|Always More Pilgrim Books – What’s Next? – A Bibliographical Survey|
|Written by Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs|
(A Lecture presented at the Banquet of the Triennial Meeting of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, September 13, 2011.)
In 1980, I joined the staff of the Leiden Archives as a historian specialized in the cultural history of Leiden before 1575. The Chief Archivist asked what I knew about the Pilgrims, to which I replied, “Nothing.” “Oh, well,” was the response, “we have American tourists and you can deal with them, because your English is better than ours. But,” he said, “don’t waste your time on any research about the Pilgrims – that’s all been done already.”
That’s how my study of your ancestors began. Within fifteen minutes I had found a Pilgrim document that had not been noticed – because I was aware of a series of archival records of minor court cases that had not been used for any historical research before my own earlier study of artistic activity in sixteenth-century LeidenSee Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs, Cornelis Engebrechtsz.’s Leiden, Studies in Cultural History. Assen: Van Gorcum, 1979; Bangs, “Tapestry Weaving before the Reformation: the Leiden Studios,” Renaissance en reformatie en de kunst in de Noordelijke Nederlanden, Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 37. Haarlem: Fibula – van Dishoeck, 1986, pp. 225-240.(Some of the pages were still stuck shut from drying ink on facing pages – never opened until my research.) The eventual result of my re-examination of the Leiden archives looking for Pilgrim material can be read in several articles and in my book, Strangers and Pilgrims, Travellers and Sojourners, published by the General Society of Mayflower Descendants in 2009.
This evening I’d like to lead us on a quick browse in the library, curious about when it was that we first thought we knew everything there was to know about the Pilgrims already, but also curious as to whether in fact there is more to learn. Or, to put it differently, why have we ever needed another book about the Pilgrims? Why would we ever need another one, still?
I. The Primary Sources for the Pilgrim Story
Our major sources for the early years of Plymouth Colony are (1) “Mourt’s Relation,” published in 1622 and containing contributions by George Morton, John Robinson, Robert Cushman, William Bradford, and Edward Winslow; (2) William Bradford’s manuscript “Of Plymouth Plantation”; and (3) Edward Winslow’s Good Newes from New England (1624). Some further information is included in Winslow’s (4) Hypocrisie Unmasked (1646).Full publication information is found in the bibliography of Strangers and Pilgrims, Travellers and Sojourners – Leiden and the Foundations of Plymouth Plantation.
Mourt’s Relation and Winslow’s Good Newes became very rare in New England, having been published in London. Bradford’s manuscript remained unpublished until the nineteenth century; but major parts were extracted by Nathaniel Morton for his New England’s Memorial (1669) and also used by Cotton Mather (Magnalia Christi Americana, 1702), Thomas Prince (A Chronological History of New England, 1736), and William Hubbard (A General History of New England, late 17th-cent. ms. published in 1815).William Hubbard’s General History was published from the ms. by the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1815. Hubbard also had the use of Bradford’s ms. when preparing his previous version with its more restricted topic, A Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians in New-England: from the First Planting thereof in the year 1607. To this Present Year 1677. But chiefly of the late Troubles in the Two Last Years, 1675. And 1676.: To which is added a Discourse about the Warre with the Pequods in the year 1637. Boston: John Foster, 1677. Reprinted several times in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Increase Mather also used Bradford’s manuscript and Winslow’s published reports in composing his history of the Pequot War (A Relation of the Troubles which have hapned in New-England, 1677).
Nathaniel Morton’s New England’s Memorial gives what seems to be a complete, coherent story. Prince’s extracts from Bradford, however, include material not in Nathaniel Morton, while Hubbard included information not in either Morton or Prince.
Bradford’s history was not forgotten. After its appearance in 1669, Nathaniel Morton’s New England’s Memorial was re-issued in 1721 with a supplement by Josiah Cotton, Plymouth’s Register of Deeds. That edition was reprinted in 1772 and again in early 1826. The fifth edition appeared at the end of 1826, with extensive notes by John Davis that incorporate information from Prince and Hubbard, as well as details from the Plymouth Colony Records, manuscripts of which Davis was the keeper. These editions of Nathaniel Morton’s New England’s Memorial kept Bradford’s material in public view. Anyone claiming that Bradford’s phrase “They knew they were pilgrims” was rediscovered in the nineteenth century (and consequently, that the term “pilgrim” is relatively recent when applied to these colonists) has not noticed that it was part of Nathaniel Morton’s New England’s Memorial and thus was continuously in print since 1669.For example, George F. Willison, Saints and Strangers, Being the Lives of the Pilgrim Fathers & Their Families, with Their Friends & Foes; & an Account of Their Posthumous Wanderings in Limbo, Their Final Resurrection & Rise to Glory, & the Strange Pilgrimages of Plymouth Rock. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1945, wrote that “for two hundred years the world was little the wiser for anything that Bradford had written...”[p.4]; and that “in the history and the saga of the Pilgrims, both curiously tangled tales, surely nothing is more curious than this – that their very name, ‘the Pilgrims,’ is little more than a century old [in 1945], having come into common usage since 1840.” [p. 2]. James Deetz and Patricia Scott Deetz, The Times of Their Lives, Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company, 2000, p. xiii; “The term ‘Pilgrim’ is one that we are at pains to avoid using although it has become an apparently inextricable part of the story of Plymouth Colony and the American origin myth, but the people who settled in early Plymouth were not referred to as ‘Pilgrims’ until the end of the eighteenth century.” In 1793, “the early Plymouth settlers were first referred to as ‘pilgrims’ in a sermon delivered in Plymouth by the Rev. Chandler Robbins, who used a phrase from a copy of Bradford’s history, ‘but they knew they were pilgrims,’ a quotation from the New Testament.” The Deetzes correctly observe that Bradford used the term “in a generic sense, and in no way singling out the Plymouth party as the sole bearer of the name.” James Loewen (author of the book Lies My Teacher Told Me), in "The Truth About the First Thanksgiving," writes that "no one even called them 'Pilgrims' until the 1870s."
II. Nineteenth-Century Histories
Davis’s editorial additions inspired a broader approach with reference to some sources outside Plymouth. The result in 1830 was Francis Baylies’s, An Historical Memoir of the Colony of New Plymouth. Baylies consulted all the previously published material, plus numerous manuscripts in various New England collections outside Plymouth, such as the Massachusetts Historical Society, itemizing all in his introduction.Francis Baylies, An Historical Memoir of the Colony of New Plymouth, From the Flight of the Pilgrims into Holland in the Year 1608, to the Union of that Colony with Massachusetts in 1692. Boston: Hilliard, Gray, Little, and Wilkins, 1830. He characterized his book as “a collection of historical facts which are scattered through many works,” calling it “the first attempt to embody a connected history of the most ancient colony in New-England.” He claimed no novelty for the work regarding historical events, merely the utility of bringing together dispersed information.
