Thursday, November 26, 2015

Saints, Strangers, and Savages

“In the name of God Amen.” So it began, the Mayflower Compact, the first contract to which the Saints and Strangers came together and agreed upon. The year was 1620 and the Mayflower had arrived in the new world. They could not have known it then, but those few settlers who survived the treacherous storms as they sailed across the mighty Atlantic in their frail little ship were founding the greatest and mightiest nation the world would ever see. Its sheer size would one day rival and indeed surpass the greatest empires of history, and much of its acquisitions, although certainly not all, would be peaceful.
At that first “Thanksgiving,” there were three types of people: The Saints, or the Pilgrims, as we know them, who had fled England and its religious oppression. There were the Strangers, the sailors, the adventurers and other, rough and tumble types of folks that had joined the party, some of them more upright and steady than others of their number.
And of course there were the “Savages.” Of course, they weren’t all savages, and quite a few of them were peaceful, but in their war paint, lack of clothing, and strange tongue, to the bewildered and storm tossed Englishmen they must have seemed savage indeed in their primitive and uncivilized way.
Already, four hundred years ago, the themes and patterns that would come to be seen as distinctly American were already forming. There was a belief in God, and a belief that one should be free to worship in his or her own way. That was the ultimate reason that the Mayflower came to the new world at all, and indeed it was to God that the thanks was being given in the first place. That belief in a Divine Being would later be laid down further in the founding document of the nation in the Declaration, and the freedom to believe in Him or not was cemented in the Constitution. It has never left us, expanding in later years to the pledge of allegiance and the very currency with which we trade.
The second thing that showed itself early as our first founding fathers took their baby steps away from mother England was that of a fierce independence. Indeed, the very Mayflower Compact was created because many of the Strangers wanted to run into the woods and do their own thing. These were hardy folk, they’d travelled three thousand miles through uncharted waters to an unmapped land just to be free. It speaks of a people who later go against the mightiest nation in the world in war, and win, because that nation had dared to step on their liberty.
There was also the “Savages” acceptance of immigrants. It wasn’t necessarily out of the goodness of their hearts, many historians tell us, as the Indians were simply hoping to gain a new ally in the tribal warfare of the day, yet still, the Pilgrims were refugees, and the Indians did let them come, whatever the reason.
And then there was unity. Three groups of people, who for the most part worshiped in three different ways and spoke different languages, from different places, with different goals and ideas, were able to come together without warring with one another, to talk over their differences. That peace would last for over fifty years, until a true savage, “King Phillip,” an Indian chief, would break it.
Today, we are many millions of people, with scores of languages, scores of religious affiliations, and ideas as to how we should govern ourselves too many too count. And yet, as the other motto on our currency states, we are “out of many one.” We have come here not to be Englishmen or Saints or Strangers or Savages, we have come to be Americans. There are plenty of things to divide us, but we shouldn’t bother being such small people as to focus on those. We have one language, one flag, one currency and one people. The Pilgrims came here looking for unity amongst themselves and peace with the outside world. It’s a goal worth fighting for, and one we can be thankful they gave to us.

Andrew C. Abbott

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