The first movie we watched in this course is called “Desperate Crossing–The Untold Story of the Mayflower”. Released in 2006, it is a History Channel documentary-drama that tells the story of the Pilgrims all the way back to the beginning when they first left England for Holland. This first part of their journey lasted 13 years before they actually made the crossing of the ocean in the Mayflower.

The Mayflower depicted on a 1920 U.S. postage stamp

Mayflower is the ship that carried the first Puritans across the Atlantic ocean. Originally a cargo ship, it was not meant to transport people at all however, it ended up carrying 102 passengers. The ship has become a cultural icon in the history of America as a symbol of early European colonization of the future United States. The stamp shown above was printed for the 300th anniversary of its voyage and for the 400th anniversary (in 2020) The Harwich Mayflower Heritage Centre (in which some sources suggest that the original Mayflower was constructed) is hoping to build a replica of the ship. The Mayflower Compact was also signed on the ship prior to disembarking and the establishment of the Plymouth Colony. The compact is a brief 200-word document that was the first framework of government written and enacted in the territory that would later become the United States of America. It established a rudimentary form of democracy with each member contributing to the welfare of the community.

Critical response

One of my favorite parts of Desperate Crossing was near the beginning, when puritan leaders Robinson and Brewster held yet another “What now?” meeting. The men were arguing, mainly over if going to the New World would be worth it. The camera follows the round table discussion in a genius way and creates the perfect visual representation of the situation through its dizzying circle.

“Most surprising thing to me was about conditions on board the Mayflower itself, how crowded & dirty it was.”

This also came as a surprise to me. If you think about it, it makes sense. Of course some people would get seasick and of course they were all forced to eat over-salted foods, yet none of the sources that I read for my notions mentioned these things. History is mostly like this – people tend to ghost over the nasty details because in the end, they don’t matter that much. More emphasis is put on the actual events. But I liked how Desperate Crossing showed this side of the story as well.

“The location shoots were seemed very true to what it must have been in their day. The wardrobe also was true to what they must have worn. At times in the movie the clothing didn’t seem warm enough.”

I agree and disagree with this person’s opinion. The director of the film has said that they filmed, for the most part, in historically correct locations (“We shot a total of a month and a half in the fall and winter of 2006 in Maryland, Virginia, Massachusetts, Belgium and England.”). However, given that they arrived in Plymouth in November/December, there was a significant lack of snow. The actors’ clothing was mostly correct for the time period that they were going for but I felt that – given they wore the same outfits for the entire movie – the clothes should have gotten dirtied a bit more. They also looked rather cheap (for today’s standards; reminded me of a costume you’d rent for a theme party) but I understand that the budget for this movie probably wasn’t the biggest.

“In fact, it certainly is more movie than documentary and, although interspersed throughout are historians filling in the gaps, this docu-drama is as engulfing and riveting as any full-length period movie I have seen.”

I disagree. While a decent one, I don’t think Desperate Crossing is above the average documentary in terms of quality and accuracy. For the time it was released maybe, but by today’s standards, it doesn’t rank too highly in my book. I personally felt that the acting was lacking, especially on the native americans part. But okay, it is also part documentary right? Sure didn’t seem that way to me. Historians appearing to talk about historically important things only happened a handful of times, not taking into account the part about childbirth (which I felt was completely irrelevant). Maybe I’m just too used to the high quality nature documentaries BBC produce.

Overall, I didn’t feel that Desperate Crossing was good enough for a 4.5 out of 5 star rating on amazon. However, most of it was historically accurate, and the things I pointed out could be easily overlooked, as they’re not that important to the story of the Pilgrims. I can see that the intended audience is not historians with in depth knowledge on the subjects but rather the average american. I also understand that for a lot of americans this movie is a valuable source of information on their ancestors, and I respect that about it.


Native Americans

Origin of Native Americans

There are many theories as to who are the ancestors of Native Americans. The most common theory is that natives crossed Beringia, a land bridge between Asia and America, which is now the Bering Strait some. The time window for such travel is anywhere between 15 and 70 thousand years ago. Another theory mentions the migration from Polynesia and from the northern parts of China. It is clear that the migration went on for thousands years and not in one wave.

