Few of the personages of past times (except such as
have gained renown in fireside legends as well as in written history) are
anything more than mere names to their successors. They seldom stand up
in our imaginations like men. The knowledge communicated by the historian
and biographer is analogous to that which we acquire of a country by the
map,--minute, perhaps, and accurate, and available for all necessary purposes,
but cold and naked, and wholly destitute of the mimic charm produced by
landscape-painting. These defects are partly remediable, and even without
an absolute violation of literal truth, although by methods rightfully
interdicted to professors of biographical exactness. A license must be
assumed in brightening the materials which time has rusted, and in tracing
out half-obliterated inscriptions on the columns of antiquity: Fancy must
throw her reviving light on the faded incidents that indicate character,
whence a ray will be reflected, more or less vividly, on the person to
be described. The portrait of the ancient governor whose name stands at
the head of this article will owe any interest it may possess, not to his
internal self, but to certain peculiarities of his fortune. These
must be briefly noticed.
The birth and early life of Sir William Phips were rather an extraordinary prelude to his subsequent distinction. He was one of the twenty-six children of a gunsmith, who exercised his trade--where hunting and war must have given it a full encouragement--in a small frontier settlement near the mouth of the river Kennebec. Within the boundaries of the Puritan provinces, and wherever those governments extended an effectual sway, no depth nor solitude of the wilderness could exclude youth from all the common opportunities of moral, and far more than common ones of religious education. Each settlement of the Pilgrims was a little piece of the Old World inserted into the New. It was like Gideon's fleece, unwet with dew: the desert wind that breathed over it left none of its wild influences there. But the first settlers of Maine and New Hampshire were led thither entirely by carnal motives: their governments were feeble, uncertain, sometimes nominally annexed to their sister colonies, and sometimes asserting a troubled independence. Their rulers might be deemed, in more than one instance, lawless adventurers, who found that security in the forest which they had forfeited in Europe. Their clergy (unlike that revered band who acquired so singular a fame elsewhere in New England) were too often destitute of the religious fervor which should have kept them in the track of virtue, unaided by the restraints of human law and the dread of worldly dishonor; and there are records of lamentable lapses on the part of those holy men, which, if we may argue the disorder of the sheep from the unfitness of the shepherd, tell a sad tale as to the morality of the eastern provinces. In this state of society, the future governor grew up; and many years after, sailing with a fleet and an army to make war upon the French, he pointed out the very hills where he had reached the age of manhood, unskilled even to read and write. The contrast between the commencement and close of his life was the effect of casual circumstances. During a considerable time, he was a mariner, at a period when there was much license on the high-seas. After attaining to some rank in the English navy, he heard of an ancient Spanish wreck off the coast of Hispaniola, of such mighty value, that, according to the stories of the day, the sunken gold might be seen to glisten, and the diamonds to flash, as the triumphant billows tossed about their spoil. These treasures of the deep (by the aid of certain noblemen who claimed the lion's share) Sir William Phips sought for, and recovered, and was sufficiently enriched, even after an honest settlement with the partners of his adventure. That the land might give him honor, as the sea had given him wealth, he received knighthood from King James. Returning to New England, he professed repentance of his sins (of which, from the nature both of his early and more recent life, there could scarce fail to be some slight accumulation), was baptized, and, on the accession of the Prince of Orange to the throne, became the first governor under the second charter.
