2.11.2011

Booking It: The Mayflower Papers and Mural Update

Reading more books was one of my resolutions for 2011. In order to help keep me accountable to do so, I joined up in the "Booking It" challenge over at the Life as Mom blog. My full reading list for the year is HERE.

I read three books during January. In the interest of keeping this post from being super-long (or, rather, less super-long than it already is), I have already reviewed two of the books in earlier posts. You can read my reviews of:

The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer HERE.

...and....

In the Company of Others by Jan Karon HERE.


 Today, I will be reviewing the following:

The Mayflower Papers: Selected Writings of Colonial New England by Various Authors
(with some random comparisons to PBS's "Colonial House" reality show.)

This book contains a selection of writings from the Pilgrims and early settlers of New England. Below are my thoughts on each selection.


Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford
and Mourt's Relation by William Bradford and Edward Winslow
If you have any interest in history whatsoever, have socialistic tendencies, or are an American, you need to read these pieces. Although the language is a little lofty and hard to follow at times, I found these narratives particularly fascinating.

A while back, my husband and I rented the PBS reality series, "Colonial House," in which a group of modern people became "Pilgrims" and basically reenacted the Plymouth experience. The network delivered them (in costume, along with some basic provisions) by boat on an uninhabited area of the Maine coastline, where they had to survive for a few months. At the end of the show, "experts" came in and assessed whether or not their provisions made during the summer would theoretically sustain them through the winter months. The series was fascinating - it was interesting to see how "modern" people reacted to that type of survival situation, as well as how they reacted to obeying (or not obeying) the strict religious laws that the Pilgrims had and enforced.

While watching the show, I spent most of my time thinking, "Wow - that situation would never have happened with the Pilgrims," or, "They wouldn't have had to deal with any kind of issues like this." However, after reading the Pilgrims' own accounts, they did, in fact, deal with many of the same issues.

For instance, both groups had trouble motivating people to work in the "common" corn field. (Imagine that - people don't work as hard when their own efforts don't allow them to get ahead of those who don't work hard!) The Pilgrims nipped that problem in the bud by instituting a capitalistic system in which every family got their own plot of land and was responsible for doing their own planting. And guess what? They started planting corn! Here's a little excerpt from Bradford about this observation:

Referring to assigning each family to its own plot of land and responsibility of planting for themselves:
This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field and took their little ones with them to set corn, which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.
The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of the conceit of Plato's and other ancients, applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.
Wow - powerful words on the failure of socialism. Sadly, history teaches us (yet again) that men learn nothing from history. I wish our own leaders would take a lesson from Bradford on this....
In addition to the physical challenges of mere survival, the Pilgrims (and the Colonial House folks) had their fair share of spiritual and social issues. Yep, sin is a problem now, and it was then too.

One of the most fascinating things about the Colonial House show was watching how certain individuals handled situations. There were several strong Christians on the show, along with several families and individuals who had some very liberal "religious" beliefs, and some out-and-out atheists... plus a few people who just didn't say anything one way or another. The Pilgrims had the same type of situation. The Pilgrims themselves were deeply religous and devout, but they were accompanied by some crew members from the Mayflower who weren't believers and were pretty.....worldly. They were also joined by other individuals as more people came over - some good, some not so good. In fact, some people sent their "troubled youths" over in an attempt to reform them. At any rate, the Pilgrims were faced with several pretty horrific and sinful situations - ones that aren't usually mentioned in the "First Thanksgiving" stories we normally tell about the Pilgrims. In the interest of keeping this post family-friendly, I will spare you the details (as Bradford kindly does to a certain degree in his own account.) But suffice it to say that sin has always been a problem and will continue to be so. The one difference I see between our modern society and the Pilgrims', however, is that ours "celebrates" or winks at many of the sins that the Pilgrims were executing and banishing the perps over.

Moving on.....

Yes, the First Thanksgiving is mentioned, although the Pilgrims didn't emphasize that single event as their defining moment nearly as much as we tend to do for them. They didn't refer to it as the "First Thanksgiving"- they simply make passing reference to feasting with some of the local Indians during harvest time. Their attitude of thankfulness and acknowledgement of God's provision, guidance, and goodness was a constant state of being, rather than an annual "nod" to God or the universe for "blessings" and then a pig-out feast of turkey and football.....and I think we can learn something from that. The Pilgrims were constantly acknowledging the faithfulness of God throughout their many trials and hardships (and boy howdy, they had a lot!), and they daily placed their dependence on His providence. Thankfulness is a discipline and a way of life.... the Pilgrims lived it. We should learn to do the same.

