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THE FIRST THANKSGIVING, Part 2

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I wish all a glorious Thanksgiving for 2015. I thank all who have been keeping up with my blog postings relating to William Bradford and the Pilgrims. I conclude our November with A History of Plymouth Plantation with the actual text of Bradford’s version of the first Thanksgiving:

They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was a great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to the proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.

Note: I will not be posting any new material until next month. I look forward to hearing from you in December.

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THE FIRST THANKSGIVING, Part 1

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William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation has traditionally been the primary source for our knowledge of the Pilgrims, their voyage in the Mayflower, their landing at Plymouth Plantation, their first encounters with Native Americans, and the growth of the colony into the cultural and intellectual center of the early British American colonies. But it disappoints many when it comes to the actual Thanksgiving. Book II, Chapter XII: Anno 1621 relates the first Thanksgiving. There is no mention of the typical Pilgrim legend.

What we know of the original Thanksgiving comes from Mourt’s Relation, a history written later. The actual date of the first was December 11, 1621. The abundance of meat and corn was such that the Pilgrims could entertain Massasoit and about ninety of his people for three days of feasting and games.

I wish all a glorious Thanksgiving for 2015. I thank all who have been keeping up with my blog postings relating to William Bradford and the Pilgrims. Stay tuned Wednesday for Part 2 of this post.

 

THE NATIVE AMERICANS APPEAR IN THE PILGRIMS’ SETTLEMENT

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Our founding myths of America portray the original inhabitants William Bradford and the Pilgrims encounter as unsophisticated childlike adults entranced and terrified at the same time of the ultra-civilized Europeans who come to take over their lands and treasure. No doubt Bradford wants us to read his History of Plymouth Plantation in such a way. But let’s see what really is going on.

We have been thinking about William Bradford’s classic History of Plymouth Plantation as an appropriate read for November. If you are just now clicking in for the first time, take a moment and scroll down through the last several postings just to get a context for this post.

One day a Native American named Samoset appears boldly among them. He speaks English. Later he brings his chief, Massasoit, and another named Squanto who had actually been to England. The Native Americans teach the pilgrims basic survival skills to make sure the next winter would not be so bad. As it turns out, these inhabitants of the land claimed by the Pilgrims could speak some English and had met Europeans before. In fact Squanto spoke well and had spent extensive time among the English. Bradford devotes several pages telling of Squanto’s travels among the English. Because earlier English explorers had treated the tribes so badly these Native Americans were wary of the pilgrims at first.

Bradford labels these peoples as savages and children of darkness, yet it looks like they are more sophisticated than their European conquerors.

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Of course, I may not be treating the Pilgrims fairly here. Bradford does say that Squanto was “a special instrument sent of God” to help save the Europeans in the brutal winter ahead. And as the Native Americans accommodated them the Europeans signed a compact to their mutual benefit. Here is the original compact, one of the first “Indian” treaties with the European conquerors:

  1. That neither he nor any of his should injure or do hurt to any of their people.
  2. That if any of his did hurt to any of theirs, he should send the offender, that they might punish him.
  3. That if anything were taken away from any of theirs, he should cause it to be restored; and they should do the like to his.
  4. If any did unjustly war against him, they would aid him; if any did war against them, he should aid them.
  5. He should send to his neighbors confederates to certify them of this, that they might not wrong them, but might be likewise comprised in the conditions of peace.
  6. That when their men came to them, they should leave their bows and arrows behind them.

What are you thinking as you read this material? Write your comments in the comment box. And let’s see your comments no matter when you read this blog. None of the ideas I am approaching are time sensitive.

Let’s start a conversation. Re-blog. Re-tweet. Re-tumble. Follow The Literary Life. The more readers who are posting comments the better.

DIFFICULT BEGINNINGS FOR THE PILGRIMS

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We have been thinking about William Bradford’s classic History of Plymouth Plantation as an appropriate read for November. If you are just now clicking in for the first time, take a moment and scroll down through the last several postings just to get a context for this post.

