A Mission of Mercy:

“We told them we were sorry that any Englishman should give them that offense.” (70)

[1]  In this chapter, the Pilgrims send only ten men on a voyage deep into Indian territory to retrieve a lost boy, no doubt naturally fearing that he will be killed or, perhaps equally as bad, raised as a native.  Two startling things happen: the Pilgrims meet a Cummaquid Indian woman who has lost her children to Europeans, and the Nauset Indians return the boy, not only without incident but with an elaborate peace ceremony.  This chapter, then, shows both Pilgrims and Indians interacting with great mutual understanding and kindness.
 
[2]  On the first part of their journey, the Pilgrims learn of the boy’s whereabouts from the kindly Cummaquid, who are governed by a noble savage -- the “personable, gentle, courteous, and fair conditioned” Ivanough (70).  These friendly Indians advise the Pilgrims that the boy is with the Nausets and invite them to share a meal.  The conviviality is disrupted, however, when the Pilgrims meet the old Cummaquid woman.  Her sons were taken captive by an English seaman, Master Hunt, and never seen again.  Hunt’s “imperial” acts are characteristic of the “savage” behavior of many Europeans in first-contact situations.

[3]  The Pilgrim journey, then, is really framed by this “very grievous” meeting with an old woman who has lost three sons (70).  There is a common bond of sympathy, since both the Pilgrims and the Indians have lost children.  The Pilgrims relate to another human being who has spent her whole life agonizing over her loss, and they show compassion to counteract her pain.  The startling thing that the Pilgrims do is put their common bond of humanity with the Indians over their patriotism and denounce the actions of their own countryman: “We told them we were sorry that any Englishman should give them that offense, that Hunt was a bad man, and that all the English that heard of it condemned him for the same; but for us, we would not offer them any such injury” (70).  In a further attempt to soften her pain, the Pilgrims give her small gifts as well.  In retrospect, the sad but meaningful irony of the scene for the reader of this chapter is that the Indian woman will never have her sons returned by the civilized English, but the Pilgrims will have their lost son returned in exemplary condition by the savage Indians.

[4]  Because of a previous Indian assault in precisely the same place, the Pilgrims are cautious as they approach the Nausets.  They even offer restitution to an Indian whose corn they had taken earlier.  Startlingly, however, they have nothing to fear.  There is no fighting, no negotiation, no game playing.  The Nausets – 100 strong, half of whom are armed – return the boy safely in an elaborate peace ceremony marked by an exchange of beads and knives.

[5]  Following this peaceful return of the boy, the Pilgrims leave the Nausets with hardly any fresh water for their return trip, only to again meet Ivanough, who does all he can to help the men find water, and his kindness and openness towards the Pilgrims is reiterated as he takes a bracelet from his neck and hangs it on one of the men.  The Cummaquids celebrate the return of the Pilgrims with singing and further gift giving.

[6]  The Pilgrims and the two groups of Indians handle a delicate situation with numerous acts of mutual good will.  This section of Mourt’s Relation presents both the Pilgrims and the Indians as being very fair and considerate in the nature of their relationship.

Lauren Eisner
12/02

(page references to Mourt's Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, ed. Dwight B. Heath [Bedford: Applewood Books, 1963])