A STATED Meeting of the Society was held at the Club of Odd Volumes, No. 77 Mount Vernon Street, Boston, on Thursday, 18 December 1947, at three o’clock in the afternoon, the President, Augustus Peabody Loring, Jr., in the chair.
The records of the Annual Meeting in November were read and approved.
The Corresponding Secretary reported the receipt of letters from the Reverend Frederick Lewis Weis, of Lancaster, and Mr. Kenneth John Conant, of Cambridge, accepting Resident Membership in the Society.
The Hon. Leverett Saltonstall, a Resident Member since 1931, and the Hon. Robert Fiske Bradford were elected Honorary Members, and Mr. Samuel Chamberlain, of Marblehead, Mr. Julian Lowell Coolidge, of Cambridge, Mr. Bartlett Harding Hayes, Jr., of Andover, Dr. Henry Forbush Howe, of Cohasset, Mr. Carleton Rubira Richmond, of Milton, and Mr. Sidney Talbot Strickland, of Plymouth, were elected Resident Members of the Society.
Mr. Charles Eliot Goodspeed read a paper entitled:
IN the year 1825 James Savage, reviewing the trial of Robert Keayne for extortion in 1639, wrote: “. . . the attempt to prevent demand of high price for any commodity, however willing the purchaser may be to give it, is preposterous and destructive to all commerce between man and man.”1 Fifty-nine years later the English economist Thorold Rogers said, “In the middle ages, to regulate prices was thought to be the only safe course whenever what was sold was a necessary of life, or a necessary agent in industry. Hence our forefathers fixed the prices of provisions, and tried to fix the price of labour and money. . . . That we have tacitly relinquished the practice of our forefathers is, I repeat, the result of the experience that competition is sufficient for the protection of the consumer. But I am disposed to believe that, if a contrary experience were to become sensible, we should discredit our present practice, and revive, it may be, the past, at least in some directions.”2
The opinions of these two men are quoted here as a reminder (if a reminder be necessary), of the changed attitude towards government regulation of industry within a comparatively short time. With a new economic structure of society has come the fulfilment of Professor Rogers’ prediction. The laissez-faireism of men like Savage has been tossed out of the window.
The measures that have been taken to control labor and commerce in the United States during recent years are not new. They revert in principle to the mediaeval statutes to which Professor Rogers referred. They also, which more closely concerns us, follow attempts along these lines made by the Bay colonists of Massachusetts. Government control of wages, prices and profits in the United States today raises questions that are still debated, but, as has often been said, in New England three centuries ago no one dreamed of challenging the right of magistrates to dictate the wages paid to workmen, the prices set on commodities and the percentage of profit allowed to merchants. The fifty or more orders on these subjects passed by the Massachusetts courts between 1630 and 1650 show how important they were thought in that colony. Reading these measures for the first time one is surprised to see the extent to which they were aimed at wage-earners. Winthrop repeatedly declaims against the exactions of laborers. Labor legislation in Massachusetts began with an order of the Court of Assistants passed at its first session in August, 1630,3 which placed a ceiling on wages and became the forerunner of laws now in force, more favorable to the worker.
The subject of wages, however, enters only incidentally into the following account of Captain Turner, and it has nothing to do with Turner’s complaint against Mrs. Jane Stolion. In these subjects, extortionate profits in trade is the economic background. Turner’s relations with Mrs. Stolion are in themselves unimportant, but Turner was a useful man and an appreciation of his services to both the Bay Colony and New Haven is overdue. Mrs. Stolion is another pack of goods. A hard and grasping shopkeeper, no religionist, I wonder what visions of gain lured the widowed Jane to trust her life and goods to the bleak Atlantic and her future to an association with the censorious followers of John Davenport.
