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tv   Pilgrims and Liberty  CSPAN  December 23, 2020 11:41am-12:38pm EST

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c-span 3. explore our nation's past. created by american's cable cable television companies that provide it as a public service. next a discussion with john turner on his book "pilgrims and liberty." museums in the green hosted this event and provided the available. this is the 40th anniversary of the mayflower voyage to plymoth. if you were here in person you would see a gala celebration going on daily and weekly, but
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due to forces big ere than us, it has not quite happened. things have been kicked to the curb. but it allowed our guests for tonight that are coming to us from northern virginia, john turner, professor of religious studies. he wrote a book about about bill grimes, also he wrote ak book about brigham young. as much as i long love to welcome you in person, i'm glad that zoom allows us to do this at least remotely. so without further adieu, please welcome john turner. >> i like the virtual applause there, thank you for reading so many books, by the way. that is a wonderful thing. the pilgrims were going for northern virginia as well before they went off course. it's not too inappropriate for
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me to be speaking to you from here. as mark said we will be using the chat feature for that feature, so punch questions in any time. that is ice my favorite part of any book event. and i thought i would start with a connected colony story. a story about one of the founders of the settlement that became fowlmoulmoth. they became known as the pilg m pilgri pilgrims. john robinson never made it to
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new england. he died in 1625 and his son came to the colony about six years later. and then to barnstable. he is most known for what he did in 1659. at that point they were beside themselves. they have sympathizers, especially in the town of s sanwich. they tried all sorts of measures to stamp out what they understood as rank haracy. they whipped, imprisoned, fined
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quakers. they banished missionaries. they found they could not legally pannish them and hope they could go away. they had to escort them to rhode island to get them to leave for awhile. they even authorized constables for the public display and humiliation of quakers. according to the boston minister, the governor of plymouth colony decided that when they removed their hats they would be doubly humiliated. but with the support, the magistrates tried a different idea. they authorized robinson and several other men to attend
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quaker meetings. and to try to then convince them of the error of their ways. unfortunately the plan backfired. robinson went to quaker meetings, listened to them, i'm sure he already knew something about their teachings, and he wrote a letter to colonial leaders telling them their treatment was cruel and unwarranted. for that, robinson was labelled an opposer of the laws. that is one of the things that caused him to leave the town and to become one of the fist srst
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settle settlers, and i noticed a good number of historians have written about this episode, and they have suggested that through attending quaker meetings, he became a quaker which actually isn't -- church records document that he remained a member of the church there. he just thought that the quakers deserved liberty of conscious. isaac robinson was one of those rare 17th century englishmen concerned not just with his own liberty, but with the liberty of others. and i wanted to begin with him partly because he is a local story but also his life connected to the theme of
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liberty. so what do we make of the pilgrims and the colony they founded after 400 years. when americans really first started to lionize the pilgrims, many americans have credited the pilgrims with bringing religious and political liberty. they weren't like the nasty intolerate purr tants around massachusetts bay. those were the folks that hanked quakers and killed suspected witches, and they weren't like the greedy selfish gold hungry settlers. . maybe they didn't have the best fashion sense, but they were
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solid men and women that came to new england for religious victory. they had a big feast with the locals. it is really easy to poke holes in that story. big holes. as soon as some americans started telling this version of the pilgrim story other americans responded that it was bunk. for native new englanders, such as the 19th century minister william apis, the idea that the pilgrims came for liberty was a sick joke. the proof of this is that the descendants of the pilgrims sold the son of phillip.
