The Mayflower Story-Kaia

Notions

Origin of Native Americans

Even though the exact origin of Native Americans is not known we have many theories. One of the theories that seems most valid mentions migration from Polynesia and from the northern parts of China. Another one speculates the crossing of a land bridge between Asia and America called Beringia, which is now Beringia State 30,000 years ago. But what is clear is that the migration went on for thousands of years and not in one wave.

Different tribes and their way of life

There are many tribes located in the US but some of the most well-known are the Navajo, the Pueblo, the Apache and the Iroquois.

The Navajo tribe is settled in the western part of the US. They have a semi-nomadic lifestyle and before the Spanish contact were hunter-gatherers. Their specialty is silversmithing and they are one of the oldest tribes in the US.

The Pueblo tribe share the same region as the Navajo tribe. Their villages were more compact and carved into the sides of cliffs. they are notably skilled in pottery and architecture.

The Apache were a nomadic tribe of hunter-gatherers. Men were in charge of hunting for food and protecting the camp and the women were in charge of the home. The name ‘Apache’ came from the Zuni word ‘apachu’ meaning “enemy”. The Apache tribe lived in the American southwest desert regions in the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

The Iroquois tribe 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. The Iroquois live in the north-eastern region in the United States in states, such as Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania.

Legend of Pocahontas

According to the legend, Pocahontas was a native American who lived from circa 1596 to March 1617 and wished for peace between the indigenous and the colonists. She 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 which whom she later had a son. Other residents of the colony dubbed Rebecca a “civilized savage”, as they wanted to increase investment on the new continent. She died mysteriously in 1617 when being 20 to 21 years old. The incident showed, that native Americans could be civilized and converted to Christianity.

Portrait engraving by Simon de Passe
1616

Northwest Ordinance of 1787

The Act was proposed by president Thomas Jefferson. It created the Northwest Territory, the first ever organized American territory. The territory included the land between rivers Ohio and Mississippi. It stated that the territory is to be divided into 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

It was an act signed into law by US president Andrew Jackson. 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 act also allowed the white settlers to acquire Native American land. The act has been considered genocide because it discriminated to an ethnic group leading up to many deaths.

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 which have about 1 million Native Americans living on them, some of these benefit from resources and others suffer from economic and social problems.

Indian Citizenship Act of 1924

Also known as the Snyder Act because it was proposed by a Representative from New York named Homer P. Snyder. The act granted full US citizenship to the indigenous peoples and was signed into law by US president Calvin Coolidge. Partly a recognition to the thousands of Indians who served in the First World War.

Trail of Broken Treaties of 1972

The Trail of Broken Treaties was a protest dedicated to the horrible living conditions of indigenous Americans. They wanted to bring national attention to widespread American Indian issues, such as treaty rights, living standards and inadequate housing. The protesters formed a caravan from Washington D.C to the Pacific coast. The rebels even conquered the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In the end, the protesters were heard and the government commenced negotiations to improve the situation of natives.

Present situation

Today there are approximately 9 million native Americans in the US, they have the same obligations as the US citizens as they still have to pay taxes and attend military service. However, 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 the USA is still visible.

Jamestown Colony (living conditions, population, plantations, import of slaves)

Jamestown Colony was the first permanent English settlement in the Americas. It was created by the Virginia Company of London in 1607. At first, 100 people were brought to the Jamestown Colony. Before the arrival of new settlers and supplies in 1610, Jamestown Colony faced a near failure because of different diseases, famine and conflicts with the locals. In fact, the Jamestown Colony actually suffered a brief abandonment in 1610. Next group of settlers came 3 years later.

The living conditions were difficult at the start. That’s also why about 80% of the settlers died by 1610. The land chosen wasn’t inhabited by the locals because it was considered too swampy and not usable for agriculture. The settlers also arrived during a drought and too late to plant down any crops. Furthermore, the settlers were mostly high-class gentlemen and their manservants and weren’t accustomed to hard labour. There were also many conflicts with the locals, though at the start the settlers were welcomed with great hospitality.

The population decreased and by 1608 two-thirds of the settlers had died due to starvation and diseases. During the “Starving Time” (1609-1610) only 60 of the 214 original settlers survived. The Third Supply brought much-needed supplies and new settlers to Jamestown. By 1699, there were 60 000 people living in the colony, including 6000 slaves.

Plantations. Initially, the Natives taught the English how to harvest corn and by 1611 the English had harvested a decent amount of corn themselves. Jamestown’s economy started to flourish when a tobacco planter named John Rolfe introduced a new type of tobacco.

The import of slaves and the long-lasting tradition of slavery began in 1619 when about 50 African men, women and children were settled in Jamestown Colony. These slaves were from a Portuguese slave ship that was captured in the West Indies. They worked in tobacco fields. This event led to the formalization of slavery in the United States in 1640.

Mayflower and Pilgrim Fathers

The Pilgrim Fathers or Pilgrims were the first English settlers of the Plymouth Colony. They held Puritan Calvinist beliefs, but unlike other Puritans, they believed that their congregations should be separated from the Church of England. They initially fled England due to persecution to Holland which was relatively secure and tolerant. As they feared that they might lose their cultural identity in Holland, they decided to emigrate to America.