A few years after Davis’s edition of New England’s Memorial, and Baylies’s Historical Memoir, James Thacher re-worked the information and added more local material from the Plymouth Colony Records to produce the first History of the Town of Plymouth, from 1620 to the present time (1832).James Thacher, History of the Town of Plymouth, from its first settlement in 1620, to the present time: with a concise History of the Aborigines of New England, and their Wars with the English, &c. Boston: Marsh, Capen & Lyon, 1832. Thacher was the first author to claim (in his “Preface”) that everything important was already known (or, in any case, that well-read people thought so): “Those who have reviewed the numerous local histories produced by learned antiquarians, may imagine that little remains of the pilgrim story for the exercise of another pen, but the gleanings which escape the research, or would not comport with the views of the technical historian, may yet be found to bear a peculiar interest in a memoir of less import, and should not be lost to society.”
Some new details of minor importance thus justify Thacher’s new book; and his book presents psychological character studies and an assessment of the contributions to society made by the Pilgrims. Thacher says that he “endeavored to exhibit a faithful delineation of the characters of our venerated fathers, from whom we inherit civil and religious foundations incomparably the wisest and best that ever a political body bequeathed to their posterity.”
Thacher takes his topic well beyond colony history; over half the book covers people and events of the 18th and 19th centuries. Moreover, Thacher departs from chronological narrative and separates some topics, such as church history, and what he calls the “history of the Aborigines of New England,” to treat them as appendices.
Thacher’s book did not satisfy the curiosity of everyone, despite the author’s attempts at comprehensiveness. In 1834, Priscilla Cotton of Plymouth wrote to her brother Elkanah Watson that Thacher’s history was “not so replete with information as expected, though I know not what we did expect.”New York State Archives, Albany: Elkanah Watson Papers, GB 13294, Box 4, folder 10, (2) letter from Priscilla (Watson) Cotton, July 31, 1834.
Next, in 1841, we have a compilation of original texts from the seventeenth century, Alexander Young’s, Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers.Alexander Young, Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers of the Colony of Plymouth from 1602 to 1625. 1st ed. Boston: Little & Brown, 1841; 2nd ed., 1844. Young published sections from Bradford’s “Of Plymouth Plantation” that had not been included by previous authors. He had transcribed them from the Plymouth church records into which they had been copied. Young was the first historian to make thorough use of those records. Bradford’s original manuscript was then still lost. Young provided what he described as the first accurate re-print of Mourt’s Relation. Further, he reprinted Robert Cushman’s “Discourse” or “Sermon on Self-Love” (Nov. 1621).Cushman’s sermon had been published in London in 1622; it was republished in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1724, 1785, 1788, and 1815. He republished Winslow’s Good Newes from New England. He also included Winslow’s “Brief Narration of the true grounds or cause of the first planting of New England” (1646), as well as Bradford’s “Dialogue” (never before printed, copied from a Bradford ms. in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society and from a transcription in Plymouth church records). He was able to publish Bradford’s memoir of Brewster (part of Bradford’s manuscript already published in Davis’s notes to Nathaniel Morton), together with “some letters of John Robinson, and of the Pilgrims at Leyden and Plymouth, procured from the records of the Plymouth Church and from Governor Bradford’s Letter Book.”
Young regarded “these documents as the only authentic chronicles of those times ...” [Preface, p. xi].
Using Morton’s New England’s Memorial and Young’s Chronicles, W. H. Bartlett constructed a coherent narrative (1853); but not everything was accurate (as we now know from information that subsequently came to light).W. H. Bartlett, The Pilgrim Fathers, or The Founders of New England in the Reign of James the First. London: Arthur Hall, Virtue & Co., 1853. For example, Bartlett believed that the “Mayflower” came across to Delfshaven to pick up the Pilgrims, because Morton’s editing of Bradford’s material drastically shortens that part of the story to the point of ambiguity. Bartlett’s book is illustrated with an interesting lithograph showing an imaginary scene of the “Speedwell” and the “Mayflower” in Delfshaven, drawn after a recent painting whose location is now unknown.
So, if Morton’s New England’s Memorial and Young’s Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers were the only authentic chronicles of those times, the publication of the Plymouth Colony Records – twelve volumes – in 1855-1861 must have come as an exciting surprise!Nathaniel B. Shurtleff and David Pulsifer (eds.), Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England. Boston: William White, 1855-1861. And the rediscovery of Bradford’s manuscript “Of Plymouth Plantation” in 1855 with its publication (by the Massachusetts Historical Society) the next year created a sensational stimulus for attention to the Pilgrim story. William S. Russell, who in 1851 had issued a useful Guide to Plymouth containing much historical detail, had to bring out a second, revised edition in 1855, before the full content of Bradford’s manuscript was available but in awareness of the great discovery.William S. Russell, Pilgrim Memorials, and Guide to Plymouth, with a Lithographic Map, and Eight Copperplate Engravings. Boston: Crosby, Nichols, and Co., 2nd ed., 1855.
The circumstantial, almost anecdotal information in some of the Plymouth Colony Records entries called attention to aspects of daily life that appealed to the romantic imagination. We see this new interest in Longfellow’s poem, The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858), and, later, in Jane Goodwin Austin’s novel, Standish of Standish (1889). Longfellow relied on family traditions that were reported and discussed at length in Russell’s Pilgrim Memorials and Guide to Plymouth, for his story of the Courtship.
Jane Goodwin Austin, before her Standish novel, had pioneered a new genre of Pilgrim story-telling. With her short story, “William Bradford’s Love Life” (1869) she began the tradition of making things up to achieve a dramatic effect and a narrative that the author wished had been true. Unrestrained in her invention of personal psychological characterization for various historical actors, she’s principally significant as the first author to concoct fake Pilgrim documents. Her contribution was the entirely imaginary “Dorothy Bradford’s Journal,” together with some invented correspondence. She called this falsification “some precious letters, and a few leaves of a private diary in the faint and timid manuscript of a woman.” Without those, she told her readers, her “story had never been written, or had been based upon mere imaginings, instead of saddest and most undoubted fact.” Thus she convinced many readers of the veracity of her unsupported claim that Dorothy Bradford committed suicide in despair because her husband loved another.Jane Goodwin Austin wrote in the introduction to her collected short stories (1892) that when she wrote “The Love Life of William Bradford” she was “in the first flush of delight and surprise at discovering the wealth of romance imbedded in that ‘Forefathers’ Rock’ which to many observers still appears a mere mass of granite, stern, cold, and sad. Perhaps the joy of this discovery, working upon a youthful imagination and untried powers, may have induced a certain fermentation of fancy, suggesting rather what ‘might have been,’ than what is known to have been.” But she was scarcely apologetic. Instead, she recalled “with rather rueful mirth the reproof received from an aged relative, who, after vainly inquiring for ‘the documents in the case’ of William Bradford, remarked; - ‘You have no right to defraud people by pretending to have what you have not.’” In later stories, she claimed that she was more careful distinguishing fact from fiction. The falsehood created by Austin lives on as a legend considered worth mentioning. Nathaniel Philbrick, for example, described the bleak circumstances of Cape Cod confronting new colonists a year after Dorothy’s death before commenting that, “If Dorothy experienced just a portion of the terror and sense of abandonment that gripped these settlers, she may have felt that suicide was her only choice.” His grudging concession that there is no evidence for suicide is found in the peculiar next sentence: “Even if his wife’s death had been unintentional, Bradford believed that God controlled what happened on earth.” (Nathaniel Philbrick, Mayflower, A Story of Courage, Community, and War. New York: Viking, 2006, p. 77).