Within 2-3 months in the first winter nearly half the company of pilgrims dies. The healthy brave all to help their brethren. Bradford himself is among the sick. Miles Standish is one of the strong ones. It was another story with the sailors back on the ship, however. They scorned to help the pilgrims, often scoffing and mocking. Sure enough, they too came down sick (at God’s hand, Bradford assumes). Again, Bradford tells of a proud boatswain who curses and scoffs at the passengers yet is brought to his own death in the end. This story is then balanced by another crew member who repented his wicked treatment of the pilgrims and survived illness to live many years among a faithful member of the congregation.

Speaking of the healthy members of the company who gave all to aid their sick brethren, Bradford says, “And yet the Lord so upheld these persons.” Of course, we can’t help but ask what about the others, can we? Think about it. Did God not uphold them?

What are you thinking as you read this material? Write your comments in the comment box. And let’s see your comments no matter when you read this blog. None of the ideas I am approaching are time sensitive.

Let’s start a conversation. Re-blog. Re-tweet. Re-tumble. Follow The Literary Life. The more readers who are posting comments the better.

WILLIAM BRADFORD AND THE MAYFLOWER COMPACT

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I’m sitting in my study wishing the weather would be cold enough for a fire in the fireplace and I was remembering in the past at times walking through the lobbies of various federal buildings such as U.S. Post Offices and seeing displays of the founding documents upon which the U.S. form of government is based: the Declaration of Independence, of course, as well as the Constitution, and, notably, the Mayflower Compact.

We have been thinking about William Bradford’s classic History of Plymouth Plantation as an appropriate read for November. If you are just now clicking in for the first time, take a moment and scroll down through the last several postings just to get a context for this post.

Book II, Chapter I contains a narrative of the signing of The Mayflower Compact, the first American covenant instituting civil law by common consent. William Bradford posts the text of the Compact in full. Bradford places this account in Book II but I am treating it here chronologically.

You may not know this, but the actual Pilgrims were in the minority of those on the Mayflower voyage. There was the crew, of course, though most of them would be returning to England, and there were the strangers, as the Pilgrims called the other paying passengers who were simply coming along to seek their fortunes. The Pilgrims had the political authority for when they settled in Virginia as per the original charter. But the strangers were saying that they did not intend to recognize the authority of the Pilgrims since they had not landed in Virginia. The Pilgrims decided to take action. Thus the Contract, the first political document in the colonies, was drawn up by the Pilgrims. And it would assert the exclusive prerogative of the Pilgrims alone. It would consider the strangers as outsiders in subjugation to the Pilgrims.

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So on board the Mayflower before they landed, the founders drew up the Mayflower Compact as a document to govern the colony. They selected John Carver as their first governor afterward. Then they began to build their settlement.

Here is the complete text of the Mayflower Compact:

In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are under-written, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, etc.

Having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine our selves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the eleventh of November [New Style, November 21], in the year of the reign of our sovereign lord, King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Dom. 1620.

Bradford writes that the Mayflower Compact was “occasioned partly by the discontented and mutinous speeches that some of the strangers amongst them had let fall from them in the ship.” Notice how what Bradford calls “the first foundation of their government in this place” establishes a Puritan community from the beginning as one that excludes “strangers.” So even before landing the Puritans defined themselves as an elect group.

Well, what implicit effect does writing and signing the Mayflower Compact have? Putting their first agreement into written form was an act of major significance for the Puritans, who believed in the Bible’s literal truth and authority. Written words, from the beginning of American culture, carry the associative power of God’s word and gives the Pilgrims, as opposed to everybody else, divine authority.

What do you think about the importance eventually of The Mayflower Compact?

Write your comments in the comment box. And let’s see your comments no matter when you read this blog. None of the ideas I am approaching are time sensitive.

Let’s start a conversation. Re-blog. Re-tweet. Re-tumble. Follow The Literary Life. The more readers who are posting comments the better.

