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The Times Of Their Lives

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Beyond the obvious quality of truth-discovery, revisionist history has an appeal in the humor that is often found when comparing fact to fiction. James and Patricia Scott Deetz, hereafter referred to as "Deetz" because, apparently, all but two of the two-hundred and ninety-one pages were written by James (this accreditation process following the spirit of assigning Yoko Ono song co-authorship status when she made those LSD-induced cat screeches in the background of all of John Lennon's songs), provide plenty of explicit and subtle humor in their myth-busting expose on the Plymouth settlers, The Times of Their Lives.

Accomplished through a call-and-response formula that embeds the myths, the more accurate revisions, the explanation of the evidence to support the revisions, and then a discussion of the origins of the myths, Deetz deftly fuels the intellectual curiosity of the reader through most of the book. The aforementioned formula is used from the onset as he discusses the fable surrounding thanksgiving. Lambasting the typical pilgrim scenario where a small number of pilgrims and Indians stare piously off into heaven whilst at a picnic table adorned with a big turkey, Deetz illustrates that roughly fifty Englishmen and ninety Indians celebrated sans cranberry sauce, sans pumpkin pie, and most surprisingly, sans turkey. He further illustrates that turkey was baked into the thanksgiving picture by a misreading of William Bradford who indicated, in general, that turkey was hunted in the fall and winter of 1621. And while turkey will become a surprising factor in a later discussion of "pilgrim-virtue", Deetz illustrates that a first person account of the three day celebration revealed that the settlers dined on deer, and either ducks and geese. Considering the harvest and their typical diet, there may also have been maize, cod, lobster, or eels, and considering the inventory of the Mayflower, the whole fare was most likely washed down by beer or other "strong water". It also appears that firing off muskets, fowling pieces, and bows were part of the three day celebration. So the pious picture of reverent thanks we have all come to know is replaced by a large party of one-hundred and forty guests who ate "surf and turf" and got tipsy while firing dangerous weapons. In retrospect, it sounds more like a family gathering at the Dick Cheney compound.

Deetz moves past thanksgiving and takes on several other pillars of pilgrim, among them- Plymouth Rock. Daniel Webster's 1820 bi-centennial speech linked the rock to pilgrim history, even though there is, what Deetz refers to as little more than a "slender thread" of evidence supporting the existence of this holy rock as the settler's original landing place. Embodied in the relation of 95 year old Thomas Faunce who, in 1741, said his father told him that the original mayflower settlers related that they had, in fact, landed at the rock, (Faunce's father received this information second hand when he arrived 3 years later on the Anne) the legend of Plymouth rock took on a life of its own. Furthermore, the information contrasts with at least two other historical accounts that place the settlers in a small shallop that explored a number of sandy beach-heads; the fact that this was an all male exploratory party also successfully discredits the Mary Chilton myth.

So why all the reverence for the Plymouth settlers (incidentally, Deetz points out that they did not call themselves "pilgrims", but "saints", "strangers", "old planters", and "planters" ) anyway? Deetz's argument is that the pilgrim ideal, henceforth referred to as "pilgrim-virtue", is largely a 19th century construct that was a bi-product of Victorian romanticism seeking an appropriate outlet, and Plymouth was a simply a better choice than those rapscallion profit seekers in Jamestown. A pilgrim society was formed in 1819, a pilgrim hall was built and filled with supposedly pilgrim stuff, Webster gave his speech, pilgrim tales of virtue grew so robust that that the word "pilgrim" was used to denote brand integrity in 19th century commercial product promotions, the Longfellow poem, "The Courtship of Miles Standish" was published and sold greatly (though fraught with inaccuracies-sort of like a Rupert Murdock publication) in 1858, and then Lincoln passed the 1863 proclamation and the rest is fictional history.

When one speaks of "pilgrim-virtue", one typically thinks of the Plymouth settlers both creating and manifesting a set of pious-to-a-fault values above and beyond what one might consider a garden-variety commitment to religiously derived moral standards. While Deetz does not use this expression explicitly, his quotation of the phrase, "aggregate virtue" and aforementioned platitudes would lead one to believe that Deetz has a handle on pilgrim-virtue, indeed, debunking that virtue seems to be the main point of the book. Besides, even if we weren't able to guess that the big ole' belt-buckle on the pilgrim hat was used as a reminder that, in a pilgrim-virtuous society, one must always take care to keep his pants on, we all certainly know what pilgrim-virtue is. To that end, it is important to ask whether or not the deconstruction of these myths is meaningful to that overall question. Deer for turkey substitutions wouldn't seem to have the intellectual power to deflate the idea of pilgrim-virtue, so it seems rather important to ask if the reasons for the settlers departure were centered around pilgrim-virtue, if the government they set up and the laws they created were centered around pilgrim-virtue, if the laws reflected the total consent of those governed, and, most importantly, did the settlers ultimately respect the laws that were set up to promote pilgrim-virtue.

To the first question, it should be noted that only 42% of the original mayflower passengers were of the Scrooby separatist congregation that departed from England and lived 12 odd years in the Netherlands before landing at Plymouth. To elaborate, the congregation had left England under the tightening reigns of King James I who was firmly intolerant of religious dissenters . After a failed attempt in 1607 (they were sold out by a ship master) and imprisonment, they successfully fled to Holland in 1608 and settled in and around Leiden where they held menial jobs for about 12 years, though they were being left alone to practice their religion. Social mobility and economic opportunity were explicitly stated reasons for the move. Although some of the settlers cite the 17th century European standard "propagation of faith" as one of the reasons for traveling to the new world, the more prevalent religious reason seemed to be that

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