Major General Daniel Gookin

by Rev. Warner Foote Gookin, 1912

Three hundred years ago, at a date still undetermined, one of the great men of Cambridge was born in England, – one who was great enough, at least, to deserve this passing tribute, the only recognition, I believe, to be given him in the tercentenary of his birth.

It is not my purpose this evening to set forth the details of Daniel Gookin’s life. These will be found in fragmentary form in the biographical dictionaries, and need not be repeated in that fashion here. A thorough study of his life and letters, moreover, is soon to be published, privately, by a distinguished member of the family in Chicago, Mr. Frederick W. Gookin, who has spent the leisure moments of many years in the study of the history of the members of the Gookin family. But I do hope, however, so to sketch the main features of my ancestor’s life that some of the devoted students of the history of Cambridge gathered here will be aroused to renewed interest in the man whose name is already familiar enough to them.

When one speaks of Daniel Gookin to a company of Cambridge people, there is no need to specify further by describing him as the bearer of the title Major-General. But, for the sake of clearness, it is necessary to state that our interest this evening centers on this Daniel Gookin, and only incidentally on Daniel Gookin, his father, with whom we must begin; for much in the character of our Daniel Gookin can only be understood by connecting him with the brave adventurer who first bore the name.

Daniel Gookin the elder was sent out into the world by the spirit of adventure and discovery which aroused England in the first years of the seventeenth century. He was a man of Kent, of honorable ancestry, and apparently of means and influential connections. His first adventure took him to Ireland, where he purchased the castle and lands of Carrigaline, on the shores of Cork Harbor. His brother Vincent, later knighted, also held large possessions near Cork, and developed a considerable fortune there. Vincent is remembered for his bitterness against the Irish. Whether or no Daniel shared his brother’s dislike for them does not appear; but clearly Daniel had hardly settled in Ireland before he began to think of further adventures in colonization. The London Company attracted him, and about 1619 he began negotiations, through agents, for terms in the matter of transportation of men and cattle for Virginia. His first offer was to transport five hundred men. The rule at the time was fifty acres for every man transported, with a cash payment for cattle. Daniel Gookin stipulated that he should be given a patent for as much land as had been granted to Sir William Newce, his friend and companion in the venture, of whom, however, little more is known. In November, 1621, Daniel Gookin, in a chartered fifty-ton vessel, the “Flying Hart,” with fifty men, and thirty passengers, arrived in Virginia, and landed at Newport News, which, although named for his friend Newce, seems to have been regarded as the settlement of Daniel Gookin. At any rate, a few years later we find the family in possession of thousands of acres, at Newport News, and across the James River, in Nansemond, and the Lower Norfolk County.

In 1630, when our Daniel, of Cambridge, was eighteen years of age, he is found in Virginia in possession of the plantations of his father. Whether he came then, or earlier, has not yet been ascertained. Nor do we know anything of his education. In later years he shows himself a master of English style, and refers familiarly to Greek history; he was probably university-trained, in which case it is unlikely that he came to Virginia much before the first mention of his name. This occurs in an indenture of 1630, wherein he deeds to a certain Thomas Addison, late servant of his father, for good and honest service, one hundred and fifty acres, at Maries Mount, near Newport News.

One fact, however, can be stated with fair certainty. Early in his life he must have come under strong religious influences of the Puritan type. Less than a year after landing in Virginia the elder Daniel experienced the horrors of an Indian attack, with massacre and butchery all about. Yet in the mind of the son no bitterness nor unreasoning animosity against the savages found place. For him the barbarity of the Indians was a call to evangelize them. And in years to come, as we shall note later, he was willing to suffer privation and abuse for the sake of his Indian friends.