WILLIAM BRADFORD: MR. NOVEMBER

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(Repeat from November 2015)

Halloween is over and with November and the depressing time change in the U.S., our attention turns to the holidays ahead. And first up is Thanksgiving and the yearly looking back to our Pilgrim forebears.

Many years ago I used to pull down my old Classics Club volume of William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation every November and read through it. So I just pulled down my beloved Classics Club edition once again. How many of you subscribed to those old Classics Club editions back when?

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Anyway, those of you who love Great Literature, if you need a reason to spend a few minutes every week really getting into the spirit of Thanksgiving, then join me during November as we look at the most famous document of Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrims.

The actual book is quite a read, truthfully, so I am just going to look a few of the most famous passages. But here is the link to the full text at Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/24950.

If you go back to really old textbook anthologies of American Literature, you will

often find them beginning the literature of the United States with William Bradford. Who knows, maybe some books still begin American Literature with Bradford and the New England Pilgrims.

That’s crazy, of course. I mean, the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. By 1620 Santa Fe, New Mexico and San Antonio, Texas were already flourishing American cities with intellectual cultures developing. Columbus, of course, had already written of his voyages. Thomas Harriot had written A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia. Perhaps, more striking, the tribal peoples of North America had long been developing a dynamic and powerful literature for centuries. Surely, all these peoples were Americans. Oh well. Messy facts too often detract from wonderful and sentimental traditions.

Accordingly, William Bradford was one of the greatest of colonial Americans, a man large in spirit and wisdom, wholly consecrated to a mission of which he regarded himself as an instrument of God. The early history of Plymouth Colony was the history of his leadership, and, in fact, tiny Plymouth occupies a position in history wholly incommensurate with its size.

Like the patriarchs of the Old Testament, William Bradford in History Of Plymouth Plantation “recorded God’s ‘choosing’ of His people, their exile, and their wanderings”

November is the month we celebrate the Pilgrims and Plymouth Rock in the American Thanksgiving tradition. Let’s celebrate Thanksgiving month by taking a look at William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation.

THE PILGRIMS LAND AND BEGIN CLAIMING THEIR LAND

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It’s time to relax a bit in my grandiose, spacious study and kick back with William Bradford and his book about the Pilgrims. I tried to get a selfie with my study in the background. Ah, I wish. Who am I kidding? I just ran in to a 7-11 beside the road and grabbed some newspapers. It’s raining and the runoff water in the parking lot poured into my shoes. I’m heading home, but alas, not to this study.

Probably the single most famous chapter in William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation is the one where the Pilgrims have landed and now are beginning to make themselves at home: Book I, Chapter X: Showing How They Sought Out a Place of Habitation; and What Befell Them Thereabout.

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This section tells of the Pilgrims’ discovery of corn, their first contact with Native Americans, and their attempt to chase some down.

After they arrived at land they decided to send out an exploring party led by Miles Standish to find a proper place for all to first settle down. The very first appearance of the indigenous inhabitants is brief. The small party flees when they first see the Pilgrims. But later, in what Bradford calls “the first encounter,” the Native Americans attack Standish and his men with arrows. No one is hurt. The Pilgrims discover several stores of corn, which they steal. Now, in fairness, they return it six months later with abundance. Nevertheless–.

Back at sea, they had another storm in which they broke their rudder, yet, as Bradford believed, by God’s mercy they survived. Finally, they landed and settled down at Plymouth Harbor on December 16, 1620.

These earlier selections from Of Plymouth Plantation help us visualize the practical and spiritual concerns of the earliest colonials. In trying to find a harbor, another “lusty seaman” on board the shallop reminds the pilot to row “or else they were all cast away.” Bradford’s account reveals the necessity for self-reliance among the first Puritan settlers; only after they reach “the lee of a small island” can they afford to give thanks to God “for His mercies in their manifold deliverances.”

