Pilgrim Edward Winslow, New England's First International Diplomat

Pilgrim Edward Winslow

Pilgrim Edward Winslow, New England’s First International Diplomat. In 1995-1996, I transcribed the 17th-century manuscripts in the collections of The Pilgrim Society (Pilgrim Hall Museum). Among the documents, most interesting was Edward Winslow's diploma, recording that Oliver Cromwell and the Dutch States General (parliament) appointed Winslow to an international arbitration committee to resolve outstanding differences between England and Holland after the first Anglo-Dutch War (an arbitration committee established by the Treaty of Westminster, 1654).

Winslow's diploma suggested to me that documentation about this unknown part of his career could be expected in Dutch and English archives. The wealth of new information that I discovered in London and The Hague took form in a full biography (NEHGS, 2004). Winslow's career as a government official and agent for the colony turns the story of his life into a history of the colony and its finances (until his death in 1655). Winslow was involved in Plymouth Colony’s relations with Indians and with the neighboring colonies before returning to England in 1646, where he represented New England’s interests in the Cromwellian government. Besides his leadership (in London) in the establishment of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England, he served in several high government committees, also being appointed a high court judge. Winslow died onboard ship off Jamaica in 1655, where he had been sent to lead the civilian government the English expected to establish there on capturing the island.

The biography of Winslow provides a detailed study of colony finances and political relations, placing Plymouth Colony in the midst of a lively Atlantic world of commerce and migration. Winslow was chosen for pioneering work in international arbitration 140 years before the Jay Treaty (1794) that is mistakenly thought to represent the beginning of modern international arbitration. Winslow's role in England's government reflects not only on his fame personally but also on the significance of Plymouth Colony in the estimation of government officials in England and The Netherlands. Winslow's career contrasts vividly with the prevailing opinion among historians that after 1621 Plymouth and the Pilgrims faded into obscurity.

Strangers and Pilgrims, Travellers and Sojourners.

Strangers and Pilgrims - Reviews

In 2009, Jeremy Bangs' new history of the Pilgrims in Leiden appeared, marking the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims' arrival in Leiden in 1609. Now in its second printing, Strangers and Pilgrims, Travellers and Sojourners - Leiden and the Foundations of Plymouth Plantation can be ordered from the publisher - The General Society of Mayflower Descendants, in Plymouth, Massachusetts. To order the book, call: (508) 746-5058.

Strangers and Pilgrims thoroughly revises our views of the origins and development of the Pilgrim adventure; and the book shows how their Leiden exile influenced the new society the Pilgrims created in Plymouth Colony. Read what people are saying:

"It is hard to adequately express the importance of this massive volume, the life work of a singularly gifted historian whose profound knowledge of Puritan theology and historic art and architecture, coupled with an unprecedented mastery (by a writer in English) of Dutch sources, enabled him to compose this unsurpassed in-depth analysis and description of the Dutch context of the Pilgrim experience. Unlike Philbrick’s more popular treatment, Bangs’ work is not a “quick read,” although his style and acerbic humor make it far more accessible than standard academic stodge. It is, however, the answer to the prayers of anyone seriously interested in the life and times of the Pilgrims, and especially of their formative sojourn in the Netherlands, as well as in England and America. It effectively supersedes the Dexters’ England and Holland of the Pilgrims (1905), previously the major source for the Dutch experience, and its extensive digressions – often comprehensive theses in themselves – fully elucidate the doctrines, politics, and culture of the era in which the Pilgrims were actors." from a review by James W. Baker, Chief Historian at Plimoth Plantation for 25 years, former Director of Alden House, and author of an excellent historical survey of America's Thanksgiving commemorations, Thanksgiving, The Biography of an American Holiday(UPNE, 2009). The review is published online: http://www.sail1620.org/articles/the-pilgrim-story-20

"For an encyclopedic treatment of the Pilgrims' experience in Leiden before migrating to Plymouth, you might peruse Jeremy D. Bangs, Strangers and Pilgrims, Travellers and Sojourners: Leiden and the Foundations ofPlymouth Plantation (Plymouth, MA, 2009), but know that the author is openly contemptuous of the Pilgrims' religious beliefs." from "Suggested Reading" (p. 199) of The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us About Loving God and Learning from History (Intervarsity Press, 2013), by Robert Tracy McKenzie, historian of Civil War era Tennessee, chairman of the history department of Wheaton College (in Illinois).

