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Chapter 29 THE LEGENDARY SHIP

  • **A Tale of the Early Days of New Haven Colony**
  • An unexpected and very profitable growth of our business made the immediat_urchase of a piece of land necessary. My partners requested me to negotiat_or a few acres in the vicinity of New Haven, and I at once began to do so. A_nnoying delay occurred owing to the illegibility of an ancient record whic_ade it impossible to obtain a perfect title. I was about to abandon th_ttempt to buy the property, when I was reminded that a gentleman well know_o me might be able to give the information that could not be deciphered fro_he record. This person was a professor in the college, a man of wide reput_s a scholar, and an ardent student of the Colonial epoch of the town.
  • I found him in his library, and he, without any hesitation, gave me th_nformation which I sought, and told me where I would find such legal proof_f clear title as I desired. I was impressed with the accuracy of his learnin_nd the readiness with which it responded to his demands, and I ventured t_ay to him that the acquisition of such a mass of names and dates must hav_ost him great labor. To my surprise he replied that I was mistaken, the trut_eing that he mastered such incidents with ease. His great mental efforts, h_aid, were required by the processes of analysis and comparison which wer_ecessary to separate truth from the rubbish and chaff of tradition an_ecord, and by the reasoning necessary accurately to trace causes to thos_esults which, when grouped, constituted trustworthy history.
  • "For instance," said he, "I have here a document which will cost me the mos_evere application before I am through with it."
  • I had observed that there lay upon the table a roll of manuscript. The tabl_as littered with pamphlets, documents, aged and worm-eaten books, and I d_ot know why my attention was specially fixed upon this particular roll o_aper. It was plainly an aged manuscript. The paper was ribbed and unruled,
  • like that in use a century or more ago; and if it once was white, the year_ad faded it to a dull buff leathery hue, while the care with which h_fterward handled it indicated that it had little tenacity of fiber. I kne_hat he referred to this old roll of manuscript, and, as I expected, he too_t up.
  • "I have here," he continued, "a remarkable historical narrative which I foun_mong some refuse in a garret, where it had lain for more than a hundre_ears. It is an account of a strange, unnatural occurrence, of which I hav_eard by tradition, and which is even casually mentioned in Mather'_arginalia. I have, however, always regarded it as unworthy of seriou_onsideration, believing that there was either no foundation for the traditio_r else that it could be traced to the hallucinations of a disordered brain. _ow, however, have an account of it which I cannot ignore. It was written by _lergyman of the most godly character, a man who could not, even in jest,
  • speak falsehoods, and he asserts that he was almost an eyewitness of what h_escribes. How, then, can I refuse to accept this record? It gives all that _istorian requires to satisfy him of the authenticity of any allege_ccurrence. It is the genuine manuscript of a man whom I know to have lived,
  • and it is not a hearsay account. If we are to put faith in any of the record_f the past, we must accept this one. I do not know of an established fact o_istory that has any better basis than this document gives to substantiate th_onderful phenomenon which it records.
  • "I confess," continued the professor with some animation of speech, "that suc_ problem as is presented by this manuscript has never before been given to m_o solve. As a historian, I am compelled to accept as true what I here read,
  • while as a physicist I must regard the record as the wildest and mos_mprobable of romances. Were it based on the testimony of one person it coul_asily be rejected as a vision or alienation of mind, to which the austerit_f the Puritans seems to have rendered some of them peculiarly liable. I a_onfronted, however, with the assertion of this writer, as well as with th_nherent proof of the assertion, that he was one of many witnesses. It is,
  • indeed, an interesting problem, and the difficulty of reconciling an accoun_hat must be accepted as truthful history with the fact that it must be denie_s physical possibility makes the task fascinating."
  • Doubtless Professor M—— observed that he had awakened a pleasing interest i_e. Indeed, I took no pains to conceal it, and told him that I would gladl_ear the story that had so puzzled him. He at once unrolled the manuscript.
  • "This appears," said he, "to have been written by the Reverend Dr. Prentice,
  • and in the year 1680. I judge it was a letter to a friend, although th_avages of time have made the first few sentences illegible. I have othe_anuscripts of the clergyman, a few sermons, and having thus been enabled t_ake comparison, I find the handwriting of all to be identical. I will no_ead it in full, and will paraphrase some of the text, for it is written i_he stiff, formal manner of that day, many of the words found in it now bein_bsolete.
  • "'There had come,' began the professor, 'upon the tradesmen and those engage_n commerce a season of adversity in the year 1646, such as they had not know_ven in the earliest days of the settlement of the New Haven Colony. Th_essels lay idle in the harbor, trade with the other colonies languished, an_s the New Haven colonists were familiar with commerce rather tha_griculture, they were embarrassed even for the necessaries of life. But fo_he energy and determination of some of the men of character, the colony mus_ave found its existence imperiled, for many had determined to depart, som_ven making arrangements to emigrate to Ireland. A less courageous an_enacious race must have succumbed. It was determined as a last resort t_uild a ship large enough to cross the ocean, freight her, and send her t_ngland in the hope that the disheartening losses would be retrieved by th_evelopment of commerce with the mother country. Overcoming great obstacle_hey built a ship in Rhode Island Colony.
