Tag Archives: Virginia

This Day in History 11/21: The Mayflower Compact is signed

The Mayflower Compact, a painting by Jean Leon...

Image via Wikipedia

The Mayflower Compact, signed on November 21 (November 11 in the old calendar), 1620, causes a lot of confusion.

Therefore, before we go any further, let’s get some things clear:

1. The so-called Pilgrims (or Separatists or whatever the fuck they wanted to call themselves) were not interested in creating a democracy.

2. They did not believe in religious freedom for anyone but themselves.

3. No one asked the Wampanoag, the Narragansett, the Patuxet or any of the other indigenous tribes of the region to sign this thing (which they would have happily done with a tomahawk to their pasty white skulls).

The usual line fed to us is that the Pilgrims created the Compact as the first form of government in the Thirteen Colonies of North America.  There goes log of bullshit # 1–sorry, Jesus freaks, but the tobacco-growing, native-wenching planters of Virginia had you beat by one year, creating the House of Burgesses in 1619.

The other old saw follows that the Pilgrims intended to form a democratic form of government among the colonists, thus being the antecedent to the United States Constitution.  Again…this is wrong on so many levels.

The reasons for the Compact were complex, but mostly had to do with the sizeable amount of colonists aboard the Mayflower who were (gasp!) not Pilgrims, Separatists, Puritans or anything else.  They had no illusions about John Winthrop‘s City on a Hill, or creating a New Jerusalem in the wilderness–they came to go to Virginia and join the wenching tobacco planters.  When the ship veered off course and landed at Cape Cod instead, the outsiders, or “strangers” claimed independence from the Pilgrim leaders.  By contract, the voyage was to land in Virginia.  It didn’t, so by law (at least in their mind) the Bible-thumpers had no control over them.

The Pilgrims, rightfully, got nervous.  They understood that if they didn’t stick together, the colony would not survive, be it by starvation, disease, exposure, or the aforementioned tomahawks to the noggin.  So they decided to bargain with the “strangers” and form a haphazard agreement.  It was basically not much of a government at all, but rather a social contract meant to bind the colonists to the rules set forth from that point on.

The following is a modern translation of the Compact:

 “In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, defender of the Faith, etc.

Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, 1620.”

Three things are abundantly clear in reading this modern translation:

1. The Pilgrims had a shitty sense of geography.  They still insisted they were in Virginia–albeit the “northern parts of Virginia.”  This was probably put in to keep the “strangers” from trying any legal funny business.  By that definition, Virginia should extend all the way to fucking Nova Scotia.

2. The Compact did not lay out a single plank for a framework of government.  All it did was establish a “body politic” that would be bound to the rules and regulations of the colony, rules that are supposedly “convenient for the general good of the colony.”  Exactly how these rules would be enacted–and especially who would be involved in government–was left eerily vague.  Looking at the list of 41 white male signers, you can guess who was running things.

3. For a group of people threatened with prison, torture and death by their own home government, the Pilgrims still show a remarkable allegiance to James I of England, Scotland and Ireland–even going so far as to use his full and correct title TWICE (how’s that for filling a page!)  This could lead modern readers to think the Pilgrims either still showed obedience to the sovereign or were real sado-masochists under those doublets and breeches.

Was the Mayflower Compact important?  Sure it was.  It was among the earliest attempts to create a social contract bound by the consent of the governed, albeit imperfectly.  It embodied the social and communal ideals of the Separatist movement, emphasizing rule of law and mutual cooperation.

Yet was the Compact the big thing our teachers made it out to be?  Probably not.  It didn’t establish a government at all.  It didn’t stipulate the rights of colonists.  It didn’t lay a foundation for governance or the creation of laws.

Worst of all, the Pilgrim fathers certainly had selective amnesia about the Compact when it came to women, dissenters and especially Native Americans.  The subsequent wars over New England, particularly the Pequot War of 1637 and especially King Phillip’s War of 1675-1676, demonstrate a concerted effort by the English colonists to marginalize, exclude and ultimately erase any native influence on their culture and their precious Compact.