And now, having arranged these preliminaries, we shall attempt to picture forth a day of Sir William's life, introducing no very remarkable events, because history supplies us with none such convertible to our purpose. It is the forenoon of a day in summer, shortly after the governor's arrival; and he stands upon his doorsteps, preparatory to a walk through the metropolis. Sir William is a stout man, an inch or two below the middle size, and rather beyond the middle point of life. His dress is of velvet,--a dark purple, broadly embroidered; and his sword-hilt and the lion's head of his cane display specimens of the gold from the Spanish wreck. On his head, in the fashion of the court of Louis XIV., is a superb, full-bottomed periwig, amid whose heap of ringlets his face shows like a rough pebble in the setting that befits a diamond. Just emerging from the door are two footmen,--one an African slave of shining ebony, the other an English bond-servant, the property of the governor for a term of years. As Sir William comes down the steps, he is met by three elderly gentlemen in black, grave and solemn as three tombstones on a ramble from the burying-ground. These are ministers of the town, among whom we recognize Dr. Increase Mather, the late provincial agent at the English court, the author of the present governor's appointment, and the right arm of his administration. Here follow many bows and a deal of angular politeness on both sides. Sir William professes his anxiety to re-enter the house, and give audience to the reverend gentlemen: they, on the other hand, cannot think of interrupting his walk; and the courteous dispute is concluded by a junction of the parties; Sir William and Dr. Mather setting forth side by side, the two other clergymen forming the centre of the column, and the black and white footmen bringing up the rear. The business in hand relates to the dealings of Satan in the town of Salem. Upon this subject, the principal ministers of the province have been consulted; and these three eminent persons are their deputies, commissioned to express a doubtful opinion, implying, upon the whole, an exhortation to speedy and vigorous measures against the accused. To such counsels Sir William, bred in the forest and on the ocean, and tinctured with the superstition of both, is well inclined to listen. As the dignitaries of Church and State make their way beneath the overhanging houses, the lattices are thrust ajar, and you may discern, just in the boundaries of light and shade, the prim faces of the little Puritan damsels, eying the magnificent governor, and envious of the bolder curiosity of the men. Another object of almost equal interest now appears in the middle of the way. It is a man clad in a hunting-shirt and Indian stockings, and armed with a long gun. His feet have been wet with the waters of many an inland lake and stream; and the leaves and twigs of the tangled wilderness are intertwined with his garments: on his head he wears a trophy which we would not venture to record without good evidence of the fact, a wig made of the long and straight black hair of his slain savage enemies. This grim old heathen stands bewildered in the midst of King Street. The governor regards him attentively, and, recognizing a playmate of his youth, accosts him with a gracious smile, inquires as to the prosperity of their birthplace, and the life or death of their ancient neighbors, and makes appropriate remarks on the different stations allotted by fortune to two individuals born and bred beside the same wild river. Finally he puts into his hand, at parting, a shilling of the Massachusetts coinage, stamped with the figure of a stubbed pine-tree, mistaken by King Charles for the oak, which saved his royal life. Then all the people praise the humility and bountifulness of the good governor, who struts onward flourishing his gold-headed cane; while the gentleman in the straight black wig is left with a pretty accurate idea of the distance between himself and his old companion. Meantime, Sir William steers his course towards the town dock. A gallant figure is seen approaching on the opposite side of the street, in a naval uniform profusely laced, and with a cutlass swinging by his side. This is Captain Short, the commander of a frigate in the service of the English king, now lying in the harbor. Sir William bristles up at sight of him, and crosses the street with a lowering front, unmindful of the hints of Dr.
Mather, who is aware of an unsettled dispute between the captain and the governor, relative to the authority of the latter over a king's ship on the provincial station. Into this thorny subject, Sir William plunges headlong. The captain makes answer with less deference than the dignity of the potentate requires: the affair grows hot; and the clergymen endeavor to interfere in the blessed capacity of peacemakers. The governor lifts his cane; and the captain lays his hand upon his sword, but is prevented from drawing by the zealous exertions of Dr. Mather. There is a furious stamping of feet, and a mighty uproar from every mouth, in the midst of which his Excellency inflicts several very sufficient whacks on the head of the unhappy Short. Having thus avenged himself by manual force, as befits a woodman and a mariner, he vindicates the insulted majesty of the governor by committing his antagonist to prison. This done, Sir William removes his periwig, wipes away the sweat of the encounter, and gradually composes himself, giving vent to a few oaths, like the subsiding ebullitions of a pot that has boiled over.
