I was delighted to see Peter Mancall’s article on the Pilgrims (“Complicated legacy of the Pilgrims finally coming to light,” Sept. 5). I had intended to write a similar piece closer to the actual anniversary of the Pilgrim’s arrival, but Mancall beat me to it – and he has more authority as he is a historian. I will, however, add a few personal observations.
My background gives me a bias which, hopefully, I have overcome. My mother was the governor of the local chapter of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. She had proven ancestry going back to both William Bradford and William Brewster. We had always celebrated Thanksgiving as both a family and national holiday. I will never forget the meeting and luncheon we had out at Col. Allensworth State Park. Not only was this site steeped in Black American history, my sister had brought her adopted Micronesian son to the occasion. Although he was legally adopted, we were informed that he was not eligible to join in the society with his family! All of this led me to re-examine the “Pilgrim story.”
First of all, we need to answer the question put forward by Mancall as to why glory is heaped on the Pilgrims. A good part of the answer lies in the writings of Bradford. As part of my family’s inheritance, I have a copy of his rather weighty tome. A lot of history is made simply by there being a record of happenings. Unfortunately, however, any such reckoning is the opinion of the author and does not include opposing views.
The Mayflower compact may be considered a beginning on American democracy, but it was the basis of a racist and self-serving “democracy.” Although the Pilgrims, of necessity, formed an alliance with the Wampanoag, they continuously disrespected Native Americans and eventually joined most of the New England colonies in slaughtering them in a ruthless war.
It is interesting that the only New England colony which remained neutral in this war was Rhode Island, a colony founded by my father’s ancestor Roger Williams, who had been expelled from Salem because of his religious beliefs. It is an interesting footnote on history that he was hired as a translator by the New England colonies during the war. He had lived with the Narragansett after his exile and had learned their language and customs.
It is important to learn that American history contains both good and bad. Hopefully, by acknowledging mistakes, we can build a better future.
Bruce J. Hargreaves is a retired biologist with a bachelor’s degree in field biology, master’s degree in public health and a Ph.D. in parasitology. He taught parasitology at the University of Malawi, botany at the National University of Lesotho and was head of natural history at the National Museum of Botswana.