Passaconaway by John Greenleaf Whittier

Story type: Literature


I know not, I ask not, what guilt’s in thy heart, But I feel
that I love thee, whatever thou art.

THE township of Haverhill, on the Merrimac, contained, in the autumn of 1641, the second year of its settlement, but six dwelling-houses, situated near each other, on the site of the present village. They were hastily constructed of rude logs, small and inconvenient, but one remove from the habitations of the native dwellers of the wilderness. Around each a small opening had been made through the thick forest, down to the margin of the river, where, amidst the charred and frequent stumps and fragments of fallen trees, the first attempts at cultivation had been made. A few small patches of Indian corn, which had now nearly reached maturity, exhibited their thick ears and tasselled stalks, bleached by the frost and sunshine; and, here and there a spot of yellow stubble, still lingering among the rough incumbrances of the soil, told where a scanty crop of common English grain had been recently gathered. Traces of some of the earlier vegetables were perceptible, the melon, the pea, and the bean. The pumpkin lay ripening on its frosted vines, its sunny side already changed to a bright golden color; and the turnip spread out its green mat of leaves in defiance of the season. Everything around realized the vivid picture of Bryant’s Emigrant, who:

“Hewed the dark old woods away,
And gave the virgin fields to the day
And the pea and the bean beside the door
Bloomed where such flowers ne’er bloomed before;
And the maize stood up, and the bearded rye
Bent low in the breath of an unknown sky.”

Beyond, extended the great forest, vast, limitless, unexplored, whose venerable trees had hitherto bowed only to the presence of the storm, the beaver’s tooth, and the axe of Time, working in the melancholy silence of natural decay. Before the dwellings of the white adventurers, the broad Merrimac rolled quietly onward the piled-up foliage of its shores, rich with the hues of a New England autumn. The first sharp frosts, the avant couriers of approaching winter, had fallen, and the whole wilderness was in blossom. It was like some vivid picture of Claude Lorraine, crowded with his sunsets and rainbows, a natural kaleidoscope of a thousand colors. The oak upon the hillside stood robed in summer’s greenness, in strong contrast with the topaz- colored walnut. The hemlock brooded gloomily in the lowlands, forming, with its unbroken mass of shadow, a dark background for the light maple beside it, bright with its peculiar beauty. The solemn shadows of the pine rose high in the hazy atmosphere, checkered, here and there, with the pale yellow of the birch.

“Truly, Alice, this is one of God’s great marvels in the wilderness,” said John Ward, the minister, and the original projector of the settlement, to his young wife, as they stood in the door of their humble dwelling. “This would be a rare sight for our friends in old Haverhill. The wood all about us hath, to my sight, the hues of the rainbow, when, in the words of the wise man, it compasseth the heavens as with a circle, and the hands of the Most High have bended it. Very beautifully hath He indeed garnished the excellent works of His wisdom.”

“Yea, John,” answered Alice, in her soft womanly tone; “the Lord is, indeed, no respecter of persons. He hath given the wild savages a more goodly show than any in Old England. Yet, John, I am sometimes very sorrowful, when I think of our old home, of the little parlor where you and I used to sit of a Sunday evening. The Lord hath been very bountiful to this land, and it may be said of us, as it was said of Israel of old, ‘How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob! and thy tabernacles, O Israel!’ But the people sit in darkness, and the Gentiles know not the God of our fathers.”

“Nay,” answered her husband, “the heathen may be visited and redeemed, the spirit of the Lord may turn unto the Gentiles; but a more sure evil hath arisen among us. I tell thee, Alice, it shall be more tolerable in the day of the Lord, for the Tyre and Sidon, the Sodom and Gomorrah of the heathen, than for the schemers, the ranters, the Familists, and the Quakers, who, like Satan of old, are coming among the sons of God.”

“I thought,” said Alice, “that our godly governor had banished these out of the colony.”

