Pilgrims & Puritans-Christians or Barbarians

+23 votes

The Pilgrims integrated themselves into the Leiden, Netherlands, community for 10 years before embarking on their journey into the wilderness to establish the new colony of Plymouth, but never attempted any such assimilation in their permanent settlement in New England.  We revere them for their hardships, bravery, and pioneering efforts that so many members of WikiTree want to claim as their pedigree.  My readings have led me to believe that the New Comers were not quite so civilized as has been depicted for the last 397 years.  

We have been told that they were searching for a place where they would not be persecuted for their religious beliefs, and could worship freely, and establish their own community; all the while remaining subjects under the rule of the English monarchy, which had its' own agenda.

The Indians, however fearful and suspicious they may have been, treated the Pilgrims with decency and helped them through that first awful winter.  But, while the New Comers accepted the Indians' help as a "means to an end", they regarded their benefactors as satanic and savage heathens.   They subjected these natives to innumerable atrocities, and the same persecutions that had led them to New England in the first place.  Eventually, the Wampanoag, Nauset and Narragansett tribes of southeastern New England, who had called the area their home for 10,000  years, were decimated.

Perhaps, what went on in Plymouth Colony was intended to stay in Plymouth Colony.

There are those WikiTreers who take pride in their heritage and lineage to one of the original Mayflower passengers or a Puritan immigrant, and I compliment them for the genealogies they have created, and encourage their continued contributions; it isn't my intention to denigrate their time and effort.  However, I feel the heroic and noble rhetoric in many of the bios could be eliminated.  I propose we simply stick with the facts as sourced.

No doubt I'll be criticized for this post, however, I will continue to appreciate the perspective and opinions of fellow WikiTreers; and, no doubt I will be challenged for my sources.....just Google, as I did.

Thank you for your time.

in The Tree House by Eunice Pender G2G6 (8.1k points)
edited by Eunice Pender


hmm were they pilgrim or puritan? My ancestor grandfathers
Thank you for your explanation Eunice. I am disappointed to find that my comment to you a couple days ago was actually "Flagged" twice. Apparently it was removed-censored, so I guess, my response must have been offensive. If it was offensive I apologize to you and the Wikitree Community. However, at least a healthy thought provoking dialogue was generated by your original question.

I learned a few things Thank you.

This was one of the more interesting posts I've read here in a while - I appreciate everyone's input on it.  Especially that of Eunice and Jillaine.
hmm , I'm not political but I believe in the bible and had respect for those who wanted to have freedom of religion. My grandfather ancestors, Stephen Hopkins, Edward Doty,Francis Cooke,Experience Mitchell,John Smith the miller and family, Samuel Washburne and more, were born in a time where men started to have integrity and not follow because it was the custom.

The seperatist wanted to worship God in simple yet devoted way and seperate from the church of England thoe they were English citizens. The puritains wanted to remain in the church of England and purify and yet copy the same ways of England and they were English citizens. The strangers were of mixed company who were comercial and wanted o profit from coming to new England, but all were English subjects and European . In time choices were made to be loyal to their father country or embrace their new country, which ment war. How confusing for them and yet they made history our forfathers , hmm we do not have to agree with what they did but respect they are the reason we are here!
that is super smart Sharon - good way to be concise and clear
Thank you for the book recommendation John. I have it on hold at my library to be picked up tomorrow. I expect to learn new things.

Also thanks to Caryl Ruckert for her comment on Presentism. It led me to an article in Forbes.com by David Davenport on the subject. While I disagree with some of his conclusions, it is worth quoting from his final sentence:

"only when you strip away your modern preconceptions can you truly understand, appreciate and learn from history."

As others here have noted, history is rife with examples of oppression, and we don't need to look to the past to see it: our current news is full of examples, abroad and in our own country.

If we are ignoring injustice in our own backyard, we can hardly condemn our ancestors for the same.
Thanks April.  I couldn't agree more with the comments in your reply.  This thread has been one of the best I have read since I joined wikitree.  I have learned so much and I appreciate everyone's perspective.  What a great debate!

11 Answers

+15 votes
Consider how the Quakers were treated in the colonies.
by George Fulton G2G6 Pilot (497k points)
I'm a Quaker/Friend. Our Meeting in Maryland is unprogrammed.

