Tag Archives: New England

Maybe having one guy in charge who has absolute power wasn’t our brightest idea


As their colony grew, the principles of the Mayflower Compact could be enlarged upon: all people are created equal; God-given rights are something we’re born with; top-down governance is something to be wary of. Although they promised to remain subjects of England, the Pilgrims set up a representative government in Plymouth. They elected their governor. They chose him by voting for him—that was a big deal.

The printing press was useful for explaining these new ideas through pamphlets and soon newspapers. The Plymouth Colony government became a model for the way the United States would be run one day.


The Signing of the Compact painted by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris in 1899—the painting I lampooned in my sketch above. I thought it would be funny if everybody signing the Compact had to deal with the Mayflower’s cramped conditions.

https://www.history.com/topics/colonial-america/mayflower-compact
https://americanantiquarian.org/earlyamericannewsmedia/exhibits/show/news-in-colonial-america/colonial-print-culture
http://newenglandtravels.blogspot.com/2009/12/pilgrims-and-printing-press.html
https://blog.bookstellyouwhy.com/the-pilgrim-press-from-illegal-printing-to-thanksgiving
https://www.history.com/news/mayflower-compact-colonial-america-plymouth
How about this—a Bible translated into the Wampanoags’ language was the first one printed in the New World: https://www.library.illinois.edu/rbx/2006/04/03/the-first-bible-printed-in-the-western-hemisphere/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

Pilgrims and printing

More fuel-efficient, better mileage

I paid special attention to the Pilgrims and Plymouth colony for a reason. Even though I can’t be certain that William Brewster’s press ever made it to North America, it’s still true that the first North American printing operation (1638) was in Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts, not far from Plymouth.

The Pilgrims saw their adventure as providential. They believed God landed them in Plymouth and not Jamestown, Virginia on purpose.

In Jamestown, there was an English colony already established. Things like a colonial government and culture (very different from the stern impassioned Pilgrim culture) were up and humming along nicely. In Plymouth, the Pilgrims had to start from scratch. They needed a system of government. The compact they made with each other (and God) aboard the Mayflower was how they governed themselves on land. Their congregation was a ‘covenant’ congregation—a covenant is a contract with God. They answered to God first, before a king or anybody else. If you’re accountable to God, you understand that your rights come from Him. As a contrast, King James said that his subjects’ rights came from King James himself (because of his divine right to rule). The Pilgrims didn’t like that idea so much.

Stern impassioned Pilgrims, or at least their feet, show up in verse 317 or 318 of America The Beautiful:

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness.
America! America!
God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/America_the_Beautiful
Ray Charles nails it (though he doesn’t get to that particular verse):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRUjr8EVgBg

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

William Brewster

And then…I don’t find evidence of the Pilgrims setting up their printing press in Plymouth. Not surprising, really, when you think about it. They’d landed by accident in a place where everything had to be built from scratch. No houses, no barricades or fort for protection, very little food. Setting up a printing operation wasn’t at the top of their to-do list.

Besides, when they packed the press, the Pilgrims expected to land in Virginia where there might’ve been a market for pamphlets and books—a large audience who spoke and read English.



I assume the press was William Brewster’s. In Holland he’d been an underground printer, printing pamphlets and books that were critical of the Church of England and King James I. This made Brewster an internationally wanted man, in hiding from King James’ men for a year before the Pilgrims set sail.



As far as that goes, all the Pilgrims/Puritans were underground. To be English and not worship with the Church of England was to question the divine right of kings (King James was the head of the C of E, just as Henry was). The Pilgrims worshiped privately at somebody’s house—usually in the country, so they wouldn’t be caught at it. They all faced the possibility of arrest and punishment. There was no religious freedom in the Pilgrims’ home country.