The words “extortion” and “oppression” were in common use in early New England. They were used interchangeably, chiefly to indicate either the excessive wage-demands of laborers or the excessive profits of shopkeepers, especially in circumstances where the buyer’s necessity gave an undue advantage to the seller of services or of merchandise. Practices of this sort have been condemned as immoral or anti-social from the times of Moses and the Hebrew prophets. Saint Paul wrote in one of his letters to the Corinthian church: “. . . if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.”4 A dictum less exclusive but wider in scope and carrying a greater weight of authority to the Massachusetts puritan of 1630 was the Levitical injunction: “And if thou sell ought unto thy neighbour, or buyest ought of thy neighbour’s hand, ye shall not oppress one another.”5 Today, the words oppression and extortion have other meanings. Here, they are only used as men like John Cotton and John Winthrop would have understood and applied them.
An illustration of these remarks is supplied from New Haven by the defendant’s response to a charge of slander printed in the Town Records, 2 November 1658:
Jo. Thompson, being warned to the Court to answere Tho. Morris in an action of defamation, Tho. Morris being disabled to attend the Court by reason of sicknes, Gervase Boykin his Attorney declared that the said John Thompson had spoken reproachfully concerning the said Tho. Morris; he being at Jeremiah Osburnes, they speakeing to him of the dearness of commodities, he answered, how could they be otherwise when workemen take so deare for their worke, instancing Tho. Morris, who demanded as he said 5s a day, & Goodman Peakins 3s a day. Another time being at Sargeant Jefferies, he said that he was a 100l the worse for Tho. Morris, and that he had opprest him, and that he had not walked according to rules of righteousness towards him, with other bad words. . . .6
At the height of the immigration tide in 1635 complaint was made in Boston that goods brought for sale by the emigrant ships were excessively priced. It is not clear that this grievance was chargeable to the adventurers who owned the goods or to the shopmen who bought them for resale in the town. Either way, the transactions on shipboard bred disorder. Winthrop hints at the doings on these occasions. Their precise nature can only be conjectured, but as the imported merchandise was greatly needed, a crowd of shopkeepers and thrifty householders doubtless competed for it; and, we may imagine, the riffraff of the town came along to carouse with the sailors and join in their rowdy songs.
Conduct of this sort was not tolerable in Massachusetts and the General Court took action for its suppression. On the fourth of March an order was passed to prohibit all purchases from the ships except under license from the Governor. A partnership-committee was appointed with authority to board the vessels and purchase such goods as were judged “to be usefull for the country,” these to be stored “in some maggasen, neere to the place where the shipp anchors,” and for twenty days offered for sale “after vl per centum profitt, & not above.”7 Nine men [from Cambridge, Charlestown, Dorchester, Ipswich, Roxbury, Salem, Saugus and Watertown] were selected to supply the necessary capital and put the measure into effect. Captain Nathaniel Turner [of Saugus] was first on the list of those named.
The scheme did not work and after four months’ trial the prohibitory order was cancelled.8 On which, it may be presumed, the committee disposed of the goods that were piling up in its warehouse and shut up shop. Eight months later, in modified form, the order was revived.9 The new order omitted the provision for a sales agency and the prohibitions were limited to the purchase and resale of “provision of victualls.” Evasions of this act followed, however, and at the next General Court it, too, was repealed.10 Winthrop sums up the business in his journal. He says: “For preventing the loss of time, and drunkenness, which sometimes happened, by people’s running to the ships, and the excessive prices of commodities, it was ordered, that one in each town should buy for all, etc., and should retain the same within twenty days at five per hundred, if any came to buy in that time. But this took no good effect; for most of the people would not buy, except they might buy for themselves; and the merchants appointed could not disburse so much money, etc.; and the seamen were much discontented, yet some of them brought their goods on shore and sold them there.”11
Although these measures failed they might have been taken for a warning to those traders, whether forestallers, engrossers or regrators12 whose operations seriously increased the price of commodities. Imported goods were urgently needed, not only for the original settlers of the Bay Colony, but also for newcomers whose rapidly increasing numbers were causing inflation. Nevertheless, the evil of oppressive prices grew, bearing fruit five years later in the notorious case of extortion in which Robert Keayne, the leading shopkeeper of Boston and founder of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company was the defendant.
In the attempt to suppress extortion in Massachusetts, Nathaniel Turner, of whose English antecedents I have no information, is seen to have been an agent.
