hand of God goes along in the matter; and this is to accomplish his own will. Therefore let the clamor be quenched I daily hear in my ears, that New-England men usurp over their wives, and keep them in servile subjection. The country is wronged in this matter, as in many things else. Let this precedent satisfy the doubtful, for that comes from the example of a rude soldier. If they be so courteous to their wives, as to take their advice in warlike matters, how much more kind is the tender, affectionate husband to honor his wife as the weaker vessel! Yet mistake not. I say not that they are bound to call their wives in council, though they are bound to take their private advice (so far as they see it make for their advantage and their good). Instance Abraham. But to the matter: The arrows flying thick about us, we made haste to the shore; but the surf of the sea being great, hindered us, so as we could scarce discharge a musket, but were forced to make haste to land. Drawing near the shore through the strength of wind, and the hollowness of the sea, we durst not adventure to run ashore, but were forced to wade up to the middle; but once having got up off our legs, we gave fire upon them. They finding our bullets to outreach their arrows, they fled before us. In the meanwhile Colonel Hindecot made to the shore, and some of this number also repulsed him at his landing, but hurt no one. We thought they would stand it out with us, but they perceiving we were in earnest, fled, and left their wigwams, or houses, and provision to the use of our soldiers. Having set forth our sentinels, and laid out our pardues, we betook ourselves to the guard, expecting hourly they would fall upon us; but they observed the old rule, “’Tis good sleeping in a whole skin,” and left us free from an alarm.

The Results of an Embassy.
[From the Same.]

THE PEQUEATS having slain one Captain Norton, and Captain Stone, with seven more of their company, order was given us to visit them, sailing along the Nahanticot shore with five vessels. The Indians, spying of us, came running in multitudes along the water-side, crying, “What cheer, Englishmen, what cheer? What do you come for?” They, not thinking we intended war, went on cheerfully until they came to Pequeat river. We, thinking it the best way, did forbear to answer them; first, that we might the better be able to run through the work; secondly, that by delaying of them, we might drive them in security, to the end we might have the more advantage of them. But they, seeing we would make no answer, kept on their course, and cried, “What, Englishmen, what cheer, what cheer, are you hoggery, will you cram us?” That is, “Are you angry, will you kill us, and do you come to fight?” That night the Nanhanticot Indians and the Pequeats made fires on both sides of the river, fearing we would land in the night. They made most doleful and woful cries all the night, (so that we could scarce rest,) hallowing one to another, and giving the word from place to place, to gather their forces together, fearing the English were come to war against them.

The next morning they sent early aboard an ambassador, a grave senior, a man of good understanding, portly carriage, grave and majestical in his expressions. He demanded of us what the end of our coming was. To which we answered, that the governors of the Bay sent us to demand the heads of those persons that had slain Captain Norton and Captain Stone, and the rest of their company, and that it was not the custom of the English to suffer murderers to live; and therefore, if they desired their own peace and welfare, they will peaceably answer our expectation, and give us the heads of the murderers.

They being a witty and ingenious nation, their ambassador labored to excuse the matter, and answered: “We know not that any of ours have slain any English. True it is,” saith he, “we have slain such a number of men; but consider the ground of it. Not long before the coming of these English into the river, there was a certain vessel that came to us in way of trade. We used them well, and traded with them, and took them to be such as would not wrong us in the least matter. But our sachem or prince coming aboard, they laid a plot how they might destroy him; which plot discovereth itself by the event, as followeth: They keeping their boat aboard, and not desirous of our company, gave us leave to stand hallooing ashore, that they might work their mischievous plot. But as we stood they called to us, and demanded of us a bushel of wampam-peke, which is their money. This they demanded for his ransom. This peal did ring terrible in our ears, to demand so much for the life of our prince, whom we thought was in the hands of honest men, and we had never wronged them. But we saw there was no remedy; their expectation must be granted, or else they would not send him ashore, which they promised they would do if we would answer their desires. We sent them so much aboard, according to demand, and they, according to their promise, sent him ashore, but first slew him. This much exasperated our spirits, and made us vow a revenge. Suddenly after came these captains with a vessel into the river, and pretended to trade with us, as the former did. We did not discountenance them for the present, but took our opportunity and came aboard.” The sachem’s son succeeding his father, was the man that came into the cabin of Captain Stone, and Captain Stone having drunk more than did him good, fell backwards on the bed asleep. The sagamore took his opportunity, and having a little hatchet under his garment, therewith knocked him in the head. Some being upon the deck and others under, suspected some such thing; for the rest of the Indians that were aboard had orders to proceed against the rest at one time; but the English, spying treachery, run immediately into the cook-room, and, with a fire-brand, had thought to have blown up the Indians by setting fire to the powder. These devil’s instruments spying this plot of the English, leaped overboard as the powder was a-firing, and saved themselves; but all the English were blown up. This was the manner of their bloody action. Saith the ambassador to us, “Could ye blame us for revenging so cruel a murder? for we distinguished not between the Dutch and English, but took them to be one nation, and therefore we do not conceive that we wronged you, for they slew our king; and thinking these captains to be of the same nation and people as those that slew him, made us set upon this course of revenge.”