"In this incredible work Jeremy Bangs rips away nearly four centuries of encrusted knowledge about the Pilgrims. Not content to rely on 'received knowledge' about this separatist community, Bangs has spent a lifetime searching them out in archives - Dutch, English and American. The result is an extrordinary reassessment of these people. Never mincing words (Bangs is refreshingly direct), his scholarship is the starting line for any historian interested in the Pilgrim story or early American history writ large. The bibliography alone (107 pages) is worth whatever price this book carries. Forget what you think you know about the Pilgrims. Read Bangs!" - William M. Fowler, Professor of History, Northeastern University, formerly Director of the Massachusetts Historical Society, author of several historical books, including biographies of John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and Silas Talbot, and Under Two Flags, a Naval History of the Civil War.

"No one knows more about the Pilgrims than Jeremy Bangs. This exhaustive study is a rich trove for those seeking to learn more about their lives and thoughts in England, the Netherlands, and America." - Francis J. Bremer, Professor of History, Millersville University, author of John Winthrop: America's Forgotten Founding Father.

"A summary of the main emphases of this exceptional study cannot do justice to Bangs's superb achievement. This book translates for experts and lay readers alike the gnarled points of Calvinist and Catholic polemics in Amsterdam and Leiden; the grand national struggle among Hapsburg Spain, Jacobean England, and Holland; and the plight and destitution of commoners in their quest for freedom of conscience in the Low Countries and ultimately in New England. Bangs brings to the discussion an abundance of new material ... reconstructs the challenges of everyday life within the walls of Leiden: the demands on families to live in crowded hovels and cook meals in cumbersome fireplaces, to compete in new trades with Dutch artisans, to rear children in their evolving Separatist faith, to negotiate the purchase and sale of dwellings and the use of church buildings, and to participate in an unfamiliar social and political environment. ... a fascinating, even suspenseful, tale. Bangs strips away layers of images and assumptions constucting the Pilgrims as mere effigies of our own unrealized fears and aspirations, allowing them to finally emerge as people of flesh and blood." from a review in The New England Quaerterlyby Reinier Smolinski, Professor of Early American Literature and HIstory, Georgia State University, scholar of Cotton Mather.

Bangs' study of the Pilgrims' experience in Holland is an invaluable addition to the scholarly literature. He not only reviews what is already known (albeit much of it published only piecemeal) but brings new findings and fresh insights. Bangs' book reinforces the significance of the years spent by the Pilgrim leadership in Leiden and will be a fascinating eye-opener for Mayflower descendants and American history enthusiasts alike." Peggy Baker, former Director and Librarian of the Pilgrim Society/ Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth.

"Strangers and Pilgrims" is an absorbing and compelling combination of intellectural history and vivid writing. Dr. Jeremy Bangs has given us another splendid chronicle of Pilgrim history." Judith H. Swan, Governor General, General Society of Mayflower Descendants.

A review of Strangers and Pilgrims by Stacy Wood is published online at: http://www.sail1620.org/history/articles/142-review-strangers-pilgrims.html

The objects of daily life.

A cold day in Holland.

Strangers and Pilgrims - Extracts from the Preface

How Important?

Exalted in the nineteenth century as virtuous exemplars of a proud pioneering spirit, and condemned in the twentieth as crude oppressors of a peaceful Native people, the Pilgrims’ unavoidable importance in the narrative of American origins is reinforced annually in Thanksgiving Day’s mythic commemorations. Every year yields a popular presentation of warmed-over platitudes praising the Pilgrims. Do we not already know more than enough about them?

This we know, or think we know. The Pilgrims were Calvinist non-conformists who fled from religious persecution in England. They found refuge in Leiden in The Netherlands for about a decade before they emigrated to America in 1620 on the “Mayflower.” They established Plymouth Colony, the first sustained English settlement in New England. Their covenanted church inspired New England Congregationalism. Their migration, their exile in Holland, and the early years of their colony are dramatically described by their Governor William Bradford in his memoirs, “Of Plymouth Plantation,” considered by many to be the first monument of American literature. The well-known “Mayflower Compact,” drawn up by the Pilgrims onboard ship to serve as the democratic basis of their future legal and social organization, is an early example of a social contract that John Quincy Adams heralded as a fore-runner of ideas developed in the Constitution of the United States of America. After surviving a devastatingly harsh winter, when half their number died, the remaining Pilgrims enjoyed a bounteous harvest the next autumn. They celebrated by inviting their Indian neighbors to share a festive meal. The inspiring virtues of this group in the distant past included self-reliance, family unity, democratic patriotism, universal brotherhood, and a generalized gratitude that makes complaining seem churlish.

