Paradox of the Pilgrims

Blog: Paradox of the Pilgrims


By Evan Papamichael

Manuscript Master Evan


The Massachusetts Historical Society (in collaboration with – J STOR)

Pilgrims and Puritans: “Heroes” and “Villains” in the Creation of the American Past.

Author(s): Peter J. Gomes

Source: Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Third Series, Vol. 95 (1983), pp. 1-16

Published by: Massachusetts Historical Society

Stable URL:

Accessed: Thursday, 07-07-2016 04:03 UTC


For a long duration, the major focus of discussion: was on one group – the Pilgrims. But in what way, if any; did this issue, take place? Who instigated it; and, how was it proven: to be a truly dominant, character or belief, in American society? In which century – did this mentality by Americans – take control, over Historical Scholarship?

One group which contributed, to this academic strongpoint: was the mythmakers. But what sort of myths, are we talking about? Ancient Greek or Roman? Are we juxtaposing historians in the USA; and, elsewhere, with these old schools of thought? We are in fact, referring to: local mythmakers, in the USA.

This was evident in: the writings, poetry, verse, opinion, intellectual thought and rhetorical voice of, authors and poets. What other creative masterpieces; were produced to highlight and exemplify; the drive towards – a Pilgrim bias, as a heroic and dignified protagonist – in early USA history?

Peter J. Gomes (1-2:1983) states: The Pilgrims [maintained a stronghold for] 300 years [in Massachusetts Bay.] It was sustained for so long…”because of the mythmakers and the appeal of folklore in the last century. [ie: 1836-1936]

Paintings, portraits and other visual art – were relevant here. Just how a book can tell a story of a 1000 words: and will enlighten all, if not many of, its loyal and patriotic readers; so too a painting can portray, this. Meaning, a story which is believable and convincing; and, will have a significant impact on the: thoughts, views, beliefs and trust, of members of society; especially locals, in the homeland USA.

What do we mean by, heroes? In what way were Pilgrims, the champions and super heroes? Who did the Pilgrims defeat; and, was it only the Puritans, or all of society? Why was this – the common belief, for so many years? Is it fair to label the Puritans, as villains? What did they do wrong; or how did they become – portrayed as inadequate and insignificant – in USA society?

Samuel Eliot Morison (1-2: 1983) argues: …”the “defeated” have become the “conquerors” and the “victors” become the “vanquished”… In other words …“the Pilgrims have become “heroes” and the Puritans become “villains”…

Why was there rivalry, between Puritans and Pilgrims? What brought this about? Was it carefully and tactfully: discussed, analyzed, judged and interpreted, properly and fairly? Why was it labelled, the Pilgrim Century, from 1820-1920?

Peter J. Gomes (2:1983) points out that …”The development of this rivalry as a staple of New England historiography is a product of the so-called Pilgrim Century from 1820 to 1920”…


…”Americans responded to their past at the level of feeling and identification: they voted their historical preferences with their hearts”…

There was a great deal of – patriotism and self-pride – by the Americans. They had a feeling of: self-identity and significance, in themselves. They “voted” with their “hearts” which indicates, how: emotional, personal, touching and sympathetic they were; towards their belief that, the Pilgrims were; the benefactors of early American historical significance; and, emergence as – a major force in: identity, culture, humanity and dignity.

Peter J. Gomes (2:1983) highlights this point, where he states: …”the people conferred that identity and the purveyors of popular culture – poets, painters, and authors – expressed it, the rivalry has little to do with conventional cultural success or failure”…

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