Friday, February 17, 2012

The Good Ship Confidence 1638

Augustine Bearce, my relative on Mother’s side, was born in a Gypsy camp just outside London. He sailed to Massachusetts on the Good Ship Confidence in 1638. He was twenty years old. He went to Barnstable, MA in 1639 with the first company of settlers. His settlement placed him in the midst of the Wampanoag villages on the Cape. He married Mary Hyanno at the Mattaches village of Cummaquid (Barnstable). Mary was the daughter of Iyannough and granddaughter of Highyannough. With this relationship Augustine gained large amounts of land in the area. His home still stands and is believed to be the oldest in what is now Centerville, MA. Augustine and Mary had eleven children. Their son James, married Experience Howland, whose family came to the New World on the Mayflower. Those are the facts. The voyage maybe went something like this:
          Augustine didn’t know on which day they lost sight of land. He spent most of his time trying not to fall down as he made his way to the side of the ship to throw up. He wasn’t alone at the railing; most of the other passengers joined him. His nausea lessened about the same time he got his sea legs. Augustine had made an agreement with the Captain to work his way across the ocean to the new world. The Captain was kind enough to wait until the sea sickness past before assigning him his duties. Gypsies weren’t well received, even on a ship, and he was always trying to avoid a beating. One day he decided to carry a club under his shirt and when a crew member swung at him, Augustine hit him over the head. Twice. He didn’t have much trouble after that. He wished he had thought of it sooner.
          He was busy from sunup to sun down. There were decks to swab, chamber pots to empty, food to prepare and dishes to wash. The only domestic animals on board were cats, which helped keep the rat situation somewhat under control. There were cows, chickens and goats. The cows dried up within the first week, but the chickens were laying and nothing bothered the goats.
          The only free time Augustine had was last light and break of day. On calm mornings, the water looked like sheets of blue shimmering glass. He stood at the bow scanning the water.
          “Let me see you one more time,” he whispered. As though they heard, the whales rose like giant mountains, their wet skin shining with streaks of blues and yellows; they looked like floating rainbows. Each slap of their enormous tails sent water across the deck before they plunged again into the deep. Augustine could have moved away from the railing, but enjoyed the whale’s waltz more than wanting to stay dry; he hadn’t been dry since he boarded ship.
           Augustine was used to the fog of London, but the fog at sea cloaked the ship with misty vapors so dense it was suffocating.  The whale’s mournful call floated over the still water like a whispered echo. The muted sails embraced the trembling resonance within its limp damp folds as though trying to catch a breath.
          With the seas dreaded calm, the ship sat helplessly on the still water. Sometimes days would pass in quiet desperation. Serenity became the enemy. Eventually, prayers were answered and the passengers would cheer as the wind caressed the sails. The first day land was sighted Augustine was standing at the bow. His heart fluttered at the first sight on his new home.
          “I hope the Indians are friendly,” he thought.
1639 One Year Later   

John Lothrop was ordained in the Church of England, but renounced his orders in 1623 to join the Independents. Disagreements over Baptism were the main issues. Complete immersion or sprinkling? Baptize when babies or adults? He spent time in jail, but was granted a pardon if he left England. He arrived in New England in 1634. In 1639 he moved his church to Barnstable. Augustine went with him. Those are the facts. Maybe it went something like this:
          The long beach grass quivered in the light wind as Augustine walked along the shore admiring the wild flowers last burst of color before the embrace of winter’s white cape. He sat on a sand dune running his hands through the soft grains watching them fall slowly through his fingers, each grain of sand a story, each small pebble an event. He was thinking about all that had occurred since he arrived in New England. Before the first year ended he had changed his name to Austin, discovered he was good at farming and was shunned by all the young girls because he was a gypsy. Austin wanted to marry, but now that it was out of the question he had determined to accept his fate… that is, until he saw a certain Indian girl. Her name was Mary Hyanno, she was fifteen and an Indian Princess. Austin had noticed her the first day they arrived in Barnstable. He saw her now walking toward him.
          Her delicate nose had a splash of small freckles across her white skin. Her long red hair cascaded down a slender back. Austin had never seen anyone so beautiful.  He stood as she approached. Unsure she would understand, he spoke, “I would not have known you are Indian but for your clothes.”
          “My father calls me Little Dove,” She replied in near perfect English.
          “Rightly so. You are fair and speak well.”
          “Your people wanted to teach me their religious customs and I wanted to learn English. It was a just arrangement.”
          She sat on the sand, Austin joined her. “May I ask why you are not married? It is common for the young men who come from the other side to marry quickly.” 
          Austin didn’t answer.
          She continued, “I know I speak boldly. The women in my tribe are plainspoken. Some of the English find it offensive. Do you feel the same? Is that why you do not answer?”
          Any hope of gaining her approval fled as he replied, “The English girls know I have Gypsy blood and will have nothing to do with me.”
           “I have heard Gypsies are good with horses,” Mary replied.
           “The English think Gypsies have less value even than a horse.”
          Austin saw Mary’s father walking up the beach. “Will your father be angry with you for talking to me?”
          “English girls are foolish. Do not worry about my father. He has been watching you. He thinks you are very brave.”
          Austin gazed into Mary’s blues eyes. She was the future he hoped for, yet he had nothing to offer. “How am I brave?”
          “You left your family, and all that was familiar, to sail across the ocean in search of a new home.” She smiled and added, “You came to a hostile land with Indians. You were brave enough to face the unknown.”
          “Many have done so,” he replied.
          Mary lowered her eyes and answered, “My father is not concerned with the many.”



  1. Interesting narrative.
    Joe Bierce

  2. As a descendant of Augustine, I enjoyed it as you captured the spirit of that time...

  3. Happy to hear from you both Joe and Amora distant relatives of mine. My mother's family (Bearse) are from Maine. Never really sure if the name means relation. But it is fun to hear from you.