“Truly he hath,” answered Mr. Ward, “but the evil seed they have sown here continues to spring up and multiply. The Quakers have, indeed, nearly ceased to molest us; but another set of fanatics, headed by Samuel Gorton, have of late been very troublesome. Their family has been broken up, and the ring-leaders have been sentenced to be kept at hard labor for the colony’s benefit; one being allotted to each of the old towns, where they are forbidden to speak on matters of religion. But there are said to be many still at large, who, under the encouragement of the arch-heretic, Williams, of the Providence plantation, are even now zealously doing the evil work of their master. But, Alice,” he continued, as he saw his few neighbors gathering around a venerable oak which had been spared in the centre of the clearing, “it is now near our time of worship. Let us join our friends.”

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And the minister and his wife entered into the little circle of their neighbors. No house of worship, with spire and tower, and decorated pulpit, had as yet been reared on the banks of the Merrimac. The stern settlers came together under the open heavens, or beneath the shadow of the old trees, to kneel before that God, whose works and manifestations were around them.

The exercises of the Sabhath commenced. A psalm of the old and homely version was sung, with true feeling, if not with a perfect regard to musical effect and harmony. The brief but fervent prayer was offered, and the good man had just announced the text for his sermon, when a sudden tramp of feet, and a confused murmur of human voices, fell on the ears of the assembly.

The minister closed his Bible; and the whole group crowded closer together. “It is surely a war party of the heathen,” said Mr. Ward, as he listened intently to the approaching sound. “God grant they mean us no evil!”

The sounds drew nearer. The swarthy figure of an Indian came gliding through the brush-wood into the clearing, followed closely by several Englishmen. In answer to the eager inquiries of Mr. Ward, Captain Eaton, the leader of the party, stated that he had left Boston at the command of Governor Winthrop, to secure and disarm the sachem, Passaconaway, who was suspected of hostile intentions towards the whites. They had missed of the old chief, but had captured his son, and were taking him to the governor as a hostage for the good faith of his father. He then proceeded to inform Mr. Ward, that letters had been received from the governor of the settlements of Good Hoop and Piquag, in Connecticut, giving timely warning of a most diabolical plot of the Indians to cut off their white neighbors, root and branch. He pointed out to the notice of the minister a member of his party as one of the messengers who had brought this alarming intelligence.

He was a tall, lean man, with straight, lank, sandy hair, cut evenly all around his narrow forehead, and hanging down so as to remind one of Smollett’s apt similitude of “a pound of candles.”

“What news do you bring us of the savages?” inquired Mr. Ward.

“The people have sinned, and the heathen are the instruments whereby the Lord hath willed to chastise them,” said the messenger, with that peculiar nasal inflection of voice, so characteristic of the “unco’ guid.” “The great sachem, Miantonimo, chief of the Narragansetts, hath plotted to cut off the Lord’s people, just after the time of harvest, to slay utterly old and young, both maids and little children.”

“How have ye known this?” asked the minister.

“Even as Paul knew of those who had bound themselves together with a grievous oath to destroy him. The Lord hath done it. One of the bloody heathens was dreadfully gored by the oxen of our people, and, being in great bodily pain and tribulation thereat, he sent for Governor Haines, and told him that the Englishman’s god was angry with him for concealing the plot to kill his people, and had sent the Englishman’s cow to kill him.”

“Truly a marvellous providence,” said Mr. Ward; “but what has been done in your settlements in consequence of it?”

“We have fasted many days,” returned the other, in a tone of great solemnity, “and our godly men have besought the Lord that he might now, as of old, rebuke Satan. They have, moreover, diligently and earnestly inquired, Whence cometh this evil? Who is the Achan in the camp of our Israel? It hath been greatly feared that the Quakers and the Papists have been sowing tares in the garden of the true worship. We have therefore banished these on pain of death; and have made it highly penal for any man to furnish either food or lodging to any of these heretics and idolaters. We have ordered a more strict observance of the Sabbath of the Lord, no, one being permitted to walk or run on that day, except to and from public worship, and then, only in a reverent and becoming manner; and no one is allowed to cook food, sweep the house, shave or pare the nails, or kiss a child, on the day which is to be kept holy. We have also framed many wholesome laws, against the vanity and licentiousness of the age, in respect to apparel and deportment, and have forbidden any young man to kiss a maid during the time of courtship, as, to their shame be it said, is the manner of many in the old lands.”