Write your comments in the comment box. And let’s see your comments no matter when you read this blog. None of the ideas I am approaching are time sensitive.

Let’s start a conversation. Re-blog. Re-tweet. Re-tumble. Follow The Literary Life. The more readers who are posting comments the better.

THE VOYAGE OF THE PILGRIMS AND THE LANDING AT CAPE COD

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I love coffee and I love coffee shops. And, yes, I love Starbucks. Nothing beats a classic grande latte at the Starbucks down the street. You know the one. Everyone has a Starbucks down the street, right? Ok, give me a break. I know it’s all so basic and I’d die if anyone ever accused me of being basic. What’s so great about being a man of class and sophistication is that I can look around this Starbucks and see–let me count them–and see at least five other men dressed exactly like me in khaki pants, Oxford cloth dress shirts with sleeves rolled up, and classic brown penny loafers. ‘Makes me feel at comfortable and, basically, in my element. By the way, what does it mean to be basic again?

Well, I’ll tell you what’s not basic. I’m holding in my hand my copy of William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation. That’s not basic Starbucks reading. So there.

I’ve been trying to make the point that Bradford is the perfect read for November if you live and breathe Great Literature in the U.S. If you are just now clicking in to The Literary Life for the first time, take a moment and scroll down through the last several postings just to get a context for this post.

Let’s look at the famous section about the Pilgrims’ voyage in the Mayflower and their safe landing in Massachusetts in 1620. Bradford tells the story in Book I, Chapter IX: Of Their Voyage and How They Passed the Sea; and of Their Safe Arrival at Cape Cod.

One instance recorded here is that of a “lusty” young sailor who habitually cursed and belittled everybody aboard who was sick, and there were plenty of sick Pilgrims. Look how Bradford tells of his fate: “But it pleased God before they came half seas over, to smite this young man with a grievous disease, of which he died in a desperate manner, and so was himself the first that was thrown overboard.” I always thought that was funny–lots good humor in Bradford. Except, I don’t think our dour author intended us to laugh. Anyway, Bradford continues: “Thus his curses light on his own head, and it was an astonishment to all his fellows for they noted it to be the first hand of God upon him.” He’s smacked down by the providence of God.

In another passage, parallel to the one above, the opposite occurred. God’s providence saved a man from drowning: “but it pleased God that he caught hold of the topsail halyards which hung overboard and ran out at length.”

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They finally arrived in the New World and Bradford notes that their plight was worse than the Apostle Paul’s when he was shipwrecked. They had nothing to sustain them, he writes, “but the Spirit of God and his grace. . . .”

I’m not being fair to Bradford, I know. He really is a great writer and his History of Plymouth Plantation is more than one of the most important of early American documents, and it is far more intriguing as Great Literature than its historical significance. As Aristotle says, literature has more truth than history—or something like that.

But look at its literary style. Look at all the sentences that have much the same rhythm as lines from the Bible? Look at the grand Biblical diction that sets the tone of the writing as solemn, dignified, emotional, and religious. And note the actual Biblical allusions. Particularly the one from Deuteronomy 34 comparing their arrival to the ascent up Mt. Pisgah.

How should we describe Bradford’s concept of how God works in this world? Is this as much an American concept for our country and its history as much as a simple Christian idea? Can you imagine how this concept influenced the later history of the U.S.?

Or notice that in the very first the reference to the indigenous peoples Bradford expects to find that he calls them “savage barbarians” before they even appear. Let’s see if Bradford’s pre-judgment turns out to be warranted?

Write your comments in the comment box. And let’s see your comments no matter when you read this blog. None of the ideas I am approaching are time sensitive.

Let’s start a conversation. Re-blog. Re-tweet. Re-tumble. Follow The Literary Life. The more readers who are posting comments the better.

QUESTIONS WILLIAM BRADFORD NEVER INTENDED US TO ASK ABOUT HIS HISTORY OF THE PLYMOUTH PILGRIMS

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I hope you have joined us as we have been thinking about William Bradford’s classic History of Plymouth Plantation, an appropriate read for November. If you are just now clicking in for the first time, take a moment and scroll down through the last several postings just to get a context for this post.

