by Louise Butler
Stephen Hawking, the world’s most renowned physicist, and possibly the only true rival to Albert Einstein in sheer brain power, asks: “Why can’t we remember the future as we do the past?” He reasons that both are points on the arrow of time, yet we only have mental references for the one and not the other.
Our story begins with the founder of our feast, Ralph Blaisdell in the year he, his wife Elizabeth Parker, and their son, Henry, first set foot on the North American continent. So our journey will have to be reminiscence instead of a preview. But I believe that looking at the past is a very good way to examine the future.
Risks and Opportunities
Space travel is the only thing I can think of that is analogous to the journey taken by Ralph, Elizabeth and Henry Blaisdell in 1635. It is the only step we can make that would be as perilous, as irrevocable, as demanding as the step the Blaisdell’s made in coming to this country.
What would make you fly off into space? What would make you leave the land of your birth and permanently move to a foreign country? A country holding none of the comforts or benchmarks of civilization that you know? Think of it. You would travel by unsafe and uncomfortable transportation to a place where you would have no home, lest you build it; no food lest you grow it; no safety lest you provide it; no clothing lest you sew it.
The truth is, it is easier to be an astronaut in 2010 than to be a colonist in 1635! The Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635
The Angel Gabriel arrived under skies impacted by disturbing weather. The skies were leaden gray and heavy. Any sailor with a weather eye would know a storm was coming. And come it did. Ralph, Elizabeth and Henry Blaisdell were about to be the victim’s of one of the most violent hurricanes ever to visit the New England coast: The Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635.
The Great Colonial Hurricane is the first great storm recorded by the Europeans who were steadily populating New England and the Mid-Atlantic Seaboard. We have many excellent descriptions of the hurricane from men who were traveling in convoy with the Angel Gabriel and who left her for Newfoundland and Boston.
The hurricane was probably a Category 3 or 4. The eye passed between Boston and Plymouth with winds approximately 115 miles per hour. A tidal surge twenty feet high was reported in Boston. Thousands of trees were toppled and houses flattened in the populated areas of New England as the storm headed, “down east,” straight for the coast of Maine.
Meantime, the Angel Gabriel was at anchor off Pemaquid Point when the wind, waves and rain struck. As the men, women and children frantically sought shelter with whatever possessions they had been able to take from the ship the previous evening, a storm of “biblical” proportions closed in on them.
This is not a coast of sandy beaches, gently rolling up into dunes and coastal hills. There is nothing soft or gentle about this coast. Ralph and Elizabeth landed on Devonian era metamorphic and igneous rock: bare, solid and around 400 million years old. The Angel Gabriel was torn from its moorings and dashed onto these Paleozoic rocks of Maine. It was completely destroyed.
Among the immigrants huddled on shore, watching as their only link to the old world sank beneath the gray waves, were Ralph and Elizabeth Blaisdell, and their three year old son, Henry. They had risked all, left the family and home they knew in England, and traveled to a primitive land, burning every bridge behind them.
What made them leave? What made them risk all in a dangerous adventure? For that we need to turn our attention from a commoner like Ralph to the King of England himself.
King Charles I of England was a man whose refusal to compromise over complex religious and political situations let to the British civil war, his own execution, and the abolition of the Monarchy. He was also very instrumental in each of us being here today.
Charles was the second son of James I of England, successor to Elizabeth I. He was a sickly child, raised far from his parents care. He was a good and serious student and devoted to his older brother, Henry. Upon the death of that older brother, Charles became heir to the throne and seriously prepared himself for what he thought was a throne by Divine right. He became King in 1625, 10 years before Ralph came to North America
Between his ascension to the throne in 1625 and his beheading in 1649 England went through a mass migration, losing 1 of every 50 people to immigration and a great Civil War lead by Oliver Cromwell and the roundheads. Make no mistake, the journey of the Blaisdell’s was a Puritan based exodus.
A Puritan Mass Exodus
Ralph Blaisdell was part of a 10 year mass exodus of Puritans who were either practicing or escaping religious intolerance, depending on your point of view. This was a migration spurred by Archbishop Laud and King Charles providing the, “stick behind” and the promise of a theologically pure and limitless land acting as the, “carrot” in front.