From the fact that Turner applied for admission as a freeman in the Massachusetts Company in October, 1630, it has been inferred that he was one of the Winthrop company that came over in the summer of that year. He settled at Saugus (renamed, Lynn) and in 1632 was made a freeman. His residence in New England was about equally divided between Massachusetts and New Haven. In Massachusetts he was employed in various colony affairs. His services there may be briefly summarized.
In 1634 he was named Captain of the military company at Saugus. In the years 1634–1636 he was a Deputy to the General Court. He was appointed to the Salem Quarterly Court 1636–1637. He was a member of various committees for establishing boundaries. One of the committee for building fortifications at Castle Island, Charlestown, and Dorchester, he contributed £10 towards the Castle Island “Sea fort.” His name is the twelfth on the earliest membership list of the Military Company13 and he was one of the four Massachusetts commanders under Endecott in the military excursion that began the Pequot War. Underhill, in his narrative of this affair at Block Island in 1636, tells of Turner’s alertness and courage in the irregular fighting with the natives. He says that on one occasion “Captain Turner stepping aside to a swamp, met with some few Indians and charged upon them, changing some few bullets for arrows,” by which “Himself received a shot upon the breast of his corselet, as if it had been pushed with a pike, and if he had not had it on, he had lost his life.”14
After Endecott and his command returned to Boston late in 1636 Turner did not stay long in Massachusetts. Two years had not passed before he joined the company of recent comers from London to the Bay, who, under the leadership of John Davenport and his wealthy parishioner Theophilus Eaton, without colonial status made a settlement at the mouth of the Quinnipiac River in Connecticut.
From the time when Turner came back from Block Island to the day that he left Boston for good, eighteen months elapsed. What he did during some of this time is a mystery. The historian of Lynn says that in 1637 he took part in the campaign in which the Pequot tribe of Indians was destroyed.15 Convincing evidence to fortify this statement is lacking. The question is debatable and will not be discussed here.16 It may be mentioned, however, that on 17 May 1637, the day on which Israel Stoughton was put in command of the Massachusetts troops taking part in the Pequot expedition, Turner was appointed to a committee for providing men, munitions and provisions for the campaign.17
Several reasons why he left Massachusetts may be suggested. Turner had considerable ability in both civil and military affairs and in material things he was well-to-do above most of his neighbors. If, as may be imagined, Turner entertained ambitions, he could have seen little opportunity in the Bay Colony for the advancement that his intelligence, military skill and soundness in the puritan faith warranted, for, there, in the words of Trumbull, “the principal men were fixed in the chief seats of government which they were likely to keep.”
Another circumstance may have prompted Turner to emigrate. Some of the Bay towns were becoming over-settled. From Saugus, Turner’s neighbors were leaving, one group going to Long Island and another to Cape Cod.18 John Cotton, then in the curious, if not awkward situation of lodging his friend, Anne Hutchinson, under duress, while he entertained her inquisitor, John Davenport, beneath the same roof—John Cotton himself (though for a different reason) was toying with the thought of moving to Quinnipiac.19
But there was a more important consideration than either of these. Turner was orthodox and the congregations about him were in turmoil. They were, in the words of the hymn
. . . by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distrest.
In Saugus the church was divided by the recent ministry of the Reverend Stephen Bachelir. Scarcely two years had passed since Salem and Boston were at odds over Roger Williams; and now, just as Eaton and Davenport were about to lead their followers to the shores of Connecticut, Boston almost to a man (and woman) was infected with the theological vagaries20—the “schismatical singularities”—seditiously promulgated by Mistress Hutchinson. Surrounded by these manifestations of discord in the most vital affairs of the Bay Colony, it is not surprising that Turner, whose house had been destroyed by fire not long before, threw in his lot with Davenport’s people. Skilled as he was in the use of arms, the founders of New Haven found in Turner a valuable recruit.