Different tribes and their way of life

There are many tribes located across the US. The most known tribes are the Navajo, the Pueblo, the Apache and the Iroquois.

  • The Navajo, one of the oldest tribes, settlements are located in the western part of the US: Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. The Navajo have a semi-nomadic lifestyle with semi-permanently built houses and the people are hunters-gatherers. They have a reputation for silversmithing. The Navajo formed raid and trade caravans, which travelled through the country. Today there are around 200 thousand full blood individuals but the tribe is “going extinct” because younger members are not keeping traditions and not speaking their native language.
  • The Pueblo live in the same region as the Navajo. They were a static tribe with more permanent and compact villages, which were carved in the faces of cliffs. The residences are called pit houses. The Pueblo are notably skilled at pottery and architecture.
  • The Apache reside in New Mexico and in its surrounding areas. Its name derives from the Spanish word ápachu, meaning “enemy”. The Apache are a nomadic tribe and most of the tribesmen were hunters or farmers. They lived in a parsimonious house called tipi. Apaches lived with their immediate family in clusters with others.
  • The Iroquois live in the north-eastern region in the United States in states, such as Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania. Similar to the Pueblo the Iroquois were with a stationary way of life. They live in permanent villages in longhouses and today, the Iroquois have formed a confederation, which unites the smaller regions of the tribe.

Legend of Pocahontas

Pocahontas (a native who wished for peace between the indigenous and the colonists) saved John Smith by willing to marry him.

Pocahontas was a princess from the Powhatan tribe. She saved a colonist named John Smith, who was captured by the locals. After marrying Smith, she headed to the UK where she converted to Christianity and adopted a new name Rebecca. There are many theories as to why and when exactly she converted and changed her name and also how she died. Other residents of the colony called Pocahontas a “civilized savage”. The incident showed, that native Americans could be civilized and converted to Christianity.

Northwest Ordinance of 1787

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 was the first version of the US declaration. The declaration recognized the territory between the Great lakes, the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and stated that the territory is to be divided into districts and each district is to be ran by a governor. The territory was the first region to abolish slavery.

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 was proposed by president Thomas Jefferson. In addition, the act stated that each new state is equal to the older states, not inferior, as it was before the ordinance.

Indian Removal Act of 1830

This act was signed by Andrew Jackson in 1830. It granted the government to acquire the land of native tribes. As a consequence, many indigenous tribes were forced to relocate west. It is believed that over 100,000 people were moved to the Rockies for forced labour.


The central government of USA reclaimed more lands from the natives after the civil war. This action left natives with no income and poverty and famines followed suit. In 1868, president Ulysses S. Grant gave back many areas of land to the locals, in an effort to make peace between homeless natives and the government. Today there are 326 reservations for natives, some of these benefit from resources and others suffer from economic and social problems.

Indian citizenship Act of 1924

A congressman Homer P. Synder supported the act of giving indigenous Americans US citizenship. The proposal came to light after the First World War, where natives could serve in the army, but were not allowed to vote.

Trail of Broken Treaties of 1972

The Trail of Broken Treaties was a protest dedicated to the horrible living conditions of indigenous Americans. The protest swept the nation and protesters formed a caravan from Washington D.C to the Pacific coast. The rebels even conquered the Bureau of Indian Affairs. At the end, the protesters were heard and the government commenced negotiations to improve the situation of natives.

Present situation

The problems of native Americans are still apparent, mainly due to the inequality between Americans and the indigenous. These problems include lack of education for natives, living conditions and bad housing. Another issue is the emigration of natives from the reservations to big cities. As it is seen, the gap between the local tribes and USA is still visible.

First Settlements

Jamestown Colony

(named for James I) On May 14, 1607, 100 members of Virginia Company founded the first permanent English settlement in North America on the banks of the James River. Famine, disease and conflict with local Native American tribes in the first two years brought Jamestown to the brink of failure before the arrival of a new group of settlers and supplies in 1610. After the marriage of colonist John Rolfe and Pocahontas came a period of peace. (In 1606, King James I granted a charter to a new venture, the Virginia Company, to form a settlement in North America. At the time, Virginia was the English name for the entire eastern coast of North America north of Florida; they had named it for Elizabeth I, the “virgin queen.” The Virginia Company planned to search for gold and silver deposits in the New World, as well as a river route to the Pacific Ocean that would allow them to establish trade with the Orient.)

