Continuing with the roots of American Christian Exceptionalism, we look at their teachings on the Pilgrims.

Mike Huckabee at Thomas road Baptist Church

Huckabee rocks it at a Baptist Church. courtesy of wikicommons

In her Reconstructionist masterpiece The Christian History of the Constitution of the United States, Vol. IRousas Rushdoony friend and associate Verna M. Hall, dedicates her book to “the Christian principle upon which this nation is founded, and to each American of this and succeeding generations, that he may remember his Christian heritage and live so as to raise the standard of his Pilgrim and Puritanfathers into its larger and fuller expression of individual liberty.” [1]

Rushdoony’s legacy ripples even into modern political theologies, such as Mike Huckabee’s revisionist “Learn Our History” video series, as demonstrated in this home-school video. According to Huckabee’s website, the videos were meant to address the obvious bias against American patriotism:

In our films and resources, U.S. history is presented to children from a positive, patriotic and faith-based perspective… unfortunately, the only way kids are experiencing history today is by having it force-fed to them through dry text books, monotonous lectures and boring lessons.  On top of that, our children’s classes and learning materials are often filled with misrepresentations, including historical inaccuracies, personal biases and political correctness—and without acknowledging God’s role in America’s founding and development.

Robert Walter Weir embarkation of the pilgrimsThe prayer of Parson and Minister Robert Hunt, given at Cape Henry, Virginia in 1607 is used by The Foundation for American Christian Education as evidence of God’s plan to use America “in a particular, specific way to reach and bless the world, to preserve and spread liberty as the means to preserve and spread the Gospel” once again implying that political liberty is a necessity to spread the Gospel. You see, in the Dominionist mindset, American liberty is sacred, insomuch that without it, America cannot spread the Gospel and thus fulfill its covenant as the New Israel. And yet it is precisely because of America’s inability to perform this function that makes it necessary for a Dominionist takeover. Thus a revisionist history must be established in order to “win back America for Christ.”

Fleeing From Persecution?

While a student at a fundamentalist Christian School with Reconstructionist/Dominionist leanings, we were taught that the Pilgrims were hoping to create a land of liberty where the gospel could be easily spread among the nations. While on our “Christian Heritage Tour” in Plymouth during our Senior year, we had a “devotion time” atop “Burial Hill”– the nation’s first cemetery. During this time, the graves of the first American missionaries were pointed out and their memories were invoked as we were challenged to take up their mission in evangelizing the world. America was to be a city on a hill, a New Israel.

According to the website of “Foundation for American Christian Education”, FACE Hails Winthrop as an American Prophet:

…In order to answer this call, America—led by individuals faithfully joining together in obedience—must preserve the Christian character that made her great. We must each, in our own spheres of influence and daily life, seek to most fully love, trust, and obey God: and in so doing, reestablish America as a “city on a hill,” a light to the nations.

It was the Puritan from Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop who first espoused the “City on a Hill” philosophy– a forerunner to American Christian Exceptionalism which holds that the Pilgrims and Puritans fled Europe for the religious liberty of the New World in order to avoid religious persecution. It is this popular mythology that gives us the “First Thanksgiving” where Indians and Pilgrims came together to celebrate (or recognize) God’s providential establishment of the New World.

Historically speaking, the Puritans abandoned England only after their failed attempt at a theocracy under Oliver Cromwell, while the Pilgrims were considered an extreme fringe group at the time of their leaving. While Pilgrims and Puritans certainly found the greatest religious liberty they had ever known in the new world, under Winthrop’s leadership, Puritans actively persecuted Quakers and Catholics, even unto death.

Speaking to this reality, historian John Fiske wrote

At first, the Quaker who persisted in returning was to be flogged and imprisoned at hard labor, next his ears were to be cut off, and for a third offence his tongue was to be bored with a hot iron. At length in 1658, the Federal Commissioners, sitting at Boston with Endicott as chairman, recommended capital punishment. It must be borne in mind that the general reluctance toward prescribing or inflicting the death penalty was much weaker then than now. [2]

Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, perhaps the most famous of these victims, were cast out of Massachusetts Bay Colony for espousing beliefs different to that of the Puritans, and between 1659-61 four Quaker men and women were hung on Boston Common for non-conformity. [Popular revisionist history book, The Light and the Glory, features only one chapter on Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams entitled, “The Pruning of the Lord’s Vineyard”.] It seems that the Pilgrims were willing to go along with such persecution, as a Quaker sympathizer once wrote that the “Plymouth-saddle is on the Bay horse.”

Christian on Christian Violence

Colonel Benjamin Church

Benjamen Church, father of American Rangers

History shows that the Plymouth Colony hardly held to their “Christian” beliefs when they went to war against Massasoit’s son over land disputes in what history calls “King Phillip’s War.” Metacom, (popularly known by his baptismal name, “King Phillip”) was the son of the First Nation chief who so lavishly aided the Pilgrims during their most desperate hour in the New World. Although his tribe had been friendly to the Pilgrims from the beginning, he soon found himself set up against the ever encroaching spread of Imperial colonists who claimed more land and continued to pressure local natives into adopting their English customs, language, and religion. Even Governor William Bradford lamented that in the latter years of the Colony, residents left “not for want or waste” but “for the enriching of themselves.” [3] What may be most hypocritical about the event remains the fact that Phillip was a professing Christian and baptized “Indian convert.”