Just when Turner and his family left Massachusetts is not known.21 Probably they were in the company that sailed for Quinnipiac on 30 March 1638. It is certain that Turner was domiciled in New Haven when the settlement there was organized in 1639. He was one of eleven men appointed in June to the foundation work of the church; in October he was elected Deputy to the New Haven Plantation Court. The following year, having been chosen Captain of the Guard, brother Turner’s position as one of the top-notch men in the quasi-colony was assured.22
Eaton and Davenport, the leaders of the infant community in which Turner was now established, were described by Cotton Mather as the “Moses and Aaron” of New Haven. The men who led their followers to the Canaan of New England were—again Mather—“as holy and as prudent and as genteel persons as most that ever visited these nooks of America.” Their plan was to settle in Massachusetts but for several reasons it was decided to seek another place. Quinnipiac, an Indian town at the mouth of the river of that name in Connecticut, was chosen, its commodious harbor being a prime consideration.
It is not necessary to emphasize the commercial side of the settlement. Davenport, the religious leader (who also participated in some commercial undertakings), planned to establish a rigid church order, with legislation based on the Code of Laws for Massachusetts,23 compiled by his friend Cotton, for which the Word of God was fundamental authority, while Eaton, the Governor, and his fellow-merchants, looked for a speedy and profitable return on their capital. Though the conduct of their enterprises probably differed in no way from the general practice of the day, the development of a commercial spirit “taken up with the income of a large profit” was criticized by a contemporary writer,24 whose censure points to what has been called “the ‘perpetual dilemma’ of the religious community in secular society,” the “in the world but not of the world,” of New Testament teaching. Though the tender conscience of Edward Johnson led him thus to rebuke the merchants of both New Haven and Massachusetts it is highly improbable that these men were aware of a variance between the precepts of religion and their commercial ambition. Yet the spiritual dangers of their circumstances were apparent to Davenport when he preached his first sermon (the substance of which has not been preserved) from Matt, iv: i, “Then was Jesus led up into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.” How an attempt to enforce the code of ethics set forth by John Cotton in connection with the Keayne extortion case in 163925 would have been regarded by the traders of Boston, or of New Haven where Cotton’s Code of Laws proposed for Massachusetts was taken as a pattern, is an interesting speculation.
New Haven received its name by designation of the General Court in September, 1640. Excepting a seaport of that name on the Solent (whose association with the Quinnipiac settlers, if any, I have not discovered) the name is not found in England, but its general significance, indicating “a place of shelter, safety or retreat”; the “happy harbour of God’s saints” is obvious.
In its early days the New Haven settlement, as has been said, looked to Massachusetts for leadership, particularly in legislation. Yet the first wage and price order passed by the New Haven court was more comprehensive in scope and detail than any similar measure adopted in Massachusetts up to that time.26 In June, 1641, less than eight months after the first General Court convened, that Court passed an order of considerable length in which hours of labor and rates of pay for services were dictated. Laborers, planters, mowers, boatmen, thatchers, carpenters, joiners, plasterers, bricklayers, coopers, ship-carpenters “and the like” found their daily wages fixed. The price of building material, such as planks, clapboards, shingles, lime, etc., was prescribed. Piecework also was included. As house lots in New England were generally enclosed27 and the protection of field crops from depredation was of major importance, the paragraph in which the charges allowed for fencing are fixed is quoted below as a specimen of the regulations adopted in this comprehensive statute.
Fenceing with pales, as houslotts, now are, for felling and cleaveing posts and rails, crosscutting, hewing, mortising, digging holes, setting up and nailing on the pales, the worke being in all the parts well wrought and finished, not above 2s a rod, butt in this price pales and carting of the stuffe not included. Fencing with 5 railes, substantiall posts, good railes, well wrought, sett upp and rammed, that pigs, swine, goates and other cattell may be kept out, not above 2s a rod. Fencing with 3 railes, good stuff, well wrought and finished, not above 18d the rod.28
The measure from which these provisions are taken was not concerned with wages and prices alone. The hand of Captain Turner appears in an earlier section where the profit on imported goods is determined. On transactions at retail three pence to the shilling was the limit except “when bought from ships or other vessells here” in which instance “not above three obulus in the shilling by retale, nor above a peny in the shilling by wholesaile” was permitted.29 Although this order did not prohibit shipboard purchases it is evident that Turner had not forgotten the futile attempt to stamp out forestalling which had been assigned to him when in Massachusetts.
