Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we remember the famous voyage of saints and strangers on the Mayflower.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 6th of September 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

So, there is a certain kind of historian, or “history buff” that likes to take the occasion of a holiday or memorial event to break out the “well, actually….” This is the worst, and I apologize to my fellow historians who can’t help themselves from killing a holiday vibe. Ok- so let’s talk about the Mayflower and the first Thanksgiving….

On this day, the 6th of September (depending on your calendar) in 1620, the Mayflower took off from Plymouth, England, for the new world. Well, it was actually the second time it took off from England- it was supposed to be going with a companion ship: the Speedwell. But the Speedwell was deemed insufficient for the transatlantic trip, the ships went back to England, and all 102 passengers and 30 crew had to cram into the Mayflower- and, because the trip was delayed, they would have a rough trip as the weather got colder. As you might know, the ship was supposed to dock somewhere between the Chesapeake and Hudson and instead veered north and ended up near Cape Cod, where the passengers would have to weather the bad weather on board the ship- the first thanksgiving wasn’t for a year later- and this winter proved devastating as sickness wiped out many of the so-called pilgrims before they eventually were able to establish a colony in the Massachusetts Bay.

OK- so, in both America and the church, this event is often mythologized- down to the designation of the people as “pilgrims” and the idea that they were leaving persecution in England for the freedom of worship. It’s not a false story, but we can clean it up a bit.

First- only 40 of the 130 were part of the group led by Brewster, Standish, Bradford, et al. they saw themselves as the “saints” on board with a cross-section of English folk leaving for the new world for economic opportunity. The “saints”- eventually led by William Bradford would take notes and leave a written record, so this is why we tend to tell the story from their perspective. But, they were given permission, along with the others, to leave England by King James I- a friend of Protestants but happy to have the noisier ones set up shop an ocean away.

The term “pilgrims” is acceptable- but is a later designation as the story would become the stuff of hagiography (that is, writing about folks that make them look like saints). “Pilgrim” is from the Latin “peregrine,” meaning “foreigner or alien”- it is a reference to the Jewish people in Egypt and then to Christians living amongst earthly kingdoms.

The 40 pilgrims were leaving from Plymouth, England but only by Leiden in the Netherlands. These separatists had already left England in 1608 for the religious diversity in the Netherlands.

(They were, however, arrested in 1607 for attempting to leave England for the Netherlands without the Kings permission, so their claim to be persecuted wasn’t unfounded- they just needed to ask permission to leave, which they did, and it was granted)

These separatists and the others (the so-called “strangers) were permitted by the crown to set up in the New World but in English colonies. When they ended up in Massachusetts Bay, they had a bit of a conundrum. They would live under the English colonial laws set up by earlier charters. When the storm blew them north, they ended up where they had no legal right to be.

Bradford and others decided that some political charter was needed, and this is the basis of the Mayflower Compact- the first attempt to create a kind of new body politic from scratch.

The local tribes had recently been devastated by disease (perhaps from the same earlier fishing colonies that would teach the famous Samoset the English he needed to assist them in farming once they established a settlement in modern Plymouth). The folks we can call saints and strangers (or Pilgrims, that’s cool too) wouldn’t be the first colonists (they were supposed to be joining a colony), nor would they be that good at it- their settlement would soon be assumed into the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630- ten years after the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth England on this, the 6th of September in 1620.

The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from 1 Timothy 4:

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 9 This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. 10 That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 6th of September 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man whose favorite pilgrims include graphic novel star Scott, the painting by Magritte, and the 1989 album by Christian rocker and future topic of the Weekend Edition: Barry McGuire He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man whose favorite Pilgrim is the sandwich- that’s the one with leftover turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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