• Origin of Native Americans – There are many theories on how and when the first people made it to the Americas. The widely accepted school of thought is that about 23000 years ago, a single group splintered off from an East Asian population. The group, crossed the Bering Land Bridge between northeast Asia and Alaska, eventually making their way to the rest of the Americas. This is the most logical explanation, so the main issue is when it happened and did they come all at once or were there different waves of movement. Until a few years ago the timeframe of people migrating to the Americas was placed at around 35000 years ago, but new data suggests that this occurred much earlier, about 23000 years earlier. After the move to what is now Canada, the people lived in isolation until the end of the ice age, at which point they migrated south, following now extinct animals to hunt. After that they developed different cultures and some took up agriculture in the south.
  • Different tribes and their way of life There are hundreds of different tribes in south and north America, but the most notable north American tribes are listed below:

Sioux – The largest Indian tribe, made up of seven groups, lived in Tipis where the woman was the head of the household. They hunted buffalo for survival. They went to war with US, but in the end lost and, like many other Indians, were forced into reserves. The most known conflict was the battle of wounded knee. In 1890 about 500 US cavalry troops surrounded some Sioux and were ordered to escort them to the nearest railway to be shipped elsewhere. The Sioux fought back and in the end about 150 of them died along with 25 troopers. Some escaped but probably succumbed to hypothermia.

Cherokee – lived in huts, grew corn, squash and more. Were the first Indians to be allowed to become citizens in the US. They were forcibly removed from their native lands because of the gold rush and were forced by the military to move 1300 kilometers, during which about 4000 Indians died of disease and malnutrition.

Blackfoot – Lived at the border of the US and Canada, hunted bison to survive. Later acquired guns and horses to expand their territory, but the near extinction of the buffalo made them settle down and start farming. Lived in Tipis.

After the Europeans came, many new tribes formed because of war with the invaders.

  • Legend of Pocahontas – Pocahontas was a native American, who is known for a myth involving her saving the life of an Englishman by the name of John Smith, by coming in between her father’s club and John’s head. She later had a child with another Englishman – John Rolfe and they had a child together. She later moved to England and was brought to the Queen as an example of a civilized savage.
  • Northwest Ordinance of 1787 – The addition of new land, as states, into the territory of the US. This was important because the states had new laws, for example the prohibition of slavery, which basically drew the border between slave states and free states.
  • Indian Removal Act of 1830 – A law passed that would allow the president to negotiate the removal of Indians to west of the Mississippi river in order to gain their land for the US. This led to the Trail of Tears and many more deaths because of forced expulsion.
  • Reservations – Special territories made for the Indian, where they would be safe from relocation and only they could live there.
  • Indian citizenship Act of 1924 – The law passed that would grant all Indians in the US citizenship. Although it is stated in the constitution, that anyone born in the US has a claim to a citizenship, it was carefully worded that the Indians would be excluded. This was passed to help the many Indians who served in WWI.
  • Trail of Broken Treaties of 1972 – The Indian right movement, that sought to grant better conditions for the Indians in the US. It manifested itself as a caravan that moved across the US ending up in Washington, where the Nixon administration refused to meet with them. Later they came to an agreement.
  • Present situation – There are still problems regarding the situation of Indians. They still don’t have all the rights of a white American, and they lack power in their own territories and reservation areas. Assimilation into the western culture is also a big problem as the smaller and even the biggest Indian cultures are failing to keep the newer generations acquainted with their way of life and traditions.
  • Jamestown colony –  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. Due to famine, disease and conflict with local Native American tribes,  in the first two years Jamestown was 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.

Living conditions – In 1607 Captain Newport went back to England to give a report to the king and to gather more supplies and colonists however the settlers left behind suffered greatly from famine and illness. They were drinking water from the salty and dirty river which caused many deaths. Many died of swellings, fluxes, fevers, by famine, or by conflicts with Algonquian tribes. The winter of 1609-1610 is known as the “Starving Time.” By the beginning of 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.

  • Mayflower – The Mayflower was an English ship that transported the first English Puritans, 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 of the 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 –  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. For the Puritans it was important to “redeem the time”, that meant to order one’s daily life in accordance with godly principles and for maximum effectiveness. 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.

Puritan ideology – 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. 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 – 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.
  • Quakers – 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. 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.

Visual piece

As the Mayflower was the ship that carried the pilgrims across the Atlantic Ocean to Plymouth, I think that this picture of Mayflower II, which is the replica of the original ship, gives a good visual representation of the ship that over 100 pilgrims had to call home for about 2 months. The ship itself weighs over 180 tonnes, is 24 meters long and has 4 decks. From the people on the image you can see just how undersized the ship actually is for more than 100 passengers, not to mention that the Mayflower was a cargo ship not designed to carry many passengers there for the living conditions for each passenger was poor. To live in these cramped and dark  conditions below the main deck with no privacy for 2 months must have been very uncomfortable. However, as the passengers were heading for a new home, they would have to deal with these unpleasant conditions for some time.

Movie analysis

The Mayflower is a movie that talks about puritans that traveled to America in search of a new home, due to being repressed in their homeland – England. They wanted to live in peace and freely practice their religious beliefs. Initialy two ships were to set sail to America – The Speedwell and Mayflower. However, as the Speedwell was very leaky, the trip had to be cancelled twice and finally the Speedwell and 20 passengers had to be left behind so the Mayflower had to take up the journey on its own while being overcrowded. Finally, the Mayflower reached ashore after sailing for 2 months. As the ship reached land in autumn, the first year would be rough and over half of the passengers died within the first year. However, after successful negotiations with the natives, life became easier as the settlers could focus on improving their living conditions as opposed to setting up defenses. While the movie gives a good overview of the journey that the pilgrims had to undergo, there are still some aspects that could have been represented better.

One of the biggest misrepresentation of the movie is, that in no way is it depicted, that over half of the settlers died in the first year. After the Mayflower had started to head back to England the next shot cuts to people having already built houses and living in relative luxury. In no way would you think that half of the people would die. In reality there were several small expeditions launched after the first docking to find a suitable place to set up a settlement. After having rejected several locations the settlers finally decided on an abandoned Indian village where it was pretty easy to set up agriculture and houses. Due to exhaustion, bad weather and the need to defend their settlement (as peace with the Indians had not been achieved by then) the building of proper houses took a long time. In fact numerous death were the result of a lack of shelter, alongside disease. Women and children had to live on board another ship (that had been transported, disassembled, on the Mayflower) due to the lack of shelter.

All in all the movie gives a good overview of the life that the pilgrims had on the Mayflower and during the first few years there, but  still the movie had some eyebrow rising moments when it came to historical accuracy and there could have been more focus on that. Overall I still enjoyed the movie, but if you are interested in the topic it is worth a while to read more about the topic online to make sure that everything that was in the movie had also been the same in real life.

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