Ralph was from The Lancashire area of northern England and probably lived in or near the town of Bleas Dale. This locale was a hot bed of the Puritan movement and Ralph Blaisdell must have been in the thick of it. There are two facts which speak to this.
First, Ralph, Elizabeth and Henry boarded the Angel Gabriel in Wales, not Bristol, England, where the travel of Puritans was closely monitored. Their names do not appear on the original registry.
Puritan Leader Rev. Richard Mather’s
Second, the Blaisdells kept some very interesting company on their trek to the New World. There was a small armada of immigrant ships sailing together for protection from both pirates and foul luck. On board one of these ships, the St. James, was an Anglican priest from the same Lancashire County as the Blaisdells.
That man was the Reverend Richard Mather. No person has more cause for pride in progeny than does Richard Mather. He was a rock ribbed Puritan and had been removed from the Church of England because of “non-conformist” ideas. Friends from America convinced him of the necessity of immigrating, along with his suspect beliefs to a land where they might be appreciated.
Reverend Mather was the father of Increase Mather. Increase became a minister and gave his first sermon at the age of 18. He served Oliver Cromwell in England, but returned to America when the King and Anglicanism were restored. He became the President of Harvard. After marrying his step sister, Maria Cotton, they bore Cotton Mather.
Cotton was a minister and scholar and prosecutor of witches at the Salem Witch Trials. Cotton found himself at odds with his father, Increase, at these trials. With Increase cautioning skepticism and leniency and Cotton positive that all women are witches at heart and should be treated as such.
You can see that with Richard Mather as part and, probably, spiritual leader, of this migration that the tone of the group was both high and single minded.
Contrary to the bleak portrayals of the poor pilgrims on the Mayflower, the immigrants on the Angel Gabriel fared much better. There was plenty of livestock on board to eat and they also had beer, bread, oatmeal, buttered peas and sack pudding. They were a moral group, attending regular church services and putting ashore a drunken sailor.
The Angel Gabriel and her sister ship, the St. James, even took time to briefly chase a Turkish pirate ship. After a relatively uneventful ten week voyage, falling prey to the Great Colonial Hurricane must have seemed like a cruel reminder of how perilous their leap of faith truly was.
Ralph Blaisdell Thrives in America
Yet this tenacious family not only survived, they thrived. Ralph was 43 when he sailed for America. He must have married late in life as his only child, Henry, was 3 years old. One can presume that his wife, Elizabeth Parker, was a much younger woman. Ralph Blaisdell was an able leader. There is indication that Ralph was both intelligent and industrious, or perhaps the New World brought out the best in him. During his short stay in York, Maine he owned property, was a town leader, and was named an attorney for the town.
Ralph’s family did not stay in York, but instead, moved to Salisbury, Massachusetts where he was an honored member of the founding fathers. In Salisbury he was one of only eight men who earned the honorific of “Mister.” He was referred to as “Goodman Blaisdell” and his wife as “Goody Blaisdell,” all of these being terms of respect offered leaders in the town.
Ralph, who may be spinning in his grave over that news, packed a great deal of enterprise into the 14 years he had in America before his death in 1649. He added to his family while in this country and each of those children seemed to have gone forth and multiplied. For surely there are a great many of us today….
Ralph & Elizabeth’s Progeny
When you climb the stairs at the Pemaquid Point Light House you can imagine yourself climbing rungs up a family ladder. Each step is the person who came before, providing solid footing and a firm foundation for the next person on the way up. Each ascent is a victory, but it is also an obligation. We are not here just to see how high we can climb, but to build a way for those who come after us.
If you want to know the future, remember the past. People may, some day, want to know who we were, and what we did to make history. Our stories may not be heroic, or romantic, or extraordinary, but if we have lived well it will be enough.
[The author presented a fuller version with power point of “The Journey of the Blaisdells” in a seminar she presented during the BFNA national reunion June 18, Mt. Vernon, IL, and June 19 at the Blasdel family farm, Wayne City, IL.] Louise Antonnette (Yatckoske (Whittenburg) Butler From: Irene Blaisdell Yatckoske, Jesse Blaisdell, Marshall S. Blasdell, Marshall Newton Blasdell, Ezra Blasdell—(C6).