Most Americans, at lease people born after 1800, have heard of the Pilgrims. Overwhelmingly we see them as those stalwart, pious, wood-splitting founders of our country who had a penchant for wearing awesome bonnets, other hats, and shoe buckles. The Pilgrims, and later Puritans, were doubtlessly important: they gave us Thanksgiving, founded Boston, and established a lasting English foothold between French Canada and the Spanish to the South. However, they probably were not at all like the people we see in the photo to the left that I found on Google Images. Indeed, the story of the Pilgrims is the story about a truly strange take on government that banned things it should have believed in and likely founded the World’s first Communist State. Some historians will hate me for saying all of this and others will probably not care.
Pilgrims should be understood as a religious affiliation, representing a radical version of Puritanism that even most official Puritans felt was absurd. The Pilgrims had been kicked out of England in 1607 when neighbors complained about late night parties at Scrooby Manor where those attending prayed, fasted, and asked for God’s blessings. The Pilgrims hadn’t many friends to cry to: they despised the English State and often preached that the Church of England had become infected with the scourge of Papacy.
The tiny group of Pilgrims, numbering only 150-300, took refuge in the Netherlands until 1617, when a decision was made to leave, again. The reasons here were sound: the Pilgrims feared their children were becoming too Dutch, and theological leaders were frustrated that they could not reconcile 100 years of contentious religious arguments in 4 or 5 years. Obtaining a land grant from England, the Pilgrims set off for America, aiming to colonize an area north of Virginia that was concurrently occupied by the Wappinger Tribe and currently occupied by a Walmart and Hedge Fund offices. After two grueling months at sea, the Pilgrims arrived nowhere where they intended, basically 1620s Cape Cod. Some wished to sail to a better location, but the lack of beer and other provisions prevented that option. The Pilgrims settled down, had a few laughs, and then hours upon hours of devout prayers. It was a great story, and it has been well told. What is usually skipped in this saga is the next 40 or so years, during which the rulers of Massachusetts acted like they were in crazy land.
Being oppressed and shunned in Europe for how they thought, these early Puritans responded naturally: they began oppressing everyone else who did not think like them, and with the same fury they themselves had suffered. The first step in this Puritanization was to ban the borderline satanic economic policies of Europe. For the first ten years Massachusetts was, unlike today, a Communist Society.
Large portions of the colonies’ goods were held in common, including the all important brewery. Earning profit over a certain level was banned, and overly capitalist actions were punished by public floggings or a day clamped in the stocks. People who were abnormally productive were thought to be taking the focus off of God or otherwise in league with some dark forces. Trade with other colonies or England was tightly controlled and numerous goods were banned. Included in this were things like Dutch Shoes since the Pilgrims had been persecuted in the Netherlands. The Colony also encouraged its members to wear uniform clothing; hence the little black and white dudes in your Thanksgiving Holiday display. Eventually this experiment failed, and the colony begrudgingly accepted capitalism, or at least the incredibly exploitative 1600′s version of it.
The Pilgrims were also not so easy to abandoned their strict and often contradictory rules on sexuality and marriage. As a whole, the Puritan movement wasn’t exactly liberal when it came to sex and sexuality. Indeed, much of its success in Europe had been based on the disgust at the libertine nobility when it came to the debaucheries and perpetual affairs of the English Court. Ergo, the Puritans called for chastity and Biblical sexuality, with heavy emphasis on modest dress. The Pilgrims, or by 1630 The Massachusetts Bay Colony, embraced this ideal in as many ways as they ignored it.
Early Massachusetts often suffered from a 9:1 male to female ratio, a number not aided by the fact that many Pilgrim women were secretly Lesbians. Bizarre racism against local Native American Tribes also prevented the sort of inter-racial dating that essentially saved the Jamestown Colony. To alleviate the pressure, having sex with sheep was allowed, as was polyandry, one women servicing many men. However, by the 1640s this sort of thing was frowned upon. In 1642 an animal lover named Thomas Granger was executed for fornication with a mare, a cow, two goats, five sheep, and a turkey. Lesbians were likewise frowned upon, a persecution that drove them underground and help create the Salem witches. When it came to weddings, Massachusetts couldn’t figure out which end was up. After 1647 the colony banned the preaching of weddings. The problem with weddings was that, you guessed it, they were infected by the scourge of Papacy. The Puritans had taken Martin Luther way too seriously when he had said that marriage was not a sacrament. This position would have been all well and good if the Puritans were not at the same time allowing weddings on public roads where the bride and groom were totally naked.
Strangely, this practice was used due to an arcane English Law that stated that if someone was married on the King’s Highway in the nude, he was absolved of his legal debts. For political expediency, the Puritans also turned a blind eye to the patently pagan marriage ceremonies that Native American Tribes held when they married their daughters to the settlers to cement Alliances. Indeed, increasing evidence shows that 40% or more of men in early Massachusetts were married to women from the Pequot, Nipmic, or Nauset tribes.
Happily, weddings were not the only things that the Pilgrims banned. From 1659-1681 the Puritans outlawed the observance of Christmas, because the holiday was thought to encourage sloth. In 1658 all lawyers were shunned from public life, and the entire legal profession was banned.
At various points before 1700, officials banned the ownership of candlesticks for reasons not fully understood. Many, many other things were banned, with again the main reason being they were Papist, including kneeling during Communion, ornaments, bear fights, gambling, everything related to dice, swearing, organs, Calvinist literature, most paintings, windows, and racing.
The most extreme ban seems to have been on kissing your wife on Sunday, a violation punishable by two hours in the stocks.
Eventually this orgy of loopy legalism came to an end with the Salem Witch Trials. After 1700, the Bay Colony was flooded with so many settlers that the loony laws did not have enough popular support to remain in effect. The colony grew into Massachusetts, a vastly important State that spellcheck has incredible difficulty with. The Commonwealth has given us such marvels as Tip O’Neil, Ted Kennedy, and Mitt ‘The Ripper’ Romney.
Copyright © 2013 James J. Krefft. Written by James J Krefft. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact James at:firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe please click here: go to the right of the page and add you email to the box under the link that says Subscribe to Reality-Blog.com.