There are still many unprogrammed meetings, Bertram.  They tend to dominate the east coast of the US. You find more programmed meetings out west. Last year we attended a small unprogrammed meeting in Arcata, California. I can't speak to Quaker meetings outside of the U.S.

Quakers still do exist, but we're a shrinking denomination-- at least in the U.S.-- as we tend not to be proselytising or out seeking to convert others.

There is a branch of Quakerism that is evangelical-- they do missions in Africa, where a far more conservative branch of Quakerism is actually probably growing.

Visit quaker.org for more info.

Jilliane Thank you for the link and the information.

The Puritans were English Protestants of the Reformed movement which was spreading throughout Europe 500 years ago. Their congregations became the present day Congregational Church. My Yankee Puritan family continued in the Reformed Congregational Church through my grandfather's generation. When my grandfather moved to Texas the family became Baptist which was the dominant denomination in that State.
Thanks, Jilliaine and Christine, for your input.  It's much more interesting learning from you than just reading information on Wikipedia.
The term puritan had negative connotations in their country of birth at the time.The term 'precisian' was used in late Elizabethan times to describe those who were thought to be over precise in thought and conduct. Puritans were those that wished to reform the Anglican church but it was used  by those who were opposed to them rather than they themselves. Several 'anonymous' writings appeared in Dorchester (England) in 1606 using it as a term of abuse against the new Rector, John White.
It's an interesting period, I have very mixed views on them. On the one hand the Dorchester puritans stopped children playing marbles, fined old people who couldn't sit in church for the long sermon and turned travelling players away at the gates etc etc. On the other hand they were extremely generous with large amounts collected for each and every local and national 'disaster'. They also set up free education, with one of the first known women teachers, (her parents and some of her siblings emigrated) medical and other social services for the poor ;to an extent that probably wasn't replicated until the 20th .century. Pragmatically, this was financed by the profits of a municipal brewery. Maybe their views were moderated or constrained because not everyone in the town and certainly in the surrounding countryside shared their calvinistic beliefs.For example, there are in the records 3 cases where witchcraft is mentioned In each case it was the accuser who was prosecuted for bearing false witness.
They were on the 'winning' side in the civil war but even after the restoration local puritan vicars still tried to stay in situe, as Anglicans ... until ejected in 1662.
William Benn was one of these. He came back to found the congregational church in Dorchester. Interestingly his daughter married the son of Richard Mather a counterpart in Dorchester, New England

John Cotton is my 11th GG.  I did not know about  the term 'precisian'.  Thanks Helen for great info!

The Puritans are still around.  My ancestor Matthew Grant was a founder of the 1st Congregational Church in Windsor, CT, and that church still stands and is still active almost 400 years later.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Church_of_Windsor
I am sorry, Quakers were not wiped out - several tribes were wiped out


interesting reading to get a clearer pitcher

also many of my ancestors were of the quaker religion
+17 votes
Thank you for your thoughts.  I am a descendant of the Puritans and have mixed feelings about them, since, as you say, they were intrepid, resourceful, and committed to their belief systems, but they were also prejudiced, fearful of 'the other,' and parochial in those belief systems.  Some of my ancestors were 'Indian fighters.'  Some of my ancestors were also slave owners.  Some started Harvard College, MIT, and other idealistic institutions.  Some committed rape, murder, unethical dealings.  Some stood firm against those sketchy dealings.  All of the above cause me to feel both shame and admiration, in a complex mix.  I am grateful to confront these facts.  I hope that I can do better, even with this heritage.  I believe that these are the things that make us human.  If we can stand to look at it.
by Robin Anderson G2G6 Mach 4 (40.6k points)

Study history,I think you will find evil in every society,  in every time period since the dawn of time.“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke

What is wrong with the forum today? Nothing is working as it should.
James, thanks for your reply.  I don't want to stray too far from the point of my posting.  Most of us were taught to believe that the Pilgrims & Puritans were outcasts among their countrymen; they wanted only to practice their religious beliefs and live in peace.  WikiTree best practices for a bio text is to provided basic vital statistics, and any other facts that would be helpful to the reader, and Sources.
Thank you Eunice.I hope you received my PM


I think saying, "Sanctimonious, hypocritical attitudes were the foundation of their society in this wilderness," is a bit harsh. I think they were certainly fleeing persecution in England, there's plenty of documentation of that. As for how they treated the indigenous people, that we look at through today's eyes and are horrified. But I think you do need to separate the "Pilgrims" (of Plymouth Colony) from the "Puritans" of Mass. Bay Colony and elsewhere. From my reading, it appears to me that the people of Plymouth were trying very hard just to survive from one day/year to the next. Those in the Mass. Bay Colony had far more financial strength behind them, and yes, in many ways became sanctimonious, especially those who had a political bent. Hypocritical? I think if you were to see the world through *their* eyes, of the 17th century, they were mainly trying to find their path to God, and felt that part of that path was to guide/lead others to that end.