Our answer was: “They were able to distinguish between Dutch and English, having had sufficient experience of both nations; and therefore, seeing you have slain the king of England’s subjects, we come to demand an account of their blood, for we ourselves are liable to account for them.”

The answer of the ambassador was: “We know no difference between the Dutch and the English; they are both strangers to us; we took them to be all one; therefore we crave pardon; we have not wilfully wronged the English.”

“This excuse will not serve our turns, for we have sufficient testimony that you know the English from the Dutch. We must have the heads of those persons that have slain ours, or else we will fight with you.”

He answered: “Understanding the ground of your coming, I will entreat you to give me liberty to go ashore, and I shall inform the body of the people what your intent and resolution is; and if you will stay aboard, I will bring you a sudden answer.”

We did grant him liberty to get ashore, and ourselves followed suddenly after before the war was proclaimed. He seeing us land our forces, came with a message to entreat us to come no nearer, but stand in a valley, which had between us and them an ascent, that took our sight from them; but they might see us to hurt us, to our prejudice. Thus, from the first beginning to the end of the action, they carried themselves very subtlely; but we, not willing to be at their direction, marched up to the ascent, having set our men in battalia. He came and told us he had inquired for the sachem, that we might come to a parley; but neither of both of the princes were at home; they were gone to Long Island.

Our reply was: “We must not be put off thus; we know the sachem is in the plantation, and therefore bring him to us, that we may speak with him, or else we will beat up the drum, and march through the country and spoil your corn.”

His answer: “If you will but stay a little while, I will step to the plantation and seek for them.”

We gave them leave to take their own course, and used as much patience as ever men might, considering the gross abuse they offered us, holding us above an hour in vain hopes. They sent an Indian to tell us that Mommenoteck was found, and would appear before us suddenly. This brought us to a new stand the space of an hour more. There came a third Indian persuading us to have a little further patience, and he would not tarry, for he had assembled the body of the Pequeats together, to know who the parties were that had slain these Englishmen. But seeing that they did in this interim convey away their wives and children, and bury their chiefest goods, we perceived at length they would fly from us; but we were patient and bore with them, in expectation to have the greater blow upon them. The last messenger brought us this intelligence from the sachem, that if we would but lay down our arms, and approach about thirty paces from them, and meet the heathen prince, he would cause his men to do the like, and then we shall come to a parley.

But we seeing their drift was to get our arms, we rather chose to beat up the drum and bid them battle. Marching into a champaign field, we displayed our colors; but none would come near us, but, standing remotely off, did laugh at us for our patience. We suddenly set upon our march, and gave fire to as many as we could come near, firing their wigwams, spoiling their corn, and many other necessaries that they had buried in the ground we raked up, which the soldiers had for booty. Thus we spent the day burning and spoiling the country. Towards night embarked ourselves. The next morning, landing on the Nahanticot shore, where we were served in like nature, no Indians would come near us, but run from us, as the deer from the dogs. But having burnt and spoiled what we could light on, we embarked our men and set sail for the Bay. Having ended this exploit, came off, having one man wounded in the leg; but certain numbers of theirs slain, and many wounded.

This was the substance of the first year’s service.

The Attack on the Indian Fort.
[From the Same.]

LET the ends and aims of a man be good, and he may proceed with courage. The bush may be in the fire, but so long as God appears to Moses out of the bush, there is no great danger. More good than hurt will come out of it. Christ knows how to honor himself, and to do his people good, though it be by contrary means, which reason will not fathom. Look but to faith, and that will make us see plainly, that though afflictions for the present are grievous, as doubtless it was with these two captive maids, yet sweet and comfortable is the issue with all Gods’s saints, as it was with them. But to go on.