Metacom was eventually killed by another “praying Indian” Christian convert in the service of Benjamin Church, a grandson of Mayflower passengers who was tasked by the colony to a scorched earth war with Phillip. Metacom was caught and decapitated, his head was piked at the entrance of Ft. Plymouth where it remained for two decades. His body was quartered and hung from trees, while his wife and children were sold into slavery in Bermuda. It seems that hundreds of Indians that were once allies of the Pilgrims and probably present at a Thanksgiving (if there ever was one) were forced into slavery in the Caribbean as a result of the war. [4]

One can hardly argue that Pilgrim motives were pure or Christ-like. Edward Winslow, an original Pilgrim and passenger on the Mayflower who was later called to serve in the Imperial court of Britain, once wrote that Plymouth Colony was a place “where religion and profit jump together.” [5] Colonialism, like capitalism, is based upon an industry that objectifies both the land and its produce as commodity to be harnessed. When upstarts like Metacom challenge that harness, the colonial powers always retaliate en force.

But the persecutions were not reserved for Metacom only, but also for those with different religious views. Colony residents such as John Oldham were forced to run through a gauntlet of musket bearing Pilgrims who beat him with the butt ends of their weapons because of his non-conformity. Responding to this incident in a letter dated December, 18, 1624 from the Plymouth Colony’s financial supporters, the “Merchant Adventurers” refer to the Pilgrims as “contentious, cruel and hard hearted.” [6]

Indeed the reputation of the Pilgrims was so notorious by 1637, that instead of the liberty-loving, Gospel-focused, persecution-fleeing, Indian-befriending group of pietists that history offers, we find the Pilgrims were known as “cut throats” or “stabbers” by the local indigenous American tribes. [7] The moniker was earned after an infamous trap laid by a Pilgrim war party led by Myles Standish, resulting in the unprovoked killing of at least five Native Americans, who were ambushed while eating dinner with their European hosts. The decapitated head of one of the “savages” was wrapped in a linen handkerchief and taken back to the colony where it was stuck upon a pike atop “Ft. Hill”–the first building and original church of the colony. Later, when Plymouth governor William Bradford was married to Alice Southworth, Pilgrim soldiers took out the blood stained handkerchief and raised it up on a pole like a flag in tribute to Massasoit. [8]

Philip King of Mount Hope by Paul RevereA Prophecy For Future Violence

There was one man, however who lamented over the outrageous actions of the Pilgrims, their former Pastor John Robinson. Deciding with the Elders of their congregation to stay behind in Holland in order to tend to the majority of his flock, only the vanguard of Pilgrim “Separatists” came to America in 1620. After this outrageous incident, pastor Robinson wrote to Governor Bradford about the “killing of those poor Indians” who were lulled into Pilgrim hospitality under false pretenses, writing “if you had converted some before you killed any!” [9]

And yet it seems that the continuation of bloodshed in Plymouth for generations to come is prophesied in Robinson’s letter as he continues

“… where blood is once begun to be shed, it is seldom staunched of a long time after. You say they deserved it. I grant it; but upon what provocations and invitements by those heathenous Christians?… It is a thing more glorious in men’s eyes, than pleasing in God’s or convenient for Christians, to be a terror to poor barbarous people. And indeed I am afraid lest, by these occasions, others should be drawn to a kind of ruffling course in the world.” [9]

[1] see Verna M. Hall, The Christian History of the Constitution of the United States, Vol. I: Christian Self- Government, Verna M. Hall, 1960

[2] see John Fiske, The Beginnings of New England, 1892; additionally, in 1660, Pastor John Robinson’s son Isaac was disenfranchised for advocating a policy of moderation to the Quakers. see Plymouth Colony, Stratton p. 92, 345

[3] see William Bradford and Samuel Eliot Morison, Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647 p. 333.

[4] see Eric Schultz, King Phillip’s War: The History and Legacy of America’s Forgotten Conflict, 2000

[5] Edward Winslow, “Good News From New England,” p. 70

[6] see the letter as it appears in Governor William Bradford’s Letter Book, reprinted from the Mayflower Descendant

[7] see Thomas Morton, New English Canaan, 1623 p. 110-11 This episode is referred to as “the killings at Wessagussett,” and is preserved in a fellow colonist’s memoir entitled New English Canaan. The author of this memoir, Thomas Morton, was a one-time colonist of Plymouth Plantation who later moved away to start his own collective. According to the book, Morton claims that Myles Standish and his men “pretended to feast the Salvages of those parts, bringing with them pork and things for the purpose, which they set before the Savages” before Standish murdered three Native Americans who were suspected of planning an attack on the Colony inside of the house and killing two of their comrades waiting outside.

[8] see Emmanuel Altham’s September 1623 letter in “Three Visitors to Early Plymouth” edited by Sydney James. and Of Plymouth Plantation, 374-75

[9] see John Robinson, “Letters from London and Leyden”, Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647, p.375 dated December 19, 1623