Just my thoughts as a descendant of Pilgrims, Puritans, murderers, rapists, ministers, sailors & farmers, and many a sanctimonious forbear. They're all interesting, and all were trying to live as best they could in the times & places where they found themselves. Some succeeded, others failed especially if judged by today's standards.

Thanks for your comments & thoughts.

I think you were spot on with the "especially if judged by today's standards" comment.  This thread is very though provoking.  It lead me to read about Presentism and the debate among historians about applying today's morals on people from the past.  You raise some interesting points Eunice. Thanks for bringing it up.


Evil deeds done in the name of God are Hypocritical.That is the truth today just as it was the truth 2000 years ago.

It’s wise to be careful about judging the conduct of others too harshly, lest you yourself be found wanting.  

Remember that none of us is perfect, including me, and including you.  And as I look around right now, it seems to me that when it comes to getting along peaceably with people who are different from us, more and more Americans of all faiths and none are thinking and behaving just like our Puritan forefathers.  Republicans demonize Democrats and vice versa.  White supremacists want to exclude people of color from meaningful participation in the life of our country, and some people of color feel the same way about white folks.  Just like our ancestors, we want to bar the doors and pull up the drawbridges against anyone who is not exactly like us for fear their presence will bring who knows what horrors down upon our heads.  They’ll take our jobs, carry off our children, pollute our clean air with the smells of the strange dishes they cook, assault our ears with the cacaphony they call music, and plot against us behind our backs in foreign languages we don’t understand.  While it’s good to recognize hypocrisy, we can’t allow ourselves to think we are so superior until we take a good long look at that reflection in the mirror and recognize that we are equally guilty of the same sin.  

And our Puritan ancestors got some things right that we’re inclined to throw in the trash.  First of all, they eventually learned from experience that having an officially established state religion was not a good idea and became a lot more tolerant of liberty of conscience.  Even on their worst days, they still believed that everyone in the community was responsible for the general welfare of everyone else.  They established public schools and libraries in order to give every child in the community the same basic education and sometimes even raised subscriptions to help a promising young man from the community to attend college.  They worked together to care for the poor and the sick, the widows and orphans among them.  They reinvented the direct democracy of ancient Greece in the form of the New England Town Meeting.  At the same moment when they were guilty of practicing tyranny of the majority over the minority when it came to daily behavior, they were beginning to reject the dominant authoritarian world view of their age which held that authority flowed from the top down and those on the lower rungs of the ladder were required to obey the orders of those whom God had placed above them, in favor of the idea that authority flowed from the people themselves, each one of whom stood equal with all the others in the eyes of God.  In this, they had more in common with the Quakers than they realized.  

Like Moses, the Puritans failed to reach the Promised Land.  They didn’t extend their concepts of liberty and equality to native peoples or to women, and saw nothing wrong with owning slaves, but they helped set in motion ideas that would ultimately sound the death knell of those practices.  By comparison, it seems to me that today’s Puritans want to put this particular genie back in the bottle and pound in the cork.

Thank you GR That was very interesting. Well written and thought provoking, exactly what I have been try to say.There is good AND evil in EVERY group, Always has been.

Eunice, I think you are painting with too broad a brush. Describing all Puritans as sanctimonious hypocrites is like describing all native peoples of that same time as deceiving warmongers. It may be true of individuals, but not of everyone. Have you read "A History of Plymouth Plantation" by William Bradford? It is freely available online and although difficult to read in the original language it gives a picture of the foibles of both the native peoples and the Europeans and their conflict.  It is not a simple subject and I think in our modern times we should be able to look at it realistically, hopefully with the history of both peoples as a backdrop.  Some Europeans were peace-loving, as were some native peoples. And then some on both sides were warmongers.  Unfortunately, it came down to a matter of survival for both sides, and therefore conflict ensued.