Ok, let’s de-center this text a bit. Look off to the sides. Let’s start asking questions William Bradford never intended us to ask.

The History is a narrative about the “dogged struggle [as I said in my last post] of civilization and piety against the savage continent and powers of darkness.” Well, terrific, but who determined that Bradford’s people were forces for civilization and piety while the entire North American continent itself was “savage” and was under the “powers of darkness”? The traditional flip answer has always been “God, that’s who.” This new venture of colonization in New England was going to be a conflict between God’s chosen people and unredeemed Satanic forces.

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Maybe–maybe. And I hope you stay with me in this blog over the next several weeks as we tackle these questions. But think for a moment. Who were the peoples who were savage and part of the powers of darkness? The answer is obvious. But think of the major historic implications of this attitude that the Pilgrims possess even before they encounter any inhabitants, before they even explore any wilderness.

How did this perception by the white people affect their attitudes toward and treatment of the “savages”? And what happened throughout the history of the next several centuries as a result of deeply instilled belief toward the non-white residents of the original Plymouth Colony? If you are God’s chosen people and you are carrying light into the dark and evil wilderness, inhabited by savages who are creatures of evil, what action does God expect of you towards the wilderness and its inhabitants? These are very disturbing questions and ones that Bradford assumes his readers will never ask.

More disturbingly, think about this question. If we the readers identify with the Pilgrims, what does that say about us? We are supposed to identify with them. These were our forefathers and mothers. We are like them and they were like us. Well, maybe. They are the founding Americans. But can we identify with these Pilgrims and yet still sympathize with what we then must call the “savages”? What would that say about us? Do you believe there are savages in the world? People who merely because of their geographical origins are unredeemable, are unregenerate?

So here from the beginning we see these things: These are God’s chosen people (so they claimed) entering a promised land that is in the hands of Satanic forces. It is up to them to redeem the land and consecrate it for God’s people (who these people assume to be themselves). The natives of the land are children of Satan, unredeemed, unregenerate, who must be either saved or what? Or exterminated. Right?

“Uh, yeah, but but but—that can’t be right. That’s not the way I always heard the Pilgrim story.” Ok, but try reading this old history and others like it knowing what we as Postmoderns know today.

Write your comments in the comment box. And let’s see your comments no matter when you read this blog. None of the ideas I am approaching are time sensitive.

Let’s start a conversation. Re-blog. Re-tweet. Follow The Literary Life. The more readers who are posting comments the better.

One last note. The images I am posting of the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving are cultural and mythical depictions that reinforce traditional history narratives.

WHY NOT ASK QUESTIONS WILLIAM BRADFORD NEVER INTENDED US TO ASK ABOUT HIS HISTORY OF THE PLYMOUTH PILGRIMS?

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It’s the month for Thanksgiving in the U.S., and I hope you have joined us as we have been thinking about William Bradford’s classic History of Plymouth Plantation. If you are just now clicking in for the first time, take a moment and scroll down through the last two postings just to get a context for this post. Throughout the month I am breaking with my usual Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule and posting much more frequently.

Last time I gave a short overview of Bradford’s book. If you want to read it all and really get into the spirit of Thanksgiving and of November, click here: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/24950. But I was thinking about how Bradford would have liked his readers to respond to his story. And for most of postcolonial American history readers pretty well accepted Bradford’s story as he intended.

We are not his intended readers, though. We are all Postmoderns whether we like it or not and our ways are not his ways. What any given author intended is not really that relevant for us. We see the words on the page and we read them through our own post-paradigm shift.

So, let’s de-center this text a bit. Look off to the sides. Let’s start asking questions William Bradford never intended us to ask. I am breaking this article into two parts. Stay tuned.

Leave comments. Re-blog this post and talk about these things as you lead a literary life.

Paul Varner

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