1930 USA: Founders Memorial

Founders Memorial
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photos by B.A. Cotton

A memorial erected on the 300th anniversary of Boston’s settlement honors the city’s founders. The 1930 Founders’ Memorial on Boston Common, near the corner of Beacon and Spruce streets, features a bronze bas-relief on its south face depicting the arrival of the city’s Puritan settlers. In the scene William Blackstone, the first settler of Boston, is greeting John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Native Americans watch the scene, which includes Ann Pollard, the first white woman to land in Boston. An allegorical figure representing Boston watches from the far right. On the north face, facing Beacon Street, a dedication reads, “In gratitude to God for the blessings enjoyed under a free government, the City of Boston has erected this memorial on the three hundredth anniversary of its founding – September 17th, 1630-1930.

Above this dedication, two quotes from early settlers have been inscribed. The first composed by Winthrop during the long Atlantic voyage, reads, “For wee must consider that wee shall be as a citty upon a hill. The eies of all people are uppon us, soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our God in this work…wee shall be made a story and a byword through the world.” The second quote is from a history of Plymouth colony by governor William Bradford: “Thus out of smalle beginnings, greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things out of nothing…and as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone to many, yea, in some sorte to our whole nation.”

William  Blaxton, the first English settler in Boston, was an Anglican minister. With a keen eye for valuable real estate, he lived on today’s Beacon Hill and Boston Common, and sold the land for the common to the Puritan settlers. After religious and political disagreements, he moved south and became the first settler in today’s Rhode Island. The Blackstone River is named after him. The monument was created by sculptor John Francis Paramino, who also provided a number of public memorials in Boston.

DEDICATION CEREMONY PARTICIPANTS

Charles Francis Adams, Secretary of the United States Navy, the orator of the day, delivered the following address:

“In a summer of pageants and speechmaking, when people of all classes are asking themselves what is meant by the words ‘Pilgrim’ and ‘Puritan,’ we have come together to look for the first time upon a memorial to the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It matters little what we today think of this picture in bronze and granite, but it matters much how those who come after us interpret the purpose which we had in fashioning this monument. The passions and policies of the centuries · to come are latent here, to be born of the figures which we see before us in bronze.

“We must look into the hearts and minds of these figures if we are to get at the real significance of this momentous meeting. Winthrop’s visit to the lonely inhabitants of Shawmut, later called Boston, marked the beginning of a great enterprise. As the Rev. William Blaxton walked from his home on what we now call the southern slope of Beacon Hill to watch the approach of Governor Winthrop and his friends, crossing the river from the Charlestown shore, he must have seen the whole panorama of the history of the England he knew pass through his mind. Then he may well have said to himself in grave doubt – What will be the outcome of this day’s doings?

“But we must go back to England if· we are to understand why Blaxton and Winthrop crossed the Atlantic and stood together in Boston on that September day in 1630. The reign of James the First had been fruitful in the growth of commerce. It had penetrated the Orient and was now reaching out to the great continents in the west. A long procession of courageous explorers had visited and even charted our coast; Sebastian Cabot and Verrazano, who are no more than names in our school books; Bartholomew Gosnold, George Weymouth, and Martin Pring, who came in close contact with our shores; and the more famous rovers of the sea, George Popham and Captain John Smith.

“From Smith’s day, forward fishing in New England brought life and color to the entire west coast of old England. From the English Plymouth, from Weymouth, and Bristol, a hundred ships and thousands of English sailors came here, each year making seasonal and semi-permanent settlements. This west of England enterprise resulted in activity before and after the founding in 1620 of our Plymouth. Blaxton, although a Lincolnshire man from a town almost within the shadow of the famous spire of Old Boston, came with the west of England migration. He came with adventurers who hoped for gain or were induced by the promise of good wages; men who settled at Cape Ann, at Portsmouth, and in Maine. They belonged largely to the Established Church, with which they had no quarrel.

“But on the east side of England – in the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex – were men of the best stock of the yeomanry, who had come to prize the greater religious freedom that was developing under King Charles the First. It was a time of free thought and experimentation. The Bible, in the hands of inexperienced people trying to think for themselves with little aid from education, fostered whimsical and untried doctrines. The determination to destroy symbolism, and to reconstruct church worship led to conflict with authority, for church and State were then one. The law, perhaps, dealt with laymen more gently than most historians will admit; refusal to kneel, or to remove the hat, were not serious offenses. But when the clergy became rebellious the problem was more difficult. They were under oath, and they were officers of the realm.

“It was in these eastern counties, the home of Winthrop, Pynchon, and Cotton, that the religious issue became most acute. Many people of substance and influence began to think of New England as a place of refuge. They read Captain John Smith’s books, and they sought inforn1ation from other travelers. In the smallest hamlets every detail relating to the new lands was eagerly sought. The climate, methods for fishing, the language of the Red Men, the soil and minerals, all awakened interest.