Thanks for your enthusiastic comments, Gordon-8905.  Actually, the primary point of my post was "I feel the heroic and noble rhetoric in many of the bios should be eliminated.  I propose we simply stick with the facts as sourced."  I humbly apologize if you misinterpreted my posting as a judgment of the Pilgrim and Puritan colonists.  

Robin- Please stop kowtowing and apologizing for your ancestors!

 I know that it's become fashionable among some circles to bad mouth Dead White Europeans, but Wikitree is not that forum.  If we start badmouthing  ancestors, we will damage Wikitree because A- Wikitree's purpose is genealogy not sociology and B- serious  genealogists will leave Wikitree because they  are here to establish lineage lines, - not to place judgement on the people they find.

We can discuss historical events on Wikitree but let's leave the judgmental, insulting social commentary for Sophomore Sociology classes. I too am a descendant of Massachusetts and Connecticut Puritans, and  Mayflower passengers, but I don't have mixed feelings about my ancestors.  I am proud of them, and proud of the impossible challenges they overcame. They sacrificed more for their religious beliefs, than I ever have. Whether or not I agree with al of their religious beliefs, I am forced to stand in awe of people who lived their faith.
Thank you Bobbie for reminding people that the English Pilgrims who stayed in Leyden and then sailed on the Mayflower to Plymouth Colony, - were Sepratists - NOT Puritans. The English Pilgrims had given up on reforming the English Church of it's 'Catholic' ways, and had totally 'separated' themselves from the Anglican liturgical Church. In today's America, they would be closest to the Independent Evangelical Churches Communities. The Separatist Pilgrims live on today in spirit in Independent churches that require a Born Again experience and Statement of Faith before allowing membership. The original Pilgrims had a difficult time keeping Plymouth Colony as a  Separatist Christian community because, the London financiers of the Mayflower endeavor, continued to be non-selective and sent anyone to the Plymouth Colony who would pay for their passage and promise to help pay off the loan. Eventually the Plymouth Colony was overwhelmed and absorbed into Massachusetts Bay Colony

The Puritans were ALSO part of the Reformed Protestant movement spreading across Europe 500 yrs ago, but Puritans  wanted to "purify" the existing Church of England of what they considered to be Catholic remnants, but they wanted to continue to worship within the purified liturgical setting of the church.  The Puritans didn't settle in Plymouth but settled in Massachusetts Bay - beginning with The famous Winthrop Fleet.  In todays America they would be closer to  an Evangelical Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, or Evangelical/Conservative Lutheran Congregation (all use liturgical forms of worship). Puritans didn't want to "Separate". They wanted to "Purify".

Both the Pilgrims and the Puritans were what we would call 'Born Again Christians' and required a Statement of Faith among the first generations in order to become part of the Congregation and 'share Communion'. As the second and third generations were born in New England, they were not all such staunch believers. A disagreement arose over Baptising the infants of non church attending parents and non professing Parents. This led to The Rev Thomas Hooker leading his entire congregation families south on the Indian trading path to Hartford Colony, where a milder form of Puritanism was established. To this day, Connecticut has a different social climate than Massachusetts.

 I've discovered that the 17th C. Last Will and Testaments of my Massachusetts and Connecticut Puritan ancestors, differ. The Massachusetts Last Wills and Testaments that I've found begin with a "Testament" of their faith in Jesus Christ and their belief in a bodily resurrection. Then that is followed by their "Will" for the disposing of their property. In contrast, my Connecticut ancestors Wills, seem to just immediately get into the business of disposing their property and paying their debts. My Connecticut Puritans ancestors apparently were more business like and didn't use their Wills as a last Statement of their Faith. Perhaps this reflects the split in the 17thC. New England Puritans.