  • Living conditions: In 1607 Captain Newport went back to England to give a report to the king and to gather more supplies and colonists. The settlers left behind suffered greatly from hunger and illness. They were drinking water from the salty and slimy river which caused many deaths. They were dying from swellings, fluxes, fevers, by famine, and by conflicts with Algonquian tribes. The winter of 1609-10 is known as the “Starving Time.” By early 1610, 80-90% of the settlers had died due to starvation and disease. As the food stocks ran out, the settlers ate the colony’s animals—horses, dogs, and cats—and then turned to eating rats, mice, and shoe leather. In their desperation, some practiced cannibalism.
  • Population: By 1699 there were around 60,000 people in the Virginia colony, including about 6,000 African slaves. // The winter of 1609–10, commonly known as the Starving Time, took a heavy toll. Of the 500 colonists living in Jamestown in the autumn, fewer than one-fifth were still alive by March 1610. Sixty were still in Jamestown; another 37, more fortunate, had escaped by ship. // Chief Powhatan’s successor, Opechancanough, carried out a surprise attack on the colony on the morning of March 22, 1622. Some 347 to 400 colonists died; reports of the death toll vary. The deaths that day represented between one-fourth and one-third of the colony’s population of 1,240. // Of the 6,000 people who came to the settlement between 1608 and 1624, only 3,400 survived.
  • Plantations: Brits learned from the Native Americans how to harvest corn, and by the fall of 1611 they had harvested a decent amount of corn themselves. In 1614 a tobacco planter John Rolfe introduced a new type of tobacco and the Brits started to grow tobacco which made Jamestown’s economy thrive.
  • Import of slaves: In 1619 the first African slaves arrived in Jamestown, their job was to pick tobacco. Their presence opened the door for Virginia to accept the institution of slavery. Jamestown had started a tradition of slavery that would endure in America for generations. // The second far-reaching development was the arrival of the first Africans in English America. They had been carried on a Portuguese slave ship sailing from Angola to Veracruz, Mexico. The ship was attacked by a Dutch man-of-war and an English ship out of Jamestown. The two attacking ships captured about 50 slaves—men, women, and children—and brought them to outposts of Jamestown. More than 20 of the African captives were purchased there.


an English ship that transported the first English Puritans (English Protestants in the 16th/17th centuries who sought to purify the Church of England of Roman Catholic practices, maintaining that the Church of England had not been fully reformed and needed to become more Protestant), known today as the Pilgrims, from Plymouth, England, to the New World in 1620. There were 102 passengers.

Pilgrim Fathers

The Pilgrims or Pilgrim Fathers were the first English settlers of the Plymouth Colony in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Their leadership came from the Puritans who had fled England because of religious intolerance during the reign of James I for the relative calm and tolerance of 17th-century Netherlands. They were concerned that they might lose their cultural identity if they remained in the Netherlands, so they arranged with investors to establish a new colony in America. They wanted to practice their religion freely while maintaining their English identity. Approximately two-thirds of the passengers on the Mayflower were non-Separatists, who were hired to protect the company’s interests. The colony was established in 1620 and became the second successful English settlement in America. They became known as the Pilgrim Fathers 2 centuries after their arrival, they were initially referred to as the Old Comers and later as the Forefathers. The Pilgrims’ story became a central theme in the history and culture of the United States.

Mayflower Compact

The Mayflower Compact was the first governing document (set of rules for self-governance) of Plymouth Colony. It was written by the male passengers of the Mayflower, consisting of separatist Puritans, adventurers, and tradesmen. Because they knew that life without laws would be catastrophic, they created the Mayflower Compact to ensure that the functioning social structure would prevail.

Puritan Colony in Plymouth, New England

(the aforementioned pilgrims & puritans) In 1620 December around 100 English settlers landed on the shores of Cape Cod. They formed the first permanent settlement of Europeans in New England. More than half the settlers died during the first winter but the survivors were able to secure peace treaties with neighboring Native American tribes. Though the Separatists were a minority in the group, they formed its powerful center, and controlled entirely the colony’s government during its first 40 years. Thanks to the successful peace treaties, the settlers were able to build a viable settlement for themselves instead of guarding themselves against the attacks. Agriculture, fishing and trading helped to make the colony self-sufficient within 5 years.