Ebenezer Peirce continued in this new direction in 1878.Ebenezer W. Peirce, Indian History, Biography and Genealogy, Pertaining to the Good Sachem Massasoit of the Wampanoag Tribe and his Descendants. North Abington, Massachusetts: Zerviah Gould Mitchel, 1878. He misrepresented the available evidence and transformed the Pilgrims into evil land thieves whose personalities displayed unrelieved nastiness, corruption, and dishonor. Taking aim at Christian hypocrisy (although more applicable to Victorian hypocrisy than to the documented actions of the Pilgrims), Peirce satisfied the desire for a history of the Pilgrims’ arrival and colonization that presented an Indian’s point of view, namely, the view of the woman who commissioned Peirce’s book, Zerviah Mitchell, herself engaged in years of fighting against attempts to deprive her of her rights to hereditary land. While Peirce did not publish fake documents, he claimed his story had high authority because he supposedly had access to an arcane oral tradition preserved among the Wampanoags, even though any well informed reader can see that every event, every aspect of his story, is derived from published sources by colonial authors, merely given an anti-Pilgrim slant and surrounded by moralizing rhetorical ranting.
Inventing supportive oral tradition and retelling the Pilgrims’ narrative as a modern author would like the Indians to have perceived it – like inventing fake documents – has pleased some readers ever since. A recent example is seen in the retelling of the Pilgrim story by Anthony Pollard, otherwise known as Nanepashemet, (and spiritually related to Grey Owl).Nanepashemet’s efforts resulted in an extensive made-up history of the Wampanoags, formerly published online by Plimoth Plantation, subsequently removed in an extensive alteration to the content of the museum’s website (together with removal of most historical information). He portrayed the virtuous ability of the Wampanoags to live in a “harmonious relationship”with the natural environment., which he described as a “pervasive spirit of harmony and reciprocity [that] was reflected in the human community as well.” Social conflict (fighting) “was just part of the search for harmony when conditions had become intolerable or justice was denied.” Like Peirce’s version, it was a re-telling of published colonial sources from an imaginary Indian point of view. Still available is Paula Peters’s edited version of Nanepashemet’s re-telling of the life of Squanto (Tisquantum). She praises Nanepashemet’s literary style as a unique creation of a voice that “conveys the sense of a person learning to communicate in a new language and negotiate unfamiliar worlds.” The result is a kind of pidgin English once seen in Hollywood portrayals of Indians. The level appears appropriate for third graders; see Nanepashemet, with introduction by Paula Peters, “Tisquantum, The Real Story of Squanto, From Captive to Diplomat,” Plimoth Life, vol. 9, nr. 1 (2010), pp. 8-11.
Returning to the heroically virtuous psychological fiction of Jane G. Austin, recently there’s the fake Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1623, published (and apparently invented) by William Federer and/or David Barton.See my discussion of this in the Barton Chronicles: http://candst.tripod.com/bartchron.htm
Further, I mention this in a broader context in “Thanksgiving on the Net: Roast Bull with Cranberry Sauce,” published online at: http://www.sail1620.org/history/articles/93-roast-bull-cranberry-sauce.html The fake proclamation called for Thanksgiving to be held “on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.” The inventor of this didn’t bother to find out that November 29 was not a Thursday in 1623, that the Pilgrims never dated anything in relation to Plymouth Rock, and that their pastor John Robinson was in Leiden, not Plymouth, in 1623.
Jane Goodwin Austin’s brother John Goodwin turned back from romantic fantasy, calling for reliance on genuine historical record in his lectures during the 1870s and in his posthumously published book: The Pilgrim Republic.John A. Goodwin, The Pilgrim Republic, An Historical Review of the Colony of New Plymouth, Sketches of the Rise of other New England Settlements, The History of Congregationalism, and the Creeds of the Period. Boston: Ticknor & Co., 1888. The text of one speech is published: John A. Goodwin, The Pilgrim Fathers: Oration Delivered before the City Council and Citizens of Lowell [Massachusetts], December 22, 1876. Lowell: Penhallow Print Co., 1877. In the speech he included his sister among recent authors who felt no need to base their writings on historical evidence. Goodwin’s introduction has a detailed analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of previous publications, all of which he thought would have been improved if their authors had had the benefit of the rediscovery of Bradford’s complete manuscript in 1855, as well as the accurate republication of Mourt’s Relation, etc. Goodwin does not claim to have found anything new, however.
He writes [p. xix], “The present author … claims to be only a compiler, not a discoverer; for though he has for many years traversed the Old Colony, by land and by sea, he has found nothing hitherto unknown. Doubtless, in neglected places are still resting Pilgrim letters, records, legal papers, and account-books, which would connect into a chain various detached links of history; but none of them have rewarded the author's search.”
He describes the structure of his presentation, consciously working out what had evidently been an afterthought in Thacher. Goodwin says [p. xxi], “Through the first half of the volume an effort has been made to keep all matters in their chronological order ; in the latter portion it has been thought better to proceed according to detached subjects rather than succession of dates.”
(We’ll see this framework again in Stratton, and, deprived of narrative, in Deetz and Deetz, discussed below.)
Five years before John Goodwin’s book first appeared, William T. Davis came out with a new town history to replace Thacher – Ancient Landmarks of Plymouth.William T. Davis, Ancient Landmarks of Plymouth, Part I, Historical Sketches and Titles of Estates; Part II, Genealogical Register of Plymouth Families. Boston: A. Williams & Co., 1883. A year later, enlarging the topic, Duane Hamilton Hurd compiled and edited a broader volume – The History of Plymouth County, Massachusetts.Duane Hamilton Hurd, The History of Plymouth County, Massachusetts, with Biographical Sketches of Many of its Pioneers and Prominent Men. Philadelphia: Lippencott, 1884. Hurd restricted his attention to the history of what fell within the boundaries of Plymouth County when he was putting the book together. Some other book would have to cover Barnstable County, etc. Although very complete and enlarged with discrete local town histories by local authors, this is a cut-and-paste job if there ever was one. William T. Davis is the most prominent contributor, because the town of Plymouth received pre-eminent attention. The introductory colony history unanalytically excerpts Bradford and Winslow, besides reprinting long documents from the Plymouth Colony Records series. Hurd nonetheless introduced a new framework for the story: the progressive and successful achievements of his own day are seen to be the creative synthesis of a dichotomy, in his view, a dichotomy between religion and business. [Hurd, p. 107] “It is quite time that the long-accepted idea that the Pilgrims were a set of narrow, bigoted, unworldly religious zealots was exploded ... in Holland ... they became what they ever afterwards were, shrewd, practical, far-seeing business men.” The thesis (religion) met its antithesis (Dutch commercial enterprise) culminating in a synthesis (successful society, worthy to be the ancestor of today’s American businessmen). This structure will return in different historical costumes.