Mayflower was the main ship that carried the first English Puritans (now known as the Pilgrims) to Cape Cod in 1620. There were 102 passengers and 25-30 crewmen on the ship. It was meant to be a cargo ship. The Pilgrims didn’t use a passenger ship because at that time the transportation of people by sea wasn’t really developed yet, so there was a lack of passenger ships. The captain of Mayflower was Christopher Jones who also owned one-fourth of the ship. Mayflower weighed around 180 tons and had 4 decks. The ship was most likely taken apart a year after returning from the voyage to America.

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

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 in 1620. 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.

A painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris painted in 1899,
Signing the Mayflower Compact 1620

Puritan Colony in Plymouth, New England

Puritan Colony in Plymouth was founded by the Pilgrims in 1620 due to emigration from England and Holland known as the Brownist Emigration. It was one of the first successful English colonies in America. In 1620 over a hundred settlers arrived in Plymouth on the Mayflower. More than half of them died in the first winter. Despite that, they managed to establish a permanent colony and remain in good relationship with the locals who taught them a lot in survival. Due to good relationships, the colony didn’t have to worry about defending the area. Agriculture, fishing and trading helped to make the colony self-sufficient in 5 years.

Puritan ethics and ideology

The Puritans led a simple life. They believed in hard work, thrift, efficiency, education for everyone and closeness to God. They believed that we are all equal in the eyes of God which practically meant that the Catholic church in their opinion hasn’t got any special power. The Puritans wanted the Church of England purified, reformed. In contrast, the Separatists wanted a whole new church because in their opinion the church shouldn’t be attached to the civil power, whereas the Puritans believed that it is the government’s mission to enforce moral standards and ensure that the religious worship was established and maintained. They wanted to start a new Eden in the Americas.

Thanksgiving

The celebration of Thanksgiving dates back to November 1621 when the newly arrived Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe gathered to celebrate the autumn harvest. There were large celebrations for several days. The original event is considered a symbol of friendship, though it’s believed that the locals turned up uninvited. Thanksgiving is celebrated to this day on the 4th Thursday of November y Americans by gathering with the family and feasting.

It is very popular to have turkey for dinner during a Thanksgiving feast and pumpkin pie for dessert.

Religious issues (freedom)

During the reign of King James I of England, by law, everyone was supposed to belong in the Church of England. King James I and William Laud (the archbishop of Canterbury) opposed the Puritans and suppressed them which led to the Puritans emigrating to Holland or remaining underground.

Quakers

The Quakers are a historically religious group of Christian Protestant movements. They believe in pacifism and in the fact that God exists in every one of us. The movement was founded in England by George Fox in the 17th. First missionaries arrived in America in the 1650s. Quakers who practice pacifism played a key role in the Abolition (the official end of slavery in the US) and women’s rights movements.

Visual

For my visual, I have chosen a painting by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe called “The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth”. The painting depicts the English and the native Americans gathered around the table for a feast. Nowadays Thanksgiving is a big part of the American culture and a tradition in many families. Although the first Thanksgiving feast was not actually to show gratitude towards native Americans, who helped the pilgrims settle in America, but towards God. It still plays a big role in peoples lives today. The holiday encourages people to feel thankful and to look at the world in a positive light. And even though the Pilgrims did not at the time, people nowadays also use the holiday to show appreciation to the natives who helped them survive in the wilderness.

Critical response to the movie

Considering that it’s more of a historical documentary than an entertaining movie, it was quite historically accurate. They used actual historians in the movie and it was narrated using actual texts from the colony governor, William Bradford. Despite that, it still had a few missing details.
The movie does show some of the lesser-known aspects of the journey such as sickness and diseases on the boat and politics. It also depicts very well why the Pilgrims wanted to take on the journey and the role of the native Americans.
For some reason, the movie does not mention anything about the Mayflower compact, even though it was something very important and necessary in avoiding the Pilgrims from turning against one another and keeping things in order. I think this was something definitely worth mentioning.
Another thing that I think should’ve been showed is the long cold winter that killed nearly half the colony. In the movie, they settled right in and lived a colourful joyful life. In reality, there was famine diseases and lots of death, none of which were depicted in the movie.
And just like one viewer pointed out

“The focus of the documentary is the Pilgrims and their plight but the viewer is left with a romanticized view of the ‘harvest feast’, the legendary event.”

(http://www.chappaquiddick-wampanoag.org/linksrecommendations.html)

the movie doesn’t show the effect the European colonisation had on the native American cultures. It didn’t mention anything of the war held in 1676 between the colonists and native Americans. The whole situation in sugar-coated quite heavily.

“Better than that National Geographic Lewis & Clark documentary I watched the other day, but not as good as hoped, given this one was Emmy nominated.”

(https://letterboxd.com/film/desperate-crossing-the-untold-story-of-the-mayflower/reviews/by/activity/)

were another person’s thoughts on the movie. I do agree with her, I think the movie was good, the acting was great and since many of the participants are members of the Royal Shakespeare Company, they managed to make the movie seem quite real and the characters felt like real people. I liked that the historians added some facts and context throughout the movie but constantly cutting to their faces was a bit annoying for me. Just their narration and initials would’ve been enough for me.
All in all, the movie is a true history movie and very educating. It does show more than a lot of Americans learn at school about the relations between the colony and the natives. I would’ve liked to have seen some more historical details. I would say this movie left me with mostly positive emotions.

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