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Kittredge: Pilgrims vs. Puritans

11/16/11 7:55AM By Susan Cooke Kittredge
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(Host) Just a few days from now, many Americans will sit down to a Thanksgiving meal that reflects the food the Pilgrims ate. Commentator Susan Cooke Kittredge suggests there are other things for which the Pilgrims might also be remembered.

(Kittredge) All across America children have been learning about the Pilgrims' journey to this country and their settling in Plymouth. We all know of the Pilgrims' desire for religious freedom, their crossing on the Mayflower and their relationship with the Native Americans. But after elementary school we are apt to forget some of the key elements of this remarkable story and begin to use the terms "Pilgrim" and "Puritan" interchangeably. We shouldn't.

The Puritans sought to purify the Church of England from within; they came to America to start a "New" England, liberated from the persecution they were experiencing in England.

The Pilgrims were a small group within the Puritan movement in England but their story is very different. They didn't think they'd ever attain the changes in the practice of their religion that they desired by working from within the church; so they sought separation. But a key part of their story is that they didn't come directly to America from England. Driven from England by James 1, in 1608 they fled to Holland where they remained for 12 years. They settled in Leyden, a university city, and were exposed to a community that was intellectually, culturally, religiously, and economically very diverse. They arrived there with very little, so their Calvinist work ethic stood them in good stead as they learned from the Dutch a variety of trades that would aid them in America: metallurgy, carpentry, masonry. The Dutch were a thrifty and industrious people who prized efficient government and valued civic responsibility, traits not lost on the newcomers.

The Pilgrims' experience in Leyden changed them; from a sheltered existence in northern England, they were plunged into a very different world. They worked and lived with people of varying faiths and backgrounds and by necessity learned a level of tolerance and acceptance they had not previously known.

Unlike the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony whose background had been fairly circumscribed, because of their time in Leyden, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony were more broadminded and inclusive. That they got along so well with the Native Americans was testimony to this.

The Pilgrims landed in Provincetown and settled in Plymouth in the late fall of 1620 as the winter winds were whistling in. By the spring of 1621, half of those who arrived on the Mayflower had died; of the 52 remaining, 34 were children and only 4 were adult females. Their good relationship with the Native Americans became their lifeline to survival.

The Pilgrims' legacy is woven throughout Vermont, in Meeting Houses, Congregational Churches, in Town Meetings and an ethic of hard work and thriftiness.

This Thanksgiving as we honor the Pilgrims, let's do so by recalling not just the food they harvested but the seeds they sowed in this nation's soul: seeds of inclusion, respect and an unfailing belief that all people are created equal - and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights - such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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