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they formed an alliance in 1721. ultimately his son, and the descendants medicom and the descendants of the pilgrims went to war with each other. at the conclusion of the war, phillip's son was captured and ultimately sold as a slave. i do not hesitate to say, apus wrote, that through the prayers, preaching and examples of those pretended pius has been the foundation of all of the slavery and degradation in the american colonies toward colored people. for him, the pilgrims were the progenitors of slavery, not liberty. and their paiety, their renowned
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a paiety, was not genuine. so four years after the establishment of the plymouth colony, what do we make of the pilgrims' story? should we celebrate it as white folks did in 1820 and 1920? should we mourn it as one early sorry chapter in a longer history of conquest and colonization? i think these questions matter in part because of the close connection between how we understand our society today and how we understand its origins. our sense of the present and our sense of the past are always connected. if we understand the united states as a balwaulwark of libe we look for the origin of that liberty in our history. if we look at the united states
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as stained by sustainism and white supremacy, we look for our antecedents in our history. celebration or mourning? or maybe the pilgrims have gotten more than their fair share of attention. i think they are probably almost certainly the single most studied group of colonists in american history, more than any other americans. at the same time, many historians have dismissed plymouth colony as a tiny, insignificant backwater. the pilgrims maybe got more attention than they deserve. why don't we move on to other stories? i don't know if folks up in falmouth or plymouth tend to feel that way. they perhaps have had more than
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their fill of pilgrims all the time. so why another book about the pilgrims and plymouth colony? well, for starters, the pilgrims were central to the early english settlement of new england and established a frame of government that lasted for seven decades, well accomplished in century standards. toward the other end of the colony's history, new england's war began in plymouth colony. but for me, the merit of examining plymouth's history doesn't ultimately hinge on its grand significance or lack thereof. rather, there is a lot of human history between the first thanksgiving and phillip. i see plymouth colony as an
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ideal lens for examining contests about liberty and its meaning in the 17th century. so how did the mayflower passengers think about liberty? i think it's a good idea to just back up for a minute and remember who these people were. as recent historians have convincingly demonstrated, the majority of mayflower passengers were members or sympathizers with the english separatist congregation ad litem. for this group, christian liberty, or the liberty of the gospel, they called it, was paramount, something that at least often was first and foremost. this idea flowed right out of the new testament.
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therefore, where christ hath made us free, wrote the apostle paul, and be not tangled again with the yoke umbrage. that general idea was important forprotestants who associated it with the separatists. but the separatists had entirely rejected the church of england as corrupt. they objected to prayer books, the book of common prayer, the sign of the cross, elaborate burials, church weddings. they objected to an awful lot of things. for them, the church practices weren't honored by the bible and they smacked of catholicism. separatists concluded that the
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church of england was so corrupt as to be beyond reformation. and unlike most other puritans, the separatists didn't want a new national church that would encompass everyone. instead they wanted covenanted congregations of true christians who were ready to elect their own leaders and discipline their own members, to govern their own affairs. when the centrist pilgrims thought about liberty, they thought about it first and foremost in that church context. true christians should have the obligation to form their own churches into these principles. this ideal of christian liberty
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remained central to english settlers, at least most english settlers. plymouth colonies spanned decades and beyond. but it was always contested. the various english butlers who came to the colony didn't understand this principle the same way. separatists, other puritans, baptists, quakers, all understood it differently. one christian's essential ritual was another christian's yoke of bondage. so, for instance, the separatists objected to making the sign of the cross at a baptist service. a decade later you had baptists who opposed infant baptism. then you had quakers who got rid of baptism entirely. and there was others in the colony that wanted nothing to do with any of its churches and
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simply wanted the liberty to be left alone. so that was one aspect of liberty that was just central in accordance to the pilgrims and then to the other english settlers in the colony. a second form of liberty was political liberty. and here i think it's important to mention the mayflower compact. the compact used to be understood as a cornerstone of american political thought. daniel webster once commented, the principles of american republicanism were worked out in the cabin of the mayflower. well, that was basically poppycock. the framers of the u.s. constitution were indebted to
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john locke, not to john robinson or the mayflower passengers. but the basic idea of the mayflower compact represented an important english political ideal that the validity of officers and laws rests on the consent of the body politic. and the mayflower compact, the male passengers on the mayflower agreed to form a body politic and set up a system in which there would be annual elections for a governor, and laws would be voted on by the members of that body politic. and the mayflower compact remains striking because at least nearly all adult male passengers signed it.
