Submission and Restoration in The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish

Robert D. Madison (United States Naval Academy)

Presented at the Cooper Panel of the 1999 Conference of the American Literature Association in Baltimore.

Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper Society Miscellaneous Papers No. 11, August 1999.

Copyright © 1999, James Fenimore Cooper Society.

[May be reproduced for instructional use by individuals or institutions; commercial use prohibited.]

Usually we split discussion of Wept between the minor influence of English history and the centrality of the captivity motif. But in the closing chapter of volume I and the opening one of volume II there is a lot going on that links both strains and suggests another approach to the book (and even another speculation for the “J.R.C.” contribution). In this talk I would like to try to sort out the relationship between Old Mark and Submission as it could possibly have existed in any historical version of the Regicides and what it might have meant to Cooper’s fictional version.

The “stranger” (as he is frequently called) first arrives in the valley of the Wish- ton-Wish in the middle of Chapter II. Before his advent, Cooper has used the first chapter to give his inevitable overview of the state of the American colonies (in this case for the middle of the seventeenth century), to introduce Mark Heathcote, and to move Mark and his family to an imaginary location in Connecticut roughly corresponding to Simsbury. Almost thrown away at this early stage of the book is the description of Old Mark’s wife, his junior twenty years, who dies in childbirth upon their arrival in the colonies:

Like himself, his consort was born of one of those families, which, taking their rise in the franklins of the times of the Edwards and Henrys, had become possessors of hereditary landed estates, that, by their gradually-increasing value, had elevated them to the station of small country gentlemen (I.13)

In Chapter II Cooper also is particular about the origin of the stranger: he speaks “in an English that bespoke a descent from those who dwell in the midland counties of the mother country” (I.34).

The stranger brings news of the successful mission of Winthrop to gain a Royal Charter for the Connecticut colony from Charles II in 1661, dating the beginning of the story in that or the following year (I.39). The stranger is less able to be forthcoming about the condition of the “savages on the borders” (I.41). The interview which follows, in which the stranger seems to take a particular interest in Old Mark’s grandson — also named Mark — might seem a needless interruption to the main question regarding the safety of the isolated community of Wish-ton-Wish. And the rest of Chapter III turns to Old Mark’s belated recognition of the stranger (I.46), and their seclusion in discussion and prayer. The point of view deliberately excludes the reader as well as the rest of the Heathcotes from this interview, leaving the identity of the stranger a mystery.

The common view of the stranger, whom we later learn to call Submission (I.162), is that he is Goffe, one of the English regicides who fled to the Connecticut colony with his regicide father-in-law Whalley. The word “submission” in the seventeenth century — as Cooper might or might not have known — carried in addition to its modern meaning the idea of an admission of guilt (Onions, A Shakespeare Glossary), certainly an interesting application to a fugitive of the Restoration. Unlike the “R/ruth” characters and theme in the play, submission applies not to the character who bears the name, but to “Content” (Old Mark’s son, so named with particular reference to the father’s own “desperate resignation” (I.141), and to the Heathcote family in general. That would make Submission, who flits in and out of the story with supernatural overtones, more of a morality character than an active participant in the affairs of men. Of course, he is active in the affairs of men, repeatedly serving as a savior figure, much in the “Gray Champion” tradition. One might interpret a passage late in Volume I with reference to his service either on the frontier or in the civil wars of his mother country: “’The heathen!’ echoed the stranger, in a deep, steady commanding voice, that had evidently often raised the warning in scenes of even greater emergency. ... ” (I.169).

But the motivation for Submission’s interest in the welfare of the inhabitants of Wish-ton-Wish is not simply his generous spirit (or atonement) and timely, if impersonal, intervention. In another throw-away line in nearly the exact center of the book, Old Mark has just sermonized over the burning of the settlement and the abduction of his granddaughter Ruth; after dismissing his family he lingers with the stranger:

The interview that succeeded was over the resting-place of the dead. The hand of the stranger was firmly clenched in that of the Puritan, and the stern self- command of both appeared to give way, before the regrets of a friendship that had endured through so many trying scenes. ... (I.241).