Next, in 1897, we have Edward Arber’s The Story of the Pilgrim Fathers, 1606-1623.Edward Arber, The Story of the Pilgrim Fathers, 1606-1623, as told by Themselves, their Friends, and their Enemies. London: Ward and Downey; Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1897. Like Young’s, Arber’s book brings together original texts from the seventeenth century. Arber informs his readers [p. 8] that, “At this time of day, to hope to add anything absolutely new, to the sum of what is already known about the Pilgrim Fathers, is like hoping to find the Philosopher’s Stone.” He had found one pebble and was glad for it.Arber’s discovery was the statement of claims related to the capture of the “Fortune” by French pirates in January, 1622, on its return voyage from Plymouth Colony, recorded in State Papers, Colonial, V., no. 122. Arber published this on pp. 506-508 of his book. His book should be better, nonetheless, than all those that preceded it, because, he assures us, “we are absolutely impartial” Then he goes on to say [p. 5], “Perhaps it may be as well to warn the young Reader ... that the reproaches hurled ... at the then new school of Protestant thinkers, called Arminians or Remonstrants, are simply so much unadulterated ignorance and fanaticism.” (One wonders what he might have said if he had not been so impartial!)
If he didn’t discover anything “absolutely new,” nonetheless Arber initiated a practice that became standard in subsequent books about the Pilgrims when he announced [pp. 1-2] his intention “ ... to explode whatever myths we may happen to have met with.”
III. Twentieth-Century Repetition and Revision
Just a few years later (1905) appeared H. M. Dexter and M. Dexter, The England and Holland of the Pilgrims.Henry Martyn Dexter and Morton Dexter, The England and Holland of the Pilgrims. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1905. Excellent for its time – there’s a lot of new information from previously unused archival sources in England and Holland. For example, H. M. Dexter mentions that the boat-stranding in 1608 was probably at Stallingborough Flats, next to Immingham, which means that the Dexters used the Calendars of State Papers published in England in the nineteenth century that provide this information and indicate that it was the Gainsborough contingent, not those from Scrooby, who stranded. Moreover, a great deal of attention is given to English political and eccelsiastical history to establish the context out of which the Pilgrims arose (beyond Bradford’s own comments). The Dexters’ text gives a third of the book (200 pages) to a study of the rise of English Protestantism. But their book is not about the history of Plymouth Colony.
As if nothing new could be added, Everyman’s Library published a new volume repeating Alexander Young’s title – Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers (1910, reprinted 1917).John Masefield (ed.), Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers (= Everyman’s Library, nr. 480). London: J. M. Dent & Sons; New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1910. John Masefield provided an insubstantial introduction to the republication of writings by Nathaniel Morton, William Bradford, Edward Winslow, John Smith, and John Cotton, mostly taken from Young’s edition.
Coming up to the tercentenary in 1920, we have Roland Usher, The Pilgrims and their History, published in anticipation in 1918.Roland G. Usher, The Pilgrims and their History. New York: Macmillan, 1918. In his preface (p. vii), Usher announced with evident self-satisfaction, “I have attempted a new study of the Pilgrims and their history from the sources.” He acknowledges that he “was unable to find much new evidence of prime importance,” but, nonetheless, he thought it was important that his research could be said, “to exclude from further consideration the possibility of ascertaining information about the Pilgrims from the evidence concerning the Puritan Movement in England from 1580 to 1610, and from that regarding the history of the Established Church for the same period.” He placed what was already known about the Pilgrims, “in its relation to the more recent evidence concerning English church history.” He thought he had demonstrated that the Pilgrims had not been unduly persecuted by the episcopal party in the Church of England. And he took pride in having “utilized for the first time the Plymouth First Church records and many Plymouth wills, which contain much of great value on economic and social history.”
We may remember that John Davis and Alexander Young had already quoted at length from the Plymouth First Church records.
Usher modestly continued, “No further accession of evidence is now probable and it is therefore an important fact, though due to no merit of mine, that the narrative presented in these pages possesses a certain aspect of finality.” No further books about the Pilgrims should have been necessary.
Usher justifies his adding to the pile of Pilgrim books: [p. viii] “perhaps the chief excuse for this volume lies in the lack hitherto of a consistent attempt to present the story as a whole, with serious attention to proportion, emphasis, and perspective. Such valuable books as those of Dexter, Arber, or Ames have emphasized only one period or one aspect of the story, while in other books the genealogical information has fairly dwarfed the narrative.”Ames = Azel Ames, The Mayflower and her Log, July 15, 1620 – May 6, 1621, Chiefly from Original Sources. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1901. Baylies, in 1830, had presented his Historical Memoir of Plymouth Colony as “the first attempt to embody a connected history of the most ancient colony in New-England.” Perhaps he wasn’t serious enough for Usher’s taste.
With a voice of authority, Professor Usher announces to us [pp. 15-16] that, “There seems now to be no collection of material in England, Holland, or America, even remotely relevant, that has not been thoroughly ransacked for Pilgrim material. Something like finality may therefore be assumed for the main features of the narrative as given in this volume.” (The scholarly humility is an example to us all!)
But 1918 was not yet 1920. In addition to the fascinating commemorative programs surrounding the celebration (held a year later, because Plymouth couldn’t get its act together on time), the tercentenary brought forth Arthur Lord’s book, Plymouth and the Pilgrims, 1920. In addition to his retelling of familiar stories from Bradford, in his three lectures, Lord rather politely mentions his disagreement with Usher’s pro-establishment claim that the Pilgrims were in no way persecuted in England by the state church. But besides that corrective comment, Lord does not pretend to add anything new in 1920.
Twenty-five years later, a new voice was heard: George Willison, Saints and Strangers, 1945.George F. Willison, Saints and Strangers, Being the Lives of the Pilgrim Fathers & Their Families, with Their Friends & Foes; & an Account of Their Posthumous Wanderings in Limbo, Their Final Resurrection & Rise to Glory, & the Strange Pilgrimages of Plymouth Rock. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1945. What George Willison contributed was a sense of structure that might make the vast quantity of major and minor actions and events understandable: Thesis (religious fanatics from Leiden), Antithesis (secular, profit-driven add-ons from England), and Synthesis (a thriving community recognizably akin to modern American middle-class suburbia, triumphing against evil and bringing in peace, the book being published as World War II was reaching its conclusion). The Pilgrims shine forth as an example to victorious America. Willison underscored the importance of his synthetic analysis by making the antithetical antagonists the title of his book, Saints and Strangers.Willison’s synthetic social analysis is inaccurate; see my Strangers and Pilgrims, Travellers and Sojourners – Leiden and the Foundations of Plymouth Plantation. Plymouth: General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 2009, index s.v. Willison. Willison’s conception of the colony’s history as the embodiment of conflict overcome has become a presupposition of many subsequent books about the Pilgrims.Deetz and Deetz, The Times of Their Lives, p. 14: “The Plymouth settlers used several terms to designate themselves. One pair of the terms relates to the makeup of the Mayflower’s passengers. A minority among them were serious dissenters against the established church, the majority made the crossing in the hope of improving their lot over what it had been in England, where chronic unemployment and increasing shortage of land was making life very difficult for many. The former group was referred to as “Saints,” the latter as “Strangers.”
