Even the Pilgrims Needed a Few Good Men: ‘By the Sword Seek Peace’
May 25, 2014 - 9:00 am
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An Excerpt from “Ense Petit Placidam - “By the Sword Seek Peace”:
“Tarry awhile with me, Captain?”
The governor’s assistant, Isaac Allerton, and the native Hobamock had just unlatched the door and stepped outside, leaving the two leaders to their own counsel.
The governor put a hand on his old friend’s shoulder and inclined his head towards the ladder leading to the gun deck of the fortified meetinghouse. As they climbed, the afternoon sun of a late March day shone through the observation and gun ports, in contrast to the dark room below. The light reflected off the little soldier’s shiny metal cuirass, causing the governor to blink and look away until his eyes adjusted. The captain removed his morion helmet and leaned back upon the brass five-pounder, stroking the barrel with his gauntleted hand as if it were his favorite hound.
“Doth Hobamock lie?” the governor asked.
“He doth not,” the captain answered.
“Doth the great sachem, the Massasoit lie?” The captain shook his head.
“How is it that you trust Hobamock to report to us in truth what the Massasoit told him? How do you know that the old fox has not laid a snare for us or his enemies? Both men despise the Massachusett.”
“We both know who lights these evil fires among the Massachusett, and it is not their sachem, Obtakiest. It is Wituwamat…He is a pniese, one of their magic warriors whom they say are invincible. I have seen the knives he and other pniese wear about their necks, taken from the French–knives that have killed French traders, English fishermen, and Massasoit’s people.”
“What course do you recommend?”
“Render unto me a commission to place Wituwamat’s head upon this parapet before the last frost melts, that it might be a warning and a terror to all of that disposition.”
“The yearly public court day is nigh. I will lay out the threat for the men of the plantation, but seek only a general authority for me, Allerton and yourself to do as we think fit. If blood be shed it will be upon our hands.”
The governor paused, and brought both hands to his temples, as if his head had begun to throb. “It is the Wessagussett men that have brought this down upon us. They steal victuals from the Massachusett, and treat with them duplicitously.”
“Far worse, there are some who have debased themselves to be servants among the Massachusett, selling their birthright as free Englishmen for handfuls of parched corn not worth even Esau’s pottage,” the captain added.
“Then why not send emissaries to the Massachusett, and make ourselves distinct from the men of Wessagussett?”
“That will waste time and endanger the emissaries. To them we are all Yengeese, as weak and dissolute as the men of Wessagussett. As we speak, they make canoes to attack us by both land and water.”
“Perhaps we can quickly gather up those of the Wessagussett men that are willing within the safety of these impalements,” the Governor suggested.
The captain waved his hand over the fenced-in village below them. “I designed these fortifications to withstand attack from a single tribe or a French raiding party. They will not stand against the combined nations of the Massachusett, the Narragansett, the Nauset and perhaps even some of the Massasoit’s Wampanoag. We will all perish, just as the three hundred did last year in Jamestown. Yet if I slay Wituwamat and a goodly portion of his band, their sachem may see the bad magic. If the sachem himself comes forth, I will slay him also as an example. But our purpose will be met in either case.”
“It is shameful that such blood must be shed for sheer want of Godliness among the Wessagussett men,” the governor lamented.
“They lack more than Godliness–they lack God-given wisdom, which instructs how to arrange our affairs so as to account for man’s fallen state, even here in the wilderness.”
“Seeking to replace Elder Brewster in his exhortations, are you?” The governor smiled, as if to welcome a different conversation.
“No. Let him preach the truth of scripture whilst you and I preach–and act–upon the interaction of the holy with the profane,” the captain answered. “You have strangers to your faith among you, yet there be good order in general. Why? What did you do when some expressed a desire for the unfettered freedom of the savage over well-ordered liberty, before we even set foot on this shore?”
“The Compact…” The governor began to see the captain’s point.
“Indeed…wherein we covenanted to ‘combine ourselves into a civil Body Politick’ and pledged submission and obedience to ‘just and equal laws.’ By such means were we saved from both the tyrant and the mob.”
The sun was sinking lower, and both men sensed it was time to conclude their business and return to their homes.
“How many men do you propose to take?”
“Eight…Good and stout of heart, and Hobamock, of course.”
“I had considered two or three, but such a small number might presume too much upon Providence. Do you not agree?” The captain grinned from ear to ear.
“I do see that taking a multitude would leave this place defenseless. But what can eight men do in this circumstance?”
“More than a multitude, for my purposes. We are not opposing a regular army of Frenchmen, or the Spaniards I fought in the Low Countries. Did not the LORD winnow down Gideon’s host from 32,000 to 300 so the Midianites were confounded? A few good men–employing ruse, improvising and adapting to the tactics of the foe–will overcome and destroy as few of the natives as will suffice.”
“Will you go by land or water?” the governor asked, as they descended to the meeting house below.
“We will take the shallop. This will be good training for those chosen. There are entirely too many whose physick doth appear soft and womanly. We should remedy that by and by. I have been considering more drill for all of them. We are in a new land, wherein we must preserve a force in readiness to act at a moment’s notice. By land or sea. We know not whence the next danger may come, be it from savages, Frenchmen, Spaniards, or rogue Englishmen under no flag or law.”
Dusk was beginning to fall as the two men exited the meetinghouse.
“Go with God to your hearth, William.”
“The peace of God go also with you,” the governor answered, as they parted for the evening–each to his own supper.