Nonetheless, disregarding the perennial hunger for more at Thanksgiving time, historians have reached a firm consensus of dismissive indifference.

Plymouth’s Governor William Bradford skipped the common daily events that the Pilgrims knew in their Leiden exile to recount instead the gripping tale that people had not yet heard – Plymouth’s drama of God’s providence. Now, in contrast, revising the story, historians’ general sentiment is that divine will merely served to excuse thoughtless theft of Indian land; nothing new remains to be said about the Pilgrims or the lives they led.

Even that feeling of research fatigue relaxes in dignified antiquity. In 1897, Edward Arber wrote that, “At this time of day, to hope to add anything absolutely new, to the sum of what is already known about the Pilgrim Fathers, is like hoping to find the Philosopher’s Stone. The New England Scholars and Historical Societies, during the last hundred years, have so cleanly swept this field of history, that not even a single ear of wheat is to be hoped for.”

Studied during more than two centuries, described idealistically and sociologically, and even replicated in exhaustive detail, Plymouth Colony has ultimately been judged small, unheroic, and pathetically insignificant.

Harvard’s Samuel Eliot Morison remarked that “Bradford was the historian of a very small colony.” Not only small, but essentially unimportant, he thought, reporting that “The insignificance of the Plymouth Colony in the colonial era is one {issue} upon which almost all American historians are agreed.” George Willison saw a group of “simple and humble folk of plebeian origin,” who “read no earth-shaking import into what they were doing.” Darrett B. Rutman described Plymouth Colony as “a backwater, its people quiet and basically conservative, seldom rising above the ordinary round of daily work.” According to Theodore Dwight Bozeman, the Plymouth church was “pathetically unimportant.” The Pilgrims and their settlement are practically omitted from two recent studies of Virginia and New Netherland, colonies whose development in fact was closely entwined with that of Plymouth Colony. A Dutch historian concluded, “Plymouth Plantation’s significance remained small."

Early 20th-century memory of amicable contact.

Burning an Indian town in early Virginia, a 17th-century engraving.

How Ruthless?

But on a grander scale, the Pilgrims can symbolically represent all Europeans arriving in the New World to grab land and oppress the peaceful inhabitants. Michael Zuckerman, for example, expressed a common view when he proclaimed in 1977 that “almost the only relations with the Indians that New Englanders could even imagine were the antagonistic ones of war and captivity.” As for the Pilgrims particularly, Neal Salisbury in 1982 echoed Zuckerman: “Having left Holland and England, the colonists left behind any notions of approaching the Indians on any but a coercive basis. […] By convincing themselves that their own lives were at stake, the English found the motivation and justification for a policy of terror.” Such imagery, soaring high away from the restrictions of historical evidence, reflects again from the sentiments expressed in the National Day of Mourning recently invented to gain publicity on Thanksgiving Day.

Debunking authors disingenuously claim to tell the true truth at last. Concluding the Pilgrims were unimportant is ultimately not enough. Patriotic nostalgia of Victorian romantics succumbs to an assumption of recurrent routine. The dull lives of farmers followed the seasons far from the issues that shook minds elsewhere. If not merely boring, these settlers were evil, and, in any case, not America’s first anything. They did not invent democracy. The Pilgrims stole corn and land from the Indians. They committed the modern sin of habitually disrespecting the Natives – at best inadvertently destroying an ancient, pristine culture of innocence and ecological sensitivity, at worst ruthlessly and maliciously using germ warfare to annihilate a superior civilization. The Pilgrims held no Thanksgiving except perhaps to celebrate their genocide against peace-loving Natives. They did not wear black clothes and buckled hats. They didn’t even call themselves “Pilgrims.” Such is the stereotype of negation that has replaced the vacuity of attributing all imaginable virtue to these few migrants.

