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In 1630 Governor Bradford began to write his History of Plymouth Plantation. Referring to the departure from Leyden on July 21-31, 1620, he said:
And ye time Being that they must departe, they were accompanied with most of their Brethren out of yo citie, vnto a towne sundrie miles of called Delfes-Hauen wher the ship lay ready to receiue them. So they lefte yt goodly & pleasante citie, which had been ther resting place, nere
.12. years; but they knew they were pilgrimes & looked Heb. 11.
not much on those things; but lift vp their eyes to ye
heauens, their dearest cuntrie; and quieted their spirits. Though Bradford's History was not published until 1856 it was well known to American historians before the disappearance of the manuscript at the Revolution, and the above passage had more than once made its appearance in print before 1798. The first time was in 1669, when Nathaniel Morton gave it as follows:
... and the time being come that they must depart, they were accompanied with most of their Brethren out of the City, unto a Town called Delfs Haven, where the Ship lay ready to receive them: so they left that goodly and pleasant City, which had been their resting place above eleven years; but they knew that they were Pilgrims and Strangers here below, and looked not much on these things, but lifted up their eyes to Heaven, their dearest Country, where God hath prepared for them a
City, and therein quieted their spirits. first child born after the arrival of our ancestors, and has several times attended publick worship with him. This woman is now in very good health (ii. 575).
1 History of the Plimoth Plantation (facsimile edition, 1896), p. 36; Ford's edition, i. 124. In his New England's Memorial (1669, pp. 144-145), Morton printed “Certain Verses left by the Honoured VVilliam Bradford Esq; ... penned by his own hand." These begin as follows:
DROM my years young in dayes of Youth,
As Pilgrim past I to and fro.
Hebr. 11. 16.
In 1702 Cotton Mather wrote:
After the fervent Supplications of this Day, accompanied by their affectionate Friends, they took their leave of the pleasant City, where they had been Pilgrims and Strangers now for Eleven Years.
If the Reader would know, how these good People fared the rest of the Melancholy Winter; let him know, That besides the Exercises of Religion, with other Work enough, there was the care of the Sick to take up no little part of their Time. 'Twas a most heavy Trial of their Patience, whereto they were called the first Winter of this their Pilgrimage, and enough to convince them, and remind them, that they were but Pilgrims.?
But the Vessel rose again, and when the Mariners with sunk Hearts often cried out, We sink! We sink! The Passengers without such Distraction of Mind, even while the Water was running into their Mouths and Ears, would chearfully Shout, Yet, Lord, thou canst save! Yet, Lord, thou canst save! And the Lord accordingly brought them at last safe unto their Desired Haven: And not long after helped their Distressed Relations thither after them, where indeed they found upon almost all Accounts a new World, but a World in which they found that they must live like Strangers and Pilgrims.
In 1767 Governor Hutchinson remarked:
After eleven or twelve years residence in Holland, .. , one of the congregations ... determined to remove to America. There were many obstacles in their way and it took up several years of their pilgrimage* to make the necessary preparations for such an undertaking.
* I think I may with singular propriety call their lives a pilgrimage. Most of them left England about the year 1609, after the truce with the Spaniards, young men between 20 and 30 years of age: They spent near 12 years, strangers among the Dutch, first, at Amsterdam, afterwards, at Leyden. After having arrived to the meridian of life, the declining part was to be spent in another world, among savages, of whom every European must have received a most unfavorable if not formidable idea. Tantum religio potuit suadere.
acceptance "shall ever oblige me to answerable returning of gratitude, and administer to me further cause of thankfulness, That God hath given me an Habitation under your just and prudent Administrations; and wish for a Succession of such as may be skilfull to lead our Israel in this their peregrination.”
1 Magnalia, bk. i. ch. ii. § 4, p. 6.
In 1775 the Rev. Samuel Baldwin preached from Hebrews XI. 8, and, referring to Abraham, said:
It was a hard though just command-"get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house." He quits all his possessions, foregoes every convenience, in his native land; bids adieu to dearest relatives, when, or whither ever to return again, he knew not; all was uncertainty; he departs, not knowing whither he went: How long he must wander as a pilgrim from city to city, from one kingdom and country to another; what hardships and difficulties he must undergo, to what dangers he must be exposed, he was altogether in the dark, ignorant, and unapprized. ...
ABRAHAM, acting agreeable to these, acquitted himself in the best manner, with honour and dignity, with the approbation of his Maker. And while he wandered about, as a pilgrim, altogether uncertain of the time of the fulfilment of the promise, there was a part for him to act, agreeable to his character, as a man of sense and reason, a servant of the most High, and the father of the church of Israel.
This is the account given of the rise of the Fathers of this country: . . And as the fathers viewed themselves as absolutely under the direction of providence, they held themselves obligated to attend to its calls.'
Whether Baldwin had noted the use of Pilgrim by Morton or by Mather, it is impossible to determine; but Baldwin does not apply the term to the early settlers. That is, he does not specifically call the early settlers Pilgrims, though he does compare their condition with that of Abraham.
