What Does a Dead Missionary Have to Do With Thanksgiving?

 

In case you haven’t heard, John Allen Chau, a 26-year-old missionary and graduate of Oral Roberts University, was killed last week trying to spread his faith to North Sentinel, an island in the Andaman Sea.  Read about it here.

Yesterday my friend Kate Carte unleashed a tweetstorm connecting Chau’s missionary endeavors to the story of 17th-century European imperialism, particularly the so-called “first Thanksgiving.”

I am not sure I agree with everything Kate has written here, but I have been thinking about and processing her comments all day and I think they are worth considering.  I present them here for your consideration.  (I apologize for the fact that I do not know how to embed a tweet in my blog without including the previous tweet.  Sorry).

 

Thanksgiving “Strangers”

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Over at The New York Times, Irish-American Studies scholar Joseph Kelly reminds us that not all those who celebrated the so-called “first Thanksgiving” were Pilgrims.  Here is a taste of his piece “The Thanksgiving Story You’ve Probably Never Heard“:

But the pilgrims (Bradford called them “saints”) weren’t the only settlers at the feast. Troublesome “strangers” who did not confess the Pilgrim creed were there, too.

One of the strangers was the historical figure you should be thinking about this Thanksgiving. You’ve probably never heard of Stephen Hopkins. He might change the way you think about the national holiday.

We don’t know very much about him. Hopkins was born in 1581, about the same time Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway in Stratford. His family was neither poor nor rich. As a young man, Hopkins leased a farm, married, had children and lost his lease, and perhaps to mend his fortunes in 1609 he joined 500 other settlers headed for Jamestown, Va.

Read the rest here.

 

John Turner’s Forthcoming Book on Plymouth

John Turner

George Mason University historian John Turner is a versatile historian of American religion.  He has written books on 20th-century evangelicalism, 19th-century Mormonism, and is now writing a book on the Plymouth Colony. It is scheduled to be released in 2020, the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower.

Over at The Anxious Bench he gives us an update:

Certainly, many historians, politicians, and others have mischaracterized the Plymouth separatists over the last two hundred years. They were not sailing to the New World for anything approaching our ideals of democracy or religious freedom. The separatist leaders sought liberty, by which they meant organizing their church according to their understanding of the Bible. They asked kings James and Charles for “liberty of conscience,” but at first only as a means of ensuring their colony’s survival. In a letter written shortly before the colony’s dissolution, Thomas Hinckley explained to officials in New England that residents of New Plymouth enjoyed religious freedom, as long as they were not “Papists” or “Quakers” (whom he defined as not Christians). Those who dissented from the established orthodoxy were left in peace, as long as they helped support the town minister from whom they dissented. One can read the correspondence of Plymouth’s Quakers for a sense of how that went.

In the end, even as historians question everything from landmarks to outdated interpretations, the Pilgrims have retained their importance. It helps to be associated with turkeys and football, for sure. But the Pilgrim myths created in the early nineteenth century have stuck in part because the story itself is so good. A tiny religious minority sets off for “northern Virginia” under incredibly inauspicious circumstances. They cannot finance their voyage on their own. They cannot obtain a royal patent. One of their boats proves unseaworthy. A portion of the group stays in England (a larger portion had chosen to stay in Leiden). They leave too late in the fall and show up on Cape Cod in the midst of winter. Half of them die. And yet the colony survives.

Read the entire post here.

Our Modern Holiday of Thanksgiving is More About the Civil War Than Plymouth

g_burgI just ran across Honor Sachs‘s 2014 Huffington Post piece on Thanksgiving and the Civil War.  It reminded me that the holiday we celebrate tomorrow has less to do with Pilgrims and more to do with the Civil War.

Here is a taste:

But there is an alternative version of the Thanksgiving story, one that might provide better perspective on our currently divided nation. In 1863, in the bowels of Civil War, Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation to establish the first national day of Thanksgiving. He called on his “fellow-citizens in every part of the United States” to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving.” Lincoln’s proclamation made no mention of Pilgrims or Indians. He did not mention North or South nor did he speak of founding fathers or national origins. Rather, Lincoln called attention to our desperate need for collective healing. Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” that the nation faced. He called for a day in which we might sit down and work to “heal the wounds of the nation.”

Read the entire piece here.

Plymouth Settlement: Found

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Archaeologists from the University of Massachusetts-Boston have uncovered evidence of the original 1620 Plymouth settlement.  Here is a taste of an article at the UMASS-Boston website:

Kathryn Ness is the curator of collections at Plimoth Plantation, UMass Boston’s partner in this project. She says this discovery is huge.

“Finding evidence of colonial activity inside the original 1620 Plymouth settlement is an incredibly exciting discovery that has the potential to change dramatically our understanding of early European colonization in New England. For the first time, we have proof of where the settlement was located and what kinds of items the Pilgrims owned and used,” Ness said. “At Plimoth Plantation, the team’s findings will help us further refine our exhibits, as we use archaeological evidence and historical documents as the basis for our portrayal of the past and to ensure that our buildings, activities, and reproduction objects are as accurate as possible. We are looking forward to learning more about their discoveries and seeing what they find next season!”

Read the entire article here.