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and certainly one reason for the compact and getting so many to sign it was to stamp out rebelliousness and try to get everybody to go along with the colony's leadership. but it's occurred to me there are other ways to do that, such as by hanging or shooting people. so i still think the compact does represent, you know, an ideal of participation and consent. but, again, just like christian liberty, political liberty was always contested. you know, whose consent mattered? women obviously had no political franchise, nor did servants, let alone natives, and as time passed, a smaller and smaller
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percentage of free male settlers held the right to vote in colony affairs. the big decisions in plymouth colony were made by a relatively wealthy select few. it certainly wasn't what we would consider a democracy. at the same time, the ideals of the mayflower compact remained important and not forgotten. when men with voting rights gathered to revise the colony's laws, which they did on several occasions, they read the compact aloud. and when settlers protested against what they understood as unlawful taxes, they hearkened back to this principle of consent. the taxes were invalid unless the people's representatives had
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given their consent to them. so plymouth colony was very much a story of liberty, religious and political. but not in the simple way that this story used to be told. so from the very start, english settlers engaged in a long contest over the meaning of liberty. and when we're going to discuss -- or when we discuss liberty in colonial america, it's essential to discuss its opposite. and the most stark opposite was slavery. whenever english settlers in plymouth colony or elsewhere felt that their religious or political liberty was being trampled on, they complained that others were making them slaves, that language and rhetoric of slavery had a real
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visceral power. and one reason for that was because of the widespread nature of slavery around the trans-atlantic english world. and one of the things that really surprised me when researching this book was how relatively widespread and common slavery was within even plymouth colony. before i did the research for this book, i knew that some natives had been enslave ad aft king phillip's war in new england, but i had no idea how common and widespread native slavery became. even before the mayflower crossing, some english traders and ship captains were
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kidnapping and enslaving natives along the coast of new england, and then -- episodically other native peoples of new england experienced enslavement. and then during and after king phillip's war, native slavery became extremely widespread. in 1675 and 1676, plymouth colony's military and political leaders exported hundreds of captured wampanogs and other natives, sending them in bondage to the caribbean and across the ocean to places like spain and tangiers. in the wake of the war, many
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hundreds more wampanogs were reduced to forms of servitude. sometimes bonded as servants for many years, sometimes slaves for life. the pressure of land sales and the loss of other forms of subsistence also forced many wampanogs to indenture themselves or their children to english families. remember that the pilgrims wanted to free themselves from what they understood as the yoke of bondage. their descendants imposed other yokes of bondage on the natives of new england. what about african slaves? in 1680, the governor of plymouth colony, then josiah winslow, son of mayflower passenger edward winslow,
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informed the crown that his colony had few slaves and fewer of them breeders. that sentence says a lot about the way winslow understood other peoples, that some people could be breeders. as it turns out, his statement really wasn't accurate. there were more than a few slaves -- or more than a few african slaves in plymouth colony. that was another surprise for me in my research. i figured that at best there was maybe a handful of african slaves in the colony. the overall figure remains unknown, but it turns out that it's not insignificant. i'll give you a couple of examples. one settler, thomas willett, who
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belonged to the pilgrim congregation in leyden but came a little bit later than the mayflower had eight slaves when he died in 1874. another example, the baptist minister, john myles, founder of swansea, was also a substantial slave holder. one of john myles' slaves, his name is unknown, was among the very first english casualties of king phillip's war. when myles died, he owned five african slaves, and i thought i might actually -- i can show you a picture of his -- let's see if i can make it bigger -- show you a picture of his inventory.
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this is sort of an example of how this element of plymouth's history is not easy to track down. this is an inventory of john myles' estate, and if you can see my screen and my pointer, it goes through all of his possessions. and then it says that he has two horses, one colt three years old. then three hogs and two pigs. i had to look up the colonial era difference between hogs and pigs. it seemed to mostly have to do with size. that's not my specialty. four yearlings. then peter, a negro, and mary, his wife and two children, and then adam, a negro.
