Notions – Group 1

  • Origin of Native Americans – There are many theories as to who are the ancestors of Native Americans. Today there are three theories, that seem most valid. The first theory mentions the migration from Polynesia and from the northern parts of China. However the most rampant speculation is that natives crossed Beringia, a land bridge between Asia and America, which is now the Bering Strait some 30,000 years ago. 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 settlements are located in the western part of the US: Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. The Navajo are with a semi-nomadic lifestyle and the people were hunters-gatherers before the Spanish contact. Their tribe is one of the oldest in the US with their specialty of silversmithing. Also the Navajo formed raid and trade caravans, which travelled through the country. 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 word ápachu, meaning “enemy” in the local language. The Apache were 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 – The legend of Pocahontas tells a story of a native American, who wished for peace between the indigenous and the colonists. Pocahontas was a princess from the Powhatan tribe. She saved a colonist named John Smith, who was captured by the locals. During her visit, she converted to Christianity, adopted a new name Rebecca and married to an Englishman. Other residents of the colony dubbed Rebecca a “civilized savage”, as they wanted to increase investment on the new continent. The incident showed, that native Americans could be civilized and converted to Christianity.
  • Northwest Ordinance of 1787 – The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 was proposed by president Thomas Jefferson. The declaration recognized the territory of the US, within the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The act laid the bases of governing the Northwestern Territory. It stated that the territory is to be divided to districts and each district is run by a governor. The territory was the first region to abolish slavery. 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.
  • Reservations – 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. Snyder 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 United States is home to 3.1 million Native Americans, which makes up only 9% of all the population of US. Much of their cultural heritage is destroyed, many have completely abandoned their historical roots and have assimilated completely into American society. Young Native Americans move out of reservations in larger numbers every year. These young natives are the minority in any community they enter outside of a reservation, and they often marry non-native people. They face a lot of social problems such as unemployment, poverty, alcoholism and drug abuse, gambling, lack of education and jobs.

Notions – Group 2

Discussion questions with expected answers

  1. What is the difference between the Puritans’ beliefs and the separatists’ beliefs towards the Church of England? The Puritans believed that the Church of England needs to be purified. The Separatists were more radical. They believed that the Church of England could no longer be saved and that they should form an entirely separate church. They wanted to separate from the Church of England.
  2. What did the Pilgrims think about America and its inhabitants before setting sail? They were mostly stuck to stereotypes about Native Americans. They believed that they were savages and cannibals. They also believed that they (the Pilgrims) should spread the word of God to America. Some thought that the change of diet, air and drinking water would bring them grave illnesses. All of them agreed that the journey was risky but worth it.
  3. Why was Mayflower (a cargo ship) used for this journey? The ship was not meant for passengers but it was very large meaning it could hold many people and many supplies. It is possible that it would be easier to cross the Atlantic with it than a smaller ship.
  4. How were the living conditions on the ship?  The living conditions were quite poor due to many people being cramped up together in a small space for a long time. Many people had seasickness. Also the food on the ship was very hard and not good at all. People and animals were all below deck so there was no sanitation thus the smell was very bad below deck.
  5. Why was the food on the ship so salty? What were the consequences of that? The beef was so salty because it would preserve for a longer time that way. Food as salty as that caused dehydration, hypothermia. One of the long time effects was high blood pressure.
  6. How did the passengers feel after arriving in America? They were probably glad that that part of the journey had ended and were excited to start their new lives in a completely different surrounding.
  7. How did the Puritans get along with the natives? At first, there were some tensions but they made peace.
  8. How did the Puritans and the natives make peace? The religion of the Puritans required them to host the guests and feast together to make peace. That was the first Thanksgiving.
  9. Why is turkey eaten on Thanksgiving? The colonists had hunted wild turkeys for the feast on “the first Thanksgiving”.
  10. How did they spend time together on Thanksgiving? They drank and ate together. They might have wrestled and competed against each other with a bow and arrow. Both sides showed their strengths.
  11. What caused the slight rise in tensions between the natives and Europeans? Thousands of more Europeans arrived in Wampanoag territory. Colonization like that could not be foreseen by the natives.
  12. Why were the Puritans forced to emigrate to America? (notion: Religious Issues)
    By law, everyone was supposed to belong to the Church of England. Charles I was strongly opposed to Puritans was determined to suppress them. The life in Holland was also not good enough because Pilgrims thought they would face extinction there. They had to do hard labour and their children were becoming more Dutch, so they decided to leave. The culture and language were simply strange for the Puritans.
  13. Who were John Carver and William Bradford and what happened to them?
    John Carver was the initial governor died of an illness in 1621. William Bradford succeeded him and died in 1657 (and by that outlived most of his friends).
  14. Was the first voyage initially a success? Or how did it turn out?
    There were 3 attempts in total. At the start, the Mayflower was supposed to reach America while accompanied by a smaller ship named Speedwell. However, the first two attempts were failures as Speedwell started leaking and they had to return to England. Ultimately, they abandoned Speedwell and sailed for America using only the Mayflower.
  15. What happened to the main beam and how was it fixed?
    Due to the strong storms, the main support beam started cracking up. The ship had already suffered many delays, food shortages, illnesses, etc. Now, the whole ship was included in the repairment of the main beam. It was repaired using a device called jackscrew. It was loaded on board to help the construction of homes. The jackscrew was used to secure the support beam and by that, they prevented any further cracking.
  16. What happened to the Mayflower after they reached Cape Cod?
    The captain, Christopher Jones, set sail towards England. Ship’s empty hold was ballasted with stones. A year after the arrival from America the captain died and the ship was probably taken apart.
  17. What do you think why were the Pilgrim Fathers able to make peace with the locals, whereas the British could not? (AN OPEN END QUESTION)
    I think they had a more positive mindset. Though some of them actually thought that the Natives were cruel cannibals some of them truly believed that the Natives can be civil. They concentrated more on collaboration and cooperation than violence. They were happy to live alongside the Native Americans.
  18. Who are Quakers?
    Historically religious group of movements. They were Christian Protestant. They believed in pacifism and in the fact that God exists in every one of us. The movement was founded by George Fox in the mid 17th century England. They were persecuted for their beliefs. First missionaries arrived in America in the 1650s.
  19. What was the Mayflower Compact?
    A set of laws applied in the Plymouth Colony in order to avoid
    disobedience, violence and a total catastrophe. These laws were applied so that a functioning social structure would prevail.
  20. What did the Puritans value? What were their beliefs?
    Hard work, thrift, efficiency, closeness to God, simple life, the uncertainty of another day.
  21. Where did the Pilgrim Fathers try to initially reach instead of Cape Cod?
    Their initial plan was to reach the Colony of Virginia. Instead, they reached Cape Cod which was way further south.
  22. So, we’ve talked about the current situation of the Native Americans. Do you know do they have to pay taxes or do they have to attend military?
  23. No, the Native Americans have the same obligations as the usual Americans.