Exciting and popular the book certainly is, but careful it is not. As an example, let us consider his description of Myles Standish’s religion [p. 132]: “Alone of the Pilgrim leaders, he never joined the church at Plymouth. His name is conspicuously absent from its records and rolls. Nowhere is he listed among the communicants.” Willison implies Standish was Roman Catholic: “it is interesting at least that the Standishes of Standish and all the branches of that family had never accepted Protestantism in any form, steadfastly adhering to their old Roman Catholic faith.” This is inaccurate for the Manx branch of the Standish family, but, for the moment, it is more worth noting that the Plymouth church’s records and rolls, including lists of communicants, do not begin until several years after Standish had moved away to Duxbury and died.On Standish, see my article, “Myles Standish, Born Where? The State of the Question,” Mayflower Quarterly 72 (2006), pp. 133-159; also published online at: http://www.sail1620.org/history/biographies.html
Samuel Eliot Morison attempted to return to the sources by making them presentable in an idiom cleared of the rhetorical underbrush of King James’s English. With his edition of Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation (1952), Morison wanted to present Bradford’s story to a modern public, to provide “a text which the ordinary intelligent reader can peruse with ease and pleasure.”[p. viii] But Morison thought that part of Bradford’s narrative was intrinsically boring, so he banished a quarter of the text – especially financial and religious history – to appendix material at the back.Caleb Johnson’s edition is, no doubt, far superior in presenting a modernized text with no omissions or re-arrangements: William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation, Along with the full text of the Pilgrims’ Journals for their first year at Plymouth. Bloomington: Xlibris, 2006. Bradford’s material presented in Morison’s appendices is omitted from the popular Modern Library paperback edition (1981) of Morison’s edition of Bradford’s “Of Plymouth Plantation.”
The desire to tell the story to a broad audience resulted, additionally, in 1956, in Morison’s The Story of the ‘Old Colony’ of New Plymouth, aimed at a young, non-scholarly readership.Samuel Eliot Morison, The Story of the “Old Colony,” of New Plymouth [1620-1692]. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956. It presents at least one novel observation: He says about Scituate, [p. 141] “In spite of the fact that about half the population removed to Barnstable on Cape Cod in 1640, Scituate soon became, and long remained, the richest town in the Old Colony.” Should this not mean something to anyone writing a history of the colony? Unfortunately, Morison did nothing to pursue the implications of his observation about Scituate, and his hint has gone unnoticed.
Willison’s views resurfaced in 1961 in another book for young readers – Feenie Ziner’s The Pilgrims and Plymouth Colony, published by American Heritage.The Editors of American Heritage, The Magazine of History, narrative by Feenie Ziner “in collaboration with George F. Willison,” The Pilgrims and Plymouth Colony. New York: American Heritage Publishers, 1961; republished, New York: Harper & Row, 1965. Explaining the Mayflower Compact as a document whose purpose was to resolve conflict between “Saints” and “Strangers,” Ziner’s Willisonian text claims [p.73 (1965 ed.)] that “The reading of the Compact was followed by tense discussion. John Carver was the first to step up and sign. The leading Saints followed him. There was a long pause. Would the Strangers accept the agreement? The fate of the settlement hung on their decision.” No historical evidence exists to justify this fantasy of overwrought emotions and political danger.
Morison’s vision that the modern reader needed easily accessible writing style reappeared the next year in a book prepared with advice from Plimoth Plantation: E. Brooks Smith’s adaptation of Bradford’s narrative.Edric Brooks Smith and Robert Meredith (adaptors and editors), Pilgrim Courage, From a First-hand Account by William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth Colony, And Passages from the Journals of William Bradford and Edward Winslow. Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown and Company, 1962
In 1963, Ruth McIntyre’s study of Plymouth Colony finances was published by Plimoth Plantation.Ruth A. McIntyre, Debts Hopeful and Desperate, Financing the Plymouth Colony. Plymouth: Plimoth Plantation, 1963. Clearly written, and a significant addition to our understanding, the book was not a history of the colony. It was the first of several examinations of particular abstracted topics of the colony’s history, in this case, the financial arrangements that enabled the colonists to begin their settlement.McIntyre’s analysis would have been improved if she had explored the use of land in Scituate to pay the debts the colony owed to Timothy Hatherley, Richard Andrews, James Shirley, and John Beauchamp. See my article, “John Beauchamp, Overview of a Plymouth Colony Investor,” Mayflower Descendant, A Magazine of Pilgrim Genealogy and History 60 (2), 2011, 153-157.
A scholarly history of the colony as a whole came soon after - George Langdon’s Plymouth Colony, A History of New Plymouth (1966).George D. Langdon, Jr., Pilgrim Colony: A History of New Plymouth. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966.
Langdon observes [pp. ix and x-xi] that “Like most of the historians who have followed him,[...] [Nathaniel] Morton was chiefly interested in the early years of the colony, and like them he carried the story of Plymouth beyond 1630 only in a perfunctory way.” Langdon would correct that, principally with information from town records, of which he says, “These records, in many instances preserved from the first settlement of the town, are a mine for early New England history, and they are, at least collectively, virtually unused” (except, of course, by the contributors to Hurd’s History of Plymouth County (1884), where the separate local stories were not combined to form a unified colony history). Langdon did not use the most extensive town records – those of Scituate, then still unpublished.
Darrett Rutman’s Husbandmen of Plymouth: Farms and Villages in the Old Colony, 1620-1692, pursued another limited topic abstracted from the history of the colony as a whole.Darrett Rutman, Husbandmen of Plymouth: Farms and Villages in the Old Colony, 1620-1692. Boston: Beacon Press for Plimoth Plantation, 1967. This book, like Langdon’s, called attention to the ongoing development of the colony after the initial settlement period that had been the focus of most earlier authors. Another important book with a limited topic came out in 1970. John Demos, in his monograph, A Little Commonwealth, turned attention in a new direction – family life, not general colony development.John Putnam Demos, A Little Commonwealth, Family Life in Plymouth Colony. Oxford University Press, 1970. Demos presents generalized psychological assumptions combined with a description of domestic circumstances, rather than a history. His descriptions culminated in static generalizations of a quasi-sociological nature.
A year later, Robert Bartlett’s The Pilgrim Way, 1971, returned to colony narrative.Robert Merrill Bartlett, The Pilgrim Way. Philadelphia: The Pilgrim Press, 1971. Lawrence Geller, Director of The Pilgrim Society, wrote (in the book’s Foreword): “Dr. Bartlett’s masterly work justly reverses a trend in Pilgrim historiography, namely the recent tendency among some historians to concentrate almost wholly on the economic life, political development, and material culture of the Plymouth colony, while minimizing the basic motivation of New England’s first settlers.” Bartlett portrays John Robinson as a hero and forerunner of liberal Protestantism. While there is some truth to that, it is not the only possibility, as we shall see.
Fifteen years after Bartlett’s Pilgrim Way, another masterful survey brought together many of the diverging topics in a new attempt at unity – Eugene Stratton’s Plymouth Colony (1986).Eugene Aubrey Stratton, Plymouth Colony, Its History & People, 1620-1691. Salt Lake City: Ancestry Publishing, 1986. Praising Demos’s study of family life, in which Demos remarks that no full-length history of Plymouth Colony existed, “conforming to accepted criteria of profesional research until very recently,” Stratton comments that Demos “undoubtedly had in mind George E. Willison’s 1945 popular book Saints and Strangers, which was written by a Rhodes scholar who could and did do a considerable amount of good research to write his book, and then vitiated it by throwing it together in an undocumented hodgepodge of fact and fiction so intermixed that it would be difficult for even a trained scholar to extricate the one from the other.” Stratton agrees with Demos that Langdon’s Pilgrim Colony is the sole exception, quoting Demos’s remark that Langdon’s “careful, admirably sound and sensible study should remain ‘definitive’ for a long time to come.”