It being now near twelve o'clock, the three ministers are bidden to dinner at the governor's table, where the party is completed by a few Old Charter senators,--men reared at the feet of the Pilgrims, and who remember the days when Cromwell was a nursing-father to New England. Sir William presides with commendable decorum till grace is said and the cloth removed. Then, as the grape-juice glides warm into the ventricles of his heart, it produces a change, like that of a running stream upon enchanted shapes; and the rude man of the sea and wilderness appears in the very chair where the stately governor sat down. He overflows with jovial tales of the forecastle and of his father's hut, and stares to see the gravity of his guests become more and more portentous in exact proportion as his own merriment increases. A noise of drum and fife fortunately breaks up the session. The governor and his guests go forth, like men bound upon some grave business, to inspect the train-bands of the town. A great crowd of people is collected on the Common, composed of whole families, from the hoary grandsire to the child of three years. All ages and both sexes look with interest on the array of their defenders; and here and there stand a few dark Indians in their blankets, dull spectators of the strength that has swept away their race. The soldiers wear a proud and martial mien, conscious that beauty will reward them with her approving glances not to mention that there are a few less influential motives to contribute to keep up an heroic spirit, such as the dread of being made to "ride the wooden horse" (a very disagreeable mode of equestrian exercise,--hard riding, in the strictest sense), or of being "laid neck and heels," in a position of more compendiousness than comfort. Sir William perceives some error in their tactics, and places himself with drawn sword at their head. After a variety of weary evolutions, evening begins to fall, like the veil of gray and misty years that have rolled betwixt that warlike band and us. They are drawn into a hollow square, the officers in the centre; and the governor (for John Dunton's authority will bear us out in this particular) leans his hands upon his sword-hilt, and closes the exercises of the day with a prayer.
How Captain Phips Became A Knight of the Golden Fleece
He was of an inclination cutting rather like a hatchet than like a razor; he would propose very considerable matters to himself, and then so cut through them that no difficulties could put by the edge of his resolutions. Being thus of the true temper for doing of great things, he betakes himself to the sea, the right scene for such things; and upon advice of a Spanish wreck about the Bahamas, he took a voyage thither; but with little more success than what just served him a little to furnish him for a voyage to England; whither he went in a vessel, not much unlike that which the Dutchmen stamped on their first coin, with these words about it: Incertum quo Fataferant.
Having first informed himself that there was another Spanish wreck, wherein was lost a mighty treasure, hitherto undiscovered, he had a strong impression upon his mind that he must be the discoverer; and he made such representations of his design at White-Hall, that by the year 1683 he became the captain of a king's ship, and arrived at New-England commander of the Algier-Rose, a frigate of eighteen guns and ninety-five men. To relate all the dangers through which he passed, both by sea and land, and all the tiresome trials of his patience, as well as of his courage, while year after year the most vexing accidents imaginable delayed the success of his design, it would even tire the patience of the reader; for very great was the experiment that Captain Phips made of the Italian observation, 'He that cannot suffer both good and evil, will never come to any great preferment.'
Wherefore I shall supersede all journal of his voyages to and fro, with reciting one incident of his conduct, that showed him to be a person of no contemptible capacity. While he was captain of the Algier-Rose, his men growing weary of their unsuccessful enterprise, made a mutiny, wherein they approached him on the quarter-deck, with drawn swords in their hands, and required him to join with them in running away with the ship, to drive a trade of piracy on the South Seas. Captain Phips, though he had not so much of a weapon as an oxgoad, or a jaw-bone in his hands, yet, like another Shamgar or Samson, with a most undaunted fortitude, he rushed in upon them, and with the blows of his bare hands felled many of them, and quelled all the rest. But this is not the instance which I intended; that which I
intend is, that (as it has been related unto me) one day while his frigate lay careening, at a desolate Spanish island, by the side of a rock, from whence they had laid a bridge to the shore, the men, whereof he had about an hundred, went all but about eight or ten to divert themselves, as they pretended, in the woods where they all entered into an agreement, which they signed in a ring, that about seven o'clock that evening they would seize the captain, and those eight or ten which they knew to be true unto him, and leave them to perish on this island, and so be gone away unto the South Sea to seek their fortune.
