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David Thomsonís letter to 
the Earl of Arundel

On the first of July 1625, David Thomson wrote the following letter from New England to Thomas Howard, the Earl of Arundel in England. The original letter is housed in the library of the Duke of Norfolk (also a Howard) at Arundel Castle, Sussex, England.  The Duke of Norfolk is the Earl Marshall of England as was the Earl of Arundel in David Thomson's time.

I wish to thank His Grace the Duke of Norfolk for his kind permission in allowing this historically important letter to be posted on the David Thomson web site. The 3 photographs were taken by Beaver Photography, Sussex, England per request of Genevieve Cora Fraser to be used in Part 3 of "David Thomson, the Scottish Founder of New Hampshire...a Gentleman and Scholar." Copyright 2000.

Excerpt from




by Genevieve Cora Fraser

© Copyright 2,000. All rights reserved by Genevieve Cora Fraser.

"...David Thomsonís letter to the Earl of Arundel has been preserved in his collection of Autograph Letters. Fortunately for those interested in early colonial America, Mary F. S. Hervey had the letter transcribed and placed in the appendix to her book, published posthumously in 1921, entitled, "The Life Correspondence & Collections of Thomas Howard Earl of Arundel." The original manuscript of Thomsonís letter is housed in Arundel Castle, Sussex, England in the present Duke of Norfolkís library.

David Howarth, in his "Lord Arundel and His Circle", also published the opening lines of the letter in 1985. However, Howarth seems not to have understood that the author was a New England "Planter." Instead, he refers to Thomson as Captain Thomson (though the appellation "Captain" is not stated in the letter) and focuses on Thomsonís description of the marble he had come upon near Naemkeek (Salem, MA) and at other locations. (37) As a patron of the arts, collector of many of the worldís greatest paintings and sculpture, and member of the Kingís Building Commission, according to Howarth, "Thomson knew his priorities; he knew what Arundel would really want to hear. Thus, he began his letter with an account of marble." Van Dyke commemorated Arundelís venture into colonization in a 1639 painting. (38)

Thomsonís letter is of profound cultural and historic importance. The manuscript provides a unique glimpse into early colonial life, and Thomsonís role in that history, which to date has focused primarily on the establishment of the New England fishing trade. Ironically, the "graye marble" to which he refers may not be marble at all, but rather the Porphyritic Greenstone of the ancients which was referred to as marble but contains embedded crystals of feldspar. This stone is found on the northeast side of Cape Ann and at nearby Marblehead, as described in Edward Hitchcockís 1841 "Final Report on the Geology of Massachusetts." (39)

David Thomsonís letter is Number 275 of Arundelís "Autograph Letters." The first page seems to echo what Captain John Smith stated in 1616 in his Description of New England, that the Massachusetts country to him, was "the paradise of all those partsÖ" (40)

Right honble Lo:

