A few days ago a friend sent me an inspiring story about how the young Winston Churchill was saved from drowning by the father of Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin. As a reward, Churchill’s father sent young Alexander to medical school. In 1943 Church was ill and saved by a dose of penicillin. My bs radar immediately went off. So I checked and the story has no basis in fact at all. What is amazing is that this story has been around for decades despite the fact that it is easy to disprove. There are several sites that give the story and the reality behind it. The one I used was http://www.snopes.com/glurge/fleming.asp
So, what does this have to do with the Pilgrims — Puritans, actually? Well, despite lots of research by historians, the records of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and plain old common sense, we still have an image of the First Thanksgiving as a wonderful, squdgy time of friendship and sharing between the English settlers and the Native Americans. It’s an idea of a Golden Age that we somehow have lost, an era of abundance and brotherhood. And the thing that I still have trouble with is, even though most of us know that this is a myth, we cling to it anyway. When the first settlers were starving, they stole from the Indians rather than trade.
And now we come to the Apocalypse. I didn’t know about this until I was researching THE REAL HISTORY OF THE END OF THE WORLD. I knew that the Puritans were Calvinist Protestants who came, according to my schoolteachers, for religious freedom. What I was ignorant of was that many of them were part of a sect that believed the end of the world was near. They had come to America to prepare for it. Converting the natives was part of this belief although some thought that the Indians were in league with demons.
After the Mayflower landed, word came that King Charles I had been overthrown and that England was now a Puritan theocracy. Some of those who had left England returned to take part in this new society. They were among those who, by a complex twist of logic and Biblical interpretation, believed that England was the new Jerusalem and that this was where Jesus would arrive at the Second Coming. For other arcane reasons (see my post on the End in October) 1666 was considered the date for the event.
When the end didn’t come and Charles II did, the American Puritans put their faith in their new colony. Within a few decades they were expelling dissidents and hanging women for witchcraft.
Again, most of us know about the downside of the story of the Pilgrims and how that made a deep impression on the country for generations. And yet, we still cherish the warm, fuzzy, inaccurate memory of the first Thanksgiving. I really can’t understand this and it fascinates me. I’m beginning to fear that I need to go back for a degree in behavioral psychology.
ps. Looking at the list of how many times my posts have been read, I realize that by far the most popular was the one on chastity belts. No comment.