In his sermon preached in 1793, the Rev. Chandler Robbins, pastor of the First Church at Plymouth, stated that “although the accounts chiefly must be derived necessarily from historical facts,
yet, I shall bring to your view, some circumstances some ancient anecdotes, which, I presume, have never yet been made public, at least, which I have never seen. I shall take them from the first book of the very ancient records of this church, now in my hands." These early records had been kept by Nathaniel Morton, a nephew of Governor Bradford. Robbins continued:
“And now, the trying time being come, that they must depart, (say the records) they were accompany'd by most of their brethren .out of the city, into a town called Half-Haven, where the ship lay readye to
· Sermon (1776), pp. 9–11, 16, 21–22.
receive them. So they left that goodlye and pleasant city, which had been theire resting-place, near twelve yeeres. But they knew they were pilgrimes, and looked not much on those things, but lifted up theire eyes to Heaven, theire dearest country, and quieted their spirits. ...” 1
Thus, whether the term arose at Plymouth or in Boston, its pedigree can be traced back through Robbins, Hutchinson, Mather, Morton, and Bradford to the departure from Leyden in 1620. There are several cases where the origin of a term must be sought for many years before the term itself came into existence, but there cannot be many to explain which it is necessary to'look back one hundred and seventy-eight years.
PROPRIETY OF APPLICATION “The latest English traveller,” wrote the Rev. Joseph Hunter of London in 1849, referring to Sir Charles Lyell's visit to Plymouth, "describes ... the relics which are exhibited of these ‘Pilgrim fathers,' as they are affectionately called.” 2 A little later, however, doubts appear to have arisen in Hunter's mind as to the appropriateness of the term, and in 1854 he remarked:
The people of New England pay all proper deference to the colony of New Plymouth as being the parent colony of their country, and they speak fondly, if not wisely, of the persons who established it as The PILGRIM FATHERS.3
3 There is something of affectation in this term, which is always displeasing; and we have seen also very strange applications of it: but further, it appears to me to be philologically improper. A pilgrim is a person who goes in a devout spirit to visit a shrine — real in the first instance but afterwards a place where, it may be, no shrine is, but which is hallowed by some recollections which would deserve to have a substantial representative. An American who visits the place from which the founders of his country emigrated is a pilgrim in the proper sense of the word, whether he finds, a shrine, an altar, or a stone of memorial, or not. But these founders when they sought the shores of America were proceeding to no object of this kind, and even leaving it to the winds and the waves to drive them to any point on an unknown and unmarked shore. There is, however, it must be owned, the same corrupt use of the word Pilgrim in the English version of the Scriptures, “and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” 3
1 Sermon (1794), pp. 17-18, 29–30.
· Collections concerning the Early History of the Founders of New Plymouth, the First Colonists of New England, London, 1849, p. 1.
3 Collections concerning the Founders of New-Plymouth, London, 1854, p. 5 and note.
In an article called “Puritans — Pilgrims — Palmers," printed in a Boston newspaper in 1870, Charles C. Hazewell made – or, rather, repeated — the same criticism:
Is it proper to speak of the men who came over in the Mayflower as “Pilgrim Fathers?” Puritans in language assure us it is not, and they are right, though time and usage, and poetical associations have sanctioned the term, so that it is worse than idle to object to it, seeing that the objection would lead to nothing but a waste of words, — and the objector would, it is probable, be regarded by all good Americans as a bore. Yet we may subscribe to what is said on this subject by one of the best of our authorities on the history of the Pilgrims. Mr. Hazewell then quoted the passage from Hunter given above, and added: “In a certain sense, the term is well used, for if the pilgrim be a wanderer, as he is according to one definition of the word, the Separatists who came hither certainly were pilgrims; for they wandered from England to Holland, and from Holland to America.” I
After what has been said in a previous section, it need hardly be pointed out that Hunter's criticism is due to an entire misapprehension of the history and meanings of the word pilgrim, that the Scriptural use of the term is not "corrupt,” that there is nothing either “philologically improper” or of “affectation” in our use of the term Pilgrim Fathers, and that such use is perfectly legitimate.3
MEANING OF THE TERM For twelve years (1769–1780) the celebrations at Plymouth were purely local, the speakers and participants being either Plymotheans or from the neighboring towns in the Old Colony. For the next twelve years (1781-1792) the celebration fell into abeyance. Revived in 1793 and 1794, it was still local, and in 1797 it was merely a social gathering. It was instituted to commemorate those who
1 Daily Evening Traveller, November 21, 1870, p. 1/4-5. The article is without signature, but was attributed to Mr. Hazewell, the editor of the Traveller, by John Ward Dean (New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 1871, xxv. 90).
2 Pp. 352-359, above.
• After quoting the passage from Bradford, J. A. Goodwin says: “The hypercritics who query why these people should be called 'Pilgrims' will see that they applied it to themselves" (Pilgrim Republic, p. 49 note). This statement is misleading.