Endicott and the Red Cross
From Twice-Told Tales, vol. 2, 1837, 1851
an autumnal day, more than two centuries ago, the
English colors were displayed by the standard-bearer of the Salem
trainband, which had mustered for martial exercise under the
orders of John Endicott. It was a period, when the religious
exiles were accustomed often to buckle on their armour, and
practice the handling of their weapons of war. Since the first
settlement of New England, its prospects had never been so
dismal. The dissensions between Charles the First and his
subjects were then, and for several years afterwards, confined to
the floor of Parliament. The measures of the King and ministry
were rendered more tyrannically violent by an opposition, which
had not yet acquired sufficient confidence in its own strength,
to resist royal injustice with the sword. The bigoted and
haughty primate, Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, controlled the
religious affairs of the realm, and was consequently invested
with powers which might have wrought the utter ruin of the two
Puritan colonies, Plymouth and Massachusetts. There is evidence
on record, that our forefathers perceived their danger, but were
resolved that their infant country should not fall without a
struggle, even beneath the giant strength of the King's right
was the aspect of the times, when the folds of the English
banner, with the Red Cross in its field, were flung out over a
company of Puritans. Their leader, the famous Endicott, was a
man of stern and resolute countenance, the effect of which was
heightened by a grizzled beard that swept the upper portion of
his breastplate. This piece of armour was so highly polished,
that the whole surrounding scene had its image in the glittering
steel. The central object, in the mirrored picture, was an
edifice of humble architecture, with neither steeple nor bell to
proclaim it,--what nevertheless it was,--the house of prayer. A
token of the perils of the wilderness was seen in the grim head
of a wolf, which had just been slain within the precincts of the
town, and, according to the regular mode of claiming the bounty,
was nailed on the porch of the meetinghouse. The blood was still
plashing on the door-step. There happened to be visible, at the
same noontide hour, so many other characteristics of the times
and manners of the Puritans, that we must endeavour to represent
them in a sketch, though far less vividly than they were
reflected in the polished breastplate of John Endicott.
close vicinity to the sacred edifice appeared that important
engine of Puritanic authority, the whipping-post,--with the soil
around it well trodden by the feet of evil-doers, who had there
been disciplined. At one corner of the meetinghouse was the
pillory, and at the other the stocks; and, by a singular good
fortune for our sketch, the head of an Episcopalian and suspected
Catholic was grotesquely encased in the former machine; while a
fellow-criminal, who had boisterously quaffed a health to the
King, was confined by the legs in the latter. Side by side, on
the meetinghouse steps, stood a male and a female figure. The
man was a tall, lean, haggard personification of fanaticism,
bearing on his breast this label,--A WANTON GOSPELLER,--which
betokened that he had dared to give interpretations of Holy Writ,
unsanctioned by the infallible judgment of the civil and
religious rulers. His aspect showed no lack of zeal to maintain
his heterodoxies, even at the stake. The woman wore a cleft
stick on her tongue, in appropriate retribution for having
wagged that unruly member against the elders of the church; and
her countenance and gestures gave much cause to apprehend, that,
the moment the stick should be removed a repetition of the
offence would demand new ingenuity in chastising it.
abovementioned individuals had been sentenced to undergo
their various modes of ignominy, for the space of one hour at
noonday. But among the crowd were several, whose punishment
would be life-long; some, whose ears had been cropt, like those
of puppy-dogs; others, whose cheeks had been branded with the
initials of their misdemeanors; one, with his nostrils slit and
seared; and another, with a halter about his neck, which he was
forbidden ever to take off, or to conceal beneath his garments.
Methinks he must have been grievously tempted to affix the other
end of the rope to some convenient beam or bough. There was
likewise a young woman, with no mean share of beauty, whose doom
it was to wear the letter A on the breast of her gown, in the
eyes of all the world and her own children. And even her own
children knew what that initial signified. Sporting with her
infamy, the lost and desperate creature had embroidered the fatal
token in scarlet cloth, with golden thread, and the nicest art of
needle-work; so that the capital A might have been thought to
mean Admirable, or any thing rather than Adulteress.