“Seemed I happier when this hand placed that of a loved bride into mine own. ... ” asks Old Mark, and the astute reader will recognize that Submission, the stranger, is Old Mark’s father-in-law — the father of the young bride who dies on the shores of America, the grandfather of Content, the great-grandfather of the young Mark in whom he had taken such an interest — and, of course, great-grandfather of the captive Ruth, the “wept” of Wish-ton-Wish. At several removes, he also becomes a father-in- law to Conanchet, and becomes the central linking character of the book. Conanchet’s efforts to save Submission (both from white and red vengeance) and Submission’s final (and fruitless) attempt to save Conanchet all resonate with family interest. Submission out- Effinghams the Effinghams of the Pioneers in a more obscure but, perhaps, more organic rendering of the ‘novel of genealogy.’ The attention Cooper thus pays to the center of the book in this case suggests a closer attention to other aspects of the clearly pivotal calm between onslaughts. I would now guess (with no more proof than any previous speculations) that the J.R.C. episode referred to so tantalizingly in the dedication is the westward and northward search of Content for his lost daughter that takes up only two pages at the start of the second volume (II.29-30).

In the midst of a subsequent battle description, Cooper reveals a little more of the relation between Submission and Old Mark — nevertheless still eschewing a direct statement of their relationship: “’No, ‘tis he who led my troop in a far different warfare!’ exclaimed the stranger” (II.89). “Troop,” Of course, refers to cavalry, and we are supposed to infer that they served at least one and possibly both of the two Stuarts before their religious feelings sent them in another direction (“cavaliers that rode in the levies of the first Charles, and of his pusillanimous father,” are the words Old Mark applies to cavalry weapons on I.45).

For most readers, the thematic center of the book will not be the handclasp of the two old Puritans, but the decision of Conanchet, whether out of pity or submission, to give Narrah-mattah back to the whites: at the end of this episode even the young sachem is affected: “Raising the hand, at whose wrist still hung the bloody tomahawk, he veiled his face, and, turning aside, that none might see the weakness of so great a warrior, he wept.”

One wonders if by the time of Conanchet and Submission’s interview at the latter’s eyrie the former knew of the relation by marriage between them. If so, the Narragansett would appreciate the enforced nature of the stranger’s retreat, one born of a desire for secrecy rather than solitude (II.146-49). It is during this interview that Submission explicitly (although in the pseudo-rhetoric of the American native) divulges his role in the trial and execution of Charles I. His bitter exultation hardly fits either definition of “submission,” but he is still reluctant to reveal his real name. As he compares his exile to the burning of Conanchet’s village (presumably in the Great Swamp Fight of 1675), he remarks, “There is a yew-tree and a quiet church-yard in a country afar, where generations of my race sleep in their graves. The place is white with stones that bear the name of ------” (II.184). Although he has incorporated the major aspects of the fugitive Goffe, including the relationship by marriage, with this omission Cooper declines to make a specific association with this particular Regicide. Cooper probably had no more specific source on the Regicides than Benjamin Trumbull’s Complete History of Connecticut (see appendix), but his Yale experience would have left him replete with the folklore of Whalley and Goffe. Nevertheless, Trumbull’s history provides enough leeway that Cooper probably created a third, unnamed, regicide to inhabit the book. Trumbull mentions “the republicans and puritans in general” who fled to the New World after the Restoration (I.243), and Trumbull’s account of Governor Leet’s assistance to Whalley and Goffe may have provided not only the seed of Old Mark’s assistance, but also of the relationship between Submission and Conanchet in “an Indian” who “went off ... in the night” with a warning to the fugitives that the obnoxious Royalists Kellond and Kirk were close on their track (I.244). “The tradition is,” Trumbull continues,

that the pursuivants searched Mr. Davenport’s house, and used him very ill. They also searched other houses, where they suspected that the regicides were concealed. The report is, that they went into the house of one Mrs. Eyers, where they actually were; but she conducted the affair with such composure and address, that they imagined the judges had just made their escape from the house, and they went off without making any search. Several times they narrowly escaped, but never could be taken. (I. 245)

In perhaps the most remarkable of Cooper’s developments of the Regicide legends, Submission has a face-to-face interview with Metacom, or Philip (II.188). More in the nature of Penn than Endicott, his mission fails, and his agency as a savior-figure ends with it. In his ‘farewell address’ to Conanchet, Meek Wolfe uses the word “submission,” and Conanchet earns the name for himself when he turns down Dudley’s offer of aid (II.214-15, 217). When Submission returns (he has literally been up a tree for most of the closing action), he leads the elder Ruth and his grandson (who seems unaware of the relationship to the very end) to Philip’s camp, himself apparently unaware of the execution of Conanchet (II. 224).

