The Arrival Of The Pilgrim Fathers by Antonio Gisbert (1864)


This painting depicts the Pilgrim Fathers finally disembarking in The New World: America. Some of them are looking up to the sky, praising God for letting the poor souls reach their destination. Others are looking on the ground; another form of thanking The One Above. All of them are relieved of the voyage’s end. In the middle of the painting, stands a man who might be a depiction of William Bradford. His importance is crucial to the Pilgrims’ journey to America, therefore putting him at the centre of attention. Behind William, sits Elizabeth Fisher Hopkins and on her lap is her son Oceanus, who was born during the voyage. In a way, this symbolises the birth and a new beginning for all the people. The Mayflower can be seen on the background with its masts up high and flags waving in the wind. It is also their last sign of civilisation and on the continent lie many things unknown to the Pilgrims.


Native Americans

Origin of Native Americans

The ancestors of the Native Americans we know today originated from Central Asia and came to the continent around 50,000 to 17,000 years ago. During that time (the Wisconsin glaciation), sea levels fell to the point where both the continent of Eurasia and North-America were connected (that part was called Beringia), therefore giving people a chance to immigrate to the Alaskan areas. Around 16,500 years ago, the glaciers around Alaska began melting, allowing inhabitants to move to Canada and beyond.

Different tribes and their way of life

As of the 29th of January 2018, there are 573 Native American tribes who are federally recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

All of them lived a nomadic lifestyle, changing their location 6-8 times a year. They did this because the location where they lived would not supply them with enough resources due to the Natives’ lifestyle and partly because of trying to follow the buffalo immigrations. Religion-wise, their god, the Great Spirit, wanted them to live a life continually moving. Natives put their belongings in buffalo-skinned bags called parfléches, which were dragged by their horses.

The choice of housing for the Native Americans were tipis. They were easy to move, warm during the winter and cool during summer and the circular shape was adopted due to beliefs that the “power of the world works in circles”.

Legend of Pocahontas

Pocahontas (1596-1617) (born as Matoaka, known as Amonute) was a Native American woman, who was known for having relations with the then British town of Jamestown, Virginia. She was the daughter of a chief called Wahunsenaca (or Chief Powhatan) in the network of tribes known as Tsenacommacah. Her most well-known endeavour was the saving of a captured colonist named John Smith in 1607. Two rocks were put on the ground and he was forced to put his head between them. As the chief raised his club, Pocahontas put her head against John’s to protect him. However, this topic has been debated on for years. One theory suggests that John was never in any danger, that this “execution” was actually a ceremony to initiate him into the tribe. Later on, in 1608, Smith was given Capahowasick and named Chief Nantaquoud. 5 years later, Pocahontas was captured by Captain Samuel Argall for ransom. It was due to an agreement where the English where to give them weapons and other resources in exchange for corn, the Indians took the trade items and sneakily fled from the scene, later on taking prisoners as well. Pocahontas was moved to Jamestown and shortly after, to Henrico (present-day Richmond) where she was put under the supervision of Reverend Alexander Whittaker. The chief agreed to any agreements made by the English during negotiations. At Henrico, Pocahontas learned the English language, their customs and religion, later on becoming Christian.

After the marriage with tobacco plant owner John Rolfe, she was baptized as “Rebecca” and they had a son named Thomas. In 1616, they moved to England, accompanied by many Powhatan men and women. She became known as “Lady Rebecca Rolfe” and once sat next to King James I and Queen Anne.

In 1617, she died before moving back to Virginia. The circumstances surrounding her death are unknown, but it is believed she died of either tuberculosis, dysentery or pneumonia.

Northwest Ordinance of 1787

Also known as The Ordinance of 1787 was an act which called the area beyond the Ohio River a part of the US, known as the Northwest Territory (First organized territory in the US). Before enactment, the act was criticised by both George Washington and James Monroe so it was reformed to suit their demands (reformed state boundaries). It was also shown to be influenced by Thomas Jefferson after being put into effect. The land itself wasn’t given or shared by the existing states, rather new states were formed in those areas (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota were all formed during the 19th century). The Congress faced many issues in controlling the territory, such as the lack of capital in the treasury, unsanctioned citizens moving into the territory and violent confrontations with natives. The central government couldn’t put The Ordinance in effect so it was later replaced by a new federal government and the act renewed as the Northwest Ordinance of 1789.

Indian Removal Act of 1830

Signed by President Andrew Jackson on May 28th, the act stayed up until 1848. It meant that the ethnic people must move west, behind the Mississippi River to give land to the growing American population. It is viewed as discrimination against the Native Americans by removing them from their ancestral lands by force. Many conflicts rose from this outrage, from both the tribes and the political Whig Party. The Cherokee, a tribal autonomous government, fought against the act, but were unfortunately unsuccessful and forced to leave their lands in a march which became known as the Trail Of Tears.


Reservations were made within the US for Native American tribes. They are all managed by the legally recognized tribes within the area. The first reservation made on US soil was in 1758 in southern New Jersey. It was called Edgepillock, having an area of 3258 acres. Nowadays, it is known as Indian Mills. There are currently 328 reservations made for the ethnic tribes, having a total of 56,200,000 acres of land. Some areas house more than one tribe. Most of the reservations are located to the west of Mississippi River, as they were the first ones granted to them by the government. The areas have tribal sovereignty, meaning they can possibly have gambling legally within the area, which also helps gather tourists.

Indian Citizenship Act of 1924

Also known as the Snyder Act, it was proposed by Representative Homer Peter Snyder. It wishes to grant citizenship to the indigenous people, who were referred to as “Indians”. The act was signed by President Calvin Coolidge on June 2nd 1924. The natives themselves debated on this Act, whether it might affect their sovereignty and identity. However, The Indian Rights Association responded that federal guardianship is an essential part of citizenship. They pushed for tribal rights and property, but also to gain protection from the government after passing the act.