Visual & rationale


This is a painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme. It depicts the first Thanksgiving. Although Thanksgiving was made a national holiday in the US in 1863, it was celebrated for the first time in 1621. It was then, almost 400 years ago, celebrated by the Pilgrims and Native Americans after a good harvest. The feast in 1621 was also used as a peacemaker between the Pilgrims and Native Americans. It is relevant because today it is a major holiday not only in the US but in Canada, Grenada, Liberia and Saint Lucia as well. It gives friends and family a chance to get together once a year to be thankful for everything they have and celebrate traditions and peace between their Forefathers and Native Americans. The tradition has stayed since the first Thanksgiving to eat turkey.

Critical response

The movie – “Desperate Crossing: The Untold Story of the Mayflower” is mostly based on historical records and in James Wegg’s opinion “the events are largely seen through the eyes of William Bradford”. Which I mostly agree with as he was one of the most important names in the colony at the time hence it would make sense to follow the story through Bradford’s eyes. As it was first released on the History Channel, one could expect a solid production for the movie. That is precisely what was delivered. One could not help but agree with Wegg as he mentions, on the production value of the movie: “first-rate production values (period costumes and replica vessels fill the screen with convincing detail)”. The costumes and the details on the ship were as precise as recreating them would allow. You can imagine that recreating the entirety of the costumes from 1620 would be an exceptionally difficult task but one that the costume designers have done a brilliant job with.

Two reviewers – ‘woodkmw’ and Doug MacLean on IMDb and HomeTheaterInfo, respectively, were under the same opinion that the movie exceeded their previous knowledge that they had gained about the subject from their days at school. Woodkmw explains it: “Like most people from the U.S., my knowledge of the Puritans and the pilgrims in Plymouth is limited to Thanksgiving stories. /…/ I came away with a much better knowledge of early 17th century England, the Massachusetts area of that time, the local native population and the importance of working together and helping each other.” Doug said the same about not learning the subject enough in school: “The only thing most people know about the Pilgrims and their ship, the Mayflower comes from a brief lesson in grade school. Typically this part of American history is presented just before the long Thanksgiving weekend.”

Woodkmw liked what he saw in the movie and thought: “The story covers very well the pilgrims’ life in England, persecution, the Netherlands years, the crossing, why they ended up in what is now Massachusetts (I had no clue before), their very difficult first year, and the interactions with the local Indian population and how they were helped to survive.” I agree with nearly everything besides that the story covered the Pilgrims’ first very difficult year well. In my opinion, the story largely overlooked the difficulties of the Pilgrims’ first year. Especially the part where they struggled the most – the first winter, when more than half of the Pilgrims died. I agree with the user ‘woodkmw’ when he says: “The show is a combination of documentary /…/ And a historically recreated film depicting actors in costume and using the language of the time.” I enjoyed that the language the actors used in the film was authentic. Although at times, it made following the conversations difficult, it also made the film that much more realistic and historically accurate.

All in all, I believe the reviewers agree with me when I say that the movie was very accurate historically although the version we watched was a bit too compressed at some parts. The type of accuracy was to be expected from a movie by the History Channel.

Reviews: ‘woodkmw’ on IMDb – https://www.imdb.com/review/rw1581332/?ref_=tt_urv James Wegg on his own website – http://www.jamesweggreview.org/Articles.aspx?ID=201 Doug MacLean on his own website – http://www.hometheaterinfo.com/desperate_crossing.htm

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