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valued together at $72, they were his most valuable possession. myles is well instructed that peter, mary and one of their children be sold to pay his debts, then he bequeathed to his grandson samuel a negress forever. i'll give you one more example. in 1673 -- and i'm giving you this one because it gets us a little bit closer to falmouth. in 1673, walter briggs purchased a girl named margaret from a boston mariner. the deed of sale clarified that margaret would serve briggs and his heirs during her natural
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life. so for her life span. as it turned out, she was inherited, sold and passed around, ultimately owned by five different members of the briggs family over the next 20 years. in his 1693 will, a man named cornelius briggs who lived in barnstable, specified that margaret would receive her liberty after another 13 years of service. which, if that had come to pass, would have made 33 years. after cornelius briggs' death the next year, she was sold to another situate settler for 11 pounds. at the very least, the example of margaret illustrates that
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african slavery extended across the colony from what is now eastern rhode island to barnstable on the cape. so within the history of plymouth colony, there is this mixture of liberty and slavery. with liberty being constantly contested, with some forms of slavery being contested, the enslavement of natives was more controversial. but other forms of slavery rarely being contested or even mentioned. daniel webster believed that from the mayflower arose wise and politic constitutions of government, full of the liberty which we ourselves bring and breathe. william apus, whom i mentioned earlier, saw the pilgrims not as
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the bringers of liberty but as the bringers of slavery. in reality, liberty and slavery developed in tandem not only in colonies such as virginia where we're used to it being a part of the story, but even within far tinier plymouth colony. the separatists among the pilgrims secured the christian liberty they had been denied in england, and they established a colony with significant measures of liberty of conscience and political liberty. at least for some men. at the same time, the pilgrims and their descendants dispossessed the wampanogs of their land. when some wampanogs fought back, many were killed and many others were enslaved. so liberty was always a contest. and debates over its meaning
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remained and remain unresolved. present day americans pretty much all claim to cherish liberty but also disagree vigorously about its meaning. so perhaps we have something in common with the pill gragrims ae other english settlers of plymouth colony. so i would love to have questions from you. you're welcome to also raise objections or make comments. anything is totally welcome. i would love the chance to chat with you. >> thank you, dr. turner, that was awesome. you started by saying that the pilgrims were, quote, the progenitors of slavery, you used that phrase, and then that became kind of a theme. as you're going through this, does it become a little bit of a
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tug and pull with the pilgrim -- you know, the original firstcomers, if you will, the ones on the mayflower and the first ships in 1623 versus their descendants. we've got these two touchstone points that they land on plymouth rock and we jettison to king phillip's war. do you have to discern between the passengers on the mayflower and the second generation? >> sure. well, to some extent. although, you know, in terms of the issue of slavery, edward winslow and his wife susannah owned at least one native slave in the 1640s. there was a boy named hope who was probably a prequat captive whom they sold to the caribbean.
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so, you know, i wouldn't totally make a strict distinction between the pilgrims and their descendants. the pilgrims were very critical of the fact that some english ship captains kidnapped and enslaved wampanogs, in part because it created a lot of trouble for them, or at least some trouble for them when they first reached cape cod. and so, you know, they were critical of that sort of kidnapping and slave trading. it certainly doesn't seem to have occurred to the early settlers of the colony that in any way it would be just to enslave natives, even if they were captured in a just war. that idea really doesn't develop
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strongly in new england until the english fight the pequats in the 1630s. that sort of sets a precedent which then is clearly established by the time of king phillip's war. so, thanks, mark, that's a good question. i see i've got one in the chat from dave. thank you for the question. explain the difference between puritans and pilgrims. the way that i understand that relationship is to understand pilgrims as a subset of puritans. you know, it has been common in american history to make a pretty strict distinction between the pilgrims of plymouth colony and the puritans of
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massachusetts bay. but these two groups really grew out of the same religious impulse of being dissatisfied with the church of england. puritan begins as a derogatory term, as a pejorative for these people who want to create a pure church. the separatists all sort of begin as puritans of one sort or other, but they are so convinced that the church of england is corrupt that they withdraw from it. but the two groups, you know, pilgrims and the separatists and other puritans actually have a lot in common. the puritans don't like separatists because they give other puritans a bad name for being sort of extremists.