  • "'The frost had closed the smaller streams, and the ground was whitened wit_now when the ship entered New Haven harbor. There was great rejoicing at th_ight of her, and her size, being fully 150 tons measurement, was a cause fo_onder, for such a monster had never been seen before in that harbor. With he_ails all set and her colors abroad, she came up to her anchoring place wit_uch grace and speed as greatly delighted the people who had assembled at th_ater's edge to greet her. Courage was revived by the sight of her, and th_eople said, "Now we shall again have plenty and add to our possessions, i_od be willing."'
  • "The master of the ship, Mr. Lamberton, was found to be somewhat gloomy, an_r. Prentice records that Lamberton told him in confidence that though th_hip was of the model and a fast sailer, yet she was so wilty—meaning thereb_f such disposition to roll in rough water—that he feared she would prove th_rave of all who sailed in her. However, he breathed his suspicions to no on_lse. The ship was laden and ready for departure early in January 1647.
  • "The cold that prevailed for five days and nights before the time fixed fo_learing for London was such as the people had never before known. It mus_ave remained many degrees below zero, for the salt water was frozen far dow_he harbor, and the ship was riveted by the ice as firmly as though by man_nchors. There were no lazy bones among the people, and with prodigiou_ndustry the men cut a canal through the ice forty feet wide and five mile_ong to the never-freezing waters of the sound. The vessel was frozen in wit_er bow pointing toward the shore, and it was necessary to propel her to clea_ater stern foremost.
  • "'This was an unlucky omen. Captain Lamberton avowed that the sea and th_onflicting powers that struggled for its mastery were controlled by whims an_reaks, which would be sure to be excited by such an insult as that of a shi_ntering the water stern first. An old sailor, too, informed them all that _hip that sailed stern first always returned stern first, meaning by that tha_he never came back to the harbor from which she thus departed.'
  • "You will observe," said the professor, putting down the manuscript for _oment, "that in these gloomy forebodings are to be detected traces of th_ythological conception of the mystery of the sea, with which all sailors,
  • even to the present time, are more or less tinctured. I am especiall_mpressed with the manner in which these colonists acted. Believing i_redestination in spiritual matters, their lives in worldly affairs conforme_ore or less thereto. So, in spite of these omens, there was no thought o_elay. They had fixed the time for sailing, and they meant to sail. So godly _an as the Reverend Mr. Davenport expressed this feeling in his prayer a_eported by this writer. Mr. Davenport, as the ship began slowly to move, use_hese words: 'Lord, if it be Thy pleasure to bury these our friends in th_ottom of the sea, they are Thine. Save them.'
  • "Men less completely under the domination of their religious belief woul_ever have gone to sea without exorcising in some way the evil influence_hich these omens seemed to indicate would prevail. There had gathered on th_ce all the people of the colony except the sick and feeble, perhaps eigh_undred or a thousand souls. On the departing vessel were some of thei_riends and kin. The farewells were said with the expression neither of grie_or of joy. Restraint, the subjugation, even the quenching of all emotions,
  • was the rule of life with these people, and I gather from one or tw_xpressions in this account that never was there more formal, les_emonstrative leave-taking.
  • "When the vessel reached deep water, and just as one of the great sails wa_eginning to belly with the wind, the people with one accord fell on thei_nees on the ice and prayed. The ship was five miles away. The air wa_larified by the cold, and the vessel could be distinctly seen, and as th_eople prayed with open eyes that were fixed upon the distant and recedin_hip, she suddenly disappeared, vanished as quickly as though her bottom ha_allen out and she had sunk on the instant. 'Yes,' says this writer, 'mor_uddenly for whereas at one moment the eyes of all of us were fixed upon her,
  • at the next, as in the wink of the eye, she was not. We rose, gazed fixedl_nto the vacant space where we last saw her, and then with wonder turned t_ach other. Yet in another moment she was disclosed to us as she was before,
  • and we watched her until she disappeared behind the neck of land that bound_he harbor to the east. So we dispersed, wondering at this strang_anifestation whose meaning was hidden from us. Some there were who wer_onvinced that it betokened that even as she had disappeared only to be see_gain, so we should again behold her after her voyage. But there were many wh_ere impressed that though we should again see her, the sight would be but _artial one. With reverent submission to the will of God, the people repaire_o their homes.
  • "You see," said the professor, again putting down the manuscript, "in all thi_hat inexplicable commingling of hope and fatalism which was, I imagine, on_f the inevitable conditions of mind of this austere and intensely religiou_eople. The mere fact of the sudden disappearance and renewed sight of th_hip may perhaps be explained by natural and simple causes, but not so th_henomena afterward described.
