N is for Nimrod, the Indian who made it into the Essex Court Records a few times. At first, he was like most of the other Native Americans from the area and hoped that the Puritans would help to defend his tribe against their more aggressive enemies. Eventually, Nimrod began more antagonistic actions towards the Puritan community. The delicate and controversial topic of the Puritans and the Native Americans needs to be reviewed before Nimrod’s actions can be understood.
The Puritan’s initial contacts with the Indians were mostly for trade and diplomacy. In the earliest colonial decades, Puritans were vastly outnumbered by the Native Americans and were attempting to establish themselves in the area. Missionary attempts to convert the native populations were still considered too much of a risk.
After the Pequot Indian War, the Puritans gained confidence in their military abilities and then began to make plans to convert the Indians. The Puritans viewed the Indians as an idolatrous race that needed to be shown the One True Faith who needed guidance. They dismissed the Indian religious practices as inferior to their own.
The Massachusetts Bay leaders were reminded of their mission to spread the word to the natives which motivated John Eliot, a quintessential Puritan. Eliot was frugal in all his habits but cared deeply for the Indians who populated New England. He began learning Algonkian and by 1647 was preaching in the native tongue. In 1663, Eliot translated and published the entire Algonkian Bible—the first Bible printed in America.
Unfortunately, Eliot was a typical Puritan: he confused Christianity with English culture. He delayed many Indian baptisms “until they were come up unto civil cohabitation, government, and labor, which a fixed condition of life will put them upon.” He believed that the Indians had to adopt English thinking as “they were not so capable to be trusted with that treasure of Christ.”
Eliot insisted upon English style clothing for all, haircuts for the men, and moving Indians into villages patterned after English towns. By 1674, there were 1,100 “praying Indians” living in fourteen towns. This environment gave the praying Indians understanding of the Christian faith and some training for the ministry. Unfortunately, they were isolated from other Native Americans but weren’t allowed to join Puritan churches.
The bloody King Philip’s War (1675–76) placed the praying Indians in a difficult and precarious situation. The English colonists distrusted their loyalty, rounded them up, and confined them to camps. The war destroyed the trust of the Indians and nearly all copies of Eliot’s Algonkian Bible. Only four of the Indian villages remained after the wars. Eliot refused to be discouraged, and he continued to minister to the Indians until his death. Villages of “praying Indians” continued into the early eighteenth century.
Back to Nimrod whose story is told in my historical novel The Redemption of Mehitabel Braybrooke. He evidently became skeptical of the Puritans in the decades after his first trading encounter. In 1651, Nimrod willfully killed some swine of one of the settlers, Richard Butler.
Nimrod, whose name means “mighty hunter,” continued to taunt the Puritan population. In 1670, he walked into the home of Goody James (without knocking) with three other Indian braves carrying guns and hatchets. The Indians sat by the fire and asked if Goody James had a husband and asked where he was. When she replied that he was nearby, they said she was lying and started looking for food. Goody James reported that Nimrod spoke to her in a “baudy way” and so she sat with her back to him, knitting. The Indians laughed and then left. The next morning, they attempted to enter again but were brought before the magistrates for the second encounter. Nimrod and his braves admitted in court that they were attempting abuse and intended to kill her will a naked knife if she would not be quiet. The Indians all received a sentence twenty days in prison for this act against Goody James.
The first taverns in the Massachusetts Bay Colony were referred to as ordinaries. They were a familiar social institution and essential to the social and political lives of its citizens. The first tavern was opened in Boston in 1634, and the demand grew rapidly. They were regulated by licenses to control intoxicating liquors. In 1656, the courts in Massachusetts fined towns who did not have an ordinary.
Ordinaries served numerous purposes in the towns and villages. They were places where travelers could find food and drink and then spend the night. The local colonists could enjoy alcoholic beverages and play games and participate in political discussions while receiving the latest news.
Ordinaries were conveniently located close to the meetinghouse which was considered desirable. The congregation could find refuge in the cozy establishment between church services during the cold, bitter months where they endured long sermons in the frigid, unheated meetinghouse. The crackling fireplace and warm rum of the ordinary must have been viewed as God’s kind provision during the harsh winters. During summer’s sweltering heat, the green trees of the tavern courtyard offered pleasant shade for the overheated churchgoers.
The ordinaries were in all probability furnished in much the same manner as the private houses in New England. The tap room was the largest room in the house and had a warm and welcoming fireplace.Tables, stools, and chairs stood on the bare sanded floor. A small writing desk was available for the use of the travelers for letter writing and for the landlord to prepare his bills. The bar was often made with a sort of portcullis gate that could be closed when necessary. The customers’ firearms were hung on hooks on each side of the huge chimney.
The most popular early drinks served in the ordinaries were rum, cider, and ale. By the 1690’s, flip became a favorite. It is a blend of rum, beer, molasses or dried pumpkin, and eggs or cream. It would be whipped to a froth by plunging a flip-dog or hot fire poker into the pitcher.
Ordinaries were places of hospitable convenience and not for lively entertainment. “Sport of the Innyard” were forbidden: carding, dicing, tally, bowls, billiards, slidegroat, shuffleboard, quoits, loggets and ninepins. Tobacco use was viewed as far more sinful and dangerous than the intoxicating liquors served.
The local tithingmen kept the ordinaries under careful scrutiny and excesses would be reported to the town magistrates and ministers. Offenders would be punished by being thrust into the bilboes, time in the stocks and receiving a whipping.
The most important alternative use of the ordinary was as a meeting place for courts and assemblies. Sessions of Salem and Ipswich Quarterly Courts were held in the ordinaries until 1673, and the proprietors received financial compensation for their services. These important centers for social assemblies promoted venues for debate and discussion of political and financial concerns of the colonial societies. Alice M. Earle, a prominent historian on Puritan history, viewed the tavern as a traditional institution “whose effect was to pull fledgling communities together.”
The local militia made use of the taverns for both governmental and social purposes. Here they would not only gather to choose officers and plan military campaigns, but also would imbibe in the wines, rum, and blackstrap that was in abundant supply.
The Ingersoll Ordinary in Salem Village (now Danvers) was open in 1677 after Nathaniel Ingersoll secured a license to “keep a hous of entertainment for strangers and othes by seling beere and sider and lickers and provision.” Ingersoll’s Ordinary was the place where the first three accused women, Sarah Osgood, Sarah Good and Tituba of the Salem Witchcraft Trials were taken for questioning