Will the reader now imagine that Captain Phips, having advice of this plot but about an hour and a half before it was to be put in execution, yet within two hours brought all these rogues down upon their knees to beg for their lives? But so it was! for these knaves considering that they should want a carpenter with them in their villainous expedition, sent a messenger to fetch unto them the carpenter, who was then at work upon the vessel; and unto him they shewed their articles; telling him what he must look for if he did not subscribe among them. The carpenter, being an honest fellow, did with much importunity prevail for one half hour's time to consider of the matter; and returning to work upon the vessel, with a spy by them set upon him, he feigned himself taken with a fit of the cholick, for the relief whereof he suddenly run unto the captain in the great cabin for a dram; where, when he came, his business was only, in brief, to tell the captain of the horrible distress which he was fallen into; but the captain bid him as briefly return to the rogues in the woods, and sign their articles, and leave him to provide for the rest. The carpenter was no sooner gone but Captain Phips, calling together the few friends (it may be seven or eight) that were left him aboard, whereof the gunner was one, demanded of them, whether they would stand by him in the extremity which he informed them was now come upon him; whereto they replied, They would stand by him, if he could save them; and he answered, 'By the help of God he did not fear it.' All their provisions had been carried ashore to a tent, made for that purpose there; about which they had placed several great guns to defend it, in case of any assault from Spaniards, that might happen to come that way. Wherefore Captain Phips immediately ordered those guns to be silently drawn and turned; and so pulling up the bridge, he charged his great guns aboard, and brought them to bear on every side of the tent. By this time the army of rebels comes out of the woods; but as they drew near to the tent of provisions, they saw such a change of circumstances, that they cried out, 'We are betrayed!' And they were soon confirmed in it, when they heard the captain with a stern fury call to them, 'Stand off, ye wretches, at your peril!' He quickly saw them cast into a more than ordinary confusion, when they saw him ready to fire his great guns upon them, if they offered one step further than he permitted them; and when he had signified unto them his resolve to abandon them unto all the desolation which they had purposed for him, he caused the bridge to be again laid, and his men began to take the provisions aboard. When the wretches beheld what was coming upon them, they fell to very humble entreaties; and at last fell down upon their knees, protesting, 'That they never had anything against him, except only his unwillingness to go away, with the king's ship upon the South-Sea design; but upon all other accounts they would chuse rather to live and die with him than with any man in the world. However, since they saw how much he was dissatisfied at it, they would insist upon it no more, and humbly begged his pardon.' And when he judged that he had kept them on their knees long enough, he having first secured their arms, received them aboard; but he immediately weighed anchor, and arriving at Jamaica, he turned them off.
Now, with a small company of other men he sailed from thence to Hispaniola, where, by the policy of his address, he fished out of a very old Spaniard (or Portuguese) a little advice about the true spot where lay the wreck which he had been hitherto seeking, as unprosperously as the chymists have their aurisick stone; that it was upon a reef of shoals, a few leagues to the northward of Port de la Plata, upon Hispaniola, a port so called, it seems, from the landing of some of the shipwrecked company, with a boat full of plate, saved out of their
sinking frigate; nevertheless, when he had searched very narrowly the spot, whereof the old Spaniard had advised him, he had not hitherto exactly lit upon it.
Such thorns did vex his affairs while he was in the Rose-frigate; but none of all these things could refund the edge of his expectations to find the wreck; with such expectations he returned then into England, that he might there better furnish himself to prosecute a new discovery; for though he judged he might, by proceeding a little further, have come at the right spot; yet he found his present company too ill a crew to be confided in. So proper was his behaviour, that the best noblemen in the kingdom now admitted him into their conversation; but yet he was opposed by powerful enemies, that clogged his affairs with such demurrages, and such disappointments, as would have wholly discouraged his designs, if his patience had not been invincible. 'He who can wait hath what he desireth.'
