« PreviousContinue »
Mourners went about the streets. The spirit of the people was crushed. Those who had lost their loved ones were the last to give up hope. They continued to watch, with tear-dimmed eyes, the entrance to the harbor, hoping against hope that some day the brave ship and dear friends would come back to them. How they yearned for it! Is it any wonder they saw the vision of the ship of air?
The commercial interests of the New Haven Colony never recovered from this blow. The god of the seas, to whom so much of time and money and strength and courage had been sacrificed, had mocked them and buried it all in the depths of the ocean. In fact, the disaster nearly put an end to the New Haven Colony. Many began to question the wisdom of remaining at Quinnipiac longer, and again turned their thoughts toward Delaware. In 1651 some fifty settlers started for the scene of their earliest venture, stopping at Manhattan on the way. They were promptly seized and sent back home with dire threats of punishment if the offense should be repeated. Three years later the subject was broached again, this time, apparently, at the instigation of the owners of the Delaware lands, who were anxious to dispose of their claims at half cost. The subject occupied the attention of the Colony Court for some time. There is evidence that the people of Concord, Massachusetts, proposed to join in the undertaking, and an arrangement was provided whereby the government should be centered at Delaware when that settlement grew to be the larger part of the colony. The chief obstacle to the success of the project, however, was lack of capital. The great majority of those who cared to move were too poor to do so.
That there was serious talk of moving the New Haven Colony was well known in England, and Oliver Cromwell took occasion to urge the claims of Jamaica as a place for the discouraged Puritans of New England. Special inducements were offered the New Haven colonists; and the governor of Jamaica urged his friend, Mr. Davenport, "with much importunity," to settle there. Reports of the great unhealthfulness of the West Indies frightened them, however, and they politely.
declined the Protector's offer. The New Haven settlers were
now too old again to undergo the hard labor of building a new colony, and were compelled to turn their attention to agriculture as their chief means of support. As for a charter, they had lost the opportunity for procuring such a boon with the great ship. Lack of funds prevented further effort in that direction for some years, and Parliament was too busy fighting the king to give any attention to such matters. When, in 1661, New Haven did need such a legal defense, she was in such an unfortunate position that any attempt to procure a charter would have been futile.
The death of Mr. Eaton, in 1658, still further crippled the New Haven Colony, depriving her of wise counsel and leadership at the very beginning of the period when she most needed them. A letter written by Mr. Davenport shows that he realized the ill this event foreboded. "My spirit is much streightened," he writes, "by that late dreadful stroke upon under which we still bleed, and, I feare, unto the death of our politique body; unless God be pleased to shew Himself in the Mount, above all that we can ask or think.” Truly the coming destruction of the little theocratic republic was casting its shadow before.
The second cause of the failure of the New Haven Colony to maintain its independence, I have designated as political. It was the bold shielding of the Regicides. The details of that notable event in the early history of New Haven need no repetition here. When the official summons to arrest the judges was received at Boston, Massachusetts, anxious to avoid the reproach of harboring or seizing them, hurried them off to New Haven. A demonstrative and thorough search was then entirely safe and extremely politic. Governor Winthrop of Connecticut also exhibited commendable zeal, which was rendered less difficult by the knowledge that the judges were not in his colony. The king's officers, highly pleased by their reception at Hartford, were sent off to New Haven with great expectations.
The responsibility for the defense of the fugitive judges being thus shifted to the shoulders of the already overburdened colony at Quinnipiac, New Haven accepted it with praiseworthy courage, but with fatal boldness.
We instinctively give honor and praise to old New Haven for her successful defense of the brave fighters for freedom. It does not detract in the least from this honor to say that the affair was managed carelessly, and with a boldness which, while admirable, was unnecessary and, under the circumstances, impolitic. It was unnecessary because there was nothing to be gained by it, and perfectly safe hiding places were convenient and actually used. It was impolitic, because it brought the colony into disfavor at the court of the new king at a time when strong friends were especially needed there. This was realized by the other colonies and ought to have been evident to the New Haven authorities.