“Ye have, indeed, done well for the spiritual,” said Mr. Ward; “what have you done for your temporal defence?”

“We have our garrisons and our captains, and a goodly store of carnal weapons,” answered the other. “And, besides, we have the good chief Uncas, of the Mohegans, to help us against the bloody Narragansetts.”

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“But, my friend,” said the minister, addressing Captain Eaton, “there must be surely some mistake about Passaconaway. I verily believe him to be the friend of the white men. And this is his son Wonolanset? I saw him last year, and remember that he was the pride of the old savage, his father. I will speak to him, for I know something of his barbarous tongue.”


The young savage started suddenly at the word, and rolled his keen bright eye upon the speaker.

“Why is the son of the great chief bound by my brothers?”

The Indian looked one instant upon the cords which confined his arms, and then glanced fiercely upon his conductors.

“Has the great chief forgotten his white friends? Will he send his young men to take their scalps when the Narragansett bids him?”

The growl of the young bear when roused from his hiding-place is not more fierce and threatening than were the harsh tones of Wonolanset as he uttered through his clenched teeth:–

“Nummus quantum.”

“Nay, nay,” said Mr. Ward, turning away from the savage, “his heart is full of bitterness; he says he is angry, and, verily, I like not his bearing. I fear me there is evil on foot. But ye have travelled far, and must needs be weary rest yourselves awhile, and haply, while ye refresh your bodies, I may also refresh your spirits with wholesome and comfortable doctrines.”

The party having acquiesced in this proposal, their captive was secured by fastening one end of his rope to a projecting branch of the tree. The minister again named his text, but had only proceeded to the minuter divisions of his sermon, when he was again interrupted by a loud, clear whistle from the river, and a sudden exclamation of surprise from those around him. A single glance sufficed to show him the Indian, disengaged from his rope, and in full retreat.

Eaton raised his rifle to his eye, and called out to the young sachem, in his own language, to stop, or he would fire upon him. The Indian evidently understood the full extent of his danger. He turned suddenly about, and, pointing, up the river towards the dwelling of his father, pronounced with a threatening gesture:–

“Nosh, Passaconaway!”

“Hold!” exclaimed Mr. Ward, grasping the arm of Eaton. “He threatens us with his father’s vengeance. For God’s sake keep your fire!” It was too late. The report of the rifle broke sharply upon the Sabbath stillness. It was answered by a shout from the river, and a small canoe, rowed by an Indian and a white man, was seen darting along the shore. Wonolanset bounded on unharmed, and, plunging into the river, he soon reached the canoe, which was hastily paddled to the opposite bank. Captain Eaton and his party finding it impossible to retake their prisoner, after listening to the sermon of Mr. Ward, and partaking of some bodily refreshment, took their leave of the settlers of Pentucket, and departed for Boston.

The evening, which followed the day whose events we have narrated, was one of those peculiar seasons of beauty when the climate of New England seems preferable to that of Italy. The sun went down in the soft haze of the horizon, while the full moon was rising at the same time in the east. Its mellow silver mingled with the deep gold of the sunset. The south-west wind, as warm as that of summer, but softer, was heard, at long intervals, faintly harping amidst the pines, and blending its low sighing with the lulling murmurs of the river. The inhabitants of Pentucket had taken the precaution, as night came on, to load their muskets carefully, and place them in readiness for instant use, in the event of an attack from the savages. Such an occurrence, was, indeed, not unlikely, after the rude treatment which the son of old Passaconaway had received at the settlement. It was well known that the old chief was able, at a word, to send every warrior from Pennacook to Naumkeag upon the war-path of Miantonimo; the vengeful character of the Indians was also understood; and, in the event of an out-breaking of their resentment, the settlement of Pentucket was, of all others, the most exposed to danger.

“Don’t go to neighbor Clements’s to-night, Mary,” said Alice Ward to her young, unmarried sister; “I’m afraid some of the tawny Indians may be lurking hereabout. Mr. Ward says he thinks they will be dangerous neighbors for us.”

Mary had thrown her shawl over her head, and was just stepping out. “It is but a step, as it were, and I promised good-wife Clements that I would certainly come. I am not afraid of the Indians. There’s none of them about here except Red Sam, who wanted to buy me of Mr. Ward for his squaw; and I shall not be afraid of my old spark.”