In Cooper’s denouement, mystery survives the deaths of the two comrades, with even the date of Submission’s death remaining uncertain: 1680 or 90 in Wept (II.232). The closest Cooper comes to a direct identification occurs in the closing pages of the book:

The same mystery remained about the death of this man, as had clouded so much of his life. His real name, parentage, or character, further than they have been revealed In these pages, was never traced. There still remains, however, in the family of the Heathcotes, an orderly-book of a troop of horse, which tradition says had some connexion with his fortunes. Affixed to this defaced and imperfect document, is a fragment of some diary or journal, which has a reference to the condemnation of Charles I. to the scaffold. (II.232)

Goffe, by the way, died in 1679, according to the Oxford Companion to American Literature. Students of English History in Cooper’s time would have felt the reverberation of the close family relationship among both sets of Puritans, whether or not they accepted Submission as Goffe (or Whalley)

Students of Colonial history — and there must have been a revival in such interest at the time of Cooper’s book — would also have made another immediate association between characters in the book and an historical figure. Metacom and Conanchet are described together twice in the book in visual detail:

Both were well armed, and, as was usual with people of their origin on the war- path, they were clad only in the customary scanty covering of waist- cloths and leggings. The former, however, were of scarlet, and the latter were rich in the fringes and bright colors of Indian ornaments. The elder of the two wore a gay belt of wampum around his head, in the form of a turban; but the younger appeared with a shaven crown, on which nothing but the customary chivalrous scalp-lock was visible. (II.92- 93)

The turbaned warrior, already introduced in these pages, occupied the centre of the group, in the calm and dignified attitude of an Indian who hearkens to or who utters advice. His musket was borne by one who stood in waiting, while the knife and axe were returned to his girdle. He had thrown a light blanket, or it might be better termed a robe of scarlet cloth, over his left shoulder, whence it gracefully fell in folds, leaving the whole of his right arm free, and most of his ample chest exposed to view. ... One skilled in physiognomy might too have thought, that a shade of suppressed discontent was struggling with the self-command of habits that had become part of the nature of the individual. (II.106)

Cooper has drawn the descriptions of both warriors from a single portrait, in Cooper’s time in the possession of the Winthrop family of New York City and believed to be the portrait of Ninigret, a sachem of the Niantics, a group historically inhabiting the land between the Pequots and the Narragansetts and amalgamated with the latter tribe after King Philip’s War. Ann Wolsey, of the John Nicholas Brown Center at Brown University, thinks there is an outside chance the portrait might actually be of a Pequot, but emphasizes that Cooper would have believed it Ninigret (the portrait is now owned by the Rhode Island School of Design). The portrait became very well known in the nineteenth century: the engraving you have [see below] is a tidied-up version, with Ninigret decidedly avec-culottes and with a more vapid expression. Cooper’s description is closer to the original — especially the eyes and facial expression.

The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish is Cooper’s most gentle book. Its two “name” themes of pity (ruth) and submission nearly displace the central violence of Indian attacks — note especially Conanchet’s death at the end, which is decidedly un-Cooperian in its lack of specific detail. Instead, the death scene belongs to Narrah- mattah, the wept of Wish-ton-Wish, as ultimately does the book itself.


From Benjamin Trumbull, A Complete History of Connecticut ... . (New Haven: Maltby, Goldsmith and Co., and Samuel Wadsworth, 1818), Vol. I, pp. 242-247:

Very soon after the Restoration, a large number of the judges of king Charles the first, commonly termed regicides, were apprehended and brought upon their trials, in the Old Baily. Thirty nine were condemned, and ten executed as traitors. Some others, apprehensive of danger, fled out of the kingdom before king Charles II. was proclaimed. Colonels Whalley and Goffe made their escape to New-England. They were brought over by one captain Gooking, and arrived at Boston in July, 1660. Governor Endicott and gentlemen of character, in Boston and its vicinity, treated them with peculiar respect and kindness. They were gentlemen of singular abilities, and had moved in an exalted sphere. Whalley had been a lieutenant general, and Goffe, a major general, in Cromwell’s army. Their manners were elegant, and their appearance grave and dignified, commanding universal respect. They soon went from Boston to Cambridge, where they resided until February. They resorted openly to places of public worship on the Lord’s day, and at other times of public devotion. They were universally esteemed, by all men of character, both civil and religious. But no sooner was it known, that the judges had been condemned as traitors, and that these gentlemen were excepted from the act of pardon, than the principal gentlemen in the Massachusetts began to be alarmed. Governor Endicott called a court of magistrates to consult measures for apprehending them. However, their friends were so numerous that a vote could not, at that time, be obtained to arrest them. Some of the court declared that they would stand by them, others advised them to remove out of the colony.      