A couple of notes on Squanto: He definitely played a big role in helping the Pilgrims survive the first few years in Plymouth.... He did teach them the fish-fertilizer trick for growing their corn. He had a cohort named Hobbamock who also helped out and who, for some reason, does not get nearly as much attention - I had never heard of him before reading this book... but he shows up about as much as Squanto does. Squanto was definitely a God-send to the Pilgrims; however, he had his own little game going too. He would use his relationship with the Pilgrims to heft his own influence and power with the local Indian tribes. (For instance, he told one group that he and the white men could stir up the Plague and send it to them if they didn't do such and such.... that sort of thing.) So, he was something of a politician. Also...he had a mullet.

Of Plymouth Plantation is a little more cut-and-dry than Mourt's Relation, which I found the more enjoyable of the two. It's told in more of a narrative fashion and gives more personal details about what was going on - OPP is more of a yearly log of the major events that occurred. In both, they focus on the provision and goodness of God in watching over them during their first years in the New World.

Then, moving on to:

Good News from New England by Edward Winslow

This is a brief piece that describes Winslow's encounter with a very ill Chief Massasoit and his endeavors on his behalf that led to his unexpected recovery. This assistance caused Massasoit to pledge his friendship to the Pilgrims in the future after having been on somewhat shaky relations previously.

It also describes an incident in which Captain Miles Standish and some of his men killed several Indian men from another tribe who had been threatening them. The relationships described between the Pilgrims and other early settlers and the various Indian tribes in the area are interesting - some of the local tribes were quite peaceful and developed good relationships with the Englishmen. Some, however, did not. More on that in a moment...

Next comes:

New English Canaan by Thomas Morton

This brief and fanciful piece is written by Morton, the antithesis to the Pilgrims. Bradford and Winslow had described this fellow as a troublemaker and a self-indulgent pagan earlier in their writings. He wrote this piece to slander the Pilgrims' character and describe them as heartless villains. It's difficult to take anything he says seriously, and you can tell from his complaints that his primary concerns are self-indulgence, drink, and revelry. He came back and forth to the New World three times during his life, and died on his final visit.

Next came one of the most interesting and well-written narratives:

The Sovereignty and Goodness of God by Mary Rowlandson

This narrative is Mary's own account of an Indian attack and massacre on her family and neighbors during King Philip's War (two generations after the original Pilgrims) and her own kidnapping and 11-week captivity before being ransomed.

While many of the Indians the colonists encountered during the early years were peaceful and some, like Squanto, imminently helpful to the Pilgrim's survival, others were not, to say the least. There are accounts in all of these writings of people behaving cruelly and savagely - Englishmen and Indians both. Man left to himself is capable of all kinds of evil and cruelty, which is caused by the depravity of his sinful heart, not his skin color. The Englishmen and Indians who were believers in Christ and had the restraint of the Holy Spirit treated others fairly and kindly, for the most part. The ones who weren't believers often behaved like savages. There is nothing noble about a savage.

Anyway, having said that, Rowlandson was unfortunately attacked by savages who brutally murdered members of her family and many of her neighbors. She herself and the child she was holding were both injured during the attack, and her 6 year old daughter died shortly into their captivity.

Rowlandson describes the movements of her captors, the many near-death experiences she had, the loneliness and depression she felt from being separated from her loved ones, and her constant dependence on the sovereignty and goodness of God. She was able to obtain a Bible shortly into her captivity, and she found much comfort for herself and other captives in reading it.

Interestingly, Rowlandson was convicted about and decided to quit smoking during her captivity.... which seemed funny to me - first of all just the idea that a colonial lady and mother would be puffing away on a pipe frequently, but that she was also so convicted about it, especially considering they didn't know nearly as much about the health hazards of smoking at that time. Here's a little quote from her regarding smoking:

For though I had formerly used Tobacco, yet I had left it ever since I was first taken. It seems to be a Bait the Devil lays to make men lose their precious time. I remember with shame how formerly, when I had taken two or three pipes, I was presently ready for another, such a bewitching thing it is. But I thank God he has now given me power over it. Surely there are many who may be better employed than to lie sucking a stinking Tobacco-pipe.
Rowlandson often describes the food she was given - barely enough to survive on, and much of which we would not consider fit for consumption. She describes one squaw who took pity on her and gave her a fresh piece of salted pork (after Rowlandson had been living on a few nuts and rotting meat and other pretty foul things).... she describes it as follows:

I cannot but remember what a sweet, pleasant and delightful relish that bit had to me, to this day. So little do we prize common mercies, when we have them to the full.