Having embarqued our soldiers, we weighed anchor at Seabrooke Fort, and set sail for the Narraganset Bay, deluding the Pequeats thereby, for they expected us to fall into Pequeat River; but crossing their expectation, bred in them a security: we landed our men in the Narraganset Bay, and marched over land above two days journey before we came to Pequeat; quartering the last night’s march within two miles of the place, we set forth about one of the clock in the morning, having sufficient intelligence that they knew nothing of our coming. Drawing near to the Fort yielded up ourselves to God, and entreated his assistance in so weighty an enterprise. We set on our march to surround the Fort, Captain John Mason, approaching to the west end, where it had an entrance to pass into it, myself marching to the southside, surrounding the fort; placing the Indians, for we had about three hundred of them, without side of our soldiers in a ring battalia, giving a volley of shot upon the fort. So remarkable it appeared to us, as we could not but admire at the providence of God in it, that soldiers so unexpert in the use of their arms, should give so complete a volley, as though the finger of God had touched both match and flint: which volley being given at break of day, and themselves fast asleep for the most part, bred in them such a terror, that they brake forth into a most doleful cry, so as if God had not fitted the hearts of men for the service, it would have bred in them a commiseration towards them. But every man being bereaved of pity fell upon the work without compassion, considering the blood they had shed of our native country-men, and how barbarously they had dealt with them, and slain first and last about thirty persons. Having given fire, we approached near to the entrance which they had stopped full, with arms of trees, or brakes. Myself approaching to the entrance found the work too heavy for me, to draw out all those which were strongly forced in. We gave order to one Master Hedge, and some other soldiers to pull out those brakes, having this done, and laid them between me and the entrance, and without order themselves, proceeded first on the south end of the fort. But remarkable it was to many of us; men that run before they are sent, most commonly have an ill reward. Worthy reader, let me entreat you to have a more charitable opinion of me (though unworthy to be better thought of) than is reported in the other book. You may remember there is a passage unjustly laid upon me, that when we should come to the entrance, I should put forth this question: Shall we enter? Others should answer again; What came we hither for else? It is well known to many, it was never my practice in time of my command, when we are in garrison, much to consult with a private soldier, or to ask his advice in point of war, much less in a matter of so great a moment as that was, which experience had often taught me, was not a time to put forth such a question, and therefore pardon him that hath given the wrong information. Having our swords in our right hand, our carbines or muskets in our left hand, we approached the fort, Master Hedge being shot through both arms, and more wounded. Though it be not commendable for a man to make mention of any thing that might tend to his own honor; yet because I would have the providence of God observed, and his name magnified, as well for myself as others, I dare not omit, but let the world know, that deliverance was given to us that command, as well as to private soldiers. Captain Mason and myself entering into the wigwams, he was shot and received many arrows against his head-piece, God preserved him from any wounds; myself received a shot in the left hip, through a sufficient buff coat, that if I had not been supplied with such a garment, the arrow would have pierced through me; another I received between neck and shoulders, hanging in the linen of my headpiece. Others of our soldiers were shot, some through the shoulders, some in the face, some in the head, some in the legs: Captain Mason and myself losing each of us a man, and had near twenty wounded. Most courageously these Pequeats behaved themselves: but seeing the fort was too hot for us, we devised a way how we might save ourselves and prejudice them. Captain Mason, entering into a wigwam, brought out a fire-brand, after he had wounded many in the house. Then he set fire on the west-side where he entered, myself set fire on the south end with a train of powder, the fires of both meeting in the centre of the fort blazed most terribly, and burnt all in the space of half an hour. Many courageous fellows were unwilling to come out, and fought most desperately through the palisadoes, so as they were scorched and burnt with the very flame, and were deprived of their arms, in regard the fire burnt their very bowstrings, and so perished valiantly. Mercy they did deserve for their valor, could we have had opportunity to have bestowed it. Many were burnt in the fort, both men, women, and children. Others forced out, and came in troops to the Indians, twenty and thirty at a time, which our soldiers received and entertained with the point of the sword. Down fell men, women, and children: those that scaped us, fell into the hands of the Indians, that were in the rear of us; it is reported by themselves, that there were about four hundred souls in this fort, and not above five of them escaped out of our hands. Great and doleful was the bloody sight to the view of young soldiers that never had been in war, to see so many souls lie gasping on the ground so thick in some places, that you could hardly pass along. It may be demanded, Why should you be so furious (as some have said) should not Christians have more mercy and compassion? But I would refer you to David’s war, when a people is grown to such a height of blood, and sin against God and man, and all confederates in the action, there he hath no respect to persons, but harrows them, and saws them, and puts them to the sword, and the most terriblest death that may be: sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents; some time the case alters: but we will not dispute it now. We had sufficient light from the word of God for our proceedings….