The young man advanced rapidly in the new community. A marriage license issued to him in London in 1639 describes him as a widower, aged twenty-seven. There is nothing to indicate what lies back of this word – a tragedy, perhaps, following an infatuation or wild escapade of youth; perhaps, however, it was merely a clerk’s error. In any case, Mary Dolling, called his second wife by all who have taken note of the record of the marriage license, was the mother of his children. In 1642, at thirty years of age, he was at the head of the Commissioners appointed to hold monthly court in Upper Norfolk. In that year he is also named as the Captain of one of the “trained bands” of the Colony. The extent of his landholdings has already been indicated; slaves and cattle there were undoubtedly in abundance.
The first crisis of his life came in the year 1644. In 1642 he joined, or perhaps led, the company of men who petitioned Massachusetts for three ministers. A vacancy in the Parish of Nansemond led to its division into three, for which the ministers from Massachusetts were desired. Cotton Mather’s picturesque description of these men as missionaries, who journeyed to Virginia making converts, is perhaps true enough, from his point of view. But when, in the oft-quoted verses, he remarks

“Gookins was one of these: by Thompson’s pains,
Christ and New England a dear Gookins gains,”

he is hardly accurate. Daniel Gookin had, along with others in Nansemond and lower Norfolk counties on the south of the James, showed decided leaning towards Parliament and to the Congregational form of worship, long before the coming of Thompson. And his removal to Massachusetts was occasioned not by the preaching of Thompson, but by the measures taken by Governor Berkeley to secure conformity to the Church of England in the parishes of Virginia.

Almost immediately upon his arrival in Boston, in his own ship, he was admitted to the First Church, and made a freeman of the city. This was the beginning of a long life full of honors and responsibilities in the Massachusetts Colony. Whether these were merely the recognition of wealth and standing, or whether they were rewards for the achievements of character and worth, is a question. Two reasons operated, toward the close of his life, to rob him of his popularity and fame, – a loss from which his name seems never to have recovered. He lost his popularity because of his friendliness to the Indians. This was ten years before his death; and although during the following decade he was a devoted defender of the doomed Charter, what he regained in the way of popularity by that devotion was lost in the wreck of his party. He died a broken man, the zealous advocate of two lost causes. His importance in the early days of Cambridge has, of course, never been forgotten; but little has been said or written in recognition of his work with the Indians, or of his efforts to safeguard the constitutional liberties of our forefathers.

I think we are prepared to-day to admit that the early Colonists were hardly fair to their Indian neighbors. One man, only, as the history has been written, stands out because of his devotion to the Indians. The Charter obligations that called for evangelization as one of the chief privileges of the Colonists was as lightly regarded in religious Massachusetts as in cavalier Virginia. It is to the shame of the Colony, as a whole, that John Eliot is designated the Apostle to the Indians. And his work with them was done in addition to his necessary duties as minister of the gospel at Roxbury.

Daniel Gookin settled in Roxbury in 1644. Two years later, the General Court passed an order respecting the diffusion of Christianity among the Indians, and in the same year John Eliot, in “the forty-second year of his age, did intensely set upon the work of preaching Christ to the Indians in New England.” This is noted by Daniel Gookin in his “Historical Collections,” who in another place in the same work says: “I being his neighbor and intimate friend, at the time he first attempted this enterprise, he was pleased to communicate unto me his design, and the motives that induced him thereunto.” Clearly, then, even though the original determination was conceived in the mind of Eliot, the great purpose was nurtured in the friendship of the two minds, – Eliot the minister, and Gookin the layman.

Eliot’s work we all know; further, we all have noted the statement made in the histories that in 1656 the General Court empowered one of their number to keep a higher court among the Indians every three months. To this work Daniel Gookin, aged forty-four, and a magistrate of four years’ standing, was appointed. With the exception of three years spent in England he served as Indian Commissioner until his death. Eliot taught, while Daniel Gookin ruled, the praying Indians. Together, without compensation, they made “many weary journeys among them nearest and under sundry trials, when forced to lodge in their woods and wigwams.” Surely these two figures both radiate light in the dark history of our dealings with the Indians. Eliot carried the Gospel; but just as impressive is this devoted servant of the State, carrying English justice into the depths of the forest, in the name of Christ.

