by Dorothy S. Richards
I recently read a book by the noted biographer, Nathanial Philbrick, entitled, “Mayflower.” It is an account of the famous ship and the one hundred brave souls it carried to America across the ocean from Europe four hundred years ago. The unusual aspect of the narrative is that it is gleaned from original journals kept throughout the journey and settlement years by their leaders, Miles Standish and William Bradford. I was moved and shocked by some of the facts and experiences brought to light that were more personal and authentic than the history I was taught in school when studying the colonial period. The settlers gathered that first autumn to give thanks to God for their safe passage and for their new and hospitable home. Thus Americans celebrate the feast day of Thanksgiving in commemoration of the successful migration.
Our school curriculum studies of the Plymouth plantation experience of course also revealed that after that first harsh winter the number of survivors was down to fifty due to starvation, exposure and sickness. Had the friendly and compassionate Natives not fed and educated these “strangers” the entire population would have been lost.
Relations between the Native tribes and the puritans did not remain friendly for many reasons which are described in Philbrick’s more detailed and researched book but which show atrocities on both sides. These disclosures, I believe, are essential to appreciating and fully understanding the political and human rights treatment of the Indian population to the present day. Guilt, ignorance, fear and racism are obviously at the root of these abiding injustices.
As we try to deal with the unrest and horror today exhibited by the clash of civilizations in the Middle East I see parallels with the founding of our country centuries ago. Different cultures, allowing fear and long-held assumptions to cast blind eyes on one another– repeating itself.
Along with my usual enjoyment of our family Holiday dinner gathering this year I will give thought to strangers around the world. Humans who are different from us but who need understanding and love in the same way that the original Americans gave acceptance and trust to our white travelers long ago. In the eyes of the unsophisticated Native, the newly arrived humans were truly strange, but were fellow creatures of the “Great Spirit” to which we give thanks, and which resides in us all.
Dorothy S. Richards,
Dedicated to my dear departed friend, Katharina Bauer Bartholomew on her birthday.