My genealogy research also discovered an interesting blending of the Pilgrims of the Mayflower/Plymouth Colony, and The Puritans of The Winthrop Fleet/Massachusetts bay Colony and Salem.  My great grandfather Mayflower passenger Resolved White married my great grandmother Judith Vassal White -the daughter of Winthrop Fleet/Massachusetts Bay Colony financier/stockholder William Vassal. However, William Vassal (from a French  Huguenout Aristocrat family and  one of the 9 stockholders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony), eventually became unhappy with the strict governing of Massachusetts Colony Gov Winthrop and friends, so William Vassal  moved to Barbados where he bought a large prosperous plantation.
Thanks for providing that historical perspective, Christine.
+4 votes
What if I say that William Bradford was a great man,and govenor Josia Winslow was the primitive one too aid the king of England in provoking the native Americans into a war. By abandoning the treaty between cheif Magaton aka King Phillip?

In my eyes it was all about the dollar bill y'all and still is.
So I'm white,does that make me Josia Windslow?
by Troy Smith G2G6 Mach 5 (55.4k points)
Either way you wanna slice it up. It would very non productive too diminish they're traditions that make up an interesting bio. Some ancestors are more interesting than others. Let's face it

The dollar IS mightier than the sword and history is written by the victors.

I completely agree
Thanks for your comments and views, Troy Smith.
Try- And what about if you say neither! let's stick with relaying the historic facts and keep your judgements of "great man" or "primitive" to yourself?

Let's stick with facts, interesting discoveries we've made, and not air our subjective judgements of people we don't know and people who lived in a different era.
Many of my grandfather ancestors were pilgrims who settled in Pymouth , some were Puritans as I beleave

 John Winslow , Edward's brother, was a puritan who married Mary Chilton who's decendents were Anne Leache . who married Samuel Parkard.


Also many were Qakers as in Arnolds, Whipples, Smith's and others
"Christine Zachary" are you in favor of interpolation in the narrative or not?. I know I'm not. And I know the facts because my statements are true. So I really don't really understand your response,if in your In favor of arcuate history hahahaaha.......
Troy= I'm not in favor of being subjective and calling any man 'great' or 'primitive'.I'm in favor of discussing facts and maybe interesting  connections between the facts. My personal policy is not to judge other people's character, -whether dead or alive. I've found that what I think I see in others, actually says more about me than about them. Also, my personal religious beliefs command me not to pass judgement on others.
Just read from the the evidence itself. There is enough evidence too make an assessment on some of the pilgrims from first hand documentation. Been studying it for a long period of time. I,as many others are passionate about American history. And want it too be represented properly. http://www.pilgrimhall.org/
+8 votes
Actually, they didn't integrate with the Leiden community very well and on purpose.  They tended to live in their own area and keep to themselves and their own ways of being English.  In fact, that was one of the big reasons for leaving and going to the new world.  They felt that the young adults and children were integrating too much.  Much easier to go to a new land to be able to keep out all other influences.

Unfortunately, even there other colonies began to make influences and they reacted with violence.  Early Quakers came into "their" area and began to preach.  One of better known incidents was the whipping of the Quaker women, many years later immortalized in a poem/prose by John Greenleaf Whittier.  They were sentenced to be carted from village to village, stripped, and publicly whipped as a warning. Fortunately, an official at the second village decided that that was enough of that.  Unfortunately, the sentence was handed down by one of my ancestors, one Major Richard Waldron


He met his end after cheating native americans in fur trading and other underhanded dealings with them.  There is a long narrative about him on the Dover public library website if I remember correctly.  Made enough of an impact on the family, that the basic story of his death was handed down to the twentieth century and told to me by my grandmother.  She didn't know who he was but my mother identified him in her genealogical research back in the early 1960s.


Probably should put up a sign to keep in mind that when pursuing genealogy, one might learn things that they might rather not know.

But they were who they were and we are not them.  That's watch the lesson of history is supposed to be about.
by Art Black G2G6 Mach 4 (49.3k points)
Thanks for your comments and views, Art Black.
+6 votes
I just want to make a few comments.

   First, people tend to glorify their own ancestors as a matter of ego.  As to the early New England colonists, they certainly deserve some glorification.  They immigrated across the ocean in a journey that was much longer and more dangerous than it is today, into a strange land and situation to which most of them, as English villagers, were unsuited and had no experience.  Just to survive was a challenge, and many did not. To have done so, in my view is heroic to a certain extent.

        I also believe that many here are proud that their lines have been here so long.  I think this is a false pride, as we 21st century descendants had little or nothing to do with most previous generations, so have little or nothing to claim as an accomplishment from them.  Honest working descendants of people who only immigrated last year have just as much to be proud of as the descendants of the Puritans.