All of these regulations of wages, prices and profits were repealed by the General Court in 1642,30 and so far as the records show, when Turner laid the charge of extortion against an elderly New Haven shopkeeper in 1645, no statute expressly mentioning extortion or oppression was in force. Had the defendant in the case so pleaded, the New Haven Court might have quoted the Mosaic ordinances which, being dictated by God, were of fundamental authority. That these ordinances were so regarded was clearly stated by the General Court for the Jurisdiction at New Haven in 1644 when it was “ordered thatt the judiciall lawes of God, as they were delivered by Moses, and as they are a fence to the morrall law. . . shall. . . be a rule to all the courts in this jurisdiction in their proceeding against offendors. . . .”31 No one familiar with the Mosaic code and the early New England courts will doubt that extortion would be treated by any of those courts as a breach of the moral law.32
It was in such conditions that Turner brought his complaint against Mrs. Stolion.
Having made Turner’s acquaintance we will introduce his adversary.
Jane Stolion was the daughter of William Edwards, a yeoman of Mayfield in Sussex, England. Her husband, dead long before she emigrated to America, was Thomas Stolion of Buckstye.33 About the year 1640 Mrs. Stolion arrived in New Haven with her son Abraham, leaving another son and a daughter in London; and having rented a house on Chapel Street began business there. Mrs. Stolion, like Captain Turner, her antagonist, possessed considerable means.34 Her trading was on a larger scale than that of a dame’s penny shop. The charges against her in the extortion case show that she was avaricious in her dealings. She was not a member of the New Haven church. An inkling of her character may be gathered from the New Haven court records. On one occasion Mrs. Stolion was granted an order against a slanderer. At another time arbitrators were called to settle her difference with “Mr. Eliz. Goodman.” In 1644 an order was issued for payment of a debt due her. In 1646 a special order rated her for taxes.35 Even more illuminating than these sidelights on Mrs. Stolion’s affairs are the charges produced in her quarrel with Turner.
The Stolion case arose from a matter of little moment. The difference between the widow and Captain Turner was in itself a trifling affair. Mr. Stolion had some cloth which Turner agreed to buy. Barter being usual, the Captain offered in exchange, a cow. The bargain was practically completed when, for reasons which will appear, the Captain welshed. He not only welshed, but with a prudence dictated by the circumstances, he dispatched his servant with an oral message to the widow.
Captain Turner has been called “New Haven’s Miles Standish” and there is more than one parallel. Longfellow has recited in familiar verse the Plymouth captain’s faintheartedness before a pretty maiden. Turner, who like Standish feared no foe so long as the foe was an Indian, was afraid to face the visage of an angry shopkeeper.
It is said that a woman always has her weapon ready. Mrs. Stolion’s weapon was her tongue. She had a double grievance. Turner’s decision to repudiate their deal affected her purse. The captain’s failure to justify his action in person silenced her apparatus belli.
But if the widow was thus debarred from the exercise of her tongue before Turner himself, the story was told to her customers who quickly retailed it about town. In a small community gossip flourishes, and it may be imagined that New Haven’s market place with its grisly decoration of a murderous Indian’s head buzzed with feminine excitement. For Turner all this talk meant loss of face and to the military leader of the colony loss of face was unbearable.36
The desire to retaliate injuries to oneself is not an amiable trait but it is pretty firmly planted in human nature. Turner had not attained the virtue of disregarding aspersions. Moreover, the temptation to revenge himself on the widow was strengthened by the present opportunity. Many of his neighbors had suffered from Mrs. Stolion’s exorbitant prices and were willing to give their testimony of her exactions. Determined on reprisal, the injured captain therefore collected evidence of the widow’s oppressive dealings with her customers, and thus armed, laid his complaint before a friendly court. From this point the record will take over. The entry, of dated 3 December 1645, reads:
Captayne Turner informed the court that Mrs. Stolion hath complayned to sundry persons that he made a bargaine with her for cloth for which shee accepted cowes; but was disapoynted to her great damadge, & therfore he desired she might shew what cause he had given her soe to doe.37
Mrs Stolion pleaded that the captayne came to her howse to buy some cloth, chose a peece of 20s a yard, and said he would have sixe yards of it, and Mrs. Stolion should have a cow, and both aggreed to have her prized by some indifferent men; the captayne said alsoe that he had neede of more cloth & commodityes to the vallew of 12l & told her she should have 2 cowes, and she said when her son came home he should come & chuse them; accordingly when her son came home he went to the captayne, chose 2 cowes, and when he came home he tould her the captayne would come the next day & speake with her, but came not according to his promise, and though she sent to him yet he came not.
