THE THIRD EXPLORATION
Discovery of Plymouth, Harbor
This expedition was composed of ten passengers plus the Mayflower's two pilots, John Clarke and Robert Coppin, along with the master gunner and three sailors from the crew. The passengers who participated were Miles Standish, the Pilgrim's military commander, John Carver and his servant John Howland, William Bradford, John Winslow, brothers Edward and John Tilley, Richard Warren, Stephen Hopkins (the only one of their number with previous experience in the New World) and his servant Edward Dotey.
They departed on the sixth of December in their Shallop which was a small open boat that could be propelled by either oars or sails. On the first day of the expedition they split up into two groups and explored both along the coast and inland. Late in the day they rejoined forces and brought the shallop a ways up a "creek" as described by Bradford, now called the Herring River in the present town of Eastham, and made camp for the night. Their evening preparations included the construction of a "barracado" with "logs, stakes and thick pine boughs, the height of a man" both for shelter from the wind and for protection in case of attack.
The next morning at dawn, while the explorers were variously engaged in preparing breakfast, breaking camp and starting to load their things back into the shallop, there came sudden "dreadful" cries and one of their company raised the alarm, shouting "Men, Indians, Indians", and "withall" a shower of arrows announcing the attack.
The members of the group who were engaged in loading the shallop were caught away from their small fortification without their muskets and a mad scramble ensued as four of their number with muskets quickly at hand engaged in defending the barracade, while the rest dashed frantically to unwrap their guns from their coats where they had been sheltering from the dew, or headed back to the shallop to retrieve their own muskets which had already been placed aboard. The group running for the shallop drew the attention of a number of Indians who attempted to cut them off and only a determined effort by some of the defenders who were wearing chain mail and armed with cutlasses enabled them to win through to their guns. Once armed they "...let fly amongst" the Indians and sent their attackers back into the woods. That is, except for one Indian, who took shelter behind a tree about "half a musket shot" from the barracade and continued to launch arrows at them until one of their own shots sent bark splintering and flying around his head and propelled him, with an "extraordinary shriek", into retreat after his companions.
Leaving an armed guard at the shallop the rest of the party then indulged in an act of rank foolishness by proceeding about a quarter of a mile in pursuit of their attackers, shouting and setting off their muskets. This was done as Bradford wrote, "...that they might conceive that we were not afraid of them or in any way discouraged." All in all they were amazingly lucky in this pursuit, for in years to come, after a number number of deadly lessons, any colonist could have told them that a pursuit of this nature by inexperienced participants was a better way than most to end up dead.
Having concluded their chest beating, they returned to their campsite, finished loading their equipment and supplies and exclaimed over their good fortune of escaping without wounds while examining the arrow holes in several coats which had been hanging on the barracade during the attack. They also gathered up arrows which were laying around the site and later sent a bundle of them along with the Captain of the Mayflower when he returned to England.
That day they continued in their exploration without turning up a suitable settlement site and finally, upon the advice of the Pilot Coppin who on a previous voyage had coasted in the area, they headed for what he assured them was a good harbor. They sailed for several hours while the weather turned increasingly bad with a mixture of wind, snow and rain. In the middle of the afternoon the wind grew stonger and the waves began building until they were sailing in very rough seas. So rough were the waves that it was sufficient to break the rudder of the shallop and the craft and its passengers drifted unable to steer until they jury-rigged a rudder with two oars. But "it was as much as two men could do to steer with..." them so violent were the wind and waves.
Coppin however told them "to be of good cheer" because he saw the harbor. But the storm was growing worse and they were running out of daylight so they piled on as much sail as they could to beat the approaching darkness. The increased canvas proved to be too much for the mast which shattered into three pieces sending their sail overboard into "a very grown sea". At that point Bradford comments that they "had like to have been cast away". Yet they continued their struggle, cleared away the tangle and rode the flood tide into the harbor. Once there, in what they had anticipated as safety, the pilot confessed that "the lord be merciful unto all of them for his eyes never saw that place before". It was after that confession that the pilot and the master's mate argued that they should steer the shallop ahead of the wind into a cove full of breakers and beach her. At this one of the seamen who was manning a steering oar challenged them that "if they were men, about with her or else they were all cast away"; a course of action which they promptly followed. Then ,with the same sailor's encouragement, they rowed "lustily" in search of a place in which they could "ride in safety". They continued to row through what was literally a dark and stormy night until they managed to find shelter out of the wind in the lee of a small island, though at the time they didn't realize it was an island, thinking it might be part of the mainland.
Once they had fought their way to shelter some of them, remembering the encounter that morning with hostile Indians, were of the opinion that they should stay in the safety of the shallop until daylight. But others among the group were so cold, wet and miserable that they decided to go ashore in spite of the danger. There, with great difficulty, they started a fire so they could warm themselves. Those who had remained on the shallop, being just as cold and miserable, certainly noted the fire and were persuaded by the example of their companions to follow them ashore. Being, as Bradford wrote, "...glad to come to them, for after midnight the wind shifted to the northwest and it froze hard".
The next morning dawned fair and sunny which must have been a great relief for the damp and bedraggled explorers. It was then that they determined they had spent the night on an island and were safe from atttack. This island is now known as Clark's Island. It also became apparent that their struggles the previous night had brought them to the harbor they had been seeking. Finding themselves secure they decided that since it was the last day of the week they would keep the sabbath on the island. They gave "God thanks for His mercies in their manifold deliverances" and spent the day resting, drying their clothing and fixing their "pieces" or guns. This last most likely involved drawing the shot and powder charges, then cleaning drying and reloading the muskets. Considering the weather and sea spray their firearms had been exposed to the day before its a good bet that most or even all of muskets had gotten their powder charges wet and were not able to be fired until this 'fixing' had been accomplished. Not a good position to be in when considering the danger of Indian attack. Additionally, while Bradford narrative makes no mention of the task, its a good guess that the day's projects also involved the sailors along with any of those settlers with carpentry skills in attending to the shallop's repair, at least as much as was possible with what tools and materials they had available.
The next day was Monday. They set out in the shallop and conducted soundings of the harbor and found that it was suitable for shipping. They explored on foot and discovered "divers" cornfields and brooks. It was apparent that the place was suitable for habitation, especially considering the lateness of the season and their pressing need to get a settlement started. Bradford says "their present necessity made them glad to accept of it." having made this determination they loaded up the shallop and returned to the Mayflower with their good news.
The next day the Mayflower's anchor was winched up from the bottom of Providence Harbor and she set sail for Plymouth harbor. Contrary winds prevented her from entering that Tuesday but on Wednesday the 16th the wind changed fair and she sailed into the harbor. There they again looked around and "resolved where to pitch their dwelling". A period of activity followed this decision which culminated nine days later on Christmas day, although the Pilgrims distained to celebrate Christmas, with the erection of the first storehouse.