Trail of Broken Treaties of 1972

It was a cross-country protest made solely by the ethnic Native Americans, who demanded equality and more attention to their unjust situation, such as inadequate housing and poor living standards. It started off on the west coast and ended at the capital: Washington D.C. They used cars vans and buses to drive across America and spread awareness to their problems. It was the largest gathering ever to happen in Washington. The protesters wanted to negotiate with the government and possibly create a better treaty.

In Minneapolis the American Indian Movement developed a Twenty Point paper in which they wrote down all their demands as 20 points. The Nixon Administration denied negotiations with them, so the protesters stormed the Bureau of Indian Affairs offices, burning and vandalising records. After one week, the government and leaders of the protest finally began negotiations on their treaties.

Present situatio

The natives are mostly living in poor conditions due to erosion and lack of (or non-existent) electricity, phones and internet. Therefore a lot of industries have no interest in expanding themselves into these areas, leaving a lot of American Indians without jobs (50%-70% on average have no jobs) They also have the lowest average income in the US. Most of their income comes from tourism. The food costs within reservations are much more expensive than outside, which leaves many natives starving.

Education among Native Americans is quite low, with around 33% of them having less than High School degree and only 10% have a Bachelor’s Degree.

One of the biggest problems within groups of tribes is alcohol and drug abuse, leaving many people in a hopeless and without a future mindset. Other cases like gang violence are due to poor law enforcement and youth development. Most of the crimes are committed by young Indian Americans who are uneducated and believe they have no future ahead of them. This shows that something should be done to help the indigenous people, as their situation keeps getting worse.

First Settlements

Jamestown Colony

On May 14, 1607, 100 members of the Virginia Company founded the first permanent English settlement in North America on the banks of the James River. Famine, disease and conflict with the local Native Americans 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 1607 Captain Newport went back to England with 2 ships and 40 men 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 1609-1610 is known as the “Starving Time”. By early 1610, 80-90% of the settlers had died due to starvation and disease. But by 1699 there were around 60,000 people in the Virginia colony, including about 6,000 African slaves.

The 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 flourish.

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.

Mayflower and Pilgrim Fathers

Pilgrim Fathers were members of the English Separatist Church (a radical faction of Puritanism). They fled the Protestant England because of religious intolerance during the reign of James I to establish the second English colony in the New World. They wanted to practice their religion freely while maintaining their English identity. They had earlier fled to Leiden, the Netherlands, to escape persecution at home. But they wanted more religious freedom and because of that, they negotiated with a London stock company to finance a pilgrimage to America.

Approximately two-thirds of the passengers on the Mayflower were non-Separatists, who were hired to protect the company’s interests. 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. Mayflower was the ship that carried Pilgrims from Plymouth to the New World. It’s estimated that the ship weighed about 180 tons and was 27 meters long.

Mayflower Compact

The Mayflower Compact was a set of rules for self-governance established by the English settlers who travelled to the New World on the Mayflower. At first, they wanted to sail to northern Virginia, but because of storms and treacherous shoals, they landed in Massachusetts, near Cape Cod, outside of Virginia’s jurisdiction instead. 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 neighbouring Native American tribes. Though the Separatists were a minority in the group, they formed its powerful centre, 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. Puritan ideology: When Puritans had settled in 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.


Thanksgiving tradition 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

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.

Historical Accuracy

The movie “Desperate Crossing – A True Story Of The Mayflower” depicts the Puritans’ journey from England to the Netherlands and finally to the vastly unexplored continent of America. In my opinion, the movie was quite historically accurate, explaining very thoroughly the persecution of their religion, reasons why they went to America, their preparations for the attempts at sailing through the Atlantic Ocean and the creation of Thanksgiving tradition. Unlike other films, this documentary had a cast of characters who didn’t look like models or very beautiful in today’s world. A reviewer said: “I did not find them ‘homely’ but then again, I’m sure the people in real life, having survived 16th-17th-century smallpox epidemics were not quite the lookers we demand people to be today.” I agree with this statement, as the actors looked like they would fit as normal people within society. I like that they had the Native Americans be played by actual tribesmen from the local population.

However, I do have two complaints about the movie. Firstly, the arrival in New Plymouth. We do not see the first years of living in the New World. It was considered to be filled with terrible famine and disease. Leaving that out made the living conditions seem utopian. It looked like the Pilgrims started immediately building houses and had fruitful crops grow at an immense speed. The weather shown in the movie looked like it was always late Spring or Summer and a bit of Autumn, as no signs of any drastic season change seemed to appear. In reality, the life in New Plymouth began with the Pilgrims living their first few years on the Mayflower. They were constantly being attacked by neighbouring Indian tribes and the harsh first winter wiped out half of the settlers. Secondly, the perspective of the movie. I would have liked to see all the other Pilgrims be introduced as part of the main cast. The only names I can remember from the top of my head were William Bradford, his wife Dorothy May and the governor John Carver. Everyone else was named only once or not at all.

All of the resources used to make the movie were very close to the real thing. The ship which was used for the voyage is actually a replica of the Mayflower, called the Mayflower II. Clothing in the movie was finely tailored and I appreciate the use of the Old English language, giving the watching experience a touch of realism. One reviewer said: “The actors tapped to bring the Pilgrims and Native Americans to life manage to avoid schmaltzy, wooden recitations and elevate the documentary above a hokey costumed play and into a marvellously immersive recreation of the early 17th century.” I agree that their acting was spectacular, showing a lot of personality for each character. It is to be expected, as most of the actors who played in the movie are members of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

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