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  • 16 Oct 2021 3:37 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Faith in Practise

    Except in Rhode Island, people were prosecuted for disagreeing publicly with official theological dogmas. Thus, the Plymouth Colony made it a crime to “deny the scriptures to be a rule of life.” Pursuant to this and other legislation, one man was indicted in Plymouth for objecting that the churches in Massachusetts and Plymouth did not baptize infants and for criticizing the magistrates for failing to take the oath of supremacy, while a decade later a group was prosecuted for “continuing of a meeting upon the Lord's Day from house to house.” Likewise, a woman guilty of “faulty” speeches during public worship had her whipping respited in the hope that she would “be warned by the present sentence and admonition to offend no more,” but when she committed the same offense a second time, the whipping was administered.  Pursuant to statute, innumerable individuals were fined for failing to fulfil religious duties, such as not attending church on Sunday, otherwise violating the Sabbath, or using profane language. A New Haven man was whipped for “a rash & sinful oath.” Perhaps, the most infamous example after the 1630s of judicial activism to protect dominant religious beliefs was that of William Ledra, a Quaker who on pain of death was banished from Massachusetts Bay in 1660 after being banished earlier from Plymouth. Except in Rhode Island, Quakers were banished for “divers horrid errors,” whipped, or fined. Viewing them as “subversi[ve] of the fundamentals of Christian religion, church, order, and the civil peace,” the Plymouth Colony banished them, and the General Court set aside a day of fasting and humiliation to seek God's blessing in saving the colony from the “infection and disturbance” of those “fretting gangrenelike doctrines and persons commonly called Quakers.”

  • 15 Oct 2021 3:38 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Divine Law

    Two books I am reading for review in upcoming issues of the Mayflower Quarterly have sections in them expressing outrage at the perceived invasion of individual privacy by colonial and religious authorities (and those two were basically the same people).  There has been general agreement for the last century or so, settled in law in the United States since Griswold v. Connecticut (381 U.S. 479 [1965]), that marital activity was essentially private; this has since been expanded to include most consensual sexual activity and, at about the same time, religious belief.  I was somewhat startled by a matter-of-fact statement at the beginning of a recent book on ecclesiastical law in England that “everyone knows” (that phrase usually covers over the absence of proof or argument, and is frequently connected to the phrase “of course”) that religion is a private and personal choice -- and this in a country that has an established, state Church.  It is vitally important to realise how complete a reversal this is from what was universally the case for thousands of years, and until quite recently in the West.  In the seventeenth century, religious belief and sexual activity (the subjects of the next few posts) were seen by everyone, absolutely everyone, to be public, civil and civic matters, under law both human and divine, and part and parcel of the stability of the community, the family, the state, and the church (broadly conceived).  This is not an argument that such a change is wrong, although we may realise that this shift has still not really been thought through completely, and that our modern concepts of privacy do not rest on very old precedents or foundations.

    New Englanders who disagreed about the bearing of divine law were punished. Thus, one man in New Haven was fined for declaring that “the laws of the jurisdiction … [were] the wills of men,” while another was chastised for “reproach[ing] those that walk in the ways of God.” Similarly, a Connecticut man who announced that “he hoped to meet some of the members of the Church in hell ere long, and he did not question but he should” was whipped, and one from Plymouth fined for speaking against the church's rule. Another Plymouth man was required to acknowledge his offense of blasphemy for saying “he neither feared God, nor the devil.”

  • 14 Oct 2021 3:31 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Laws, Human and Divine (part two)

    The law of God constituted the foundation for the legal system of every New England colony. The founders of New Haven provided, for example, “that the words of God shall be the only rule to be attended unto in ordering the affairs of government.” The Connecticut General Court agreed that the duty of all New England judges was to do “justice according to our laws and the rule of righteousness” and “to settle” matters “as in equity and justice they shall see fit, that peace and truth may be continued.” It followed “that the judicial laws of God, as they were delivered by Moses,” were to be “a rule to all the courts” and that all judges had a “duty to do the best they [could] that the law of God may be strictly observed.” Interestingly, when Plymouth Colony's General Court later directed that towns should establish their own regulations for managing the local, day-to-day affairs of the townspeople, the General Court required that such local regulations be made with fidelity to the laws of the "Govern[ment]" of the General Court, and not to England itself. The Bradford land patent required that no law be established by the colonists which would be repugnant to the law in England. Historian George Langdon has emphasized that the Plymouth colonists resisted this restriction for some time, based on their view that "different circumstances" in the hazardous territory of the New World made "rigid adherence to English law" less impelling (Langdon, Pilgrim Colony: A History of New Plymouth, 1620-1691, 93). Governor Bradford and other prominent officers of the Colony realized the riskiness of proceeding without a royal charter for their venture. They instead possessed only a land patent issued by the New England Council, a private corporation which did not possess the authority to grant the colonists any right to self-governance (Langdon, 188). Bradford, Isaac Allerton and others attempted repeatedly over the years of the Colony to obtain a charter from the Crown. They failed to do so, and Plymouth Colony ultimately lost its self-governance and was annexed as part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.

