December 20, 1620: Mayflower passengers finally disembark at Plymouth, after agreeing to the Mayflower Compact

December 21, 2013

Item from The Associated Press‘s “Today in History” feature, for December 21:  “1620 – Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower went ashore for the first time at present-day Plymouth, Mass.”  Why in December?  The arrived at the place almost a month earlier, but because of delays in getting out of England due to the leaky second boat (which didn’t make the trip), and difficulties encountered en route, when the group anchored, they first had to come to an agreement how to govern the colony, so far out of the territory of the charter they had been granted, as explained below.  Originally, a version of this desultory ran here, on July 26, 2006.

Credit: Sarony & Major.

From the Library of Congress, one of the few illustrations of the event that makes it clear it was near winter: The Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock, December 1620 Credit: Sarony & Major. “The landing of the Pilgrims, on Plymouth Rock, Dec. 11th 1620.” c1846. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Dispatches from the Culture Wars features a set of comments on an interview right-right-wing pundit John Lofton did with Roy Moore, the former chief justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court who lost his job when he illegally tried to force his religion on the court and on Alabama. In 2006 Moore ran for governor of Alabama, losing in the primary election.

One of the grandest canards in current thought about U.S. history is that the Mayflower Compact set up a theocracy in Massachusetts. Lofton and Moore banter about it as if it were well-established fact — or as if, as I suspect, neither of them has looked at the thing in a long time, and that neither of them has ever diagrammed the operative sentence in the thing.

The Mayflower Compact was an agreement between the people in two religiously disparate groups, that among them they would fairly establish a governing body to fairly make laws, and that they would abide by those laws. Quite the opposite of a theocracy, this was the first time Europeans set up in the New World a government by consent of the governed.

That is something quite different from a theocracy.

I think people get confused by the run-on sentences, and the flattering, intended-to-be-flowery language in the clauses prefacing the meat of the document.

First, a very brief history: There were two groups aboard the ship in 1620, about 70 artisans and craftsman along to provide the real work to make sure the colony made money, and about 30 religious refugees. The London Company (accurately) thought the religious refugees lacking in key skills, like trapping, hunting and hide tanning, and barrel-making (barrels were needed to ship goods to England). So the London Company had insisted the craftsman go along, to make sure somebody knew how to harvest stuff and ship it back.

The London Company had a charter to establish a colony in Virginia. Because of delays with leaky ships and uncooperative winds, the Mayflower got to America late, and much farther north. The Mayflower landed well outside the territory the company was chartered to colonize, and the 70 craftsmen announced they were striking out on their own. Bradford realized his group would freeze, or starve, or both, and at gunpoint he kept both groups aboard ship to work out a compromise.

Here is the full text, from the University of Oklahoma’s College of Law site:

In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the Grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, e&.

Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, 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 and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

In Witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord, King James of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini, 1620.

See what I mean? It’s loaded with clauses that tend to obscure what is going on. Starting out with the standard contract language of the day, “In the name of God, Amen,” it loses modern readers. We tend to think that with so many mentions of God without a “damn” following, it must be a religious document. But it’s not.

Here’s the meat the the document, the money quote:

We, whose names are underwritten . . . do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

Got that? They promised to form a government, enact fair laws, and obey those laws — government by consent of the governed, by mutual compact, not by divine right.

Just because God is mentioned in the document doesn’t change its nature. It’s a secular compact, an agreement between men, outside the stricture of any church, outside any particular belief.

As we noted over at Ed Brayton’s site, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, many New England settlements and towns became little theocracies. But it wasn’t the Mayflower Compact which set that up, or encouraged it.

More:

 


Port Isaac, Cornwall: Depends on your point of view

August 5, 2012

What you see in this photo may depend on where you sit, or stand.

Aerial photo of Port Isaac, from Facebook, August 2012

Aerial photo of Port Isaac, Cornwall, from Facebook, August 2012; attributed to Wimp.com

It’s a photo of a town in Cornwall, England:  Port Isaac.  Lovely photo, showing the verdant hills around the town where grains grow in some abundance (the town’s name means “corn port,” suggesting a thriving grain trade a millennium ago), sheep or other animals graze, and showing the port from which fishermen sail to bring in bounty from the oceans.  The picturesque little town is popular among writers and other artists.  It’s historic and quaint streets make a popular backdrop for television and film production — the popular BBC series “Doc Martin” films there.