       Secondly, we should be very cautious about judging past generations.  20/20 hindsight has little to recommend itself as righteous.  Conditions have changed greatly since the time of the Puritans, and most people writing about them know little of the conditions of those times.  The Puritans emigrated out of a Europe which was in the middle of huge religious, social, philosophical, political, and even military changes.  People were being burned at the stake and publicly tortured for things which we would today laugh at as being silly nonsense.  England itself was heading towards a Civil War which would see thousands killed in conflicts which radically changed the course of English history.  People were killed and tortured for being witches, for going to the wrong church, for conducting their religion using the false procedures, for following or not following the King, and the people of those times would swear up and down that they were justified for doing these things.  Many protections for our rights which are now granted by our American Constitution, neither existed nor were even considered  correct by the society of the time, and we should look at events of those days as the product of a far different polity and society than that in which we live today.

      The Puritans were part and parcel of those times.  I read about one of my ancestors, Samuel Gorton, of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, who was thrown out of Massachusetts for giving shelter to a woman whom was thrown out of the colony in about 1640, narrowly escaping the death penalty for doing so.  I would refer people who are proud of the Puritans to the introduction to the book, "The Life and Times of Samuel Gorton" to understand just how narrow-minded and bigotted the Puritans were.  But saying that, one can also say that nearly all people of those days were no better.  The English court was a cesspool of immorality: many of the courtesans of the period later died in poverty, often of venereal diseases, and the illegitimate children of the King were given titles of nobility and land and pensions for life solely on the basis of their birth, while many common Englishmen were starving.

       Thirdly,  I would like to say that the contents of profiles should be viewed as the intellectual property of their creators.  True, profiles can be editted by others, but the opinions of the editors should not be substituted for those of their predecessors.  We don't have to agree with the contents of profiles which we did not create, but we should not become the censors of those who did the research and created the profiles.  

       I am not in favor of politicizing the contents of wikileaks; the fights over the content would never stop!  However, we can add our own commentaries and comments to the biographies of people with which we disagree---if we can supply some documentation and sources to prove them. People are always going to judge history and historical figures and events, which is the right of all in a free society.  What is wrong is to delete, "edit", or in any way censor the comments of others on the site.  History is never a simple "yes" or "no" proposition.  Whatever Adolph Hitler may have thought of other peoples than the Germans, he built lots of infrastructure in Germany that benefitted the country greatly and solved a lingering unemployment problem.  One should not erase the accomplishments or deficits of those who went before us, just to push our particular philosophies or views of history, for by doing so, one distorts the truth, which is what we are supposed to be supplying here.

      I have many lines of my ancestors whom I can trace back to these times, both Puritans and those from other countries, and I can say in nearly all instances that the causes of emigrations of religious minorities can be traced not only to bigotries of the ruling cliques of the periods, but also to necessities imposed upon those cliques by political and military events which were happening at the same time in places several countries removed from the countries of my ancestors.

     So if you feel the urge to re-write history and censor wikileaks profiles, you should think not twice, but several times, and take the time to read the history of the country in question or the greater Europe during the time period in question before you disrespect the efforts of your fellow wikitreers who wrote the profiles in question.
by Dan Sparkman G2G6 Mach 2 (22.2k points)
edited by Dan Sparkman
+7 votes

My experience in (sub-par) American public schools was different. Beyond early elementary school, I wasn't taught that the Pilgrims and Puritans were poor persecuted people who just wanted freedom to worship in their own way. No sooner than the founding of Plymouth and Boston were mentioned, the next words were about conflicts with Native Americans, and also with the colonists' own religious minorities - usually in the context of the founding of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

This only increased as I got older, probably in part because the teachers were able to give more depth to older students, and perhaps also because I attended school mostly during the 1990's (Kindergarten began in 1989 and I graduated in 2002.) By high school, every section of every chapter of our history textbook pointedly talked about the contributions of women and racial minorities, and the "mixed-legacy" of the white men, especially the historically revered leaders.

It wasn't until upper level college history courses that anyone seemed to suggest that perhaps we shouldn't judge the past by modern standards.

I always get a sense of cognitive dissonance when I see people say things like "We were taught this myth in school, but really this other thing is true" and I think "Who was taught that?" Then I remember that perhaps that is coming from people who were in school a few decades before me.