  • 13 Oct 2021 3:31 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Laws, Human and Divine (part one)            

    Legal historians often emphasize that the Plymouth Colony applied a combination of English common law and Mosaic law in regulating the daily affairs of the settlers. This invocation of religious authority was also useful in establishing the Colony's own authority to govern: since it had no legislative or judicial authority from the Crown, Holy Writ was the only other option. What they lacked by royal charter was often obtained by invocation of the Colony's service of the greater "glory of God," just as the Monarch invoked this service of God (“by the grace of God”) as a source of legitimacy for his own claim of power and authority. Whatever legislative powers were assumed depended therefore upon some view of the inherent capacity of the group. A necessary consequence of the Separatists' ideas of church forming was that a certain corporate quality attached to the congregation formed by covenant. [Note: There has never been a thoroughgoing study made of Separatism from the angle of corporate theory, and this is all the more remarkable because of the importance of the Congregational church in New England and the close relation of state and church in that region. To comprehend the steps by which the Separatists reached their views we must remember that in England their churches were beyond the pale of the law; that they rejected all ideas of hierarchical organization; and that the Protestant doctrines of the visible church made some form of organization essential. The central and most characteristic fact in Separatism was the covenant by which a church was organized. This was a dual act, a covenant with God -- a solemn promise by the body of believers to God to do his will -- and a second covenant, sometimes reduced to writing, made by the believers with one another, to work for the Lord, to avoid evil, to do good, and to stand together. Only in this way, they believed, could a visible church be established.]

  • 12 Oct 2021 3:33 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Law and Government in the Plymouth Colony

    With the exception of a few of their leaders it seems unlikely that the colonists were aware of any of the legal movements of the time, or even of the politics of the royal court.  Most of them were small farmers or artisans.  Their leaders were exiles because of their beliefs. “They were in respect of law and government footloose, maintaining with the homeland no more than a commercial relation with the group which financed them” (Goebbel, King's Law and Local Custom in Seventeenth Century New England, in Essays in the History of Early American Law, 91).  The members of the Plymouth Colony produced four sets of written codifications of their laws over time, the first in 1636, followed by collections of laws published in 1658, 1672 and 1685. Yet it is vital to recognise that none of this law-making was based on authority granted expressly by royal charter, and Plymouth was fairly unique in its time for lacking such a charter: it was the only English colony in North America never to receive a royal charter. The colonists did possess "land patents," which conferred title in the new "plantation" land to William Bradford and his "associates."  However, these land patents lacked the full grant of authorities that a charter would provide (Langdon, Pilgrim Colony: A History of New Plymouth, 1620-1691, 40). Such charters typically provided the recipients with the express authority to establish a colonial government and to exercise powers over the inhabitants of the colony. Royal charters also provided details as to sources for substantive law that should be utilized in the colony (Chafee, Colonial Courts and the Common Law, in Essays in the History of Early American Law, 56-57). For example, John Winthrop obtained a Royal Charter from King Charles I in 1630 for establishing the Bay Colony, and that charter served "as the legal basis for the government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for more than half a century" (Powers, Crime and Punishment in Early Massachusetts, 1620-1692: A Documentary History, 511).

  • 11 Oct 2021 3:32 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    American v Canadian Thanksgiving (part two)

    Canadian Thanksgiving, on the other hand, began as an explicitly religious observance: it dates back to the 1860s when Protestant ministers in Canada asked the government to declare an official holiday to remind people to thank God for the fall harvest each year.  From 1879 onward, Thanksgiving Day was observed every year on a Thursday in November.  After World War I, an amendment to the Armistice Day Act established that Armistice Day and Thanksgiving would, starting in 1921, both be celebrated on the Monday of the week in which November 11 occurred.  Ten years later, in 1931, the two days became separate holidays, and Armistice Day was renamed Remembrance Day.  From 1931 to 1957, the date was set by proclamation, generally falling on the second Monday in October, except for 1935, when it was moved owing to a general election.  Canadian Thanksgiving has not been given any explicit connection to the Pilgrims, at least officially, although individual Canadians can obviously include the Pilgrims in their celebration.

