24 September 2019

Excerpts from "Saints and Strangers"

An interesting, detailed, and heavily annotated read for those curious about the aspects of early American history that are not typically discussed in high school or collegiate classrooms.  Saints and Strangers focuses on the Pilgrims, distinguishing them from the Puritans and other early colonists.  It is well written with a captivating style; these excerpts may whet your interest in reading the entire book.

"Far from being Victorians, they were children of another and a greater age, the Elizabethan, and in their lives reflected many of the qualities of that amazing age – its restlessness and impatience with old ways, its passionate enthusiasms, its eager curiosity and daring speculation in all fields, its boldness in action, its abounding and apparently inexhaustible energies."

"Pilgrims were Elizabethan, too, in their acceptance of the simpler joys of life.  The practiced no macerations of the flesh, no tortures of self-denial.  They appreciated the pleasures of the table and of the bottle, liked both “strong waters” and beer, especially the latter, never complaining more loudly of their hardships than when necessity reduced them to drinking water, which they always regarded with suspicion as a prolific source of human ills.  They were not monks or nuns in their intimate relations as their usually numerous families and more than occasional irregularities attest. Fond of the comforts of connubial bed and board, they married early and often and late, sometimes within a few weeks of losing a mate.  Only on the Sabbath did they go about in funereal blacks and grays.  Ordinarily they wore the russet browns and Lincoln green common among the English lower classes from which they sprang."

"But the passengers [on the Mayflower] had one bond in common.  All were lower class from the cottages, and not the castles of England, a strong cohesive force at a time when society was still rigidly stratified, with rights and privileges concentrated at the top. There was not a drop of blue blood to be found anywhere among them on the Mayflower, as these Pilgrims were all too aware from the poverty and other disabilities that they suffered. They were of the common people and in conscious revolt against the autocratic principle - a fact which seems to have escaped some of their descendants with their pathetic interest in coats of arms and proofs of blood."

"There was a fourth and much larger group sharply set off from all the others - the indentured servants. These were not servants in our sense of the word. They were not housemaids, butlers, cooks, valets, or general flunkies to wait upon the personal needs of the Pilgrims. On the contrary, they were brought along to do the heaviest kind of labor. They were to fell trees, hew timbers, build houses, clear fields and plough them, tend crops, gather the harvest, and do whatever their masters ordered. During the period of their indenture, which usually ran for seven years, they were fed, clothed, and housed by their masters, but received no wages, being virtually slaves, and were frequently bought, sold, and hired out as such."  [later]: "In 1627, Wollaston gathered up some servants, sailed for Virginia, and there sold them to local tobacco planters for the period of their indenture."  "In New England servants were "sold upp and Downe like horses..." [later] "Early in the war Captain Church had persuaded the Indians around the town of Dartmouth not to join Philip but to follow him to Plymouth; here they were seized and shipped off to Tangiers to be sold as slaves."  "As Indian captives - men, women, and children - continued to pour into Plymouth, all were sold into slavery, some to local planters, the majority in the West Indies."

"As is evident from the merest glance at the history of Plymouth, the Pilgrim leaders did not believe in equalitarian democracy though they were moving in that direction.  They favored a change in the hierarchical structure above them, but not below."

[after taking stores of corn saved by the native Americans for the winter]:  "This was just plain larceny, of course, but the Pilgrims were inclined to regard it as another special providence of God.  And in a sense it was, for without this seed corn they would have had no crops the next year, "as ye sequell did manyfest," and all would have starved to death... The Indians needed it for the same purpose, but if this thought ever occurred to the Pilgrims, they brushed it aside, pleading their necessity."

[they also dug into mounds they knew to be graves]  "Still musing upon the mystery of the yellow-haired man, the Pilgrims closed the grave, having removed "sundrie of the prettiest things" to take away with them."

[lack of planning] "As yet they had "got but one cod," largely because these aspiring fishermen had failed to bring along proper gear, specifically wanting nets and small hooks."

"Neither now nor later did the Pilgrims build log cabins, for the good reason that they did not know how... the log cabin, apparently so  native to the American scene, is actually a foreign importation, Scandinavian in origin..."

"A combined Massachusetts and Connecticut force had wreaked a terrible vengeance upon the Pequot.  Trapping some severn hundred of them - men, women, and children -... the English... fell upon the encampment with fire, sword, blunderbuss, and tomahawk... Flames consumed almost all, and it was a fearful sight, said the Pilgrims in phrases quoted with delight and without acknowledgement by Cotton Mather, "to see them thus frying in ye fyer, and ye streams of blood quenching ye same, and horrible was ye stinck and sente thereof; but ye victory seemed a sweete sacrifice, and they gave prayse therof to God."  "Male prisoners were shipped to the West Indies and sold as slaves.  Young squaws and maidens were divided among the soldiers."

