?The mythic origin of ?the country we now know as the United States? is at Plymouth Rock, and the year is 1620.? James W. Loewen stresses this origin as mythic due to the fact that for thousands of years humans had inhabited the land now known as America. Loewen goes on to describe the horrors the native peoples of America went through due to the diseases and other such terrible things the white ?settlers? brought to the ?New World.? However, it is barely mentioned in Loewen?s book, The Lies My Teacher Told Me, that the Separatists were acting upon a word of God, or Manifest Destiny. If Manifest Destiny were taken into account more, one would be able to provide a legitimate argument in favor of the Pilgrims? intent. (Loewen, 77)
The Separatists were members of a radical religious movement in England in the 16th and 17th centuries. William Brewster, in 1606, led a portion of this group to Leiden, the Netherlands, to avoid further religious oppression from the English government. Some members of this Separatist group then voted, ten years later, to relocate to America. In order for them to afford such a journey, the Separatists received funding from a group of London investors, in return for produce from America. A ship called the Mayflower set off on September 16th, 1620, carrying a group of 102 passengers, including these Separatists. On November 21st, the Mayflower arrived near present-day Provincetown, Massachusetts, and on December 21st of the same year, they landed on the site of the Plymouth Colony. (Encarta, ?Pilgrims?)
The Indians native to this area were called the Patuxet tribe. However, in 1618, the Patuxet had been completely wiped out by a disease that had swept the East Coast. Within a span of three years, 90-96% of coastal New England population had been obliterated by this plague. The disease had probably started to spread in 1617, by British and French fishermen who had been fishing off the Massachusetts coast. ?The plague that ensued made the Black Death pale in comparison.? (Loewen, 80)
So by the time the Pilgrims had reached the New World in 1620, they came to a land where disease and plague had killed almost everyone in sight. Howard Simpson describes the sight the Pilgrims had stumbled across in America: ?Villages lay in ruins because there was no one to tend them. The ground was strewn with the skulls and the bones of thousands of Indians who had died and none was left to bury them.? Historians speculate that this ?plague? could have been any disease, from the bubonic plague to others such as hepatitis, small pox, chicken pox, or influenza. (Loewen, 80-81)
The only surviving member of the Patuxet tribe was Tisquantum, or ?Squanto,? who had been in England during the time of the plague. Squanto accepted the Pilgrims and became part of the Plymouth colony. He also acted as an interpreter and performed negotiations with the nearest tribe, the Wampanoag. This eliminates a great myth regarding the pilgrims, which says that the Pilgrims stole the land they used for their colony from the Indians, and had mistreated them in the process. This could not have been the case, since there were no Indians in the area when the settlers arrived. (Johnson, ?Common Mayflower Myths?)
This is important in considering the actual detrimental effects of the Pilgrims? actions. Perhaps they themselves did little to negatively affect the Native Americans. This being true, the Pilgrims were, however, part of a movement to take land that was not theirs in the first place. Before they had arrived, there had been thousands of years of humankind inhabiting the Americas, who had established their own customs and cultures. Loewen realizes this, and views these negative areas of European settlement in general. However, in the Pilgrims? case, there was another agent involved. One that was the driving cause for these settlers to travel across the Atlantic ocean and settle into ?wild? and ?virgin? land. This driving cause was Manifest Destiny.
Manifest Destiny is the philosophy that states ?that territorial expansion of the United States is not only inevitable but divinely ordained.? God was encouraging the settlers to come over to America in order to fulfill their divine predestination. However, in order to better understand the point of view from which the Pilgrims were seeing, one must first have a picture of what their religious beliefs entailed. (Encarta, ?Manifest Destiny?)
The Pilgrims? separatist movement is based upon Calvinism, founded by John Calvin (1509-1564). Presbyterianism and Puritanism are also descended from this belief system. (Johnson, ?Religious Beliefs) Calvinism essentially states that man is corrupt due to the original sin: that of Adam and Eve. This sin was the eating of the ?forbidden fruit?, which Satan had persuaded both Adam and Eve to do. This ?original sin? being established, it is the person?s lifelong duty to redeem himself or herself from this sin. However, man has no control over his fate. When a person is born, God already knows how this person dies, and whether or not he or she goes to heaven. The Puritans were driven because they knew that the harder they worked, the closer they got to heaven. (Linda Scott, Lecture)
Predestination was a large part of the Pilgrims? belief system. Those who God elected would receive God?s grace. Since God had already decided who was going to be saved since before He created the earth, there was nothing people could do during their lives that could save or damn them. (Johnson, ?Predestination?) The Mayflower Compact, the first establishment for written laws within this group, reflected upon this belief system. The basis for the Pilgrims? laws was the Civil- Body Politic, which essentially instills a sense of giving up certain personal rights in order to get others. (L. Scott, Lecture) ?Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, ? a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God?? (Media3, ?The Mayflower Compact?) This string of moral principles and beliefs then leads to Manifest Destiny. The Pilgrims, after facing much religious persecution from the world they knew, believed it was God?s will to come to America and ?settle?.
Loewen hardly considers Manifest Destiny in ?The Truth About the First Thanksgiving? in Lies My Teacher Told Me. He focuses on the repercussions of the Pilgrims? settlement. They had ?robbed? Indian houses, and “gave thanks to the plague? which had killed off so many native people before the Pilgrims had arrived. However, if it were taken into account that these people honestly had it in their minds that they were acting upon a divine purpose, perhaps the Puritans would not be so much at fault. Loewen does briefly mention the fact that the Pilgrims had Manifest Destiny in mind when he said, ?The English Separatists [had] already [seen] their lives as a divinely inspired morality play?? (Loewen, 81, 91, 93)
However, this is the only mentioning Loewen does of the actual intentions of the settlers. For there is a large question at hand: is it right to compare the actions of the past to the morality of the present? For if it were completely in good intentions of the settlers to carry out their divine purpose, were they wrong? There is no way to determine if they were wrong, due to the fact that we do not exist in that time. In discussing the Puritans, Loewen is arguing our cultural beliefs in their time. This is not acceptable, for our culture has completely changed from the 1600s. And so, in living in a completely different culture, we are not in the position to negatively judge the actions of this religious group if there is even a chance that their intentions were innocent.
In short, Manifest Destiny plays a vital role in the determining of ?rightness? or ?wrongness? of the settlers? actions. James W. Loewen?s entire purpose of the book, Lies My Teacher Told Me, is to eliminate the misconceptions that most of today?s history textbooks give our students. He has found that most of the history textbooks out there are ?marred by an embarrassing combination of blind patriotism, mindless optimism, sheer misinformation, and outright lies? Loewen revives our history, restoring to it the vitality and relevance it truly possesses.? Is he really eliminating this ?misinformation? if he leaves out a vital part of history, such as Manifest Destiny? The Pilgrims held strong religious beliefs, including that of predestination, leading to Manifest Destiny. If they felt they were in the moral right for coming to America in 1620, is it right of us to judge them now for actions they did in another time and culture? Of course not. Therefore, Manifest Destiny and the Puritan?s belief in predestination provide a legitimate argument for the pilgrims and settlers. (Loewen, Back of Book)
?Manifest Destiny.? Encarta. 1993-1997.
?Pilgrims.? Encarta. 1993-1997.
Johnson, Caleb. ?Common Mayflower Myths.? The Mayflower Webpages. 1998.
Johnson, Caleb. ?The Pilgrim?s Religious Beliefs.? The Mayflower Webpages. 1997.
Loewen, James W. Lies My Teacher Told Me. New York: Touchstone, 1995.
Media3 Technologies. ?The Mayflower Compact.? Plymouth: Its History and People. 1997.