Pilgrims Essay

This essay has a total of 1556 words and 7 pages.


“The mythic origin of ‘the country we now know as the United States’ is at Plymouth Rock,
and the year is 1620.” James W. Loewen stresses this origin as mythic due to the fact
that for thousands of years humans had inhabited the land now known as America. Loewen
goes on to describe the horrors the native peoples of America went through due to the
diseases and other such terrible things the white “settlers” brought to the “New World.”
However, it is barely mentioned in Loewen’s book, The Lies My Teacher Told Me, that the
Separatists were acting upon a word of God, or Manifest Destiny. If Manifest Destiny were
taken into account more, one would be able to provide a legitimate argument in favor of
the Pilgrims’ intent. (Loewen, 77)

The Separatists were members of a radical religious movement in England in the 16th and
17th centuries. William Brewster, in 1606, led a portion of this group to Leiden, the
Netherlands, to avoid further religious oppression from the English government. Some
members of this Separatist group then voted, ten years later, to relocate to America. In
order for them to afford such a journey, the Separatists received funding from a group of
London investors, in return for produce from America. A ship called the Mayflower set off
on September 16th, 1620, carrying a group of 102 passengers, including these Separatists.
On November 21st, the Mayflower arrived near present-day Provincetown, Massachusetts, and
on December 21st of the same year, they landed on the site of the Plymouth Colony.
(Encarta, “Pilgrims”)

The Indians native to this area were called the Patuxet tribe. However, in 1618, the
Patuxet had been completely wiped out by a disease that had swept the East Coast. Within
a span of three years, 90-96% of coastal New England population had been obliterated by
this plague. The disease had probably started to spread in 1617, by British and French
fishermen who had been fishing off the Massachusetts coast. “The plague that ensued made
the Black Death pale in comparison.” (Loewen, 80)

So by the time the Pilgrims had reached the New World in 1620, they came to a land where
disease and plague had killed almost everyone in sight. Howard Simpson describes the
sight the Pilgrims had stumbled across in America: “Villages lay in ruins because there
was no one to tend them. The ground was strewn with the skulls and the bones of thousands
of Indians who had died and none was left to bury them.” Historians speculate that this
“plague” could have been any disease, from the bubonic plague to others such as hepatitis,
small pox, chicken pox, or influenza. (Loewen, 80-81)

The only surviving member of the Patuxet tribe was Tisquantum, or “Squanto,” who had been
in England during the time of the plague. Squanto accepted the Pilgrims and became part
of the Plymouth colony. He also acted as an interpreter and performed negotiations with
the nearest tribe, the Wampanoag. This eliminates a great myth regarding the pilgrims,
which says that the Pilgrims stole the land they used for their colony from the Indians,
and had mistreated them in the process. This could not have been the case, since there
were no Indians in the area when the settlers arrived. (Johnson, “Common Mayflower Myths”)

This is important in considering the actual detrimental effects of the Pilgrims’ actions.
Perhaps they themselves did little to negatively affect the Native Americans. This being
true, the Pilgrims were, however, part of a movement to take land that was not theirs in
the first place. Before they had arrived, there had been thousands of years of humankind
inhabiting the Americas, who had established their own customs and cultures. Loewen
realizes this, and views these negative areas of European settlement in general. However,
in the Pilgrims’ case, there was another agent involved. One that was the driving cause
for these settlers to travel across the Atlantic ocean and settle into “wild” and “virgin”
land. This driving cause was Manifest Destiny.

Manifest Destiny is the philosophy that states “that territorial expansion of the United
States is not only inevitable but divinely ordained.” God was encouraging the settlers to
come over to America in order to fulfill their divine predestination. However, in order
to better understand the point of view from which the Pilgrims were seeing, one must first
have a picture of what their religious beliefs entailed. (Encarta, “Manifest Destiny”)

The Pilgrims’ separatist movement is based upon Calvinism, founded by John Calvin
(1509-1564). Presbyterianism and Puritanism are also descended from this belief system.
(Johnson, “Religious Beliefs) Calvinism essentially states that man is corrupt due to the
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