desyring to answer honors expectaen & preforme my duetifull promise, I made bold to wrytt to yor ho: by the waye of Plymouth in England, and as I understand Mr. Colmer brought the same for London, together with an example of graye marble I found in this countrie neere to Naemkeek which is between Cape Anne and the Messachusets. But cannot learne if the same came to yor Lo: hande. I heare of farr better and of greater diversities about Poconoakit which is to the west of Cape Codd. I have seene a tobacco pype of a transparent stone lykest in my simple judgemt to pure whyte Alabaster, I enquyred the Salvage that had it, where he had it, he told me at Pokonokit, and that there was much of that sorte. I must acknowledge I could never have the convenience of seing the other syde of Cape Codd. Amongst other thinges yor Lo: desyred this last autume has taught us that noe man neede expect any better place then the Messachusets. The few planters that are seated in that Baye did usuallie in an howre or thereabouts make 5 or 6 gallons of wyne lyke to heighe Countre Frenche wyne. And though one man did it, yett 3 or 4 would make an end of it almost as speedilie as it was in doing. And their providence was such that they never saved any for wintr, noe, not soe much as to make Verius one bevverage. And thoughe they had store of codd whithin the bay amonst the Islands at their doors, herrings driven on shoare at their doores, Mackerell, Basse and large Eelles in aboundance, yet not any of them saved any for the winter. But the supaboundance of fowlle supplyed their defects and neglecte. And where two families by their owne acknowledgemt in ten dayes might have killed 120 deere or above, they were soe pitifull as to lett all goe but six. Since my arrivall to this countrey that place of Messachuset has caste foorthe two plantaens (plantations) the one being of about 60 psones, the second not much inferior, the third upon yeeilding his last breathe, the fourthe hopeful. The place it self is the onlie and sole place of the land woorthie praise, I meane of all wee yett knowe to the east of Cape Codd. The soylle wonderfullie fruitfull, cleere & deepe mould. The woode in places gone; sufficient ground for 10,000 people. Neither can anyplace wee yett know compare with it, all advantages considered. And where it has been proposed by some to yor Lo: that a publick plantacon be setled about Kinnabeck, be assured it comes farr short of the Messachusets. If his Ma(jes)tie and the Ryt Ho: his Ma(jes)ties most ho: Privie Counsell were truelie informed of the state of the Southe Colonie, the difficultie of ever bringing the same to some goodnes, something by reasonne of the unhealthfulnes of the Clyme, the distemperature of the Ayre there, the enemitie of the Salvages, the want of fishe for the maintenance of the people, which yeerly they come to fetche from this Countrie and Newfoundland, I am verely p(er)suaded his Ma(jes)tie would goe neere to remove all & settle them heere. There are so many pregnable reasons to sollicit the same. Butt wee fowr that are here should be unwilling of their Companie, it being a bodie composedÖ.

Page 2 of the Thomson letter continues:
composed of some few good people, many bade, amongst whome reignes excessif pryde in Apparell, the lyke never hard of in Europe. Excessive drunkenness when they can have it, how deere soever; other vices I dare not name. Yett dare I not excuse ourselfs of infinit abuses and vile enormities by promiscuous trading as well unfree as free, runagates that comes only and stayes to trade w(it)h the Salvages, spoylling the trade in sort that what the last yeere wee were wont to have for one thousand Beads wee must now give 6. Besydes the shippes that comes a fishing, where they frequent have cleene overthrowen all. They give an old pennie for a newe, which is to them great gaine, for the most part of what manie of them trades are victualls, imbezelled from their owners. The manifold inconveniences that insues heerupon are infinit. Their Company when Victualls drawes short, gives over going to Sea. The owners loosses, and are discouradged from further adventuring, little plate as brought home as formerlie. The planters having for the present noe other hopes to mainteine themselfs with neccessities, as apparell, pouder, shott, and noe meanes to transport cattell & more people, all I saye (are) utterly lyke to be overthrowne by the same, as lykewayes by their continuall bartering & trading with the Salvages peeces from 4 foote longe in the barroll to six foote, pistolls, swoords, pouder & shott, notwithstanding his Ma(jes)ties proclamaín. I speake no untruthe to yor Honor for I have taken peeces from some of them, and told them his Ma(jes)tie wills them to use their Bowes and not our peeces. They are growen soe expert as that they exceed most of the Englishe. And to leave them and come to our selfs, the planters, wee are lyke a bodie without a head, none to rule us, none to minister justice, infinit greevances amongst us, none to redresse, especiallie amongst the Brownists of Newplymít. I have often called to mynd the speeches used in yor ho: chamber, speaking of the Soute Colonie: A Swoorde put in a madmans hand, a Chylds hand or a foolles hand is danngerous. What can be expected that a rude ignorant mechanicke can doe w(it)h a sharpe swoord of justice. The Complaints amongst them are soe many that to p(ar)ticularise would be tediuos to yor ho: upon Comannd it shalbe done. Only my humble and hartie prayer to yor ho: is you would be pleased to acquaint his Ma(jes)ties most ho: privie Counsell and procure some comiseracín to be taken off us. Also that wee maye knowe his Ma(jes)ties pleasure of the continuance of us heere, which is impossible without more people. For the Salvages increasses daylie, wee diminish rather then otherwayes. Wee daylie discover in the countrie greater and greater multitudes of Salvages, also they beginne to growe verie arrogant and insult over some. Wee are dispersed 16 leagues, 15 leagues, 12 leagues, 7 leagues and 2 leagues asunder. And soe none of us is able therefore to adverteise one an othr or succor one an other, if need should requyre. If his Ma(jes)tie intend not that plantacíns shall p(ro)ceed, and that some good people be not sent speedilie oute, for Gads sake most ho: Lo: let us receave soe much honor favor & happines as to knowe it, that wee maye either relinquishe all or use some meanes to prevent our utter destrucen and overthrowe.

