Well, Thanksgiving was good and all, and as a result, I’ve decided to deal with some of the historical perspective on the matter of the Mayflower’s arrival on these shores. Specifically, all the complaining about how the gentlemen aboard thought of their arrival, and some of the happenstances regarding what they found when they arrived.
First off, regarding diseases. One of the many complaints I’ve n0ticed about European colonization in general, including the Plymouth colony, is that “They killed the Indians! With smallpox!” Well, yes, they did. Of course, it’s not like it was necessarily their idea. The way some people talk about it, you’d think there was some kind of secret meeting of European explorers where they agreed that smallpox (one of the scourges of Europe, by the way, well into the eighteenth century, if not later) would be their method to destroy the Indians and rule North America! (maniacal laughter). Errr…no. It was more like “Hey guys. What’s up? Wait, why are you all keeling over and dying?”
Which leads me to my next point. A lot of folks think it’s kind of weird that the Plymouth colonists were kind of okay with the fact that the tribe who inhabited the area previously died of disease. Well, it is a little weird–on the other hand, when the only information you have about a tribe is that they’re kind of aggressive and warlike, and might well have wiped you out–well, can you blame them for thinking God’s hand was in it? Especially if you’re not familiar with germ theory?
Going a little further, it’s not like New England was a paradise before the Mayflower showed up–the main reason Massasoit was so willing to help out Plymouth was because he was hoping that the English would be his allies in the local power struggles that had been existent in the region before European contact and were exacerbated by the instability caused by disease.
Not to say that the Plymouth colonists were totally awesome–technically, they did engage in grave-robbing and food theft. On the other hand, it is my understanding that the area appeared abandoned at the time. There also ended up being some awkwardness afterward around the Pequot War, although, Plymouth’s involvement was apparently minimal.
This may seem like an apologia for Plymouth colony. Perhaps it is, but it is also an attempt to see things from their point of view, rather than ours–after all, we know it worked out for them.
They sure didn’t know that.
‘Til next time,
Lowell Van Ness