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when john winthrop and his group reached massachusetts bay, they find it rather easy to get on with the pilgrims, and, you know, more or less see each other as kindred spirits. and i tend to, you know, historians argue about this, but i think the pilgrim church in plymouth actually serves as something of a model for the churches on the bay. you know, there's never quite as successful of a church establishment in plymouth colony. i think for the most part there is a little bit more room for dissent or just remaining aloof from churches. and, you know, i started with the story about quakers in plymouth colony getting persecuted, but one reason that
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plymouth cracked down on the quakers was because the folks up in boston kept giving them a hard time for, you know, not being vigorous enough against dissenters. so i took your question as an opportunity to go on for a bit there. but, you know, basically i understand pilgrims as a more radical subgroup of puritans. so, next question, thanks, timothy, is if i have any comments on the history of our understanding of the prevalence of slavery in new england. i don't know if by that you mean what other historians have said about it. certainly, you know, it's been well known that there was slavery in new england of both
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native and african kinds. i would say that more recently historians have really taken this subject more seriously, and there are a couple great books about africans in new england published recently. those were very helpful to me. there is a historian, wendy warren, who estimates there were maybe about a thousand african slaves across new england by the year 1700. my hunch is that's probably an underestimate. both boston and newport rhode island were significant ports for slavery. there is actually even one slave ship that -- the history is a
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little bit murky. there is a ship named the elizabeth in the early 1680s. i'm trying to remember which western plymouth colony town it put into. it might have been bristol. so i think in general this is a subject that is getting more attention. one of the things that has tended to make it tricky, especially in terms of native slavery, is the clinic records hardly ever referred to enslaved natives as slaves. they're referred to as servants or sometimes simply as the engine of such and such a settler. and i think that language has really obscured the fact that large numbers of men, women and children were held in bondage. the other thing that i think has
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been tricky in terms of studying slavery is that native slavery wasn't exactly like chattel slavery much of the time. so not all natives who were held in bondage were necessarily held for life, and it wasn't necessarily an inheritable condition. their children would not necessarily also be slaves. and i think as americans, we're very used to thinking of slavery as african-american slavery, lifelong and inheritable. in reality, it was murkier, often, in terms of native slavery and new england. >> given the fact of all the racial issues we're experiencing right now, it kind of makes a
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book about the 17th century very current and very topical. you had mentioned about liberty and you mentioned about the pilgrims, the puritans. in some regards, were they able to -- in their own mind's eye say that slavery goes back to biblical times. this happened with the egyptian times. were they able to reconcile that in their own mind? >> sure, absolutely. it was really easy to justify the enslavement of captives in particular based on biblical precedent. i can't point you to a chapter and verse, mark. i should be able to since i'm a professor of religious studies, like you said, but, no, that was
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routine in the old testament. and in terms of the enslavement of africans, i think -- you know, my own opinion, and historians do argue about this, but i think that the english for the most part accepted and were familiar with african slavery even before they reached north america. you know, they were familiar with it, you know, through spain, they were familiar with it because caribbean traders would bring slaves to england on occasion, and so i think when the first shipload of african slaves were brought to virginia, you know, the settlers did not stop and debate the morality of slavery. they accepted it as an established part of their world.
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and it was very rare for anyone in 17th century or early 18th century new england to question the morality of african slavery. there is a famous case around the year 1700 in which a slave named adam possibly, who had once been owned by john myles of plymouth colony, sued his master for his freedom. apparently his master had promised him freedom after an additional seven years of work. and a boston merchant named samuel sewell took up adam's cause and wrote an eloquent pamphlet arguing against the morality of slavery, arguing
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that it was unchristian based on, you know, the biblical command to love one's neighbor. but that was a total rarity. sewell is a real outlyer. thanks for the question, phillip. did the pilgrims see their slaves as worthy of conversion to their religious thinking? i would say yes, although we don't know much about it. in terms of african slaves or african-americans, i did find a record of a negro joining the congregation in plymouth in the early 1700s, so a little bit after the end of the plymouth colony period. and, you know, so i don't know how common that was. in terms of the conversion of
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wampanogs, that doesn't seem to have been something that most of the mayflower passengers and other early colonists devoted much thought to. you can certainly find it in the literature they published promoting the colonists. william winslow, one of the early colonists, he did seem concerned about the natives. he wrote about some religious dialogues he had with wampanogs, and fairly intimate conversations. i think he was an outlyer. they were simply trying to survive. despite that, by the time you get into the 1660s, 1670s, very
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large numbers of wampanogs began aligning themselves with christianity. i like to be a little careful in talking about this. i think there are multiple reasons for that. some -- i think the records show that some genuinely accepted the religious principles of protestant christianity. others definitely saw it as an important way to forge bonds with the english who were now numerous and more threatening. so, again, i kind of said a lot in response to your question, phillip, but i hope that's useful. >> by the way, just because you're a professor of religious studies, i didn't expect you -- i would never figure you needed to quote chapter and verse from the bible, the koran, the torah.
