WESTCOTT, THE EXILE
In all probability, a record of the journey of Stukely Westcott and his
family to Providence at the time he was exiled from Salem in the Spring of 1638, will never be made
available, and in the absence of such record there can be only conjectures. Theodora Bates Cogswell
(Mrs. Edward R.) the poetess of Newton Highlands, Massachusetts, and a charter member of the Westcott
Society, in 1934, composed a delightful poem depicting the possible journey of "Westcott, the Exile,"
from Salem to Providence.
Dorothy Whitman Potter (Mrs. Adelbert Niles) read the poem at the National
Celebrations of the family in June, 1935, and August, 1937, and both the poem and the reading were
highly acclaimed. The poem is given here, and is followed by another deduction as to a possible route
of that important journey.
Dawn was breaking above the sea
As they left their cabin on Salem shore.
Stukely Westcott stalked silently,
Sternly leading the mare, which bore
Frail little Mercy, wondering-eyed,
Small Jeremiah, the close-packed store
Of clothes, a kettle to feed them all,
Blankets to warm them when dusk should fall--
While Amos, excited, ran beside
With frequent prancings of seven-year pride.
Damaris tramped behind them there,
Her choicest treasures strapped in a pack,
And Robert guided the second mare,
Pillion-mounted, where sadly rode
The anxious mother, amidst a load
Of food and comforts. But oft her face
Turned from the narrow, turf-worn track
Back to the houses that showed up black
Against the red of the dawn-lit deep--
Back to the still-fresh burial-place
Where her eldest lay in his final sleep.
Turn on turn through the daylong march
They walked and rode by the narrow trails
That Indian footsteps had traced of yore
On the woodland's soft, receptive floor.
Bare were the birches; the pine and larch
Guarded late snow in the shadowy vales.
Striking inland, past Mystic's ford,
Across the marshlands, dreary and brown,
They halted that night in Watertown,
Where a pitying Christian home outpoured
Its scanty resources for those who went
Under the burden of banishment.
Southward with dawn their long route turned
To find the Indian path that ran
From Boston's arrogance west, where yearned
One heart, love-filled toward each fellow-man--
Where Roger Williams, true saint of God,
Sent constant tidings to help and save
Those who with frowns and censure grave
Had driven him forth from their holy sod.
Seeking the Narragansett trail
Went Stukely Westcott, grim-lipped and pale.
But Damaris, riding pillion-wise,
Followed him with adoring eyes;
And in every heart of that little clan
Of homeless children was joy serene
Because at their head, so firm of mien,
Patient but dauntless, there strode a man.
Loving and loyal, close at his side,
Walked Juliana, her calm years past,
Now and again she vainly tried
To pierce his silence--till, faint and dim,
From a hilltop they glimpsed the ocean's rim.
Then Stukely broke into speech at last:
"Banished and exiled, alone we go
Out to the wilds and the lurking foe!
Exiled for heeding the voice of faith,
For serving the Lord as the Good Book saidth!"
He ceased, but his wife spoke swift and low:
"Exiled from what? From the hateful sting
Of tongues that mocked at our differing ways,
And the village gossip of dull-hued days,
Which joyed in reproof and in cavilling.
Exiled to whom? To the friends of thy heart,
Who asked God's blessing to follow the light
And lead their innocent lives apart
From rancour--the friends in whose dream shines bright
Welcomed, and outcasts shall be free."
Stukely listened; across his face,
Marked by nigh fifty anxious years,
There flashed the gleam of a new-found grace,
Of hope that conquered the moment's fears;
And ever his eager glance must hie
To that far meeting of sea and sky.
"Lass, dost mind how, a lad at home
In Somerset, year on year I clomb
The Dorset Heights, until past the Down
I sighted the Channel's distant blue
And followed the coast's long circuit through
By Lyme and Teignmouth to Dartmouth Town?
"Little my thought and less my care
That we in our middle years should fare
Forth from that harbor, down the tide,
Across the whole Atlantic wide--
Thou and I with our helpless brood,
Led by the knowledge that God is good.
Now as we halt on this alien hill,
Yon blue horizon enchants me still.
I pray that our future home may be,
As it was in Salem--beside the sea."
He hastened thenceforth with eyes that sped
Eagerly toward the days ahead.
Here in the southland reluctant Spring
Had brushed the earth with a kindlier wing.
Mayflowers bloomed, and hepaticas sweet
Bordered the trail left by moccasined feet,
As Mercy's delighted fingers played
With the soft, wee pussied the willows grew.
And lo! when a dark-skinned face peered through
The quivering saplings, suspicion-fed,
These exiles hailed it, quite undismayed.
For Roger Williams, the Indian's friend,
Awaited them at their journey's end.
So, toiling daily by vale and height,
Swamp and thicket and shifting sand,
Sheltering trustingly at night
In wigwams, safe through their friend's command,
They traveled westward, their vision stored
With freedom, valor, and trust in the Lord--
Till, halting breathless where sunset lay
Crimson along Narragansett Bay,
They viewed from the hilltop a widespread scene,
Then Stukely Westcott, his head held high
In the sweet salt tang that the east wind bore,
Studied the streams, the slopes, the shore,
And spake contented: "The past has been
The future beckons. Our friend is nigh,
And God is with us. Our young shall grow
Here where the rivers seaward flow."
Of his years thereafter what need to tell?
The olden records relate them true.
With all fervor his courage knew
He served his God and his country well.
Yet, drawn by the craving that woke of yore,
He followed the river to Warwick Shore;
And his breath came fast, as his keen eyes scanned
The sparkling water, the far-curved land,
Till he vowed: "The home of my age shall bide
Where my lifelong hunger is satisfied."
We know how he throve there, long content,
How he laid Juliana at last to rest
In their tiny graveyard; then sadly went
Fleeing the savages' weapons and flame,
Across the bay with his heart oppressed
For a brief abiding. We know he came,
Rowed by his sons on the winter tide,
To his quiet resting-place, beside
The wife he loved, where the breeze blew free
As the breath of God's mercy, from God's wide sea.
So Stukely passed when his day was done--
But his strong, brave faith still leads us on.
ANOTHER POSSIBLE ROUTE
The poem is a delightful contribution to Westcott lore. The compiler,
Mr. Whitman, dislikes to draw attention to any other possible route which Westcott might have
followed in his exile, but in view of the circumstances surrounding his "license" from the General
Court, March 12, 1638, to remove with his family out of the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Bay
Colony, it may be assumed that, unlike Roger Williams, Westcott had time to make arrangements for
his departure, although it is recorded that he "immediately left Salem."
Westcott's house fronted on the old South River, now long filled in and
built upon, and being navigable to the sea, he probably engaged, as was the common occupation of the
settlers, in fisheries and coastwise trade. Accordingly, he was in a position to obtain passage for
himself and his family on a fishing smack or sailing vessel to some point on the coast in the old
Plymouth Colony. That he should go to Hingham where he landed when he came from England in 1635 and
where he had at least acquaintances who would give him temporary refuge, seems logical.
This sea trip would have covered the greater distance and the most
difficult part of his journey. From Hingham to Providence, where Roger Williams was no doubt
aware of Westcott's coming, the distance is approximately forty miles as the crow flies. Williams
no doubt dispatched Indians, whom he could trust, to meet Westcott at Hingham and conduct the family
safely to Providence. Williams could be of help to Westcott while the latter was in the Plymouth
Colony, because of his less strained relations with that colony, but he could offer little or no
assistance, even with the aid of Indians who were his friends, while the Westcott family was in the
Massachusetts Bay Colony.
1. Source: Stukely Westcott, Vol. 2, Pgs. 24-28, 1939.