Finding themselves unsafe at Cambridge, they came, by the assistance of their friends, to Connecticut. They made their route by Hartford, but went on directly to New-Haven. They arrived about the 27ᵗʰ of March and made Mr. Davenport’s house the place of their residence. They were treated with the same marks of esteem and generous friendship, at New-Haven, which they had received in the Massachusetts. The more the people became acquainted with them, the more they esteemed them, not only as men of great minds, but of unfeigned piety and religion. For some time, they appeared to apprehend themselves as out of danger, and happily situated among a number of pious and agreeable friends. But it was not long before the news of the king’s proclamation against the regicides arrived, requiring, that wherever they might be found, they should be immediately apprehended. The governor of Massachusetts, in consequence of the royal proclamation, issued his warrant to arrest them. As they were certified, by their friends, of all measures adopted respecting them, they removed to Milford. There they appeared openly in the day time, but at night often returned privately to New-Haven, and were generally secreted at Mr. Davenport’s, until about the last of April.

In the mean time, the governor of Massachusetts received a royal mandate requiring him to apprehend them; and a more full and circumstantial account of the condemnation and the execution of the ten regicides, and of the disposition of the court towards them, and the republicans and puritans in general, arrived in New-England. This gave a more general and thorough alarm to the whole country. A feigned search had been made in the Massachusetts, in consequence of the former warrant, for the colonels Whalley and Goffe; but now the governor and magistrates began to view the affair in a more serious point of light; and appear to have been in earnest to secure them. They perceived, that their own personal safety, and the liberties and peace of the country, were concerned in the manner of their conduct towards those unhappy men. They therefore immediately gave a commission to Thomas Kellond and Thomas Kirk, two zealous young royalists, to go through the colonies, as far as the Manhadoes, and make a careful and universal search for them. They pursued the judges, with engagedness, to Hartford; and, repairing to governor Winthrop, were nobly entertained. He assured them, that the colonels made no stay in Connecticut, but went directly to New-Haven. He gave them a warrant and instructions similar to those which they had received from the governor of Massachusetts, and transacted every thing relative to the affair with dispatch. The next day they arrived at Guilford, and opened their business to deputy governor Leet. They acquainted him that, according to the intelligence which they had received, the regicides were then at New-Haven. They desired immediately to be furnished with powers, horses, and assistance to arrest them.      

But here they were very unwelcome messengers. Governor Leet, and the principal gentlemen in Guilford and New-Haven, had no ill opinion of the judges. If they had done wrong in the part they had acted, they viewed it as an error in judgment, and as the fault of great and good men, under peculiar and extraordinary circumstances. They were touched with compassion and sympathy, and had real scruples of conscience with respect to delivering up such men to death. They viewed them as the excellent in the earth, and were afraid to betray them, lest they should be instrumental in shedding innocent blood. They saw no advantage in putting them to death. They were not zealous therefore to assist in apprehending them. Governor Leet said, he had not seen them, in nine weeks, and that he did not believe they were at New-Haven. He read some of the papers relative to the affair with an audible voice. The pursuivants observed to him, that their business required more secrecy, than was consistent with such a reading of their instructions. He delayed furnishing them with horses until the next morning, and utterly declined giving them any powers, until he had consulted with his council, at New-Haven. They complained, that an Indian went off, from Guilford to New-Haven, in the night, and that the governor was so dilatory, the next morning, that a messenger went on to New- Haven, before they could obtain horses for their assistance. The judges were apprised of every transaction respecting them, and they, and their friends, took their measures accordingly. They changed their quarters, from one place to another in the town, as circumstances required; and had faithful friends to give them information, and to conceal them from their enemies.      

On the 13ᵗʰ of March, the pursuivants came to New-Haven, and governor Leet arrived in town, soon after them, to consult his council. They acquainted him, that, from the information which they had received, they were persuaded, that the judges were yet in the town, and pressed him and the magistrates to give them a warrant and assistance, to arrest them, without any further delay. But after the governor and his council had been together five or six hours, they dispersed, without doing any thing relative to the affair. The governor declared, that they could not act without calling a general assembly of the freemen. Kellond and Kirk observed to him, that the other governors had not stood upon such niceties; that the honor and justice of his majesty were concerned, and that he would highly resent the concealment and abetting of such traitors and regicides. They demanded whether he, and his council, would own and honour his majesty? The governor replied, we do honour his majesty, but have tender consciences, and wish first to know whether he will own us. *      

The tradition is, that the pursuivants searched Mr. Davenport’s house, and used him very ill. They also searched other houses, where they suspected that the regicides were concealed. The report is, that they went into the house of one Mrs. Eyers, where they actually were; but she conducted the affair with such composure and address, that they imagined the judges had just made their escape from the house, and they went off without making any search. It is said, that once, when the pursuers passed the neck bridge, the judges concealed themselves under it. Several times they narrowly escaped, but never could be taken.      

