"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.
A few days later, in rough swells, the shallop pulled up alongside the Swan. Her spars were askew and her rigging hung in a lubberly fashion. No one was aboard.
"What wreck be this?" the captain shouted. "God’s truth, these men have left her as a home for birds!" They beached the shallop and the captain inspected his men.
"I did order the slow matches for your firelocks to be lit aforehand, so tell me verily, have ANY of you pitiable farmers managed to KEEP them lit in this sea spray!?"
"I have, sir," Alden answered.
"Good lad. Would you be so kind as to touch off your piece, so that we may summon anyone who might be hereabouts?"
A few minutes after the shot went off, a man whose apparel was dirty and in tatters appeared out of the woods. A few more straggled out after him, covered in muck from digging clams.
"YOU sir!" The captain was so irritated he did not bother to introduce himself, nor inquire as to the man’s identity. "Why is this vessel unguarded, and why do you forage without men-at-arms on the watch!?"
"Men from New Plymouth, I take it," the man replied flippantly. "Phineas Pratt hath related to you children’s stories. We told him when he left there was no need to alarm New Plymouth. We are at peace with the Massachusett. Some of our band dwell amongst them, and of late some of the tribe hath built wigwams between our impalements and the swamp."
"Doth hunger and misery rob you of your senses!?" The captain’s cheeks had turned strawberry. "Hath it occurred to you WHY there are wigwams about your palisade? You are under watch and under SIEGE, sir! Know you not that Pratt was pursued to New Plymouth? And we come not due to what some angry squaw let out to Pratt, but upon the testimony of the Massasoit himself, the great sachem of the Wampanoag. The Massachusett pniese mean to KILL YOU ALL, and then head for New Plymouth!"
The mentioning of the Massasoit meant something even this far north. The man grew even more pale and began to wobble a bit, as if he were about to pass out, both from hunger and the shattering of his illusions.
"Steady there." Alden grabbed the man’s arm.
"Now hear me," the captain hissed. "Go quietly unto as many of your men as will listen, and ask them to come within the settlement, but only a few at a time. Tell them we have brought rations of corn to spare them from the monotony of clams and ground nuts. Let it also be known to the Massachusett that we are here to trade, and that we are provisioned with salt pork. I hear they have learned to fancy it of late."
The man meekly nodded. "Behold a scalloped sky," the captain noted. "Let us get to shelter. Bad weather approaches." Then he pulled Hobamock aside. "When the storm clears," he said, making in a circular motion with his finger and then quickly pointing away, "Go to the Massachusett…" his fingers now made a walking sign. "And listen…" confirming the instruction by pointing to his own ear.
"Ahhe," Hobamock replied, patting his friend’s shoulder in assent.
As the weather cleared the following day and Hobamock went upon his reconnoiter, a Massachusett appeared at the village with furs for which he gave signals to trade. He and the captain looked each other up and down, and the sideward glances at the other English newcomers made it clear the warrior was there on the same mission for which Hobamock had been sent. He quickly concluded his transaction, suspiciously without the customary dickering, and departed. Later the next day Hobamock returned.
"They know why the Yengeese sachem himself come," he said, pointing away in the direction of the Massachusett, then to his temple, and then to the captain. "There is BIG pniese among them." he said, putting his hand at a height over six feet. "He name Pecksuot."
"I have seen this man," the captain answered, pointing to himself and then to his eye. "He is always with Wituwamat," he continued, making a together sign with the index fingers of each hand. Hobamock nodded.
"He say they no fear–they come and go here to there," he began, moving his hand back and forth.
"As they please," the Captain finished for him. "Good. Let them come on."
True to their boasts, a group of Massachusett warriors arrived the following day making the signs for trade, but with cold grins and narrowed eyes giving away, perhaps even intentionally, that they understood the day might conclude in a fight. They further made an ostentatious display of sharpening the knives they kept around their necks on flat stones, and eyed the captain’s every move.
Finally Wituwamat walked up to the captain and showed him his knife, as if he were about to offer it in trade. Hobamock moved quickly but quietly to the captain’s side. Wituwamat spoke some English, but it was rather broken, so Hobamock did his best to translate.
"He say, ‘You like woman on knife?’" Hobamock said, as Wituwamat pointed to a carving of a woman’s face on the handle. "He say this squaw knife. He say he have knife in wigwam with a man on it. That knife kill Francais and Yengeese. He say that knife and this knife marry soon…"
"Hinnaim namen, hinnaim michen matta cuts," Wituwamat continued. He tapped Hobamock with the back of his fingers and pointed to the captain, as if to say, "Tell him word for word."
"He say this knife will see soon, and eat soon, but no speak."
"He means to take you unawares!" Alden warned, having also in the meantime moved over to support his captain if the need arose.
The next to make his thinly veiled threats was the giant pniese, who altered his approach so as to come at the Captain with the sun at his back. This had the doubly intimidating effect of putting the sun at his back should a fight ensue, and casting a complete shadow over the much shorter captain.
"Me no need Wampanoag to speak Yengeese," Pecksuot said, contemptuously waving Hobamock away. "YOU Yengeese sachem!?" he continued, putting his finger to the captain’s chest. "You little man. I no sachem, yet I big." He flexed his right bicep and moved his hand near the knife around his neck. Alden took a quick step forward, but the captain stopped him with his left hand.
"Easy lad. Keep to the orders," he whispered calmly.