But this devotion was to cost him dear, if the applause of the multitude is to be counted a desirable possession. In 1675 King Philip’s War broke out; and the Colonists were compelled to take bloody punishment for their arrogance and their indifference to the religious welfare of the savages. Not that they so regarded the war; for it called forth, very naturally perhaps, the bitterest antagonism to all Indians. Immediately the situation of the praying Indians became desperate. Cursed by their tribesmen for their friendship for the English, they were threatened and maltreated by their supposed friends. I think we get here some indication of the hold that Daniel Gookin had gained over them. When we read how they were herded together on Deer Island to protect them from the mobs, with insufficient food and clothing, under unnatural conditions for them, cold and miserable, because of their devotion to the English, we are more than a little astonished. Religious conviction is hardly enough to account for the situation. They had realized the significance of the Commonwealth, and had placed themselves under its protection. Over against the rabble stood the General Court, which to them meant Daniel Gookin. For twenty years he had settled their squabblings and maintained order among them. It was the victory of the white man’s justice, in the person of Daniel Gookin.

The Commissioner had apparently the support of the whole Court as well as of the leading people in his friendship for the Indians, but the bitterness of the community in general is remarkable. He and his loyal friend Danforth were threatened with death in public posters, and abused with the vilest language in private. “God rot his soul … he is the devil’s interpreter … it were no matter if Mr. Danforth and Major Gucking were both hanged” are some of the quotable; expressions preserved. In 1676, for the only time Daniel Gookin failed of election to the General Court. He was reelected, but never later could he become a popular hero. John Eliot had found honor justly; but the main source for what we know of his work is the history written by his friend Daniel Gookin, whose reserve as to his own share in that work was never supplemented by the report of a contemporary. Yet surely it is worthy a better mention in our modern histories.

I am passing over the events that make up the progress of his life. His removal to Cambridge and his prominence here are interesting, but not significant beyond what has already been developed. His share in the town government can be gauged by reference to the public records of the town and selectmen; his military career, in which discipline and efficient supervision are the noteworthy features rather than any share in actual warfare, is fairly well known. A glance at the early indices of the records of Cambridge and Boston will show his share in the public life. He was an active man, engaged in many affairs of importance, both in Cambridge and the General Court, where he served as magistrate for thirty-odd years. During all this time he lived on his own fortune, whatever it may have been. He was frequently honored, to be sure, with considerable grants of land, which may have given him an income. In any case he lived with some elegance, building for himself a house, as many here know, that served the next generation as a social center. He seems to have been arbitrary in his dealings with men, and full of the dignity of importance. He called forth none of the ardent affection with which a community designates its truly great men, but their respect he commanded as a matter of course. Intimate friends, too, he seems to have had – Eliot we have mentioned, who was ten years his senior. Thomas Danforth, ten years his junior, seems to have been a particularly devoted adherent as well as next-door neighbor. Gookin and Danforth are inseparable names in the records of the General Court, occurring countless times in that order, until Danforth was elected Deputy Governor. Even then Danforth seems to have leaned heavily on his older friend. I emphasize this, because the casual historian, rating Danforth the leader because of his office, fails to note that Gookin’s leadership during all the earlier years in many enterprises could hardly have been entirely reversed when the two took counsel together in their struggle for constitutional independence.

This brings us to the other phase of Daniel Gookin’s life that is interesting to our age, his share in the charter struggles of the early colony. There in even clearer light we discern the greatness of the man’s passion for liberty and justice.

Daniel Gookin was no favorite with royalty. That he had entertained Whaley and Goffe had been early communicated to Charles II by Randolph, who writes to his Sovereign that the regicides “and other traitors were kindly received and entertained by Mr. Guggins and other magistrates.” Daniel Gookin was likewise well known to Cromwell, who laid an important though necessarily fruitless mission upon him, – to bring about the removal of the Massachusetts colonists to Jamaica. Yet when Daniel Gookin sent his “Historical Collections” of the Indians to England, he boldly dedicated it to his dread Sovereign, as a testimony of his “affection,” desiring to be reckoned among the number of his Majesty’s “most dutiful and loyal subjects.” But that was in 1674, when the liberties guaranteed by the Charter were not for the moment seriously threatened.

