The fleet has arrived in “The Massachusetts Bay Colony,” but the journey is not at an end. It is just the beginning. The beginning of a new life, new challenges, learning to adapt and accept what life has to offer is what the ancestors had to look forward to.
Isaac Stearns, a man who shaped our heritage and a nation, was a founding father of Watertown, Massachusetts, embodied the honorable characteristics attributed to what has become known as “The Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritans.” Many early Americans experienced that same kind of rural awakening that helped develop a sense of frugality, hard work and willingness to sacrifice. Isaac certainly did. He was already a man that made a difficult choice of asking his family to leave all they had known and loved to take the rough journey across the Atlantic Ocean with “The Winthrop Fleet” arriving in Boston Harbor, Massachusetts early morning on 13 June, 1630.
Can you imagine the Arbella, a twenty-eight gun tall ship, the flagship to the Fleet carrying the charter for the Massachusetts Bay Colony and three brothers Shubael, Isaac and Daniel, coming majestically up the river to their final destination of Salem? They endured nine weeks of rough seas, cold spring time winds in the bellows of the ship along with the animals and supplies. Behind them England, their families, friends and all they had known, ahead of them the unknown and a desire to create a new life in a new world in the “City upon the Hill.”
Honorable characteristics that helped form a nation:
Isaac and the early colonists relished the chance to step up to the plate and test their fortitude. It was like they just wanted the challenge to do just about anything as long as it had value for the church and community. For them responsibility was extremely important. When they accepted responsibility for something; they also accepted all the consequences of that decision, whether good or bad. They took pride in personal accountability to purify the Church of England from within not separately as the Pilgrims had.
It was common for members of the colony to be grateful for the things they had. No matter how humble. Not everyone survived the crossing, the rocky planting terrain or the first harsh New England winter. Over two hundred people died, including Isaac’s brother Shubael and his wife, leaving Charles and Nathaniel in their uncle’s care. Success was not measured by the houses they lived in, but if they survived on what they could plant, make and build as a community. To them it was “use it up, wear it out, and make it do, or do without.” Of course, it’s hard to “make it do” if you don’t know how to plant or fix it, and thus, handiness was also central to the colonies frugality. They learned by trial and error and with a little help from the natives what to plant that would survive the short New England growing season.
Remember that for rural families, work was the norm, and even small children had their chores to do. They had learned to focus on the objective at hand and not give up until that objective and the mission as a whole was accomplished. They carried that focus over to everything they did. They didn’t fall into the fallacy that you have to find “your passion” to be happy. They would find happiness in any job they did, because they weren’t just working for personal, self-fulfillment; they labored for a bigger purpose: to give their community strength and stability. They understood that the good things in life must be earned by hard work, which was seen as a personal honor.
They never bragged about anything they did. The motto was if you were good at something, you didn’t need to tell anyone because they’d find out soon enough. In contrast, today when a football player makes a great play, there is a big celebration with showy moves and dancing. For the colonist, they more likely would have just left as though it was expected of them, believing that after all, they were the best at what they did.
LOYALTY IN LOVE
The men of the colonies took their marriages, religions, employers, and government seriously. “It was a generation in which, marriage was a commitment and divorce was not an option. Divorce was treated as a minor scandal.” This goes back to their belief in personal responsibility and commitment. The men of the families didn’t marry until the mid to late twenties, so they could continue as laborers to help their parents. Women married in their early twenties and came along with a dowry of some sort, be it money or livestock.
The colonists faced many challenges and they became stronger not despite them, but because of them. Today many people shirk challenge and difficult pursuits, believing that the easier life is, the happier they will be. But the ancestors knew better. They knew that one cannot have the sweet without the bitter, and that true happiness comes from overcoming the kind of challenges that build character and refine the soul. The challenges they experienced made their joy all the more sweet because it was tinged with the gratitude of knowing how easily it could all have been taken away by turning to easier ways.
A SIMPLER TIME
Common sense and keeping a level head was the way of life. Many people today are obsessed with finding themselves. Our ancestors’ uncomplicated approach to life was refreshing. They didn’t go on diets; they simply ate whole foods. They didn’t exercise because they worked all the time. They didn’t obsess about their relationships; they just found a girl they loved and married her forever. They always looked clean and crisp. They didn’t think about how to get things done, they just got them done. They worked from sunup to sundown. They were folks who just got up and kept going on, and the rest was something you did when you had time for it.
SENSE OF COMMUNITY
They had seen the beginning of the civil war in England. The struggle for religious freedom had sent them across the ocean. They were involved in their communities, churches and other organizations, and they built the foundation for their children’s futures in these new communities. Part of the reason for preserving “the telling” in this way is so that their descendants will realize and appreciate that many of the freedoms enjoyed today were made possible by men like Isaac Stearns. He helped make America the country it is today and helped shape the future of many generations to come.
Other branches of the family decided to move west to form their own church communities. The beliefs they once held in England could now be shed. They could practice their new religious beliefs freely. The family that was Congregationalist could now be Baptist even if that meant moving west to do so.
To read about the crossing go to the Winthrop Society Homepage
Journal of the Crossing of the Atlantic by John Winthrop, 1630
Thomas Dudley’s Letter to Lady Bridget, Countess of Lincoln, 1631 (mentioned in part 1)