not the reader argue, from any of these evidences of
iniquity, that the times of the Puritans were more vicious than
our own, when, as we pass along the very street of this sketch,
we discern no badge of infamy on man or woman. It was the policy
of our ancestors to search out even the most secret sins, and
expose them to shame, without fear or favor, in the broadest
light of the noonday sun. Were such the custom now, perchance we
might find materials for a no less piquant sketch than the above.
the malefactors whom we have described, and the diseased
or infirm persons, the whole male population of the town, between
sixteen years and sixty, were seen in the ranks of the
trainband. A few stately savages, in all the pomp and dignity of
the primeval Indian, stood gazing at the spectacle. Their
flint-headed arrows were but childish weapons, compared with the
matchlocks of the Puritans, and would have rattled harmlessly
against the steel caps and hammered iron breastplates, which
enclosed each soldier in an individual fortress. The valiant
John Endicott glanced with an eye of pride at his sturdy
followers, and prepared to renew the martial toils of the day.
my stout hearts!" quoth he, drawing his sword. "Let us
show these poor heathen that we can handle our weapons like men
of might. Well for them, if they put us not to prove it in
iron-breasted company straightened their line, and each man
drew the heavy butt of his matchlock close to his left foot, thus
awaiting the orders of the captain. But, as Endicott glanced
right and left along the front, he discovered a personage at some
little distance, with whom it behoved him to hold a parley. It
was an elderly gentleman, wearing a black cloak and band, and a
high-crowned hat, beneath which was a velvet skull-cap, the whole
being the garb of a Puritan minister. This reverend person bore
a staff, which seemed to have been recently cut in the forest,
and his shoes were bemired, as if he had been travelling on foot
through the swamps of the wilderness. His aspect was perfectly
that of a pilgrim, heightened also by an apostolic dignity. Just
as Endicott perceived him, he laid aside his staff, and stooped
to drink at a bubbling fountain, which gushed into the sunshine
about a score of yards from the corner of the meetinghouse. But,
ere the good man drank, he turned his face heavenward in
thankfulness, and then, holding back his gray beard with one
hand, he scooped up his simple draught in the hollow of the
ho! good Mr. Williams," shouted Endicott. "You are
welcome back again to our town of peace. How does our worthy
Governor Winthrop? And what news from Boston?"
Governor hath his health, worshipful Sir," answered Roger
Williams, now resuming his staff, and drawing near. "And, for
the news, here is a letter, which, knowing I was to travel
hitherward to day, his Excellency committed to my charge. Belike
it contains tidings of much import; for a ship arrived yesterday
Williams, the minister of Salem, and of course known to all
the spectators, had now reached the spot where Endicott was
standing under the banner of his company, and put the Governor's
epistle into his hand. The broad seal was impressed with
Winthrop's coat of arms. Endicott hastily unclosed the letter,
and began to read; while, as his eye passed down the page, a
wrathful change came over his manly countenance. The blood
glowed through it, till it seemed to be kindling with an internal
heat; nor was it unnatural to suppose that his breastplate would
likewise become red-hot, with the angry fire of the bosom which
it covered Arriving at the conclusion, he shook the letter
fiercely in his hand, so that it rustled as loud as the flag
above his head.
tidings these, Mr. Williams," said he; "blacker never
came to New England. Doubtless you know their purport?"
truly," replied Roger Williams; "for the Governor
consulted, respecting this matter, with my brethren in the
ministry at Boston; and my opinion was likewise asked. And his
Excellency entreats you by me, that the news be not suddenly
noised abroad, lest the people be stirred up unto some outbreak,
and thereby give the King and the Archbishop a handle against
Governor is a wise man,--a wise man, and a meek and
moderate," said Endicott, setting his teeth grimly.
"Nevertheless, I must do according to my own best judgment.
There is neither man, woman, nor child in New England, but has a
concern as dear as life in these tidings; and, if John Endicott's
voice be loud enough, man, woman, and child shall hear them.