The final page concludes with the following:
The onlie beneficiall places of trade are to the East about Kinnabecke, Amilcagen, Pemmiquid, Penobscot, and soe east to the river of Cannada, which the frenche yeerlie pulles from our mouthes; & none will adventure to drive them from it, for whosoever shall doe it shall but beate the bushe and others shall afterwards catche the birds. Also to the west of Cape Codd from Narrohgansett to Delawarre Baye the Dutche frequent and have a plantac(io)n about Hudsons river, under the name of New Netherlands, where they have a forthe (fort) of stone, divers peeces of ordnannce.... the shipps stayes some goes in pinnaces trading, the loades aboord in the shipps hold an earthe in maudes upon their shoulders (?). This relation has bene confirmed by many and severall Salvages. Divers Salvages have also assured me of a plantacín at Mohigan where is a man or two amongst others makes swoords, hatchets, arrowheads, for truck with long knives. Neither is it farr in likelihood from the place I dwell in, over to the river of Canada; for the great lacke which is in the frenche mapps called lac de Champlaine is but a daye and a halfe journeying from my house. I intend God willing to see it in a moneth hence. It is soe long and large that whoe lives on the one syde cannot see the shoare on the other. There are divers great Islands in the same. The River of Merameck comes from hence; the plentifullest river wee yett knowe, of Salmo(n), Sturgeon, Basse & Mullet, in their season. All the Salvages that are travellers constantly affirme this Countrie to be an Iland.

I presume yor ho: will not imput it to indiscretion or too much boldnes to show yor lo: that in my opinion it were most necessarie that all the Land plantacíns in the Countrie should be forced to drawe together to live in the Messachusets. That they might have one gnall (general) gouvernor, that none despached abroad should live under 40 50 or 60 in Companie, I meane of the fishermen - the carelessest people of all the rest, aptest to quarrell with the Salvages & to stealle their great kettles, skinnes, deeres suett & suchlyke, from them, as this yeere they have done. (But those Brownists of New Plymít to conmtinue where they are, for as they desyre the Societie of none but such as are of their owne pífession, soe I am assured non regares them or their fellowship.) Only it were fitt some discreete man sent from his Ma(jes)tie should oversee them. Capín Jhon Mason in Foster Lane, formerly gouvernor of a plantacín in Newfoundland, and now as I understand in England, were a fitt instrumít to this effect, for it is more then necessarie that whosoever shall undergoe such a charge should be experienced heerine. The work of undiscreet gouvernors and unskilfull, is lyke amongst us to undoe all, even in privat families.

Thus comitting or necessities to yor ho: noble generous & pious consideracín, my boldnes to yor honors clemencie, my tediousnes to yor Lo: wonted pacience, and yor ho: to Gods protection, I humbie rest

Yor Lo: most duetifull Serít

David Thomson.

Plymesland in New England
the first of Julie 1625

I had omitted to insert how that this yeere hardlie escaped great murder & bloodshed, at Cape Anne for stage roome. 16 or 17 muskateers came from Newplymít, bothe p(ar)ties seemed not only resolute but desperat. By good fortune I was there accidently, and used many argumíts on bothe sydes to dissuade such ungodlie, violent & unaswerable p(ro)ceedings. The daye & tyme, yea place, appointed to fight, on shoare. Barricades & Bulw"kes made. Shippes readie, not to faylle to playe their pts. These are the fruits of unrulie multitudes. The last yeere they scoft the gouvernor & his authoritie becaus he wanted power.