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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

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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/

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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.

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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/

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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

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Thanks for hanging in there

Once again, I’ve taken you on an elaborate side-trip. You must be wondering: why in the world is Manders spending so much time blathering about the Pilgrims? We came here looking for a history of reading and writing and our dear old Uncle John (who we assumed still had all his marbles) can’t seem to shut up about the Restoration and Henry the Eighth and Puritans and the Spanish Empire and Dutch politics. I am aware some of you—out of sheer frustration—have already hurled your half-eaten toaster-waffles at whatever device you use to receive these blog posts.



Don’t worry. There’s a good reason for taking you down this rabbit hole. Here it is: for all the reasons I’ve been telling you, the Pilgrims decided they needed to pack their stuff and beat it out of Leiden. They chartered a couple of leaky old tubs named Speedwell and Mayflower to take them to the New World—North America. There were English settlements already established. This would be their best bet for starting fresh in their quest to get back to religious basics.

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Wait, there’s more!

Red brick & cobblestones on the street where the Pilgrims lived.

Adding to the Pilgrims’ worries: Leiden’s corrupt city government was beginning to fall apart. A barricade was built around city hall and protected by soldiers. There was mob rule in the streets and the mob had become not-so-tolerant of religions from other countries (at least one Pilgrim was beaten senseless on his way home from church). To top it off, the Pilgrims were farmers trying to adapt to city life. The main way to earn a living in Leiden was to work in the cloth mills. You could make a decent buck while you’re young, but the old guys didn’t work as fast and so brought home less money. They couldn’t get ahead or get out of debt.

The Pilgrims started looking around for someplace else to set up shop.

Here are links to cover this week’s posts:
https://atdspain.com/en/news/how-was-netherlands-part-spanish-empire
https://www.britannica.com/place/Spanish-Netherlands
https://americanliteraturechallenge.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/why-did-the-puritans-leave-holland-were-their-reasons-justified-2/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calvinism
https://netherlandsinsiders.com/discover-the-pilgrims-legacy-in-leiden-their-home-from-1609-1620/
https://www.saburchill.com/history/events/009.html
https://leidenamericanpilgrimmuseum.org/en/page/pilgrim-life-in-leiden-why-the-pilgrims-left
https://www.lakenhal.nl/en/story/leiden-cloth

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Satire

Jonathan Swift. One of the perks of being a pamphleteer was you got to wear big wigs.

Satire : a way of using humor to show that someone or something is foolish, weak, bad, etc. : humor that shows the weaknesses or bad qualities of a person, government, society, etc.

Many pamphleteers commented on social conditions or criticized the government. Jonathan Swift used satire to make his points—‘Swiftian’ is still an adjective for a particularly dark sense of humor. In 1729 Swift published  A Modest Proposal to transform poor Irish children from a burden to society instead to being a benefit. His pamphlet caused a howling, righteous uproar (click on the link to read it)—just as it would today on Instagram or Twitter. Daniel Defoe’s satirical The Shortest Way with the Dissenters got him arrested for sedition.

Then, as now, the ruling class had no sense of humor and wouldn’t tolerate criticism. The British government censored and arrested pamphleteers for expressing politically incorrect opinions. The idea that writers should have the liberty to write about whatever they choose and have their work printed and distributed is called freedom of the press. This was a new concept. John Milton defended freedom of the press in a pamphlet that he had to publish anonymously. He was revealed as its true author only a couple of years ago.

https://www.britannica.com/art/pamphlet
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pamphleteer
https://collections.libraries.indiana.edu/lilly/exhibitions_legacy/defoe/pamphlets.html
https://www.amazon.com/Jonathan-Swift-As-Tory-Pamphleteer/dp/0295978708
https://www.bloomsbury.com/us/milton-9781608193783/
https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/satire

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The pamphleteers

Daniel Defoe

If you were a young writer just starting out during Brit lit’s Augustan Age (late 1600s – early 1700s), pamphlets were the way to build an audience. Pamphlets can be as short as 4 pages. Lots of them don’t even have covers. They’re cheap and easy to produce—and plenty of people could read by then—so you could sell bunches of ‘em. They were the social media of those days. If you had something on your mind, a topic to rant about, you wrote an essay and printed it up as a pamphlet. You became a pamphleteer.

You may recognize the names of some pamphleteers—Daniel Defoe (he wrote Robinson Crusoe), Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels), Tom Paine (his pamphlets were made into a collection titled Common Sense), John Milton (Paradise Lost).

https://www.britannica.com/art/pamphlet
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pamphleteer
https://poemanalysis.com/movement/augustan-age/

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More Reformation—sorry

The printing press encouraged literacy, which almost all by itself brought on the Renaissance and shaped modern Western Civilization. Those pamphlets of Luther’s presented the argument that the Catholic Church needed to be reformed.

You guys are rolling your eyes now—”C’mon, Manders! Give the Reformation a rest already!” Okay, okay. There IS a reason I bring it up again: for thousands of years, the power-structure of every kingdom and empire was top-down, central-government, one-guy-runs-the-show—that is, all decisions are made by one king or emperor. In the Holy Roman Empire, the pope ran everything to do with the Church. All the Church’s power was in the Vatican, in Rome. The pope appointed priests to every last little church.

This model is ‘top-down.’ The power comes from above and works its way down.

The Reformation brought a big change: the new Protestant churches elected their own pastors. The power to choose a pastor resides in each individual member of a Protestant church. If you belong to a Protestant church, you have a say in who gets to be preacher. This was a big, new idea. It happened because a great number of people knew how to read and did read Luther’s pamphlets.

A path was being cleared for—eventually—a nation whose ordinary-shmo-citizens would elect its political leaders.

https://www.mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/1064/protestant-reformation
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljdWWjdesMM
https://opencurriculum.org/5475/the-medieval-church/
https://www.cnn.com/2017/10/29/world/reformation-world-change/index.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Top-down_and_bottom-up_design

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