Another classic example is, "We were taught Columbus discovered the Americas, but..." 

This is only an anecdote, I'm sure there are counter-examples - but this is what I experienced in school.

by Thomas Fuller G2G6 Mach 8 (85.3k points)

Ah, Thomas, you do bring up a very good point, and to a large extent you're right. But then there were, and I hope still are, teachers who teach their students to think, not just believe the stuff printed in the textbooks. I was schooled in the 60-70s in suburban Boston, very close to the city in an old town that still had a lot of its ancient history everywhere apparent. I also had a few classmates who were Native Americans, though no longer "pure blooded" but proud of their heritage. You would think, wouldn't you, that I'd been taught the "old myths"? No, actually. We had the advantage of "field trips" to the local historical sites (Plymouth, Revere's Boston, Concord & Lexington, etc.). And with those field trips we were taught to think about what the people of those times went through, how they survived, and more importantly, who and what influenced them and why they made the choices that they did. By comparison to ours, their daily lives were so incredibly difficult I would think that the vast majority of us living in the 21st century would not survive. They thrived in many cases. Why? Determination is my guess. Open minds are good tools, for genealogy and for life.

+4 votes
Eunice, both your practical point about the nature of WikiTree biographies, and the deeper one about how we view our forebears, hit home with me.  They are questions I live with daily as I try to record, accurately and justly, the complex history of my family.

The Pilgrims were not monolithic; some were separatists, and some were not, and there was friction among them not just for that, but for various other reasons.  I have Quaker ancestors who arrived a bit later; I admit that I’m rather proud of my Plymouth forebear Capt. Matthew Fuller (who didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but was the son of a couple who did) because he spoke out on behalf of the Quakers.  He got slapped down for it and had to recant, but I do believe his heart was in the right place.  Is this worth a favorable mention in his biography?  Probably, but I’m wary of introducing my own feelings in that venue, and “coloring” what’s recorded on WikiTree.

Quaker Mary (Barrett) Dyer, and the Quaker Southwick family (subject of the rather romanticized Whittier poem, “Cassandra”, mentioned in an earlier comment on this page), are ancestors on my father’s and mother’s sides, respectively; all suffered at the hands of my (probable, but unproven) eighth granduncle, Governor John Endicott of Massachusetts Bay, and Mary was ultimately hanged in 1660, on his authority.  Endicott also set the precedent that led, three decades later, to the Salem hangings when he executed a woman accused of witchcraft; and I have a Salem ancestress, Susannah (North) Martin, who died in that horrific later period.  It seems very easy in some cases to pick heroes and villains… however, it’s not quite as simple if I make the effort to imagine myself living in those times and those places, saddled with belief systems very different from my own.  Many Endicott descendants take pride in their connection to the Governor, who clearly believed that what he did was for the good of the Colony as a whole, and I understand their reasons, even if my own feelings are very mixed.

In a previous lifetime as an actor, I portrayed, in several cases including a PBS miniseries, darker figures from the Salem trials.  It was instructive.  Placed within the bounds of their time and place, it was not quite so hard to grasp why they felt — quite passionately — that they were in the right, and the so-called “witches” were entirely deserving of execution.  That the accusers and judges deceived themselves remains true; but the (alleged) logic by which they arrived at their lethal conclusions is much easier to understand once one places one’s self imaginatively in the context of that time and place.

There clearly are great women and men in history, and probably their biographies on WikiTree should reflect their stature.  But I feel a considerable responsibility be as objective as possible in the phrasing of the biographies I write, and to be as conscious as possible of the times, and the cultures and societies, in which each individual lived and acted.
by Christopher Childs G2G6 Mach 1 (11.2k points)
Good comment, Christopher.  Your example of Capt. Matthew Fuller shows clearly why, as genealogists, we should hesitate to simply regurgitate portions of the old genealogies that essentially amount to putting words into the mouths (or thoughts and motivations into the minds) of our ancestors, based on what their neighbors were thinking and saying, especially in matters of faith and morality.  

 Very often I’ve found that in those old descriptions of the personal thoughts and moral ideals of an ancestor, “obviously” frequently means it’s not obvious at all because of a total lack of any evidence beyond the fact that this ancestor lived in a particular time and place, from which the author assumed he must therefore have adopted the same “group-think” as his neighbors.  “Apparently” is another fudge word frequently used in the old books to cover a total lack of supporting evidence for an attribution of character.  

