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Soule Kindred In America

Mayflower, Day by Day - Friday, 20 November 1620

20 Nov 2020 3:00 AM | Soule (Administrator)

On course for Cape Cod harbour, along the coast

Disaffection appeared among the colonists, on account of abandonment of their destination.  Bradford (in Mourt’s Relation) says: “This day before we come to harbor, observing some not well affected to unity and concord, but gave some appearance of faction, it was thought good there should be an Association and Agreement that we should combine together in one body; and to submit to such Government and Governors as we should, by common consent, agree to make and choose, and set our hands to this that follows word for word.”  Then follows the text of the Mayflower Compact.  Bradford is even more explicit in his Of Plimoth Plantation, where he says: “I shall a little returne backe and begin with a combination made by them before they came ashore, being ye first foundation of their governments in this place; occasioned partly by ye discontent & mutinous speeches that some of the strangers amongst them [i.e.  not of the Leiden contingent] had let fall from them in ye ship—That when they came ashore they would use their owne libertie: for none had power to command them, the patents they had being for Virginia, and not for New-England which belonged to another Government, with which ye London [or First Virginia] Company had nothing to doe, and partly that such an acte by them done … might be as firm as any patent, and in some respects more sure.”  Bradford speaks only of Billington and his family as those “shuffled into their company,” and while he was not improbably one of the agitators (with Hopkins) who were the proximate causes of the drawing up of the Compact, he was not, in this case, the responsible leader. It is evident from the foregoing that the “appearance of faction” did not show itself until the Mayflower was turned back toward Cape Cod Harbor, and it became apparent that the effort to locate “near Hudson’s River” was to be abandoned, and a location found north of 41° N. latitude, which would leave them without charter rights or authority of any kind.  Stephen Hopkins,—then “a lay-reader” for Chaplain Buck,—on Sir Thomas Gates’ expedition to Virginia, had, when some of them were shipwrecked on the Bermudas, advocated just such sentiments—on the same basis—as were now raised on the Mayflower, and it could hardly have been only a coincidence that the same were repeated here.  That Hopkins fomented the discord is almost certain.  His attitudes and actions caused him to receive a sentence of death for insubordination, at the hands of Sir Thomas Gates, in the first instance, from which his pardon was with much difficulty procured by his friends.  The placing of Hopkins’ two servants at the very end of the signatories of the Compact has also been noted, suggesting that they were not in full agreement with either the course of action or the mechanism of the Compact.

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Two final comments on the “factionalisation” of the passengers:

1. The more research is done, the more religious connections are discovered between the Leiden congregation and the other passengers.  The only real members of the “stranger” group appear to be those in the Billington household, with the Hopkins household keeping itself apart from the main body as well.  It is thus extremely disappointing to see so many writers in this past year, including Nathaniel Philbrick (who really should know better) in his conversation sponsored by the Massachusetts State Library earlier this month, ignoring the substantial research of the last thirty years on the numerous and manifold connections between passengers (particularly the women) and separatist communities, and simply parroting the discredited dialectic of George Willison’s Saints and Strangers.  Willison, a Marxist, was explicitly trying to enlarge the divisions and reduce the size of the separatist community, and he either did not know about or intentionally overlooked the connections.  Willison, in effect, doubled or trebled the size of the “strangers,” and way too many commentators have followed him in the intervening 70 years.

2. Bradford’s descriptions of the Leiden congregation, and (to a lesser extent) those of Edward Winslow, echo the somewhat idealised description of the early Christian church in the Acts of the Apostles -- they held all things in common, they were of one heart and mind, they sacrificed for the common good.  As many commentators have noted over the last few years, this strikes us now as incredibly naïve; the failure of this project makes the second half of Of Plimoth Plantation much darker than the first.  But against this background of this vision for the community, any division or dissension, however small, stands in stark contrast.  We are in danger of overestimating the size of the “muntinous speeches” because Bradford gives them so much attention -- but Bradford does so not because the treasonous group of mutineers was so large, but because it was so counter in every respect to the project of the colony, which was to establish a godly community based on Gospel principles.  Saying that the Pilgrims came to the New World for “freedom of religion” (a concept they would not have understood) or to “worship as they pleased” (which addresses only a small part of their project) seriously restricts the breadth of their envisioned purpose.

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