Stratton, however, provides more detail, particularly of a genealogical sort. And he follows the structure begun by Thacher and elaborated by Goodwin, Davis, and Hurd, dividing his material into three sections – initial narrative, separated topical studies, and biographies of notables (a structure frequently found also in histories of individual towns). This results in a lack of coherence and overview, especially concerning any chronological sense of colony development after Bradford’s death. Nonetheless, Stratton’s book is the most informative survey of the colony’s history. Yet his story might have shifted significantly if he had paid attention to Morison’s observation that Scituate became and long remained the richest town in the colony. It was also the largest town by far, although not especially noticed in Stratton’s colony history.
Stratton separates some “Topical Narratives” to place them after his chronological story; these are: Political Structure and Government, Law and Order, Land and Inheritance, Man and Master, Morality and Sex, Everyday Life and Manners, and Writers and Records. Previous chapters included one on Quaker Ranters, Baptists Schismatics, and Indians with Their Tongues Running Out (1657-1675).Deetz & Deetz, The Times of their Lives, make a less comprehensive selection: There be Witches Too Many: Glimpses of the Social World; In an Uncivil Manner: Sex-Related Crimes, Violence & Death; A Few Things Needful: Houses and Furnishings.
Among the details recounted by Stratton we find what might be the source for Willison’s claim that Myles Standish never joined the Plymouth church. Stratton mentions that Alexander Young quotes William Hubbard, that “Captain Standish ... never entered the school of our Saviour Christ, or of John Baptist, his harbinger.” Stratton does not seem to catch the significance of these phrases in the seventeenth century: “the school of our Saviour Christ” was a name the Quakers gave themselves, while the rest of Hubbard’s comment means Standish never joined the Baptists. So Standish didn’t become a Quaker or a Baptist; that doesn’t make him a Catholic. Stratton remarks that Standish “was acquainted with the Leiden church,” though, and quotes Nathaniel Morton’s statement that that was so, also mentioning indications of John Robinson’s personal affection for Standish.
New evidence of Pilgrim life was presented ten years later in Charles Simmons, Plymouth Colony Records, Wills and Inventories, 1633-1669 (1996).Charles H. Simmons, Jr., Plymouth Colony Records, Volume I, Wills and Inventories, 1633-1669. Camden: Picton Press, 1996. The title as given on the cover and on the title page is misleading: the volume includes also “Volume II, Wills,” beginning on page . Although it was not a history, Simmons’ careful and complete transcriptions expanded our knowledge of details of daily life immensely.These records had been incompletely published before, by George Bowman and others (see Simmons, Plymouth Colony Records, “Introduction” (by J. D. Bangs), p. xxiv, note 13). With a research grant to Plimoth Plantation, around 1980, Catherine Martin, Joelle Stein, and Anne Yentsch made a new, complete transcription of these wills and inventories. Expectations that this would result in an indexed publication, as intended by the grant, foundered when computerized indexing proved more difficult than initially foreseen. The unpublished information in typescript became the basis for study by James Deetz and his students at the University of Virginia. Another new publication of a wealth of documentary material came a year later in the first volume of The Seventeenth-Century Town Records of Scituate, Massachusetts (1997).Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs, The Seventeenth-Century Town Records of Scituate, Massachusetts. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, volume I (of three), 1997. The Scituate records suggested a need for revised study of local historical sources and of their significance for general colony history (but this announced theme was not elaborated until the publication of the introduction of the third volume in 2001).
Books about King Philip’s War, published in 1998 and 1999, brought renewed attention to the major military event of the colony’s existence after the end of what was recorded by William Bradford. Neither book provided a history of the colony, as one was a speculative meditation on psychology and the other was a history of the military engagements with gazeteer of the battle sites.Jill Lepore, The Name of War, King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998; Eric Schultz and Michael Tougias, King Philip’s War, The History and Legacy of America’s Forgotten Conflict. Woodstock: The Countryman Press, 1999. Lepore developed ideas suggested in Richard Slotkin and James K. Folsom, So Dreadfull a Judgment, Puritan Responses to King Philip’s War, 1676-1677. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1978. A more recent overview of the military action is Daniel R. Mandell, King Philip’s War, Colonial Expansion, Native Resistance, and the End of Indian Sovereignty. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010. Also in 1999, the second volume of Scituate’s town records came out – covering the documentation of the Conihasset Proprietors’ land in north and northwest Scituate. This proprietary reserve exemplified a type of land distribution and use that had parallels in the rest of the colony – a topic scarcely considered in histories of the colony.
IV. Into the Future – Pilgrims 2000 and Beyond
In 2000, David Beale resumed a century-old characterization of the Pilgrims as important players in the drama of Protestant Reformation and ongoing religious development.David Beale, The Mayflower Pilgrims, Roots of Puritan, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and Baptist Heritage, Greenville; Belfast: Ambassador – Emerald International, 2000. On the nineteenth-century custom of placing the Pilgrims in a progressive history of Protestantism, see Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs, “Commemorating Colonial New England’s First Families: The Triumph of the Pilgrims,” in D. Brenton Simons and Peter Benes (eds.), The Art of Family, Genealogical Artifacts in New England. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2002, 222-244. In an inspirational mood, he wrote [p. 160] that “The real Pilgrim story is not one of governments and institutions. The Pilgrims never set out to build worldly enterprises. ... The Pilgrim story is essentially a story of conviction and survival. It is a story of personal and ecclesiastical conviction, born in persecution, developed in exile, and based upon the Bible. ... It is a story of faith, hope, charity, sacrifice, loyalty, and working together. ... The Pilgrim story does not end on earth.” These are sentiments with which Robert Bartlett (1971) could have agreed. In contrast to Bartlett, however, Beale saw the Pilgrims as heroic forerunners of modern Fundamentalism, which he thought is a good thing. His collection of approved off-shoots from Pilgrim roots does not include the United Church of Christ or the Unitarian-Universalist Association, which reveals his dogmatic bias. Nonetheless, to his credit Beale rejected Willison’s division of “Mayflower” passengers into “Saints” and “Strangers.” He concluded [p. 109] that “Bradford and the Pilgrims never explained clearly and precisely what they meant by the word ‘Stranger.’ It is certain, however, that it does not always mean ‘unchristian’ or ‘non-Separatist.’” Even if one were to agree with Beale’s idea that the Pilgrims are principally important as a link in a great chain of Protestant being, part of a denominational genealogy culminating in some Fundamentalist variety of Presbyterian, Congregationalist, or Baptist present, one will not discover in his book a history of the colony. Twenty pages [pp. 133-152] cover “The Outcome: From the Landing at Cape Cod to 1800.” That is ten pages fewer than Beale devoted to the English Reformation (which for him started in the fourteenth century with Wyclif).
