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?"