Thus his indefatigable patience, with a proportionable diligence, at length overcame the difficulties that had been thrown in his way; and prevailing with the Duke of Albemarle, and some other persons of quality to fit him out, he set sail for the fishing-ground, which had been so well baited half an hundred years before; and as he had already discovered his capacity for business in many considerable actions, he now added unto those discoveries, by not only providing all, but also by inventing many of the instruments necessary to the prosecution of
his intended fishery.
Captain Phips arriving with a ship and a tender at Port de la Plata, made a stout canoo of a stately cotton-tree, so large as to carry eight or ten oars, for the making of which periaga (as they call it) he did, with the same industry that he did everything else, imploy his own hand and adse, and endure no little hardship, lying abroad in the woods many nights together. This periaga, with the tender, being anchored at a
place convenient, the periaga kept husking to and again, but could only discover a reef of rising shoals thereabouts, called 'The Boilers,'-which, rising to be within two or three foot of the surface of the sea, were yet so steep, that a ship striking on them would immediately sink down, who could say how many fathom, into the ocean? Here they could get no other pay for their long peeping among the boilers, but only such as caused them to think upon returning to their captain with the bad news of their total disappointment. Nevertheless, as they were upon the return, one of the men, looking over the side of the periaga, into the calm water, he spied a sea feather, growing, as he judged, out of a rock; whereupon they bade one of their Indians to dive, and fetch this feather, that they might, however, carry home something with them, and make, at least, as fair a triumph as Caligula's. The diver bringing up the feather, brought therewithal a surprising story, that he perceived a number of great guns in the watery world where he had found his feather; the report of which great guns exceedingly astonished the whole company; and at once turned their despondencies for their ill success into assurances that they had now lit upon the true spot of ground which they had been looking for; and they were further confirmed in these assurances, when, upon further diving, the Indian fetcht up a sow, as they styled it, or a lump of silver worth perhaps two or three hundred pounds. Upon this they prudently buoyed the place, that they might readily find it again; and they went back unto their captain, whom for some while they distressed with nothing but such bad news as they formerly thought they must have carried him. Nevertheless, they so slipt in the sow of silver on one side under the table, where they were now sitting with the captain, and hearing him express his resolutions to wait still patiently upon the providence of God under these disappointments, that when he should look on one side, he might see that odd thing before him. At last he saw it; seeing it, he cried out with some agony, 'Why! what is this? whence comes this?' And then, with changed countenances, they told him how and where they got it. 'Then,' said he, 'thanks be to God! we are made;' and so away they went, all hands to work; wherein they had this one further piece of remarkable prosperity, that whereas if they had first fallen upon that part of the Spanish wreck where the pieces of eight had been stowed in bags among the ballast, they had seen a more laborious, and less enriching time of it; now, most happily, they first fell upon that room in the wreck where the bullion had been stored up; and they so prospered in this new fishery, that in a little while they had, without the loss of any man's life, brought up thirty-two tuns of silver; for it was now come to measuring of silver by tuns. Besides which, one Adderly, of Providence, who had formerly been very helpful to Captain Phips in the search of this wreck, did, upon former agreement, meet him now with a little vessel here; and he, with his few hands, took up about six tuns of silver; whereof, nevertheless, he made so little use, that in a year or two he died at Bermudas, and, as I have heard, he ran distracted some while before he died.