Also in 2000, a notably non-religious look at the Pilgrims appeared: James Deetz and Patricia Scott-Deetz, The Times of their Lives, Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony.James Deetz and Patricia Scott Deetz, The Times of Their Lives, Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company, 2000. The Deetz approach to religion, contrasting with Beale’s, was to conflate religion with belief in witchcraft, culminating in an imaginary description [pp. 95-96] of a court session during which – the only time – someone in Plymouth Colony was indicted for witchcraft. “A cold wind was blowing in from the ocean, carrying the plaintive mew of sea gulls, but the icy fear in Mary’s heart was colder still as she listened to the indictment being read.” The Deetzes achieved a literary level remniscent of the historical work of Jane Goodwin Austin. Justifying their work, they commented [p. xii] that, “With a large number of works on early Plymouth, one could reasonably ask, ‘Why yet one more?’ [...] we believed, and still do, that there is no single work that combines between two covers the diverse number of themes that we have included.” (Stratton, I think, did a better job covering all of them except James Deetz’s personal experiences as an archaeologist, which themselves are quite interesting.) One theme they sift out, not covered separately as such by Stratton, is “Women Before the Court” [pp. 106-111]. Women are seen “in cases involving domestic violence, sexual misconduct, and occasionally public drunkenness. Disorderly living, slander, and defamation were also crimes of which they were accused.” This topic, notably appealing in an era of Women’s Studies, would have gained in value had the authors provided comparison with similar cases where men were the accused. Deetz and Deetz assure the reader that “this work is not of the ‘debunking’ school, but rather an honest attempt to present a realistic, factual accounting based on primary sources.” This is as convincing as Arber’s claim to be impartial; and it precedes a book that starts with a debunking of so-called myths about Thanksgiving. Much seventeenth-century material remains, they say, “little known by the public,” although they do not use any that was unknown to previous historians. Their book “would focus on life and death in Plymouth Colony and remove some of the widely held misconceptions concerning the ‘Pilgrims.’” That’s pretty much what Arber announced he would do.
In 2001, the third (final) volume of the Seventeenth-Century Town Records of Scituate, Massachusetts, was published. These town records total about 1270 pages (printed), compared to 285 from Plymouth, 92 from Duxbury, and fewer from other Plymouth Colony towns. The extensive, detailed information about the town and its relation to the colony corrects not only previous histories of Scituate, but also earlier views of the development of the colony as a whole that had practically ignored what grew to be the colony’s largest town after 1650. Each volume is provided with an introduction, amounting cumulatively to about 220 pages. Besides topics of local political, social, and church history, the archival material justifies a comparative assessment of opinions based on the records of other New England towns, on such subjects as suffrage, agriculture and craft production, King Philip’s War, material culture, and patterns of land distribution. Scituate becomes a touchstone for studies of New England town history.Only Boston, among New England towns, has more extensive documentation. In the introductions to the Scituate records, particular attention is given to questions of interpretation that arise in the work of John Demos, Sumner Chilton Powell, David Grayson Allen, Philip J. Greven, and David Hackett Fischer.
A view of the colony as a whole is found in the book, Indian Deeds, Land Transactions in Plymouth Colony, 1620-1691 (2002).Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs, Indian Deeds, Land Transactions in Plymouth Colony, 1620-1691. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2002; slightly revised paperback edition, 2008. The topic, however, is limited to the transfer of land from Indians to the Colonial Court, and the court’s subsequent initial distribution to private ownership by individual colonists and groups forming towns. The texts of all deeds in this process are published, preceded by an introduction (225 pp.) that describes the sequence of events in what became the nearly total dispossession of the Indians from their land. These transactions form an essential aspect of the expansion of colonial land use and the contraction of open forest and agricultural land retained for use by Indians. The documents support the claim that, before King Philip’s War, Plymouth Colony attempted to obtain land not by fraud and deception but by what was considered by both sellers and buyers to be fair exchange. (That is not to say that either side clearly understood the negative effects on Native society of the piecemeal loss of land as it proceeded, until the agregate result was unavoidably confronted.) The book gives insight into Indian society not found in previous histories of Plymouth Colony – for example, demonstrating that Indians in this region did not have communal land but that instead individual Indians possessed specific, bounded parcels of land by personal inheritance (extending historically to pre-contact times). Any history of the colony will need to pay attention to this (which contradicts the propagandistic romanticism put forth by the Wampanoag Indigenous Program of Plimoth Plantation).
Robert Charles Anderson’s The Pilgrim Migration, Immigrants to Plymouth Colony, 1620-1633, published in 2004, is an extremely valuable biographical disctionary, but not a narrative history.obert Charles Anderson, The Pilgrim Migration, Immigrants to Plymouth Colony, 1620-1633. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2004. My biography of Edward Winslow (2004) follows the natural course of Winslow’s life.Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs, Pilgrim Edward Winslow – New England’s First International Diplomat. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2004. His career as a government official and agent for the colony turns the story of his life into a history of the colony and its finances. Winslow was involved in Plymouth Colony’s relations with Indians and with the neighboring colonies before returning to England in 1646, where he represented New England’s interests in the Cromwellian government. Besides his leadership (in London) in the establishment of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England, he achieved high office as a diplomat. Winslow died onboard ship off Jamaica in 1655, where he had been sent to lead the civilian government the English expected to establish there on capturing the island. The biography of Winslow provides a detailed study of colony finances and political relations, going beyond what had been found in previous histories of the colony. But the emphasis on a single person’s biography, however exemplary, means that the book is not the same as a history of the colony up to mid-century.
Christopher Hilton’s Mayflower, The Voyage that Changed the World (2005) was not a book that changed the historiographical landscape.Christopher Hilton, Mayflower, The Voyage that Changed the World. Stroud: Sutton Publishing Group, 2005. A similar book appeared the following year: Godfrey Hodgson, A Great & Godly Adventure: The Pilgrims & the Myth of the First Thanksgiving. New York: Public Affairs, 2006. Using a good selection of relatively recent secondary works, together with the expectable writings by Bradford and Winslow, he wrote it for people who “don’t really know much about it”[p. v] – “it” being the story of the “Mayflower.”
Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower, A Story of Courage, Community, and War (2006) is much better written, although frequently tendentious. Philbrick does not provide a history of the colony.Nathaniel Philbrick, Mayflower, A Story of Courage, Community, and War. New York: Viking, 2006. For example, Philbrick does not mention Scituate. Nor do we read about William Vassall, Timothy Hatherley, or Edmund Freeman. James Cudworth is mentioned only in reference to his actions as a soldier in King Philip’s War. Vassall, Hatherley, Freeman, and Cudworth are very important to the cultural history of Plymouth Colony, as is John Browne (the assistant), who receives slight mention merely for having lived in the western borderlands of the colony far from Plymouth but close to Philip Metacom’s lands at Mount Hope. Philbrick’s is still a very readable book – one of the best – but it is not a history of Plymouth Colony.
Philbrick, I think, has replaced Willison’s structure with a new synthesis: the thesis (European settlers’ culture) in conflict with its antithesis (the Indians’ culture) results in a synthesis (the frontiersman) producing a new reality that characterizes modern American society, combining the aspects of a multicultural heritage and attempting to resolve inherent tensions. According to Philbrick [p. 347], it was the Pilgrims’ “deepening relationship with the Indians that turned them into Americans.” What happened in Plymouth Colony between 1650 and 1675 or after the war, from 1677 on, receives little attention.