"The right to vote was restricted to freemen, and it was not easy to attain that status.  All had to pass a minute examination of their religious views and moral character... In 1643, when the colony contained some 3,000 people, there were just 232 freemen.  Nor were all of these entitled to vote.  The franchise was limited to those with a rateable estate of at least [$1,000]."

"... many pewter dishes pots, and flagons - but no forks, for the Pilgrim Fathers and their families, like everybody else at the time, ate with their fingers or their knives."

"A confession should never be forced by putting the accused on oath, but on occasion - and this was one - the magistrates "may proceede so farr to bodily torments as racks, hot-irons, &c."

"Abandoning this fundamental [voluntary fellowship of church] of their faith, they now made support of the church compulsory, a legal obligation upon all - one of the "tyrannies" they had found so intolerable in the Anglican church."

[children] " were guilty, too... of sitting down during two-hour prayers..."

"And to keep Anglicans in their place, it was now a crime... to celebrate Christmas by "forbearing of labour, feasting, or in any other way."... Nor did they follow the Puritans in slicing off the Quakers' ears, branding them with hot irons, flaying them with tarred ropes, beating them senseless with iron rods, burning their books, and confiscating everything they owned in guise of a fine."

"Though New England had no public school system worthy of the name for almost two centuries..."

"... Bradford had denied the 'libel' that women had acquired any new rights or privileges at Plymouth.  "Touching our governemente," he wrote indignantly, "you are quite mistaken if you think we admite weomen... to have to do in the same, for they are excluded, as both reason and nature teacheth they should be."  Education of girls was a vain and idle thing, the Pilgrim Fathers agreed.  At best, it was a silly affectation; at worst, a danger to the established order."

"Supper was much like breakfast, with the addition of gingerbread, cake, cheese, or pie - all washed down with beer, which was drunk at all meals, even by younger children."

[re getting land from the native Americans]:  "Captain Standish, Constant Southworth, and Samuel Nash obtained a tract fourteen miles square at Bridgewater for seven coats, eight hoes, nine hatchets, ten and a half yard of cotton cloth, twenty knives, and four "moose" skins.  One day, when exploring the Cape beyond Eastham, a party of pilgrims pointed to a particular section and asked the Indians who owned it.  "Nobody" was the Indians' reply, meaning everybody.  "In that case," said the Pilgrims, "it is ours."

But the English attitude toward the natives' rights was never more succinctly expressed than by a town meeting at Milford, Conecticut, in 1640:  "Voted, that the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof; voted, that the earth is given to the Saints; voted, that we are the Saints."


  1. I have this book and agree with it on many points, but I would disagree that the settlers of New England were "lower class" -- yes, they were lower than the castle-set but they were, as a rule, skilled workmen, nearly all were literate (some very much so), and many were quite educated. (Education was something that New Englanders prized from the start, and still do.) As to indentured workers being "little more than slaves" -- it's a stretch. Several of my ancestors started out as indentured servants (often just to be able to pay to have themselves and their family transported to the New World) and ended up as successful members of the community. Indentured servants in New England had a much less dangerous and/or brutal life than those in the South. Lastly, Bradford was an insufferable prig (and the one at fault for the "Pilgrim" name) and his writings should be taken with a grain of salt. Some women did, in fact, have additional rights they might not have had elsewhere. Not many, and sometimes not for long, but it happened. Sarah (Carey) Jenney (one of my ancestors and a Mayflower passenger), for example, became one of the 34 Purchasers of Dartmouth in her own right.

  2. How do u pull out quotes from books? Assuming u don't type all that. I'm guessing highlights in Kindle?

    1. A few things I can find quoted elsewhere on the internet, and for those I copy/paste. But for 80% of the above I typed because I can't copy/paste from Google Books citations. Best class I ever had in high school. 100+ words/minute, has served me well for over 50 years.

      But you will see some mistakes in the quotations esp re single quotes v. double quotes because I can't touch-type those and I sometimes forget if I'm quoting the author or the author is quoting Bradford etc.

  3. let's see, 100+ words/minute times so many minutes per day times 365 days per year times 50 years = wow!!! that's a lotta key presses!


  4. Interesting....There's a restaurant on the Cape called "Strangers and Saints". Food is pretty good!


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