The girl tripped lightly from the threshold towards the dwelling of her neighbor. She had passed nearly half the distance when the pathway, before open to the moonlight, began to wind along the margin of the river, overhung with young sycamores and hemlocks. With a beating heart and a quickened step she was stealing through the shadow, when the boughs on the river-side were suddenly parted, and a tall man sprang into the path before her. Shrinking back with terror, she uttered a faint scream.

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“Mary Edmands!” said the stranger, “do not fear me.”

A thousand thoughts wildly chased each other through the mind of the astonished girl. That familiar voice–that knowledge of her name–that tall and well-remembered form! She leaned eagerly forward, and looked into the stranger’s face. A straggling gleam of moonshine fell across its dark features of manly beauty.

“Richard Martin! can it be possible!”

“Yea, Mary,” answered the other, “I have followed thee to the new world, in that love which neither sea nor land can abate. For many weary months I have waited earnestly for such a meeting as this, and, in that time, I have been in many and grievous perils by the flood and the wilderness, and by the heathen Indians and more heathen persecutors among my own people. But I may not tarry, nor delay to tell my errand. Mary, thou knowest my love; wilt thou be my wife?”

Mary hesitated.

“I ask thee again, if thou wilt share the fortunes of one who hath loved thee ever since thou wast but a child, playing under the cottage trees in old Haverhill, and who hath sacrificed his worldly estate, and perilled his soul’s salvation for thy sake. Mary, dear Mary, for of a truth thou art very dear to me; wilt thou go with me and be my wife?”

The tones of Richard Martin, usually harsh and forbidding, now fell soft and musical on the ear of Mary. He was her first love, her only one. What marvel that she consented?

“Let us hasten to depart,” said Martin, “this is no place for me. We will go to the Providence plantations. Passaconaway will assist us in our journey.”

The bright flush of hope and joy faded from the face of the young girl. She started back from the embrace of her lover.

“What mean you, Richard? What was ‘t you said about our going to that sink of wickedness at Providence? Why don’t you go back with me to sister Ward’s?”

“Mary Edmands!” said Martin, in a tone of solemn sternness, “it is fitting that I should tell thee all. I have renounced the evil doctrines of thy brother-in-law, and his brethren in false prophecy. It was a hard struggle, Mary; the spirit was indeed willing, but the flesh was weak, exceeding weak, for I thought of thee, Mary, and of thy friends. But I had a measure of strength given me, whereby I have been enabled to do the work which was appointed me.”

“Oh, Richard!” said Mary, bursting into tears, “I’m afraid you have become a Williamsite, one of them, who, Mr. Ward says, have nothing to hope for in this world or in that to come.”

“The Lord rebuke him!” said Martin, with a loud voice. “Woe to such as speak evil of the witnesses of the truth. I have seen the utter nakedness of the land of carnal professors, and I have obeyed the call to come out from among them and be separate. I belong to that persecuted family whom the proud priests and rulers of this colony have driven from their borders. I was brought, with many others, before the wicked magistrates of Boston, and sentenced to labor, without hire, for the ungodly. But I have escaped from my bonds; and the Lord has raised up a friend for his servant, even the Indian Passaconaway, whose son I assisted, but a little time ago, to escape from his captors.”

“Can it be?” sobbed Mary, “can it be? Richard, our own Richard, following the tribe of Gorton, the Familist! Oh, Richard, if you love me, if you love God’s people and his true worship, do come away from those wicked fanatics.”

“Thou art in the very gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity,” answered Martin. “Listen, Mary Edmands, to the creed of those whom thou callest fanatics. We believe in Christ, but not in man-worship. The Christ we reverence is the shadow or image of God in man; he was crucified in Adam of old, and hath been crucified in all men since; his birth, his passion, and his death, were but manifestations or figures of his sufferings in Adam and his descendants. Faith and Christ are the same, the spiritual image of God in the heart. We acknowledge no rule but this Christ, this faith within us, either in temporal or spiritual things. And the Lord hath blessed us, and will bless us, and truth shall be magnified and exalted in us; and the children of the heathen shall be brought to know and partake of this great redemption whereof we testify. But woe to the false teachers, and to them who prophesy for hire and make gain of their soothsaying. Their churches are the devices of Satan, the pride and vanity of the natural Adam. Their baptism is blasphemy; and their sacrament is an abomination, yea, an incantation and a spell. Woe to them who take the shadow for the substance, that bow down to the altars of human device and cunning workmanship, that make idols of their ceremonies! Woe to the high priests and the Pharisees, and the captains and the rulers; woe to them who love the wages of unrighteousness!”