She is eventually ransomed back by the English and reunited with her husband and remaining children. She finishes her narrative with an expression of gratitude for God's provision and and mercy:
When all are fast about me, and no eye open but His who ever waketh, my thoughts are upon things past, upon the awful dispensation of the Lord towards us; upon his wonderful power and might in carrying of us through so many difficulties, in returning us in safety, and suffering none to hurt us. I remember in the night season how the other day I was in the midst of thousands of enemies, and nothing but death before me. It is then hard work to persuade myself that ever I should be satisfied with bread again. But now we are fed with the finest of Wheat, and, as I may say, with honey out of the rock... Oh! the wonderful power of God that mine eyes have seen, affording matter enough for my thoughts to run in, that when others are sleeping mine eyes are weeping....


And finally:

Entertaining Passages Relating to Philip's War by Benjamin Church and Thomas Church

This is an account of the military maneuvers and heroics (perhaps slightly embellished) of Benjamin Church, as told to his son, Thomas. If you are interested in Indian history or in military accounts, you will probably enjoy this piece. I didn't find it as interesting as the other selections, simply because the majority of the narrative focuses on battle strategies and movements of the soldiers. Church is presented as quite a brilliant strategist, a good leader, and a compassionate victor. His exploits are impressive, but probably should be taken with a grain of salt, considering he is describing them himself and is, in a manner of speaking, reliving his glory days in his account to his son. Nevertheless, it's interesting and is a good account of an important period in Native American and colonial history.

So, there you have it: a terribly long synopsis of this book, which I heartily recommend. It can be a little "heavy" to read at times, but it's well worth the time and effort. Reading the original writings of historical figures themselves is so much more interesting to me than reading a modern biography written by someone who wasn't there and never even met the subjects. It's fascinating to hear historical figures "speak for themselves," and you come away with a deeper understanding of them as people and an appreciation for the challenges and hardships they faced as some of the earliest white settlers of this country.

Final Verdict: Read it!

BTW, I am an Amazon Associate, but I only link to things I would read/use/buy myself. Thanks for shopping through my links!


And now.....

A little mural update, which I will be linking up at Studio JRU:
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Yesterday I continued working on the three kids on the left.



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When they heard they were going to be included in my "Booking It" post today, they asked me to tell you that they are currently reading C. S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces.
(groans)

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Hopefully, I will get that little problem taken care of today. ;o)

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Thank you, Studio JRU and Life as Mom, for hosting the link parties! And thank you, dear Reader, for stopping by! Have a lovely weekend...
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12 comments:

  1. Oh your mural is absolutely beautiful! You really have a gift!

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  2. The mural is just beautiful...I wished I could draw like that. It is a gift and it is good that you are using it:)
    xo

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  3. Ah..Beth, Your Mural Is Coming Along Sensationally! Love The Reference To C.S. Lewis! :)) You Sure Know How To Make Me Smile! I'll For Sure Be Checking Back To See This Wonderful Work Completed! You Are So Very Talented Sweet Lady! Hugs Of Sunshine, Terri

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  4. Wow, you really have a gift. And good for you...3 books in a month! Lord, I'm lucky if I can finish one in a year...

    Blessings!

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  5. Beth,

    Thanks for stopping by my blog earlier today. I just wanted to let you know I think your mural is just beautiful!

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  6. thanks for shareN Bookit with us ... 3 books in one month ... WOW!

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  7. Oh, my. That mural is absolutely fantabulous. It's amazing, THANK YOU for sharing pictures of it! :)

    Also, I now cannot wait to read the book, and I'd never even heard of it! I'm in college studying History and have been astonished by how many times my History Professor told us that the Pilgrims were very socialist, and that was why they thrived. It's appalling and scary that they use the Pilgrims as a way to push a socialistic idea.

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  8. Oh how I love to see this mural coming to life. It is so beautiful. The kids are adorable! That books sounds so interesting. We loved watching "Colonial House"! It was fascinating!!

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  9. So fun to watch your mural in stages. Your work is beautiful!! And what an endeavor with the bookingit challenge. Hat's off to you! :D

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  10. So fun to see the mural coming along. I especially like the details...the colors of the leaves in the trees and how the path shimmers. Awesome work.

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  11. Coming in from Studio JRU (I didn't get a chance to post my weekly peek, but had to come see all my friends!)...I enjoyed the book reviews...and the progress on the mural. So happy and again, I know the children and their parents will appreciate it every time they see it!

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  12. Wow... thats a lovely mural!!! You are very artistic

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