These zealous royalists, not finding the judges in New-Haven, prosecuted their journey to the Dutch settlements, and made interest with Stuyvesant, the Dutch governor, against them. He promised them, that, if the judges should be found within his jurisdiction, he would give them immediate intelligence, and that he would prohibit all ships and vessels from transporting them. Having thus zealously prosecuted the business of their commission, they returned to Boston, and reported the reception which they had met with at Guilford and New-Haven.      

Upon this report, a letter was written by secretary Rawson, in the name of the general court of Massachusetts, to governor Leet and his council, on the subject. It represented, that many complaints had been exhibited in England against the colonies, and that they were in great danger. It was observed, that one great source of complaint, was their giving such entertainment to the regicides, and their inattention to his majesty’s warrant for arresting them. This was represented as an affair which hazarded the liberties of all the colonies, and especially those of New-Haven. It was intimated, that the safety of particular persons, no less than that of the colony, was in danger. It was insisted, that the only way to expiate their offence, and save themselves harmless, was, without delay, to apprehend the delinquents. Indeed, the court urged, that not only their own safety and welfare, but the essential interests of their neighbours, demanded their indefatigable exertions to exculpate themselves.

Colonels Whalley and Goffe, after the search which had been made for them at New- Haven, left Mr. Davenport’s, and took up their quarters at Mr. William Jones’s, son in law to governor Eaton, and, afterwards, deputy governor of New-Haven and Connecticut. There they secreted themselves until the 11ᵗʰ of May. Thence they removed to a mill in the environs of the town. For a short time, they made their quarters in the woods, and then fixed them in a cave in the side of a hill, which they named Providence Hill. They had some other places of resort, to which they retired as occasion made it necessary; but this was, generally, the place of their residence until the 19ᵗʰ of August. ** When the weather was bad, they lodged, at night, in a neighbouring house. It is not improbable, that, sometimes, when it could be done with safety, they made visits to their friends at New-Haven.      

Indeed, to prevent any damage to Mr. Davenport, or the colony, they once, or more, came into the town openly, and offered to deliver up themselves to save their friends. It seems it was fully expected, at that time, that they would have done it voluntarily. But their friends neither desired, nor advised them, by any means, to adopt so dangerous a measure. They hoped to save themselves and the colony harmless, without such a sacrifice. The magistrates were greatly blamed for not apprehending them, at this time in particular. Secretary Rawson, in a letter of his to governor Leet, writes, “How ill this will be taken, is not difficult to imagine; to be sure not well. Nay, will not all men condemn you as wanting to yourselves?” The general court of Massachusetts further acquainted governor Leet, that the colonies were criminated for making no application to the king, since his restoration, and for not proclaiming him as their king. The court, in their letter, observed, that it was highly necessary that they should send an agent to answer for them at the court of England.      

On the reception of this intelligence, governor Leet convoked the general court, and laid the letters before them. After much debate, it was concluded to address a letter to the general court, exculpating the colony. With respect to the regicides, they declared, that they had neither disowned nor slighted the king nor his authority; and that the apprehending of them was not defeated by any delay of theirs, as they had made their escape before the king’s warrant arrived in the colony. They alledged, that the pursuers neglected their business, to attend upon the governor and his council, for which they had no authority. Besides, they pleaded scruples of conscience, and fear of unfaithfulness to the people, who had given them all their power; and to whom they were bound by solemn oath. Further, they insisted, that acting upon the warrant would have been owning a general governor, and dangerous to the liberties of the people. To him they said the warrant was directed, and though other magistrates were mentioned, yet they were considered only as officers under him.

     With reference to the magistrates not arresting the judges, when they appeared openly in the town, they said, it was owing to a full persuasion that they would certainly surrender themselves, according to their promise. They affirmed, that they had used all diligence with those who had shown them kindness, to persuade them to deliver them up; that they were ignorant where they were, and that they did not believe that they were in the colony. They promised, that they would exert themselves to arrest and secure them, if an opportunity should present.


* Report of Kellond and Kirk to governor Endicott; to which they gave oath, in the presence of the governor and his council.

** About this time they removed to Milford, where they continued about two years. On the arrival of the king’s commissioners in New-England, they retired again to their cave for a short time, and about the 13ᵗʰ of October, 1664, removed to Hadley. As the late Rev. President Stiles has written their history, no notice will be taken of it in this work, further than is connected with the affairs of the colony.