Pilgrims probably would not be good dinner guests

If any of the original Pilgrims were around today, they would make poor dinner guests on Thanksgiving.

Like many before and after there were religious extremists who were pretty sure that only they were going to Heaven.

If any show up Thursday, the hosts better skip the dessert, because these are folks who harbor a haunting fear that someone, somewhere is having a good time, as H. L. Mencken pointed out.

There is a lot of myth that surrounds the trip of the Mayflower and the religious separatists in 1620. Not many people know that one of the first acts by  Pilgrims was to loot the graves of Indians they found on Cape Cod. Their backers in London had suggested that some of their transport costs could be paid with Indian relics.

They were not the first. Europeans had been visiting what is now the eastern United States for thousands of years. Fishermen found the oceans highly productive.

When they opened one grave, Pilgrims found a blond man embracing the body of a child. Clearly he was not from around there. The local Indians had been wiped out by a disease which later inflicted fatal illnesses on the Pilgrims.

One of the Indians who helped the Pilgrims was an English speaker who had been kidnapped and carried off to Europe.

The Indian, Squanto, made his way back home in time to help out the new arrivals.

The attitude of the Pilgrims has colored the entire philosophy of the United States for better or worse. The Puritan ethics of hard work and little play are engrained in the culture.

The Puritans suffered terribly during their first New England winter. But that only strengthened their faith in God. About half the settlement died.

Their distaste for enjoyment is seen in the Pilgrim raid on the settlement of  Merrymount in 1628 where they were incensed by dancing around a maypole by English settlers who lived in harmony with Indians. The leader was shipped back to England.

The famous Plymouth Rock, of course, is not the first place the new arrivals landed. Detachments of settlers, including the future governor, William Bradford, searched for a suitable landing spot while the Mayflower rode at anchor.

Not all who arrived on the Mayflower were those who wanted to purify the Church of England from its vestiges of Catholicism. Some were simply craftsmen sent by the expedition backers to establish various trades.

Bradford was a prolific writer in his later years. His works shatter the myths and chronicle the hardships faced by the Pilgrims.

The arrival of the English Protestants long after Catholic Spain had settled Latin America guaranteed that a political, social and cultural gulf would exist for hundreds of years between the two parts of the Western Hemisphere.

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