Puritan ethics and ideology:

  • Puritan ethic is the value attached to hard work, thrift, and efficiency in one’s worldly calling. Richard Baxter, English Puritan Church leader, said “Promise not long life to yourselves, but live as those that are always uncertain of another day.” For the Puritans was important to “redeem the time”, that meant to order one’s daily life in accordance with godly principles and for maximum effectiveness. Puritans put God first and valued everything else in relation to God. // emphasizes that hard work, discipline, diligence and frugality are a result of a person’s subscription to the values espoused by the Protestant faith // Living daily in the shadow of eternity gave the Puritans a deep appreciation for living every moment on this earth to the fullest for God. The Puritans aspired to be worldly saints—Christians with earth as their sphere of activity and with heaven as their ultimate hope. Putting God first and valuing everything else in relation to God was a recurrent Puritan theme.
  • Puritan ideology: When Puritans had settled in the New England they had only one goal in mind: to regain closeness to God and start a New Eden in the Americas. This was to be accomplished by adopting a simple life and rejecting worldliness. //  Some Puritan ideals, including the formal rejection of Roman Catholicism, were incorporated into the doctrines of the Church of England. Some strong religious beliefs common to Puritans had direct impacts on culture. Puritans believed it was the government’s responsibility to enforce moral standards and ensure true religious worship was established and maintained. Education was essential to every person, male and female, so that they could read the Bible for themselves. However, the Puritans’ emphasis on individual spiritual independence was not always compatible with the community cohesion that was also a strong ideal. Anne Hutchinson (1591–1643), the well educated daughter of a teacher, argued with the established theological orthodoxy, and was forced to leave the colony with her followers. They believed that all of their beliefs should be based on the Bible, which they considered to be divinely inspired. At a time when the literacy rate in England was less than 30 percent, the Puritan leaders of colonial New England believed children should be educated for both religious and civil reasons, and they worked to achieve universal literacy. In 1642, Massachusetts required heads of households to teach their wives, children and servants basic reading and writing so that they could read the Bible and understand colonial laws.


Thanksgiving dates back to November 1621, when the newly arrived Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians gathered at Plymouth for an autumn harvest celebration. Thanksgiving, which occurs on the fourth Thursday in November, continues to be a day for Americans to gather for a day of feasting, football and family.

Religious issues (freedom)

By law everybody was supposed to belong to the Church of England. William Laud (the Archbishop of Canterbury) and Charles I were strongly opposed to the Puritans and wanted to suppress them.


The Quaker Movement or the Religious Society of Friends was founded in England in the 17th century by George Fox. He and other early Quakers, were persecuted for their beliefs, which included the idea that the presence of God exists in every person. Quakers rejected elaborate religious ceremonies, didn’t have official clergy (religious leaders) and believed in spiritual equality for men and women. Quaker missionaries first arrived in America in the mid-1650s. Quakers, who practice pacifism (the belief that war is wrong), played a key role in the Abolition (the official end of slavery in the US) and women’s rights movements. // The first Quakers lived in mid-17th-century England. The movement arose from the Legatine-Arians and other dissenting Protestant groups, breaking away from the established Church of England. The Quakers, especially the ones known as the Valiant Sixty, attempted to convert others to their understanding of Christianity, travelling both throughout Great Britain and overseas, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some of these early Quaker ministers were women. They based their message on the religious belief that “Christ has come to teach his people himself”, stressing the importance of a direct relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and a direct religious belief in the universal priesthood of all believers. They emphasized a personal and direct religious experience of Christ, acquired through both direct religious experience and the reading and studying of the Bible. Quakers focused their private life on developing behaviour and speech reflecting emotional purity and the light of God.

In the past, Quakers were known for their use of thee as an ordinary pronoun, refusal to participate in war, plain dress, refusal to swear oaths, opposition to slavery, and teetotalism. Some Quakers founded banks and financial institutions, including Barclays, Lloyds, and Friends Provident; manufacturing companies, including shoe retailer C. & J. Clark and the big three British confectionery makers Cadbury, Rowntree and Fry; and philanthropic efforts, including abolition of slavery, prison reform, and social justice projects.

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