Since some internet “cool stuff” site (Wimp.com?  I can’t find it there) picked up the photo, it’s become popular around the internet and on Facebook.  Generally the identifiers for the town get stripped away as the ‘net is wont to do.  So conjecture pops up in comments:

English: Roscarrock Hill, Port Isaac The first...

Roscarrock Hill, Port Isaac The first house on the right is Fern Cottage, made famous as the house of Doc Martin, in the TV series of the same name. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Secret town, cut off from the rest of civilization?
  • Wasn’t that area once forested, and doesn’t the photo show the perils of deforestation for agricultural, or any other purposes? “Many moons ago before humanity it was beautifully covered with pristine forests full of life. It’s now a self-centred disaster brought by humanity…this pic is ugly !”
  • Isn’t it idyllic, and who wouldn’t want to live there?  “This looks like Cornwalls beautiful rocky edge of the world,I just love the area and holiday there most years,maybe one day i will have saved enough to retire there ,it is truly a stunningly wonderful place to be come rain or shine.”
  • If only there were no people there!  “our planet earth is still beautiful you just have to look at it from a distance.”
  • See how the town is sprawling into the pastures?  See the dangers of (small-town) urban sprawl?
  • London is prettier.
  • You should see Ireland/Wales/Norway!

Ugly or beautiful — opinions differ depending on what the poster thinks it is, and what the poster thinks s/he knows about the place.

Perhaps its really a shot of Rohrshach, Norway . . .

More:

Cornwall

Rohrshach?  Do you see the face?  (It’s actually Cornwall (Photo credit: joeflintham))


Anniversary of the Magna Carta, 1215

June 15, 2011

On June 15, 1215, King John affixed his seal to the Magna Carta, in a ceremony at Runnymede, England.

An encore post:

Runnymede, Magna Carta Isle, photo by Wyrdlight, Antony McCallum, 2008 (Wikimedia)

What event critical to western history and the development of the democratic republic in the U.S. happened here in 1215?

A teacher might use some of these photos explaining the steps to the Constitution, in English law and the heritage of U.S. laws. Other than the Magna Carta, all the events of Runnymede get overlooked in American studies of history. Antony McCallum, working under the name Wyrdlight, took these stunning shots of this historic meadow. (He photographs stuff for studies of history, it appears.)

Maybe it’s a geography story.

View of Runnymede Meadow from Engham Village -- Wyrdlight photo through Wikimedia

View of Runnymede Meadow from Engham Village — Wyrdlight photo through Wikimedia

Several monuments to different events of the past millennium populate the site. The American Bar Association dedicated a memorial to the Magna Carta there — a small thing open to the air, but with a beautiful ceiling that is probably worth the trip to see it once you get to England.

Wikipedia explains briefly, with a note that the ABA plans to meet there again in 2015, the 800th anniversary of the Great Charter:

Magna Carta Memorial


The Magna Carta Memorial & view towards the ‘medes’


Engraved stone recalling the 1985 ABA visit

Situated in a grassed enclosure on the lower slopes of Cooper’s Hill, this memorial is of a domed classical style, containing a pillar of English granite on which is inscribed “To commemorate Magna Carta, symbol of Freedom Under Law”. The memorial was created by the American Bar Association to a design by Sir Edward Maufe R.A., and was unveiled on 18 July 1957 at a ceremony attended by American and English lawyers.[5]

Since 1957 representatives of the ABA have visited and rededicated the Memorial renewing pledges to the Great Charter. In 1971 and 1985 commemorative stones were placed on the Memorial plinth. In July 2000 the ABA came:

to celebrate Magna Carta, foundation of the rule of law for ages past and for the new millennium.

In 2007 on its 50th anniversary the ABA again visited Runnymede and during the convention installed as President Charles Rhyne who devised Law Day which seeks in the USA an annual reaffirmation of faith in the forces of law for peace.

The ABA will be meeting at Runnymede in 2015 on the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the original charter.

The Magna Carta Memorial is administered by the Magna Carta Trust, which is chaired by the Master of the Rolls.[10]

In 2008, flood lights were installed to light the memorial at night, but due to vandalism they now lie smashed.

I’ll wager the lights get fixed before 2015.

 

Detail of the Magna Carta monument at Runnymed...

Detail of the Magna Carta monument at Runnymede. I took this photo some time in the early Eighties. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Detail of ceiling of the Magna Carta Memorial detailing play of light, and star pattern, Runnymede – Wikimedia image

More, resources:

Also on June 15:


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