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The Familist paused from utter exhaustion, so vehemently had he poured forth the abundance of his zeal. Mary Edmands, overwhelmed by his eloquence, but still unconvinced, could only urge the disgrace and danger attending his adherence to such pernicious doctrines. She concluded by telling him, in a voice choked by tears, that she could never marry him while a follower of Gorton.

“Stay then,” said Martin, fiercely dashing her hand from his, “stay and partake of the curse of the ungodly, even of the curse of Meroz, who come not up to the help of the Lord, against the mighty Stay, till the Lord hath made a threshing instrument of the heathen, whereby the pride of the rulers, and the chief priests, and the captains of this land shall be humbled. Stay, till the vials of His wrath are poured out upon ye, and the blood of the strong man, and the maid, and the little child is mingled together!”

The wild language, the fierce tones and gestures of her lover, terrified the unhappy girl. She looked wildly around her, all was dark and shadowy, an undefined fear of violence came over her; and, bursting into tears, she turned to fly. “Stay yet a moment,” said Martin, in a hoarse and subdued voice. He caught hold of her arm. She shrieked as if in mortal jeopardy.

“Let go the gal, let her go!” said old Job Clements, thrusting the long barrel of his gun through the bushes within a few feet of the head of the Familist. “A white man, as sure as I live! I thought, sartin, ‘t was a tarnal In-in.” Martin relinquished his hold, and, the next instant, found himself surrounded by the settlers.

After a brief explanation had taken place between Mr. Ward and his sister-in-law, the former came forward and accosted the Familist. “Richard Martin!” he said, “I little thought to see thee so soon in the new world, still less to see thee such as thou art. I am exceeding sorry that I cannot greet thee here as a brother, either in a temporal or a spiritual nature. My sister tells me that you are a follower of that servant of Satan, Samuel Gorton, and that you have sought to entice her away with you to the colony of fanatics at Rhode Island, which may be fitly compared to that city which Philip of Macedonia peopled with rogues and vagabonds, and the offscouring of the whole earth.”

“John Ward, I know thee,” said the unshrinking Familist; “I know thee for a man wise above what is written, a man vain, uncharitable, and given to evil speaking. I value neither thy taunts nor thy wit; for the one hath its rise in the bitterness, and the other in the vanity, of the natural Adam. Those who walk in the true light, and who have given over crucifying Christ in their hearts, heed not a jot of the reproaches and despiteful doings of the high and mighty in iniquity. For of us it hath been written: ‘I have given them thy word and the world hath hated them because they are not of the world. If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If they have hated me they will hate you also; if they have persecuted me they will persecute you.’ And, of the scoffers and the scorners, the wise ones of this world, whose wisdom and knowledge have perverted them, and who have said in their hearts, There is none beside them, it hath been written, yea, and will be fulfilled: The day of the Lord of Hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up, and he shall be brought low; and the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of man shall be brought low; and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day; and the idols shall he utterly abolish.’ Of thee, John Ward, and of thy priestly brotherhood, I ask nothing; and for the much evil I have received, and may yet receive at your hands, may ye be rewarded like Alexander the coppersmith, every man according to his works.”

“Such damnable heresy,” said Mr. Ward, addressing his neighbors, “must not be permitted to spread among the people. My friends, we must send this man to the magistrates.”

The Familist placed his hands to his month, and gave a whistle, similar to that which was heard in the morning, and which preceded the escape of Wonolanset. It was answered by a shout from the river; and a score of Indians came struggling up through the brush-wood.

“Vile heretic!” exclaimed Mr. Ward, snatching a musket from the hands of his neighbor, and levelling it full at the head of Martin; “you have betrayed us into this jeopardy.”