It would take another 167 years of foundations–and another two centuries of defining those foundations–to actually create the system that lived up to the Pilgrim ideal.

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Student Historian Internship at the New-York Historical Society


DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828) visionary NY politician, founder of the New-York Historical Society, avatar and guardian angel of Mr. D’s Neighborhood

Yes, Virginia, there are teenage students out there who would prefer to dive into musty museum exhibits and artifacts instead of making money for a car or a prom dress.

These teenagers are history nuts, just like those who are regular readers here at the Neighborhood.  Thankfully, the New-York Historical Society offers summer internships to satisfy the Ivy League professor in all of them.

I’ve always been a huge fan of the Society, New York’s oldest museum going back to 1804.  Their rotating exhibits, and the upstairs attic collection, offer a feast of the eyes and the intellect.  Unfortunately, the Society is undegoing a massive renovation that will be completed November 10.  So for many high schoolers in the tri-state area, the Summer Historian internship at N-YHS offers the only way they can interact with the museum’s collection before graduation and college.

The Internship is open to all 10th, 11th, and 12th graders in the tri-state area, thanks to a grant from the Pinkerton Foundation.   If you’re a city kid, it gets better: NYC high schoolers are eligible for PAID internships, with compensation provided (not sure whether its a one-shot stipend or a weekly check thing).  If you don’t get one of those, city students will still be eligible for the unpaid internships available to out-of-city students.

There are two internships, one for the summer and one for the school year.  The summer internship is what’s open now: according to the N-YHS website, participants will be interning Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10:00 am to 4:45 pm, July 5-August 11.  Furthermore, interns will be involved in the following:

  • Researching art, artifacts, and documents from the N-YHS collection to create guides, tours, and videos for museum visitors and the N-YHS website
  • Meeting with experts from the museum and library departments to discuss both the museum’s collections and career options
  • Visiting museums throughout New York City
  • Creating supplementary materials for N-YHS School Programs
  • Assisting with public programs, family programs, and other special events

(Thanks again to the N-YHS website for providing a thorough description)

The deadline for applying is April 29, 2011.  Applicants should have their parent/guardian’s permission, as well as valid working papers from the New York State Department of Labor (Information on working papers can be found on a NYSDOL link located at N-YHS’ site).  There is an application to fill out and two letters of recommendation.

(A word of advice: don’t ask your parents to recommend you.  Stick with teachers, coaches and administrators that know your academic skills and your work ethic.)

If you love history, love museums, heck even love New York City, you should be running, not walking, to take advantage of this opportunity.  For you juniors applying to college, this is the sort of thing that makes admissions officers drool (I should  know…I conduct admissions interviews for my alma mater.)  Please send this to all high school teachers and students eligible.

Here’s the link again. Best of luck to all applicants, and remember to tell them the Neighborhood sent you.

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This Day in History 2/22: Happy Birthday, George Washington!

A big birthday salute to our first President (under our current Constitution) George Washington, born on February 22, 1732 (according to the current Gregorian calendar) in Virginia.

Needless to say, almost every school boy and girl can recite Georgie’s accomplishments ad nauseum–well, at least my kids can:  Planter (and slaveowner), surveyer, inadvertantly began the first real “world war” in the French and Indian War, delegate to the Virginia House of Burgesses, commander of the Continental Army, president of the Constitutional Convention, and of course the first President under the document that came out of said convention.

Attached is a scene from the 1999 A&E film The Crossing, which deals with Washington’s Christmas victory at Trenton in 1776.  General Horatio Gates, a former British soldier, outlies his reservations about Washington’s plan–and Washington himself.  In his response, played by Jeff Daniels, you can note Washington’s stature, resolve, reckless nature and his fiery temper: something often forgotten about him.

It’s a great scene to use in the classroom to compare with the idealized Washington of paintings, prints, books and film.  Hope you enjoy the rest of Washington’s birthday.

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