If only I had a dollar for every time a deeper dive into original records has turned “obviously” into “there’s no way of knowing” and “apparently” into “apparently not.”
Thanks, GR.  I have to confess that "apparently" (along with its twin, "evidently") shows up from time to time in the bios I compose for certain forebears... usually, when there's some evidence for (or a longstanding, historical  belief in) a particular claim, but not enough to fully convince me that it's factual.

"Everything is subject to review" is not a bad motto to go by in this business.
+3 votes
Of course we glorify them a bit, we are proud of them - think of you mom or dad or a favorite uncle or aunt - we are proud and maybe also some memories leave us embarrassed too!

Well so would these people - and remember they do not have the same view or knowledge set we do presently - they do not know the things we do - conversely we do not know what they knew and if we were sent there in a time machine most of us would not make it a week, everything was different - keep that in mind - not excusing anyone, just saying try to think of how it was in their time and setting
by Navarro Mariott G2G6 Pilot (150k points)
I have often thought along the same lines, Navarro.

I try to imagine how my ancestors felt, about to leave everything familiar and sail away. I wonder what their emotions were as they first saw their new country.

Their courage, skill, determination and yes, faith, it took to survive while they established homes, farms, schools - everything built from scratch - was amazing.

I do admire them, and agree with you that it was their own time and setting - we can't judge them by our times.

I appreciate your comments.
+5 votes
The Native Americans have a legend that when they arrived here there were already six-fingered red-haired giants in the land. Unfortunately these giants proved cannibalistic. Diplomacy did not get the newcomers off the menu, so wars ensued with the last remaining cannibals eventually backed into a large cave.  The newcomers still negotiated, but the cannibals refused to swear off cannibalism. So the cave was burned.

Who knows how true that is? History is written by the victors. I have no problem with giving both Native Americans and Puritans their versions.
by Anonymous Hankins G2G5 (5.2k points)
+5 votes

There are at least two sides to every story.  I don't think I would want others to remove my research because, "I feel the heroic and noble rhetoric in many of the bios could be eliminated.  I propose we simply stick with the facts as sourced."

I have ancestors from the Great Migration, Revo War, Civil War, and other wars that one side or the other will not honor the same way I do.  I don't want a simple relating of facts. The stories are what add life and vitality to WikiTree. There are plenty of other websites for those dry, "just the facts" types of profiles.  

Let's just keep things the way they are.  If someone wants to go to the trouble to write a glowing biography, I am not going to change it just because I disagree with the political or social times of the ancestor.  Where would it end?  What if your ancestors fought for the Germans in WWI?  What if you are a proud member of the Latter Day Saints?  Should the Prophet's spiritual wives be written out of their history?  I think not.  Let everyone be proud of their heritage with the understanding that someone on the face of this good Earth doesn't agree with you.

If anyone wants to write a bio for any of my ancestors, that would be great!  Please do!  

by Kitty Smith G2G6 Pilot (586k points)
Strongly Agree, one problematic example of this,that would occur all over the place is:

One of my very direct ancestors who was in the revolutionary war made up a story about his father going out with a furry in battle,because his father actually was about 60 and died from exhaustion in a march. Which must have been humiliating too him who was a surviving veteran of that war. Maybe even was criticized about that. So then the legend has a strong cause rather than it just being made up for no reason.
I agree, Kitty. Too much "presentism" is creeping in. I feel that the stories should be told in the cultural context that they occurred in. The Pilgrims and the Puritans had courage to set out and start their own colonies. They had strong convictions and thought they were doing the right thing and had problems in the world they were originally part of. Did they do things that today we disagree with? Of course. Removing what we disagree with today is wrong. At the same time I don't think we should leave out the bad parts, either.
+5 votes
No one is perfect. I can only imagine what future generations will say about us in 400 years.
by L Oughterson G2G6 (7.5k points)
This is the best comment I've read yet!

Eunice I am SO glad this question was re-shown.I am also glad that you did not receive as much negative feed back as I thought you would.It has been eye opening to say the least! as far as what will be said about us in 400 years? I hope we will be more deserving of praise. The fact that we are humans just as they were....Good and bad.I am not certain the conversation will be much different.

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