  • "In the natural order of events the colonists would have had some tidings o_heir ship after three months had passed. None came, however. Ships tha_ailed from England in March, April, May, and even June, brought no word o_er arrival. Their suspense could be relieved only in one way. I should hav_sserted, even had I no evidence of it, that the colonists sought the relie_hey always thought they found in prayer. I should also have unhesitatingl_aid that they did not, in their prayers, ask that the inevitable be averted,
  • but simply prayed that they might be prepared to receive with submissio_hatever was in store for them to know. I should have been justified in s_sserting, as I find by reference to their manuscript. The account ha_t"—here the professor again read from the manuscript—"'The failure to lear_hat was the fate of their ship did put the godly people in much prayer, bot_ublic and private, and they prayed that the Lord would, if it was Hi_leasure, let them hear what He had done with their dear friends, and prepar_hem for a suitable submission to His holy will.'
  • "In all the accounts that we have of prayer," said the professor, "I know o_othing equal to that. It contains volumes of history. With that simple tex_he ethnologist and historian might construct the history of a people. Observ_he human nature of it, that is, the intolerable burden of suspense, and se_he religious faith of it, both of submission and the trust that the praye_ould be answered.
  • "These people seem to have rested with the conviction that this remarkabl_upplication would be effective. Dr. Prentice continues his narrative, afte_uoting the prayer, with an account of what happened, as though it were th_xpected answer. He writes, too, with the vividness and accuracy of detail t_e expected of the eyewitness, as inherent proof of the truth of hi_arration. I infer that within a day or two after the prayer the manifestatio_as received. There arose a great thunderstorm from the northwest, such _empest of fury as sometimes follows elemental disturbances from that quarter.
  • It seems to have been accepted as the presage of the manifestation tha_ollowed. After it passed away it left the atmosphere unusually clear. An hou_efore sunset the reward of their faith came. Far off, where the shores o_ong Island are just dimly visible, a ship was discovered by a man who mad_aste to tell all the colonists. They gathered on the shore and saw a vessel,
  • full rigged, every sail puffed out by the wind and the hull listed to one sid_y reason of the strain upon the masts and the speed with which the breez_arried her.
  • "'It is our vessel,' they cried. 'God be praised, for He has heard an_nswered our prayer.'
  • "Yet while they saw her straining with the wind, and seemingly speeding wit_uch rapidity as should bring her to them in an hour, they also observed tha_he made no progress. Thus she continued to appear to them for half an hour.
  • While they were still astounded by the mystery, they saw that she had of _udden approached, and was coming with what seemed most reckless and foolhard_peed, for she was in the channel, which is narrow and of sufficient dept_nly to permit the passage of a vessel of her size with skillful handling. Th_hildren cried, 'There's a brave ship,' but the older people were filled wit_pprehension lest she should go upon the shoals or be dashed upon the shore.
  • They thereupon made warning gestures, although they could see no one upon th_eck.
  • "At last they observed something of which in their excitement they had take_o heed. The harbor lies in a southerly direction, and the channel itself run_ue north and south. The vessel was making toward them with great speed, ever_ail curved stiff with the steady force of the wind that seemed to come in _ale from the south, and yet the wind was actually north. Thus holding he_ourse due north, they saw her sailing directly against the wind. Then the_new that they were witnessing a mysterious manifestation. As she approache_o near that some imagined they could easily hurl a stone aboard her, the_ould see the smaller details, the rivets, the anchor and its chains, th_apping of the smaller ropes, and the rhythmic quivering of the ribbonlik_ennant that was flying in the face of the wind. Yet they saw no man aboar_er.
  • "The people awaited with sober resignation such further manifestations as wer_o be given them. Suddenly, and when she seemed right upon them, her mainto_as blown over, noiselessly as the parting of a cloud, and was left hanging i_he shrouds. Then the mizzentop went over, making great destruction, and next,
  • as though struck by the fiercest hurricane, all the masts went by the board,
  • being twisted as by the wrenching of a wind that blew in resistless circles.
  • The sails were torn in narrow ribbons, whirling round and round in the air,
  • while the ropes snapped and were unraveled into shreds, and beat wit_oiseless force upon the decks. Soon her hull began to careen, and at last,
  • being lifted by a mighty wave, it dived into the water. Then a smoky clou_ell in that particular place, as though a curtain had dropped from heaven,
  • and when, in a moment, it vanished, the sea was smooth, and nothing was to b_een there. The people believed that thus the Almighty had told them of th_ragic end of their ship, and they renewed their thanks to Him that He ha_nswered their prayer. The Reverend Mr. Davenport, in public, declared 'tha_od had condescended for the quieting of their afflicted spirits thi_xtraordinary account of His sovereign disposal of those for whom so man_ervent prayers were continually made.'
  • "You will see," said the professor, as he carefully laid the manuscript away,
  • "what an extraordinary problem is here presented to me. If I accept an_ecorded evidence, I must accept this; yet science teaches me that the laws o_ature are inexorable, as much so now as ever. What is the truth?"