“The cost of the voyage, the kind of food and clothing needed, the duration at sea, and the tools needed on shore – all these were subjects for keen inquiry. Stories of adventure were passed on from tavern to tavern until it is safe to say that Cape Cod and Pemaquid were known to many a farmer’s boy throughout England. Especially was this true in Lincolnshire, the home county of Captain Smith, and the land of lean-to houses and haystacks. It was true, also, of London, and the west coast seaports such as Bristol, and the channel ports of Plymouth and Southampton.

“Strangely enough after 300 years moving pictures have made the descendants in England of these seventeenth-century boys again familiar with life in America from the Bowery of New York to the cowboys of our Western plains, as no history books ever could or did. ”It is well known that the so-called persecution of the Puritans in England was an influence toward the settlement of New England. But that is far from being the whole story. Economic distress in eastern England, and in London as well, pressed hard upon the humbler people. Church tithes and manorial exactions kept the farm laborers poor. There was little hope of rising from manual labor, and the church could do no more than counsel the people to bear their burdens with meekness. Then the most vigorous began to feel a great hope of bettering their condition in a new land.

“As the clergy began to break away from ecclesiastical forms and authority, they, too, looked for a new Canaan. They became the leaders of the Hegira. Most of the ministers who came early to New England were non-conformists or even separatists. They were ready for removal to a new land where the dead hand of precedent could no longer trouble them.

” Colonel Banks has said:

“Although technically the plantations in this new country would be under the jurisdiction of the English authorities, yet they would inevitably become disentangled from all the traditions of the past, and the opportunity to establish a literal commonwealth was the great aspiration of those who had the courage to break away from the land of their fathers, cross an uncharted ocean, and encounter unknown perils from a savage race and from the wild beasts of the trackless forests. This is the background out of which the Great Emigration emerged.

“When Winthrop arrived, with several hundred immigrants in eleven ships, there were settlements already established at Plymouth under the able historian of the colony, William Bradford; at Salem under Endicott; at Piscataqua, and at several places in Maine. Whatever the motives of all these men and women of the Great Emigration, they were the founders of our city. Intolerant, some of them were, but they had the strength, the character and the leadership to make a great community. That community has deeply influenced the history and development of this country of ours. It is fitting, therefore, that we should preserve the history of these early days, and should place a reminder in this city, of theirs and ours, which in three centuries has grown from a few crude dwellings to be one of the largest centers of population on the continent.

“A significant fact in the sculptor’s conception of John Winthrop’s first hour on the peninsula is that one of the two central figures – the Rev. William Blaxton – was already here when the Puritans came. A little way up Spruce street, Blaxton built his house in 1625. He had a garden where the monument now stands, and here where we are gathered today the young clergyman cultivated his vegetables and his roses. Here he trimmed his apple trees, and as we say in New England, he worked about the place. On rainy days he wrote in his diary a record of the weather, and read his books, for he had a large library, judged by the standard of that time. Blaxton had come over to Weymouth in 1623, with a colony prepared to establish Episcopacy in America. It is natural, therefore, to find that he never was a member of the Puritan church, and that, as the years lengthened, he sympathized less and less with, Winthrop and his followers.

”These men, Winthrop and Blaxton, represent fine types of manhood that sprang into prominence on these shores. They were both tolerant by nature. They were both religious. They both ventured into the wilderness, leaving behind the comforts and friends. Winthrop, conservative in his civic thinking, a champion of organization and orderly government, was a practical politician. He had come across the Atlantic as the head of a typical English trading company. He believed that living together entailed compromise, even when his own gentler impulses were overruled by the ecclesiastical hierarchy with which he allied himself, but when the opportunity came, he and his friends, with their charter in their own hands, interpreted its provisions as they thought expedient, and transformed the company into a government molded to their own liking.

“Blaxton, a sensitive individualist, was a pioneer to whom the solitude of woodland and sea had a fascination that drew him to these lonely shores. He could have enjoyed in England church preferment, to which one of his social class might have thought himself entitled, but he preferred Indian neighbors and transplanted roses for his companions. When the encroaching wave of organized civilization, for which Winthrop stood, encompassed him about, he moved to Rhode Island, where he found more hospitable surroundings.

” This monument pictures also the Indians, that had inhabited New England for countless years before the white men came to settle here. It is well that they should be in the picture. They were friendly enough and taught the first settlers those rudiments of forest life that were so foreign to their life in England – the fertilizing of the furrow with fish or seaweed in order to nourish the kernel of corn, the practical use to which each kind of wood could be put, and the burning of underbrush to make the forest passable. They also taught the pioneers the value of local herbs. If the red man often grew confused when he considered the treatment he received and contemplated the God whom Winthrop feared, or the God whom Blaxton loved, came to reject both conceptions of the white man’s Divine Power, it is not so very strange. This Indian was the victim of a dominant and a very imperfect autocracy.