The captayne said he did really intend to have had some cloth and that she should have a cowe, and when Mr. Stolion came to chuse one of the best cowes he had, and Mr. Stollion told him he might as well let his mother have 2 cowes, for she had neede of cowes and the captayne had need of cloth and commodities, whereuppon the captayne let him chuse another cow & set him a prise, namely, 12l. Mr. Stolion said he would give but 10l, the captayne told him he would abate 10s. Mr. Stolion said he would give noe more but 10l, they parted and the captayne promised he would come and speake with his mother, but because he could not well goe to Mrs. Stolion, & haveing heard of the dearnes of her commodities, the excessive gaynes she tooke, was discouradged from proceedinge, & accordingly bid his man tel her he would have none of her cloth, and nameing sundry perticuler instances of commodities sold by her at an excessive rate, left it to the consideracion of the court whether she had not done him wronge in complayning of him, and if she might not be dealt with as an oppressor of the commonweale.
The court conceyved the captayne was to blame that he did not goe to her according to his promisse, espetially that after he heard she was unsatisfied he did not attend her satisfaction, but withall that the captayne might justly offer it to the consideration of the court whether such selleinge be not extortion, and not to be sufferred in the commonwealth.38
- 1 The captayne complayned that she sold some cloth to Wm Bradly at 20s per yard that cost her about 12s, for which she received wheate at 3s 6d per bushell, and sold it presently to the baker at 5s per bushell who received it of Wm Bradly, only she forbaring her monny 6 monthes.
- 2 That the cloth which Leiut Seely bought of her for 20s per yard last yeare, she hath sould this yeare for 7 bushells of wheate a yard, to be delivered in her chamber, which she confest.
- 3 That she would not take wompon for commodityes at 6 a penny39 though it were the same she had paid to others at 6, but she would have 7 a penny, as Thomas Robinson testified.
- 4 That she sold primmers at 9d apeece which cost but 4d here in New England. Thomas Robinson testified that his wife gave her 8d in wompom at 7 a penny, though she had but newly received the same wompom of Mrs. Stolion at 6.40
- 5 That she would not take beaver which was merchantable with others at 8s a pownd, but she said she would have it at 7s and well dryed in the sun or in an oven. Leiut. Seely, the marshall & Isaacke Mould testified it. John Dellingham by that meanes lost 5s in a skinne (that cost him 20s of Mr. Evance and sold to her,) vizd 2s 6d in the waight and 2s 6d in the price.
- 6 She sold a peece of cloth to the 2 Mecars at 23s 4d per yard in wompom, the cloth cost her about 12s per yard & sold when wompom was in great request.
- 7 That she sold a yard of the same cloth to a man of Connecticott at 22s per yard, to be delivered in Indian come at 2s per bushell at home.
- 8 She sold English mohejre at 6s per yard in silver, which Mr. Goodyeare and Mt. Atwater affirmed might be bought in England for 3s 2d per yard at the utmost.
- 9 She sold thridd after the rate of 12s per pownd which cost not above 2s 2d in old England.
- 10 That she sold needles at one a penny which might be bought in old England at 12d or 18d per hundred, as Mr. Francis Newman affirmeth.41
With this presentment of Mrs. Stolion’s alleged extortions Turner rested. He was, perhaps, content that in a measure attention had been diverted from himself. After all, the broken agreement concerned only two persons. The effects of the widow’s extortions, however, were felt in every house in the town. Again the record.