Soldiers, wheel into a hollow square! Ho, good people! Here are
news for one and all of you."
soldiers closed in around their captain; and he and Roger
Williams stood together under the banner of the Red Cross; while
the women and the aged men pressed forward, and the mothers held
up their children to look Endicott in the face. A few taps of
the drum gave signal for silence and attention.
began Endicott, speaking under
strong excitement, yet powerfully restraining it, "wherefore did
ye leave your native country? Wherefore, I say, have we left the
green and fertile fields, the cottages, or, perchance, the old
gray halls, where we were born and bred, the church-yards where
our forefathers lie buried? Wherefore have we come hither to set
up our own tombstones in a wilderness? A howling wilderness it
is! The wolf and the bear meet us within halloo of our
dwellings. The savage lieth in wait for us in the dismal shadow
of the woods. The stubborn roots of the trees break our
ploughshares, when we would till the earth. Our children cry for
bread, and we must dig in the sands of the sea-shore to satisfy
them. Wherefore, I say again, have we sought this country of a
rugged soil and wintry sky; Was it not for the enjoyment of our
civil rights? Was it not for liberty to worship God according to
you this liberty of conscience?" interrupted a voice on the
steps of the meetinghouse.
was the Wanton Gospeller. A sad and quiet smile flitted
across the mild visage of Roger Williams. But Endicott, in the
excitement of the moment, shook his sword wrathfully at the
culprit,--an ominous gesture from a man like him.
hast thou to do with conscience, thou knave?" cried he. "I
said, liberty to worship God, not license to profane and ridicule
him. Break not in upon my speech; or I will lay thee neck and
heels till this time to-morrow! Hearken to me, friends, nor heed
that accursed rhapsodist. As I was saying, we have sacrificed
all things, and have come to a land whereof the old world hath
scarcely heard, that we might make a new world unto ourselves,
and painfully seek a path from hence to Heaven. But what think
ye now? This son of a Scotch tyrant,--this grandson of a
papistical and adulterous Scotch woman, whose death proved that a
golden crown cloth not always save an anointed head from the
brother, nay," interposed Mr. Williams; "thy words are not
meet for a secret chamber, far less for a public street."
thy peace, Roger Williams!" answered Endicott, imperiously.
"My spirit is wiser than shine, for the business now in hand. I
tell ye, fellow-exiles, that Charles of England, and Laud, our
bitterest persecutor, arch-priest of Canterbury, are resolute to
pursue us even hither. They are taking counsel, saith this
letter, to send over a governor-general, in whose breast shall be
deposited all the law and equity of the land. They are minded,
also, to establish the idolatrous forms of English Episcopacy; so
that, when Laud shall kiss the Pope's toe, as cardinal of Rome,
he may deliver New England, bound hand and foot, into the power
of his master!"
deep groan from the auditors,--a sound of wrath, as well as fear
and sorrow,--responded to this intelligence.
ye to it, brethren," resumed Endicott, with increasing
energy. "If this king and this arch-prelate have their will, we
shall briefly behold a cross on the spire of this tabernacle
which we have builded, and a high altar within its walls, with
wax tapers burning round it at noonday. We shall hear the
sacring-bell, and the voices of the Romish priests saying the
mass. But think ye, Christian men, that these abominations may
be suffered without a sword drawn? without a shot fired?
without blood spilt, yea, on the very stairs of the pulpit?
No,--be ye strong of hand, and stout of heart! Here we stand on
our own soil, which we have bought with our goods, which we have
won with our swords, which we have cleared with our axes, which
we have tilled with the sweat of our brows, which we have
sanctified with our prayers to the God that brought us hither!
Who shall enslave us here? What have we to do with this mitred
prelate,--with this crowned king? What have we to do with
gazed round at the excited countenances of the people,
now full of his own spirit, and then turned suddenly to the
standard-bearer, who stood close behind him.
lower your banner!" said he.
officer obeyed; and, brandishing his sword, Endicott thrust
it through the cloth, and, with his left hand, rent the Red Cross
completely out of the banner. He then waved the tattered ensign
above his head.
wretch!" cried the high-churchman in the pillory,
unable longer to restrain himself; "thou hast rejected the symbol
of our holy religion!"
treason!" roared the royalist in the stocks. "He hath
defaced the King's banner!"
God and man, I will avouch the deed," answered Endicott.
"Beat a flourish, drummer!--shout, soldiers and people!--in honor
of the ensign of New England. Neither Pope nor Tyrant hath part
in it now!"
a cry of triumph, the people gave their sanction to one of
the boldest exploits which our history records. And, for ever
honored be the name of Endicott! We look back through the mist
of ages, and recognize, in the rending of the Red Cross from New
England's banner, the first omen of that deliverance which our
fathers consummated, after the bones of the stern Puritan had
lain more than a century in the dust.
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