Anyhoo, it would be a few years before a press began running in North America.

https://www.prphbooks.com/blog/pilgrim
https://americanantiquarian.org/earlyamericannewsmedia/exhibits/show/news-in-colonial-america/colonial-print-culture
http://newenglandtravels.blogspot.com/2009/12/pilgrims-and-printing-press.html
https://plymrock.org/william-brewster-and-the-pilgrim-press/
https://americanminute.com/blogs/todays-american-minute/william-brewster-and-how-pilgrim-covenant-twisted-into-social-contract-then-socialism-american-minute-with-bill-federer
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/pilgrims-progress-135067108/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

Those lucky, lucky Pilgrims

I learned about this in Sixth Grade, I think—Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn by putting a dead fish in with the seed.

That the Pilgrims didn’t all die that first winter in the New World was nothing less than a miracle. They were down to their last jar of peanut butter when the remarkable Tisquantum, also known as Squanto, showed up at their camp. Tisquantum was a Pawtuxet Indian who lived with the nearby Wampanoag tribe. He just happened to speak fluent English from having been captured and enslaved, then escaped (twice!) from English explorers. He’d voyaged across the Atlantic and back.
Tisquantum brokered an alliance between the Wampanoags and English. The Wampanoags had been nearly wiped out by smallpox that summer* and were at the mercy of bigger war-making tribes in their neighborhood. The Pilgrims were at the mercy of everybody—but they had firearms and cannons. The 2 little groups threw in together. Tisquantum showed the Pilgrims how to survive in their new environment. Captain Standish provided military strength against the Wampanoags’ enemies. It was a productive working relationship—and by the end of a year’s time both groups had prospered. They celebrated together with a 3-day harvest-feast to thank God.
https://www.biography.com/political-figure/squanto
https://www.patheos.com/blogs/hedgerow/2020/11/squanto-a-story-of-providence-enabling-the-pilgrims-to-survive-video/
Has anyone seen this movie? Tell me if I should rent it—https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/squanto_a_warriors_tale

*Tisquantum’s own tribe was completely wiped out by the disease while he was in Europe. He was the last of the Pawtuxets.

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

The printing press saves the day

I should’ve drawn the press closer to the crack.

But, wait!—the Pilgrims had brought a printing press with them, one of those Gutenberg presses with the big screw used to put big-time pressure on a platen. They dragged the press out of the hold and used the press’ screw to push the beam back into position. They unscrewed the press (lefty-loosey) so it pushed out against the keel and the beam. The Mayflower stayed sea-worthy enough to make a landing off Plymouth Rock. Now when you look at those paintings of Pilgrims setting foot on land you see why they look like they’d just cheated Death.

Inspired by a Currier & Ives print

So the printing press came to America. Happy Thanksgiving!

https://colonialquills.blogspot.com/2014/10/the-screw-that-saved-america.html
https://www.icr.org/article/mechanical-multitasking-mayflower
https://www.fayalexander.com/2011/12/great-iron-screw-saved-mayflower/
Here’s a conversation between some engineers/sailors discussing what the actual problem with the Mayflower may have been. The most plausible scenario (to me) is that the main beam cracked, which compromised the standing rigging that held the mast in place (the mast doesn’t rest on the beam, it’s seated—stepped—into a socket down on the keelson at the bottom of the ship. The beam’s job is to keep the rigging taut. The beam is under hundreds of pounds of pressure). Once they got the beam lifted with a screw, they could put timbers under the beam to hold it there. https://www.practicalmachinist.com/vb/antique-machinery-and-history/0t-saving-mayflower-1620-a-382121/
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/447826756689071831/
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/keelson
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KITlyn-wkQ
https://modelshipworld.com/topic/19155-mast-steps/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

Thanks for sailing with Mayflower! Please fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the trip

Welp, everything went wrong. Three hundred miles out to sea Speedwell (which had leaked and been patched a couple of times already) sprang a leak so they turned back and everybody piled into the Mayflower. So they got a late start. The voyage would take over two months. They were blown off course, so they’d wind up in chilly no-wheres-ville New England rather than Virginia where the settlements were. The Pilgrims would arrive too late to plant crops so they stood a good chance of starving before spring. They’d completely miss New England’s leaf-peeping season. The Mayflower was old, cranky and her timbers weren’t sound. Then, during a wild storm, the beam that held the mainmast in place cracked! It looked like she’d sink with all hands.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayflower
http://mayflowerhistory.com/voyage

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.