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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.




footnotes:

1. Source: Stukely Westcott, Vol. 2, Pgs. 24-28, 1939.