A quotation from John Fiske will not be inappropriate here. In referring to the New Haven leaders and this event, he wrote: "The policy of their theocracy toward the British crown was very bold, like that of Massachusetts, but it was imprudent, inasmuch as they were far from having the strength of the older colony. It is a thrilling story, that of the hunt for the Regicides, and Davenport's defiant sermon on the occasion. It was magnificent, but it was not diplomacy."
It is of course true that there may have been circumstances connected with the situation which are unknown to us, and which make this criticism unjust; but in view of what is known, I think I am warranted in venturing the opinion that Mr. Eaton would have managed the business more discreetly, had he been alive.
The king's proclamation had been known at New Haven sufficiently long to enable the friends of Whalley and Goffe to devise some scheme to meet promptly the situation which was not only possible, but probable. Governor Leete ought to have been in a position to order a prompt search with the assurance that the judges were in a safe retreat. Instead, he feels the necessity of delaying and obstructing the execution of the king's
orders, thus giving not only a bad impression to the royal officers, but an opportunity to the discontented non-freemen to bring the authorities of that colony into disrepute. The damaging report of Kellond and Kirk soon reached England and caused consternation among New Haven's friends, who wrote urging secrecy in befriending the judges. Notwithstanding the harm already done, still worse follows. So carelessly was the affair managed that the "Colonels" were not only allowed to enter the town again with the offer to surrender, but again permitted to escape. The news of this fact could not fail to reach the ears of the king and convince him of New Haven's guilt.
Such reckless conduct created alarm among the other New England colonies, and threatened to involve them in trouble. Massachusetts, lest her silence seem to give consent, made emphatic protest and advised the immediate surrender of Whalley and Goffe. "Your own welfare, the welfare of your neighbors," they said, "bespeak your unwearied paines to free yourself.
Poor New Haven! Made the scapegoat for the regicidal sins of New England, her situation was indeed distressing. disgrace at home, and discredited by her neighbors, she casts about for a way out of the difficulty. A meeting of the Colony Court was held to "consider what application to make to the king in the case we now stood, being like to be rendered worse to the king than the other colonies." A letter was prepared, asking the united aid of the other colonies, and sent to Massachusetts. Mr. Davenport and Mr. Leete were especially solicitous, and sought the intervention of friends to ward off personal danger, the latter even visiting Boston for that purpose. That serious consideration was given to their shortcomings by his Majesty's government, is well known. The Council for foreign plantations was forbidden to send a letter which had been prepared to allay the fears of the New Englanders in proclaiming the king, but "taking no notice of their adherence to Whalley and Goffe."
Fortunately, more pressing concerns occupied the attention of the government and the justly feared royal displeasure was not directly visited upon them. The road to royal favor was closed, however, and New Haven's friends in England found no encouragement to seek it when necessary.
The third cause of New Haven's failure to maintain a distinct colonial government was her theocratic polity. With the laws of Moses for their working code, they restricted the right of suffrage to the members of approved churches. A strict enforcement of this fundamental provision in their constitution greatly retarded the growth of the colony. It was opposed to the spirit of the times and was doomed to failure in New England's free air. Adherence to it contributed to defeat the last attempt to settle Delaware, one motive of the promoters of that enterprise being the desire to free themselves of that system. It was inevitable that independent spirits would oppose and defy authority based on such a limited suffrage. Whole communities did rebel against it, and numerous individuals were constantly defying it. Page after page of the colony records is filled with complaints of "contempt of authority," "tending to disturb the peace of the jurisdiction and overthrow the foundations of government here laid." John Youngs of Southold was a constant offender, and Bray Rossiter of Guilford was long a thorn in the side of the body politic. The Court grew cautious in dealing with such cases, "not being willing to stirr up or disturbe mens spirits if they might have any good ground of hope that they would cary it peaceably for the future." As the years went on, this party of discontented aliens grew more numerous and active. What were called "seditious writings" were circulated, and every occasion was seized to bring the peculiar polity into disrepute at home and abroad. It was this party which showed a willingness to take advantage of Governor Leete's conduct in connection with the Regicides. When the controversy with Connecticut arose, it was this alien and unruly band which aided and encouraged Connecticut in the contest. It was for the perpetuation of this ecclesiastical principle that the Davenport party made its