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“Wagh! down um gun,” said a powerful Indian, as he laid his rough hand on the shoulder of the minister. “You catch Wonolanset, tie um, shoot um, scare squaw. Old sachem come now, me tie white man, shoot um, roast um;” and the old savage smiled grimly and fiercely in the indistinct moonlight, as he witnessed the alarm and terror of his prisoner.

“Hold, Passaconaway!” said Martin, in the Indian tongue. “Will the great chief forget his promise?”

The sachem dropped his hold on Mr. Ward’s arm. “My brother is good,” he said; “me no kill um, me make um walk woods like Wonolanset.” Martin spoke a few words in the chief’s ear. The countenance of the old warrior for an instant seemed to express dissatisfaction; but, yielding to the powerful influence which the Familist had acquired over him, he said, with some reluctance, “My brother is wise, me do so.”

“John Ward,” said the Familist, approaching the minister, “thou hast devised evil against one who hath never injured thee. But I seek not carnal revenge. I have even now restrained the anger of this heathen chief whom thou and thine have wronged deeply. Let us part in peace, for we may never more meet in this world.” And he extended his hand and shook that of the minister.

“For thee, Mary,” he said, “I had hoped to pluck thee from the evil which is to come, even as a brand from the burning. I had hoped to lead thee to the manna of true righteousness, but thou last chosen the flesh- pots of Egypt. I had hoped to cherish thee always, but thou hast forgotten me and my love, which brought me over the great waters for thy sake. I will go among the Gentiles, and if it be the Lord’s will, peradventure I may turn away their wrath from my people. When my wearisome pilgrimage is ended, none shall know the grave of Richard Martin; and none but the heathen shall mourn for him. Mary! I forgive thee; may the God of all mercies bless thee! I shall never see thee more.”

Hot and fast fell the tears of that stern man upon the hand of Mary. The eyes of the young woman glanced hurriedly over the faces of her neighbors, and fixed tearfully upon that of her lover. A thousand recollections of young affection, of vows and meetings in another land, came vividly before her. Her sister’s home, her brother’s instructions, her own strong faith, and her bitter hatred of her lover’s heresy were all forgotten.

“Richard, dear Richard, I am your Mary as much as ever I was. I’ll go with you to the ends of the earth. Your God shall be my God, and where you are buried there will I be also.”

Silent in the ecstasy of joyful surprise, the Familist pressed her to his bosom. Passaconaway, who had hitherto been an unmoved spectator of the scene, relaxed the Indian gravity of his features, and murmured, in an undertone, “Good, good.”

“Will my brother go?” he inquired, touching Martin’s shoulder; “my squaws have fine mat, big wigwam, soft samp, for his young woman.”

“Mary,” said Martin, “the sachem is impatient; and we must needs go with him.” Mary did not answer, but her head was reclined upon his bosom, and the Familist knew that she resigned herself wholly to his direction. He folded the shawl more carefully around her, and supported her down the precipitous and ragged bank of the river, followed closely by Passaconaway and his companions.

“Come back, Mary Edmands!” shouted Mr. Ward. “In God’s name come back.”

Half a dozen canoes shot out into the clear moonlight from the shadow of the shore. “It is too late!” said the minister, as he struggled down to the water’s edge. “Satan hath laid his hands upon her; but I will contend for her, even as did Michael of old for the body of Moses. Mary, sister Mary, for the love of Christ, answer me.”

No sound came back from the canoes, which glided like phantoms, noiselessly and swiftly, through the still waters of the river. “The enemy hath prevailed,” said Mr. Ward; “two women were grinding at my mill, the one is taken and the other is left. Let us go home, my friends, and wrestle in prayer against the Tempter.”

The heretic and his orthodox bride departed into the thick wilderness, under the guidance of Passaconaway, and in a few days reached the Eldorado of the heretic and the persecuted, the colony of Roger Williams. Passaconaway, ever after, remained friendly to the white men. As civilization advanced he retired before it, to Pennacook, now Concord, on the Merrimac, where the tribes of the Naumkeags, Piscataquas, Accomentas, and Agawams acknowledged his authority.

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