My book, Strangers and Pilgrims, Travellers and Sojourners – Leiden and the Foundations of Plymouth Plantation, was published in 2009, the four hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrims in Leiden.Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs, Strangers and Pilgrims, Travellers and Sojourners – Leiden and the Foundations of Plymouth Plantation. Plymouth: General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 2009. This is the most thorough examination of many aspects of the Pilgrims’ early history, based on extensive archival investigation in America, England, and The Netherlands. The book focusses on the Leiden exile period. Attention is given to geography, housing, social conditions, theology, and labor, besides political, economic, and ecclesiastical circumstances, and influential events. It’s long, and I’m fond of it, but with only one final chapter about life in New England (which carries the subject no farther than 1645) it does not pretend to be a history of the colony. And it is not the last word.
More recent is Nick Bunker’s Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and their World, A New History (2010).Nick Bunker, Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and their World, A New History. London: The Bodley Head, 2010. Bunker is surprised that, as far as he could tell, no one before him did adequately serious research in archives outside New England: his new account of the Mayflower Pilgrims “draws on a multitude of neglected primary sources on the old side of the ocean.” [p. 13]. These sources do indeed provide interesting background information about several figures whose careers were important but somewhat peripheral to the history of Plymouth Colony – for example, Thomas Helwys, a major supporter of John Smyth’s Gainsborough congregation (but who did not accompany Robinson’s congregation beyond Amsterdam), and William Palmer, a merchant of Barnstaple who may have freighted supplies to the colony through the agency of Isaac Allerton (evidently not the same as the William Palmer, nailor, who died in Plymouth Colony in 1633, although Bunker does not comment on this). A great deal of Bunker’s book consists of interesting accounts of people and events contemporary with the Pilgrims but not directly connected with their lives. Bunker also marvels that no one writing about the Pilgrims before him had paid equal attention to persecution of Roman Catholics in England, to the papal reception of rebellious Irish earls who reached Rome in 1608, to the stomach ailments of King James I, or to the market for felt hats in Paris. Although incidents are described with lively narrative, no concept of chronological coherence coordinates the chaos. Dismissively, Bunker says [pp. 182-183] that one of the scholars before him “published only the few entries [in York diocesan records] relating to the pursuit of the Pilgrims. He suppressed the evidence of much harsher treatment of those of a different persuasion. Henry Martyn Dexter, the writer in question, passed over in silence the material that deals with the anti-Catholic purge. His motives for doing so were all too obvious.” Bunker accuses Dexter of anti-Catholic bigotry and thinks he misrepresented and misunderstood the documentary sources.In the pages Bunker cites as exemplifying Dexter’s bigotry [Dexter and Dexter, England and Holland, pp. 53-54, 85-87], Dexter muses that after admirable beginnings, the Roman Catholic Church attempted “to reduce all divine revelation to the formulas of its specific dogmas, and to compress within its ritual all expressions of spritiual life, it assumed also to dispose of sovereigns and to exact secular tribute from all nations, and resorted to exactions as illegitimate as they were intolerable, culminating in a traffic in indulgences which degenerated into demoralization and disgrace. All this was emphasized by the lurking terrors of the Inquisition.” So, in Dexter’s opinion, the Reformation was unavoidable. Referring to Queen Mary Tudor, Dexter wrote that “Her nature became abnormal and diseased. Ailments latent in her constitution made malignant disclosure. She grew moody, wretched, almost insane. Her conscience was morbid. She fancied that her troubles were distinctly God’s frowns. And, seeking the cause of such divine indignation, she could reach no other conclusion than that she had been too tender of Protestantism.” This visceralism displays a striking parallel to Bunker’s interest in King James’s guts [Bunker, Making Haste, pp. 147-163, chapter 7: “The Entrails of the King”]. Dexter calls it bigotry when Catholics burned Hooper, Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley at the stake, and had the bodies of Bucer and Fagius “disinterred and solemnly tried for heresy; and, being undefended, their coffins were chained to a stake in the marketplace. Bibles, primers and Prayer-Books were heaped around them, and the books and the poor remains of bodies were reduced to one common ash-heap.” If Dexter’s report is bigotry, is it not true? Weirdly absent in the meandering text is any history of Plymouth Colony.
V. Where Do We Go Next?
Our browse along the shelves of Pilgrim history has brought us almost up to date. Where to go next? Let us look again at the Plymouth Colony Records series – our main source for all kinds of information not found in Bradford. People who start with a search for their own relatives in the index may not notice that the title page of Volume XII, the last volume, says “Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England ... Deeds &c., Volume 1, 1620-1651.” What does this mean?
“Volume 1” alludes to the existence of other manuscripts, still unpublished. There should have been nine more volumes. Hurd (in his History of Plymouth County, p. 115) wrote, “By the time those portions of the records which had already been copied by the commission of 1820 and Hazard’s copy of the commissioners’ acts had been printed, the General Court stopped the work [i.e. in 1861, when other matters began to require Massachusetts government’s complete attention], and consequently the remaining portion of the records, consisting of five volumes of deeds and four volumes of wills and inventories, which were copied by Mr. Pulsifer at a large cost to the commonwealth, remain unprinted. The ten printed volumes [the twelve are bound as ten] are thought by many to include the entire records of the colony, when in fact copies of nine, and these perhaps in some respects the most important, lie packed away in a store-room at the State-House, rendering no return, until printed, for the labor and money expended in their preparation.”Anyone who, like Hurd, is concerned about the funds thus misspent may take comfort in knowing that, according to correspondence preserved in the collections of The Pilgrim Society, Pulsifer was never paid for his work on the volumes that remain unpublished. In poverty in his old age, he appealed for payment for his neglected labor.
The previously unpublished material related to Indian land was included in my book Indian Deeds. I have been transcribing the remaining documents from these unpublished nine volumes of manuscript, so that eventually they can be issued in CD-rom form together with the volumes from the nineteenth century. It will eventually be possible to have transcriptions of all the Plymouth Colony records. (The illustration shows photocopies of the unpublished manuscript pages, with a marker indicating how far along the project to transcribe them is.) Those still in preparation are mostly about land transfer in the period ca. 1650 to 1691. They illuminate the expansion of the colony in the years that have been inadequately described in all existing histories of Plymouth Colony. Only when this transcription is completed will it be reasonable to undertake a new history of the colony, which, besides this information on land use, will need to address questions that were not being posed or adequately answered by previous authors – such as relations between the towns, and between colony towns and towns outside the colony’s bounds, or the colony’s trade with its neighbors and with the Bahamas, or the development of factions with respect to the major organizational shifts in colonial administration at the end of Plymouth Colony’s existence. These are topics that need new illumination, new focus, and a new narrative. I hope to complete the document transcriptions and write the new story, which, with a nod to Samuel Eliot Morison, could be called New Light on the Old Colony of Plymouth Plantation.See Samuel Eliot Morison, “New Light Wanted on the Old Colony,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd series 15 (1958), pp. 359-364.
Constance Flynn Lagerman, 90, of Bryn Mawr, a former board member of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Ardmore, died Saturday, Sept. 29, at her home.