The Court seriously weighing all the perticulers chardged agaynst Mrs. Stolion, conceived that the nature and aggravations of the aforesaid chardges was proper for a court of magistrates to consider off, and therefore respited and refferred it to the Court of magistrates to be held at Newhaven the last Munday in March next.42
In the latter part of February following this decision the General Court, or town meeting, levied a tax on the three shopkeepers of New Haven, Mrs. Stolion being one of them. Besides the ostensible reason for the order there were probably others. Popular resentment against extortion was doubtless one. The repeated distress call of the town treasurer, whose funds were exhausted, was another. The record supplies a third:
For that some of considerable estates & tradeing doe live in the towne & have hitherto injoyed comfortable fruite of civill administrations & chardges, themselves in the meane time haveing small or noe rates, it is ordered that hence forward all such shalbe rated from time to time as this court shall judge meete. And for the present Mrs. Stolion is ordred to pay after the rate of 20s a yeare to the treasurer, Mr. Godfrey 20s a yeare [etc].43
Nothing more of the Stolion case is known as the records of the New Haven Jurisdictional Courts (which would include the Magistrates’ Courts) for a period that would cover March, 1646, are lost.44 If a substantial fine was imposed on Mrs. Stolion the result may have affected her health. Death was at hand. On 25 May the session of the General Court was interrupted by a message for Mrs. Stolion’s trustees. It is recorded that
Mr. Goodyeare & Mr. Robert Newman being desired to goe to Mrs. Stollion who lyeth very weake & thought her change draweth nigh, they had leave to depart the court.45
And so departed Mrs. Stolion,46 her body to the earth of the neighboring Green; her soul to await the Judgment of the Great Assize. Turner’s death also occurred about the same time. The circumstances that led to his untimely end are these.
The colony—to use that common but inaccurate designation of the New Haven settlement—auspiciously founded by men of wealth, had not prospered as was expected. Its capital was dwindling. Currency was extremely scarce. The trade that had been developed with the West Indies, Virginia, Manhattan, New England and across the seas was insufficient to supply the community’s needs. A profitable commerce with England had not been established.47 Moreover, the so-called colony had neither charter nor patent. The New Haven settlers had no title to their lands other than those secured from the natives through the agency of Captain Turner.
These being the conditions, late in 1644 it was voted to send a representative to England for the purpose of soliciting a patent from Parliament.48 A small vessel was built; a cargo of wheat, peas, hides and beaver skins49 was collected for adventure; some plate, perhaps for conversion into coin, was supplied by the wealthier men of the community, and in January, 1646, a month after Turner parted from Mrs. Stolion in the town-house, the ship, carrying some of New Haven’s leading men, Turner included, made way through the frozen harbor bound for London and a market. She was never seen again. No word came from the men who in winter rashly faced the North Atlantic in a craft believed by many to be unseaworthy.
On Turner’s death, therefore, history is silent, and the sketch of his life ends here.50
There is, however, a legend that purports to show the manner in which the New Haven ship was lost. As an introduction of that legend will elevate the conclusion of the Turner-Stolion case to a region above the plane of petty mundane ethics, the story is given below. Relating as it does to a preternatural appearance at New Haven two years after the undescribed disaster occurred, it is taken from accounts that are either contemporaneous with, or not too remote from, the event that they commemorate.
Half a century after the appearance of a “phantom ship” in the sky at New Haven, Cotton Mather (h. c. 1678), who was then gathering material for his Magnalia Christi Americana, asked the New Haven minister, James Pierpont (h. c. 1681), for some account of the phenomenon. Pierpont’s reply follows.
Reverend and Dear Sir,
In Compliance with your Desires, I now give you the Relation of that Apparition of a Ship in the Air, which I have received from the most Credible, Judicious and Curious Surviving Observers of it.