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how was your book received in plymouth? were they happy with it? thumbs up, thumbs down? did you get a lot of assistance in researching this? was there pushback? how did they like it? >> i don't think i really got pushback from doing research on the pilgrims. i've done a couple books on the latter-day saints or mormons. that's really something more controversial to write about because, you know, that's really sacred history for millions of people. plymouth, you know, i really think the major stakeholders sort of in the pilgrim story, say pilgrim hall, plymouth and petuxit, they're very open to the complexity of the plymouth
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story and have cooperative relationships with people who understand it in many different ways. so i had a virtual book launch event at pilgrim hall, which would have been a lot more fun had it not been a virtual event, because on that occasion the technology completely failed. this was just a couple weeks into the pandemic. so that wasn't, you know, my best time ever, but i had a great time doing the research for this book. i spent a lot of time at pilgrim hall. there are a lot of papers pertaining to plymouth at the massachusetts historical society up in boston. some correspondents of later plymouth colony figures, that was really fun to read. plymouth gets a lot of attention for the mayflower and the
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thanksgiving story. as i've suggested, it doesn't get as much attention for the intervening decades. you know, i found just tons of what i thought were great stories there. the controversy surrounding the quakers, i found that just fascinating. i didn't know a great deal about the early quakers and just how aggressive they were with their message and how obnoxious they sometimes were. i could hardly understand my people took umbrage. i found what i thought were just fascinating things about the 17th century i didn't understand. on occasion, you know, there were -- speaking of liberty, there were men who were idle or vagrants or low-level criminals
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who were sentenced to servitude and lost their actual liberty for a number of years. so there's just a lot of history that gets lost because of our focus on certain parts of the plymouth colony story. >> i'm glad you mentioned that, because i think for those of us who are history majors, i think there is a tendency for people to think that the pilgrims landed in 1620, then we fast-forward to lexington and concord and nothing happens in the next 150 years. i'm glad you mentioned that. i found it fascinating talking about the enslavement of the wampanogs, and i'll give you a little anecdote of someone that i had spoken to, a woman of wampanog descent, this was a couple years ago. i mentioned to her about nathaniel's book "the mayflower"
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and she said it was her second most hated book. i found it really telling, and i love how you mentioned the former plymouth plantation, plymouth and petuxit, are trying to show the complexities of the two societies. when researching how wampanogs were enslaved, where were you able to find your research and what were you able to locate? >> sure. well, you know, the colony's records which actually were transcribed in the 19th century, give you the basics of that story. they document the immediate enslavement and export of captives during and after the war. and, you know, then there are ongoing court cases involving
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native servants. it took me a little while to realize that a lot of the servants, i think, would be more fairly categorized as slaves. also, you know, one of the stories i found poignant was about a satiom named aloshunks who was a female wampanog leader. she -- i found her just remarkable and someone who deserves a lot more attention. she is clearly the leader of her community as of the early 1670s and is really caught in the middle during king phillip's
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war. doesn't want to fight the english because she thinks that's ultimately going to be bad for her people, but also is getting this constant pressure to sell her land. and i think on some occasions is simply swindled out of her land. remarkably, she's still on the scene in the 1680s. her people really have lost most of their land, but she's still there, and she's still able, through her sons, to petition the colonial governments for redress. and then, really through, actually, a -- the director of the little compton historical society introduced me to a part of this story i didn't know. one of her sons had become a
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slave by the 1690s. so, you know, that gave me a chance to, you know, do something beyond the statistics of hundreds of wampanogs enslaved and really trap the experience of one family going from a position of political leadership and prominence to being reduced to slavery. >> i think it's pronounced siconit. >> okay, thanks. siconit. i want to thank you very much for joining us tonight. yes, i would have much rather have had you come to cape cod, but doing this via zoom, you being safe in northern virginia, hopefully this went better than pilgrim hall went. >> it was great. >> i want to wish you good luck with this book. i want to thank everyone else for joining us tonight. good luck with this, thank you
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so much, and good night, everybody. you're watching american history tv. every weekend on c-span3, explore our nation's past. american history tv on c-span3, created by america's cable television companies and today were brought to you by these television companies who provide american history tv to viewers as a public service. up next the heritage foundation hosts a discussion about the mayflower compact, the document signed by the mayflower passengers shortly before their arrival in america 400 years ago. scholars talk about its role as a political government and later for arguments of religious liberty. the heritage foundation provided this video. >> hello and welcome to the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the mayflower compact. i'm


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