Nonetheless, the image of courageous pioneers who made friends with the Indians persists undiminished in the annual celebration of Thanksgiving Day. For Bradford, however, the Pilgrims’ survival and accomplishments revealed no strength of their own, instead proclaiming the triumph of divine purpose. “May not & ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: Our faithers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto ye Lord, and he heard their voice, and looked on their adversitie. Let them therefore praise ye Lord, because […] he hath delivered them from ye hand of ye oppressour. When they wandered in ye deserte wilderness out of ye way, and found no citie to dwell in, both hungrie, & thirstie, their sowle was overwhelmed in them. Let them confess before ye Lord his loving kindness, and his wonderfull works before ye sons of men.”

A card from the game of Count the Anachronisms.

Cleaning pans in a 17th-century kitchen.

Why Leiden, why not?

Recent historians sympathetic to the Pilgrims have given little attention to their life in Leiden. George D. Langdon covered the Leiden period in four pages, Eugene Aubrey Stratton in two. For James and Patricia Deetz, half a dozen sentences sufficed. For Leiden, all authors have relied on a book by Henry Martyn Dexter and Morton Dexter, called The England and Holland of the Pilgrims. Although excellent for the time of publication, it appeared more than a century ago, in 1905. Presenting the results of occasional visits to the Leiden archives from 1865 to 1905, it seems quite thorough. Archival research, however, was ongoing and new information was added, most importantly by Daniel Plooij, who in 1932 published correspondence between Plymouth colonists and Leiden’s English Reformed minister, Hugh Goodyear, who represented the Pilgrims in some ongoing legal affairs concerning winding up their Leiden property long after they had left Holland. The wider context of English churches in The Netherlands and the publishing activities of English Puritan exiles in Holland was thoroughly depicted by Keith Sprunger in 1982 and 1994, while the specific publishing project of the Pilgrims under William Brewster was studied and described in 1987 by Ronald Breugelmans. In Leiden’s Municipal Archives, Bouke Leverland checked, corrected, and amplified the work of Dexter and Dexter, without however, publishing much. His pencilled marginal notes in the Archive’s copy of The England and Holland of the Pilgrims remained inaccessible to most scholars. [...]

The archival references to Pilgrim life in Leiden cannot be understood without a comprehensive awareness of ordinary daily circumstances during the years of exile. Moreover, in those years, Leiden had become the center of national unrest in theology and politics. In consequence, this book cannot be just about the Pilgrims. To know the Pilgrims, we shall have to become acquainted with Leiden and its history. Further, we must ask not only what the remaining evidence indicates about what happened and why, but we shall need also to know what assumptions tinted the spectacles of historians who before us have thoughtfully looked at this great landscape of the past. To contradict the conclusion that the Pilgrims were singularly insignificant, comments must counter commonplaces; we shall need to examine historians’ axioms, whether Arie van Deursen’s Calvinist dogmatism, George Willison’s popular Hegelianism, or John Demos’ reliance on Eriksonian conflict psychology.

The Dutch disputes were closely followed by the Netherlands’ most important military and political ally, King James I of England, as well as by his political advisors and by bishops and clergy of the Church of England. Approaching the end of the Twelve Years’ Truce that had begun in 1609, the Dutch needed and requested English military assistance to help defend against renewed hostilities from the King of Spain. Demanding conformity with his own religious opinions as a condition for military support, King James intervened in the Dutch theological and political disputes in ways that directly affected the Pilgrims’ security and safety in The Netherlands. They chose to leave for the New World. Both Dutch and English investors approached them to participate in schemes for new colonies. The shifting conditions of life in Holland thus extend beyond the mundane details of earning a living in a textile city to the broader issues of doctrinal intolerance, international tension, wars, and competitive efforts at colonization. Re-examining the Pilgrims’ experience in the light of these topics leads to the conclusion that recent Dutch historiography, while completely overlooking any part the Pilgrims played, has more generally failed to comprehend the English role in crucial developments of Dutch national polity.

No history of Plymouth Colony, no history of Leiden, no history of The Netherlands so far explains adequately the Pilgrims’ defining experience in exile. This book undertakes the necessary task of starting over. Leiden is where the character of the Pilgrim Church and its subsequent colony took form. Controversies in politics and religion that forced the Pilgrims to focus their own beliefs, customs of family life and society that determined and constrained their available opportunities, obligations of labor and chances to play, questions of free will, democracy, the separation of church and state, religious toleration, treatment of Indians – these form the matter of this book. [...]