  • 10 Oct 2021 3:47 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    American v Canadian Thanksgiving (part one)

    The official celebration of U.S. Thanksgiving originated during the War Between the States -- both Presidents (Davis and Lincoln) established more than one national day of thanksgiving.  Abraham Lincoln, urged by Sarah Josepha Hale (editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, who wrote letters to politicians for 40 years advocating an official holiday), set a day of national Thanksgiving by proclamation for the final Thursday in November, explicitly in celebration of the bounties that had continued to fall on the Union and for the military successes in the war, and also explicitly in "humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience."  It was both a day of thanksgiving and a day of humiliation and fasting -- an odd combination, given how the holiday has developed.  Thanksgiving was a civic and civil day of celebration, and was only connected with the Pilgrims later on in the nineteenth century -- I am looking for a date range at which the Pilgrim celebration came to be seen as a proto-Thanksgiving Day, but have thus far not been able to discover when that happened.  James Baker notes that while there are numerous Victorian pictures of Pilgrims (voyage of the Mayflower, landing on Plymouth Rock, courtship of Myles Standish, etc., etc., etc.) there are no nineteenth century paintings or engravings of a Plymouth “First Thanksgiving” (Baker, Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday [Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire Press, 2009], p. 9).

  • 9 Oct 2021 4:04 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Pilgrim Mythology (part two)

    Peter Gomes concluded his address on “What Can We Believe About the Pilgrims?” with this typical (for him) peroration: “We deceive ourselves if we attempt to embellish and adorn the narrative.  After reading countless secondary sources, articles, and sermons, it is always so refreshing to read the homely and unadorned prose of Bradford.  Here is an account of persistence, improvisation, and providence: a story each generation of Pilgrim finds relevant and compelling.  Here too is an account of men and women, totally human and fallible, whose hopes and fears, ideals and foibles, doubts and joys are ancestors of our own.  Their spirit of adventure and their prudent practicality are our birthright.  Often their posterity are out neighbors and friends.  Their religion was firmly rooted in the world in which they found themselves, and yet their homely prayers ring relevant three centuries later in our own bleak hours of despair” NEGHR 124 (Apr 1970): 138.

  • 8 Oct 2021 3:47 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    Pilgrim Mythology (part one)

    “Until recent years, I think it fair to say that the Pilgrims suffered more at the hands of the historians and writers than they did at the hands of the Indians.  Some writers have found the pure and undigested Pilgrim story of exile, emigration, and improvisation held together by a sinewy faith too unbelievable for consumption.  So some of them dismissed it as a somewhat overgrown fairy tale: the type of story fit for company with the Easter Bunny at worse or Jonah in the belly of the whale at best.  They then turned their energies to debunking the Pilgrim ‘myths’ and concentrated upon the more exciting and believable adventure in Boston such as witch hunts, blue laws, and triangular trade.  And other historians, also finding the bare story too much for consumption, decided to embellish and improve upon the original, passing for concrete fact the romantic nostrums of tradition, thus earning for themselves and their subjects the eventual derision of a more discriminating and sophisticated audience.”  Peter J. Gomes, “What Can We Believe About the Pilgrims?” NEHG Register 124 (Apr 1970): 135f.

  • 7 Oct 2021 3:38 AM | Soule (Administrator)

    What were the Native warriors doing at the First Thanksgiving?

    Visits from natives, even native warriors and sachems, to Plymouth were not unusual -- in fact, there were so many of them that the Pilgrims last spring had to devise a way to limit them (by demanding a copper chain as a sign that this visitor had been approved by Massasoit).  The Indians also brought their wives and children, so there was clearly a relationship of trust.  But something was different about Massasoit’s visit now.

    First, there were 90 Pokanoket men, far larger than a usual social call.  They clearly outnumbered the Pilgrims (all of them, including women and children, and not just the men) by about two-to-one.  As I mentioned yesterday, it does not appear that this visit was expected, or that there was a special invitation to Massasoit.

    Second, they were all warriors, so this has something of a hostile tinge to it.  Once they showed up, they had to be fed, although, to be fair, they did go out and kill five deer and bring them back, which is quite a substantial hostess gift.

    Third, this occurred soon after the Pilgrims had established contact with the Massachusetts Indians in Boston Harbour.   This tribe was outside of Massasoit’s sphere of influence, and he may have been trying to assure himself that the Pilgrims were going to stay on his side of the fence.  The Pilgrims were trying to connect and unite the Indians, in the interests of trade -- the more the tribes worked together, the more pelts that was for the English -- but this was very, very threatening to Massasoit and his plans to dominate the area.

    Fourth, this may be related to a customary circuit which sachems would take of dependent and subordinate tribes while they readied themselves to withdraw inland for the winter.  In a sense this was a show of force, and an attempt to put the Pilgrims in their place.

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