"Hobamock…Tell them I do not eat in the wind." The captain said, as he pointed into his open mouth and made the storm sign. "If they came for the pork, it lies ready in the main house. We will eat some with them and trade on the morrow, for they talk too much and make me ready for sleep."
The next morning the warriors returned, but would not move towards the main house until the captain unbuckled his sword, leaned it up against the wall, and went inside. Alden and two other Plymouth men did the same. Wituwamat, Pecksuot and two more warriors followed, cautiously trying to keep the numbers even while they ate. Yet as soon as the last Massachusett went through the door Hobamock rushed in, slammed the door shut, and dropped the bar into the slots.
Pecksuot turned to see what Hobamock was up to, as the captain suddenly lunged for the knife around his neck. The captain’s hands gripped the handle, and Pecksuot’ s hands gripped his. As he was beginning to lose the struggle to the much larger man, the captain jammed his knee up into his opponent’s groin. The pain bent the native over a bit, but he continued to push the knife towards the captain’s chest.
Suddenly letting the knife come forward but slightly to his right, the captain stepped back with his right foot and let the other man’s weight and drive extend him too far forward and off balance. Then he stepped back with his left, while quickly turning the man’s arms over to the left, locking his elbows and dropping him to the floor in one quick motion. In a second, he bent the elbows back and slid the knife blade into his ribs.
Pecksuot let out a scream. The captain withdrew the knife and slit the man’s throat.
As soon as the struggle with Pecksuot broke out, Alden slipped up behind Wituwamat and took a dirk from under his doublet. He grabbed Wituwamet’s jaw from behind and in quick succession stabbed him in the kidney, up under the floating ribs and across the throat, as the warrior’s screams were reduced to gurgling noises. One of the Plymouth men similarly disposed of another warrior, and the last one was wrestled to the ground.
"This one is brother of Wituwamat," Hobamock said, pointing to the one still alive but pinned to the floor.
"Take him out to a tree beyond the impalements and hang him," the captain ordered. "Otherwise he must avenge his brother, and I desire not to wake from sleep and see him over me. He will be the sign of our warning in their abode. Take Wituwamat’ s head in satisfaction of our commission."
Hobamock let out a victory yell, which sounded like a hawk screaming, but much amplified. He stood over Pecksuot’ s body. "Yesterday he say you too little to be sachem of Yengeese, but today you big enough put HIM on ground!"
"Alden, pick two of the Wessagussett men that hath retained some strength, and take three more of ours to spy out the vicinity, the rest to remain here on guard," the captain ordered, still breathing heavily.
Almost as soon as they left the palisade Hobamock, who had scouted ahead, came running back in a half crouch. "Sachem come! He and warriors go to high up, there!" Hobamock pointed to a hill that overlooked the whole area.
"Run for that hill NOW!" the captain yelled, and his troop being closer reached it before their foes, who took cover behind some trees a few yards away and commenced to nock their arrows.
"Captain! To your left!" Alden warned. The captain quickly turned the barrel of his matchlock, which rested on a swivel he had hastily stuck in the ground, and aimed at a fox skin-covered arm drawing a bow from behind a tree. Psssssst…BOOM! BOOM! He and another man seeing the same target fired almost simultaneously. The warrior screamed in pain and bounded off, cradling his shattered arm.
"The confounded tree spared him," the captain mumbled.
"He may live," Alden replied. "But ’tis certain he’ll ne’er draw a bow again!"
As soon as he saw the crippled Massachusett run off, Hobamock threw off his shoulder hide, jumped up bare-chested and ran unarmed at the remaining warriors, waving his arms and screaming his hawk-like war cry as if he was trying to scatter quail from the brush. "What on earth!?" Alden wondered aloud. The Captain just doubled over with laughter. "We have dispatched their pniese, yet they know Hobamock is a Wampanoag pniese, and he be very much alive. Look at them scatter! Know you not that he is named for their devil?"
The Massachusett warriors retreated to the cover of a swamp.
"Hobamock, see if they will talk," the captain said, trying to end the skirmish one way or another. The Wampanoag yelled a few words into the brush at the edge of the swamp.
"Quatchet!" was the reply. Hobamock smiled and made a sign of walking to the captain, but in a serpentine fashion.
"I know what it means," said the captain. "Walk to nowhere forever. He is commending me to the nether region. Tell the sachem Obtakiest he is a woman."
Further insults and challenges to come out and fight were in vain, and so at length each of the warring parties slipped away without further engagement.
The following winter a letter arrived at New Plymouth, addressed to Governor William Bradford, who was hesitant to share it with the captain. Again they sought the privacy of the gun deck above the meeting house.
Concerning the killing of these poor Indians…oh, how happy a thing had it been if you had converted some before you killed any! …consider the disposition of your Captain, whom I love…there is cause to fear that by occasion especially of provocation there may be wanting that tenderness of the life of man, made after God’s image, which is meet.
"CONVERTED them!?" the captain roared.
"I already wrote to Elder Robinson that, though you be free to answer for yourself, you are the most useful instrument God hath provided to us in this place," the governor said soothingly.
"This letter, it comes from the Low Countries?" the captain asked.
"Yes, of course–Leiden…You know this."
"And how long hath Elder Robinson tarried in Leiden?"
"For many years…You know this as well," the governor said, perplexed by the question.
"William…He…was…not…HERE." As he said this, Captain Myles Standish gazed out the gun port at the object still upon the pike outside. By this time, all that was left was a bleached skull.
Author’s note: David Churchill Barrow is a descendant of both William Bradford and Myles Standish.
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