“The sculptor has introduced also into the picture the woman and the child, without whom no settlement is permanent. They were the real heroes. They endured and suffered most, and it is fair to say that they had all the courage and strength and far more beauty of character than the men.

“They proclaim that on this spot Winthrop and his followers intended a city that should endure, ‘a city upon a hill,’ as Winthrop puts it, and he prophesied that the eyes of all people would be upon the Puritan builders. In this respect, the Winthrop company and not Blaxton are entitled to be called the founders of Boston. But there is honor enough for all – for the Indians who look up in bewilderment into the faces of the white intruders, for the Church of England clergyman who had tended his roses and cultivated his garden for five years before Winthrop came, and for the sturdy Puritans who swarmed over Shawmut with business-like efficiency in the autumn of 1630.

“The gentle young clergyman, Isaac Johnson and his wife, the Lady Arbella married in the face of fierce parental opposition, had come here as to a haven of peace. They died of exposure. One in every four of those who arrived in the great fleet of that year succumbed. The hardy alone had survived, and of these, one in every six left in discouragement, or in discontent. Those who remained to build a commonwealth were, said Governor Stoughton, ‘the choice grain. of a whole nation sent over into this wilderness.’

“As one scans the list of passengers on the eleven ships of Winthrop’s fleet. the ‘Arbella,’ ‘Jewel,’ ‘Talbot,’ ‘Charles,’ ‘Mayflower,’ ‘William,’ and ‘Francis,’ ‘Hopewell,’ ‘Whale,’ ‘Success’ and ‘Trial,’ these freight ships, with blunt bows and tall sterns, which had been converted into emigrant carriers, it becomes evident that the passengers were not all strictly the ‘choice grain of a whole nation,’ in the sense that Stoughton intended, but a fair selection from all grades of society.

“Some names in the list mean nothing to us today, but others have grown in luster with the years – Simon Bradstreet, distinguished through extreme old age as a wise counselor and administrator; William Coddington, gentleman, an upbuilder of Rhode Island; Gov. Thomas Dudley, whose letter to the Countess of Lincoln gives an invaluable picture of these first years in Boston; William Hawthorne, ancestor of the famous novelist; Isaac Johnson, gentleman, called by Dr. Prince the actual founder of Boston; the Rev. George Phillips, an independent and courageous thinker, in a group where it was not always safe to think aloud; William Pynchon, gentleman, another courageous man who went home in disgust because his religious views were not approved; Sir Richard Saltonstall, whose fine face has come down to us in portraiture, a face revealing the high character of the man who protested against the cruel and narrow faith of the first minister of Boston, the Rev. John Wilson, another passenger in the fleet. This is not the place for a catalog of all the well-known names of those who came in the Winthrop fleet. While all grades of society are represented, there are so many names of worth that Stoughton is not far wrong in asserting that these are indeed the choice grain of a nation, sifted out for the building of a colony in the Bay.

“The Puritans were consistent in their course. They came here to found a Commonwealth built upon their own interpretation of the Bible. It was inevitable that those who agreed with them should be few in number, and that even among the few there should be diverging views as time went on. These Puritan leaders kept to their course as the arrow speeds to its mark. If they could not live in harmony with Roger Williams, they did not compromise but sent him to that cave of Adullum – the Providence Plantations. Mrs. Hutchinson went the same way. Let us, by all means, admit the virtue of the Puritan position. Conviction meant strength, but strength little tempered with justice led to excess.

“It was the government of England, the royal power, not the so-called democracy of New England, that checked the destruction of Quakers in 1661. It was the royal governor who in 1692 put a stop to the mad course of witchcraft. It was the king’s ministers who finally in the new charter forced upon the: Massachusetts government suffrage not based upon church membership. There was little of religious or civil liberty in early Puritan Massachusetts. For sixty years strong but ruthless Puritan control made its lasting mark upon two generations of transplanted Englishmen. They were formative years that have influenced the whole land in which we live. But time brought inevitable changes. Other ideals developed in part out of our admirable Puritan institutions, the public free school, the town meeting, and representative government, but in part also out of the mingling of races on our soil. You cannot have an old and narrow civilization assaulted year by year by new races, new ideals, and other religions without bringing about altered conditions. The coming of other peoples from Europe enlarged our horizon and mellowed our ancient stock. The assimilation of old and new world ideals is the mission of America. That task had its origin here. This monument stands for the beginning of great progress in those deeper and more significant movements which contribute to a higher civilization. As Bradford puts it:

” ‘As one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shown to many, yea, in some sort to our ‘Whole nation.” This monument brings together in one group more than one race, more than a single shade of religious faith. It may well proclaim to those who come after us the purpose of America to grow strong and great through the mingling of races and through that tolerance of each for all which is the best fruit of these three centuries.”

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