Thus did there once again come into the light of the sun a treasure which had been half an hundred years groaning under the waters; and in this time there was grown upon the plate a crust like limestone, to the thickness of several inches; which crust being broken open by iron contrived for that purpose, they knocked out whole bushels of rusty pieces of eight which were grown thereinto. Besides that incredible treasure of plate in various forms, thus fetched up, from seven or eight fathom under water, there were vast riches of gold, and pearls and jewels, which they also lit upon; and, indeed, for a more comprehensive invoice, I must but summarily say, 'All that a Spanish frigate uses to be enriched withal.' Thus did they continue fishing till, their provisions failing them, 'twas time to be gone; but before they went, Captain Phips caused Adderly and his folk to swear that they would none of them discover the place of the wreck, or come to the place any more till the next year, when he expected again to be there himself. And it was also remarkable that though the sows came up still so fast, that on the very last day of their being there they took up twenty, yet it was afterwards found that they had in a manner wholly cleared that room of the ship where those massy things were stowed.
But there was one extraordinary distress which Captain Phips now found himself plunged into; for his men were come out with him upon seamen's wages, at so much per month; and when they saw such vast litters of silver sows and pigs, as they called them, come on board them at the captain's call, they knew not how to bear it, that they should not share all among themselves, and be gone to lead 'a short life and a merry,' in a climate where the arrest of those that had hired them should not reach them. In this terrible distress he made his vows unto Almighty God, that if the Lord would carry him safe home to England, with what he had now given him, 'to suck of the abundance of the seas, and of the treasures hid in the sands,' he would forever devote himself unto the interests of the Lord Jesus Christ and of his people, especially in the country which he did himself originally belong unto. And he then used all the obliging arts imaginable to make his men true unto him, especially by assuring them that, besides their wages, they should have ample requitals made unto them; which if the rest of his employers would not agree unto, he would himself distribute his own share among them. Relying upon the word of one whom they had ever found worthy of their love, and of their trust, they declared themselves content; but still keeping a most careful eye upon them, he hastened back for England with as much money as he thought he could then safely trust his vessel withal; not counting it safe to supply himself with necessary provisions at any nearer port, and so return unto the wreck, by which delays he wisely feared lest all might be
lost, more ways than one. Though he also left so much behind him, that many from divers parts made very considerable voyages of gleanings after his harvest; which came to pass by certain Bermudians compelling of Adderly's boy, whom they spirited away with them, to tell them the exact place where the wreck was to be found.
Captain Phips now coming up to London in the year 1687, with near three hundred thousand pounds sterling aboard him, did acquit himself with such an exemplary honesty, that partly by his fulfilling his assurances to the seamen, and partly by his exact and punctual care to have his employers defrauded of nothing that might conscientiously belong unto them, he had less than sixteen thousand pounds left unto himself; as an acknowledgment of which honesty in him, the Duke of Albemarle made unto his wife, whom he never saw, a present of a golden cup, near a thousand pound in value. The character of an honest man he had so merited in the whole course of his life, and especially in this last act of it, that this, in conjunction with his other serviceable qualities, procured him the favours of the greatest persons in the nation; and 'he that had been so diligent in his business, must now stand before Kings, and not stand before mean men.' There were indeed certain mean men- if base, little, dirty tricks, will entitle men to meanness- who urged the king to seize his whole cargo, instead of the tenths, upon his first arrival; on this pretence, that he had not been rightly informed of the true state of the case when he granted the patent, under the protection whereof these particular men had made themselves masters of all this mighty treasure; but the king replied, that he had been rightly informed by Captain Phips of the whole matter, as it now proved; and that it was the slanders of one then present which had, unto his damage, hindered him from hearkening to the information; wherefore he would give them, he said, no disturbance; they might keep what they, had got; but Captain Phips, he saw, was a person of that honesty, fidelity, and ability, that he should not want his countenance. Accordingly the king, in consideration of the service done by him in bringing such a treasure into the nation, conferred upon him the honour of knighthood; and if we now reckon him a knight of the golden fleece, the style might pretend untosome circumstances that would justifie it. Or, call him if you please, 'the knight of honesty;' for it was honesty with industry that raised him; and he became a mighty river, without the running in of muddy water to make him so.
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