In the Year 1647. [sic] besides much other Lading, a far more Rich Treasure of Passengers, (Five or Six of which were Persons of chief Note and Worth in New-Haven) put themselves on Board a New Ship, built at Rhode-Island, of about 150 Tuns; but so walty, that the Master, (Lamberton) often said she would prove their Grave. In the Month of January, cutting their way thro’ much Ice, on which they were accompanied with the Reverend Mr. Davenport, besides many other Friends, with many Fears, as well as Prayers and Tears, they set Sail. Mr. Davenport in Prayer with an observable Emphasis used these Words, Lord, if it be thy pleasure to bury these our Friends in the bottom of the Seas, they are thine; save them! The Spring following no Tidings of these Friends arrived with the Ships from England: New-Haven’s Heart began to fail her: This put the Godly People on much Prayer, both Publick and Private, That the Lord would (if it was his Pleasure) let them hear what he had done with their dear Friends, and prepare them with a suitable Submission to his Holy Will. In June next ensuing, a great Thunder-storm arose out of the North-West; after which, (the Hemisphere being serene) about an Hour before Sun-set a SHIP of like Dimensions with the aforesaid, with her Canvas and Colours abroad (tho’ the Wind Northernly) appeared in the Air, coming up from our Harbour’s Mouth, which lyes Southward from the Town, seemingly with her Sails filled under a fresh Gale, holding her Course North, and continuing under Observation, Sailing against the Wind for the space of half an Hour. Many were drawn to behold this great Work of God; yea, the very Children cry’d out, ‘There’s a Brave Ship!’ At length, crouding up as far as there is usually Water sufficient for such a Vessel, and so near some of the Spectators, as that they imagined a Man might hurl a Stone on Board her, her Maintop seem’d to be blown off, but left hanging in the Shrouds; then her Missentop; then all her Masting seemed blown away by the Board: quickly after the Hulk brought into a Careen, she overset, and so vanished into a smoaky Cloud, which in some time dissipated, leaving, as everywhere else, a clear Air. The admiring Spectators could distinguish the several Colours of each Part, the Principal Rigging, and such Proportions, as caused not only the generality of Persons to say, This was the Mould of their Ship, and thus was her Tragick End; but Mr. Davenport also in publick declared to this Effect, “That God had condescended, for the quieting of their afflicted Spirits, this Extraordinary Account of his Soveraign Disposal of those for whom so many Fervent Prayers were made continually.
Thus I am Sir, Your Humble Servant, James Pierpont.51
It will be noticed that Pierpont speaks of the manifestation described by him as being viewed by “admiring [astonished] spectators,” and this at a time when marvels were not uncommon.52 His testimony, however, comes some years after the event. A nearly contemporaneous report is supplied by John Winthrop in his Journal. Winthrop must be credited with a belief in the phenomenon, being himself not untouched by the so-called superstition of the day. His account, the earliest that we possess, is under date 28 June 1648. It reads:
There appeared over the harbor at New Haven, in the evening, the form of the keel of a ship with three masts, to which were suddenly added all the tackling and sails, and presently after, upon the top of the poop, a man standing with one hand akimbo under his left side, and in his right hand a sword stretched out towards the sea. Then from the side of the ship which was from the town arose a great smoke, which covered all the ship, and in that smoke she vanished away; but some saw her keel sink into the water. This was seen by many, men and women, and it continued about a quarter of an hour.53
It is possible that Winthrop’s account of the phantom ship was supplied by Theophilus Eaton of New Haven, with whom Winthrop was in correspondence.54 The testimony of “credible, judicious and curious [careful] surviving observers,” on which Pierpont’s version was based, may have been supplemented by family tradition for Pierpont’s first wife was a Davenport, granddaughter of the Reverend John who died 1670. These witnesses and their reporters, like everyone of the time, accepted without question the validity of the New Haven manifestation as a divine revelation. Belief in special providences was universal.
Today, if such demonstrations were seriously discussed, the pragmatically minded would regard their truth as unimportant; the significance lies in the appropriateness of the legend to the circumstances from which it arose. Psychology, however, speaking from an assured seat in the austere company of the approved sciences, credits the stories to “collective hallucination” or “mass hysteria,” the workings of imagination in overwrought minds under the promptings of preconceived ideas.
Yet until the tenets of humanism disclose reality in their own phantoms of security and well-being there will probably be those who look back on the past with a sympathy that is spiritually akin to the faith of the New England fathers; back of the time when the turbid flood of modern life swept over the New England wilderness; back to the day when Davenport’s little company standing on the New Haven shore saw above the water that lapped their feet, not a mirage to mock their sight, not phantasy to betray their yearning—only the divinely miraculous sign of the righteous, beneficent God.