Six years later that same brave old man wrote words that should go ringing down through history, as have those of men who echoed them. They are not contained in an official document, but the original manuscript is in the possession of the Massachusetts Historical Society. It is a statement prepared by Daniel Gookin for the guidance of a committee appointed to draft instructions for agents to be sent to England; it is written, as one sentence intimates, with the thought that the document itself might be sent to England in lieu of agents. Whether it was or not, I do not know; but one thing I think is clear, – the hand that wrote that four-page document is the hand that guided the policy followed by the General Court.

Thus he writes, urging that no agents be sent:

  1. “Because this pr’cedent, in conceding to send Agent or Agents for the tryalls, and to Answer particular complaints and claymes in England, before his ma’tie, touching proprieties [companies], will (as I humbly conceue) have a tendency, if not certenly subuert and destroy the mayne nerves of o’r Government and Charter, lawes and liberties. Besides (as I apr’hend) it wil bereaue us of o’r liberties as Englishmen, (confirmed many times by magna charta, who are to bee tryed in all their concernes, ciuil, or criminal by 12 honest men of the neighbourhood, under oath and in his ma’ties Courts, before his sworn Judges and not before his ma’ties Royal person; surely o’r com’g 3 thousand miles under security of his ma’ties title, and by his good leave to plant this howling wilderness, hath not deuested us of that native liberty w’h o’r countrymen injoy. Now if Mr. Mason haue any claime to make, of any man within this jurisdiction, his ma’ties Courts heere established by charter are open to him: And hee may implead any man yt doth him wrong before ye Jury and sworne Judges; according to law and pattent heretofore and lately confirmed by his Royal ma’tie as under his signet doth or may appeare.”

“2: I verily Belieue yt so gracious a prince as o’r king is will bee very slow to deal so seuerely against his poore loyall subjects yt Are not conscious wee haue shewed any disloyalty to him or his pr’desc’rs, nor have been unwilling to obey him in the lord. But when the case is so circumstanced yt we must be Accounted offenders, or Ruine o’rselues; of 2 evels ye least is to be chosen.

“3. But if it should bee soe yt wee must suffer in this case wee may have ground to hope yt God o’r father in Cht will support and comfort us in all o’r tribulations and in his due time deliuer vs. Much more might be s’d Touching the pr’my’es. But I have been too tedious And longer yn I intended for wch I crave yr pardon and humbly intreat a candid construction of this paper a coveringe of all the imperfections yr off: This case, as is aboue hinted, is very momentous and therefore I intreat you candidly to peruse what is s’d, if there bee little waight in it (as some may thinke) it is satisfactory to me, that I haue offered it to yr consideration, and yt I have in this great cause (before I goe hence and bee no more wch I mnst shortly expect) giuen my testimony and declared my judgment in this great concerne of Jesus Cht, To whom I commit all and yorselues also desiring him to be to you as hee is in himselfe, the mighty counsellor, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
I remain your most humble seruant and His ma’ties most Loyal Subject, DANIEL GOOKIN, Sen’r.”

But the struggles of the Charter party were unavailing. Too many in the Colony had not yet realized that the cause of liberty was at stake; when the news came that the patent had been forfeited, there was nothing but tame submission.

One year later, Daniel Gookin died, a broken man. He had written seditious words, but none had taken them up as the battle-cry of rebellion. Another century of preparation was necessary before that should come. So Daniel Gookin was laid away in Cambridge in an honorable but little noticed sepulcher, – the friend of despised Indians, the defender of liberties, little desired by the men of his generation.

What can we say further? He was not a hero, he accomplished nothing. To this very day we use the Indians shamefully; and to other men belongs the glory of having won our liberties by their blood. But in his day Daniel Gookin served his God and his State with wisdom and devotion. What more can man do? So we think of him this evening, the three hundredth year since his birth. And may I, as one of his few descendants, bearing his name, thank you for this privilege you have given me of talking to you about him, well convinced that he is worthy of your more intimate knowledge.

From The Proceedings of the Cambridge Historical Society, Volume 7, 1911–1912