Why were the Pilgrims so important?They weren't the first English Settlers in America

This is something that has baffled me for a while. We tend to hold the Pilgrims and their descendents as somehow being the start of this great nation. I certainly don’t want to get into a debate about Native Americans and their place in history and such. However, I really don’t understand what was so important about the Pilgrims coming over on the Mayflower. Weren’t they just another wave of English immigrants after this land had been discovered and had already started to be settled well before they arrived. The first permanent colony at Jamestown was founded in 1607. The Pilgrims did not come over until 1620. Why are the Jamestown settlers largely ignored while the Pilgrims get all the glory? BTW, I recently found out that I am a direct descendent of Richard Pace, one of the founders of the original Jamestown Colony, so I am worked up about this because I feel I have a personal stake in it.

My WAG would be that it’s because the Pilgrims’ stated purposes for their migration (having freedom of religion, building a model “city on a hill,” etc.) dovetail so well with the founding ideals of the American republic, whereas the Jamestown settlers don’t seem to have had any such grand vision.

(This is said with full awareness that the Pilgrims’ idea of religious freedom amounted to “freedom for me but not for thee”; but I’m talking about their ideals, not how they practiced them.)

Then again, it might just be that the Northern states - particularly Massachusetts - have had better propagandizers (see Sam Adams) and mythologizers (see H.W. Longfellow).

Well, good P.R. no doubt!

Actually, it may be the “whole story” that made them the “big” name in settling North America, despite the earlier colonies.

The very word “pilgrim” indicates they weren’t just average settlers; they were escaping religious tyranny, and came here to practice freely. One of the epitomes of the United States, right?

I don’t remember enough about the Mayflower Compact’s details, but it may also have a part. It was a document that specified laws for self-governance that reflected some of the ideas the eventually made there way into the U.S. Constitution.

The other colonies were just that: colonies (you know, of England) The Pilgrims arrived to escape their government and create their own. In this respect, they were obviously unsuccessful in the long run, since their land ended up being swallowed by the British colonies anyway.

So, I would say we celbrate them as being the first Americans (Indians notwithstanding); not the first colonialists.

Better PR men than Roanoke or Jamestown, apparently. :slight_smile:

Seriously, it was the idea of establishing a new commonwealth, as opposed to a colony, that appealed to our forefathers who enshrined the Pilgrim Fathers stories. The idea of British colonists establishing a colony loyal to the crown and with a political existence founded on the government of Great Britain was not appealing to the 19th Century mindset. The idea of those oppressed for their beliefs starting a new place (never mind it was still in allegiance to Great Britain) where they could worship as they saw fit, was appealing.

Part of it also has to do with the Civil War. I can’t back this up with cites but after the Civil War the early history of Virginia kinda got side-lined since it was these same ‘Southern Gentlemen’ types who fought for the Confederacy. And it was discredited and just wasn’t considered something worth studying if you, say, went to Harvard or some other such big American uniersity.

Not very hard to be better then Roanoke. Jamestown (1607) and Plymouth (1620) aren’t that far apart. Jamestown was a commercial place meant for people to make money. In truth a lot of what we consider to be American comes from Virginia. From economy to politics.

But the biggest PR gain today is Thanksgiving. There’s absolutely nothing that Virginia can do to compare with this. Actually here might be some evidence to my previous supposition, Thanksgiving has been celebrated continuously since 1863, having been proclaimed by ol’ Abe Lincoln himself. What a nice piece of northern propaganda it was to make a war weary nation feel good about itself and it’s past again. And know a little more certain that they were the true heirs of the American spirit, not the CSA.

Ok, there’s a lot of selaitiousness(sp?) in that but it’s basically true.

But like I said before the Civil War the south played a huge part in American history. Most of its Presidents were southern. Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson etc. It was really after the war that the south became discredited and the north’s place increased. Wasn’t this also the time that Paul Revere became especially famous through that song?

For the record, here is the text in question (it’s short, so I’ll quote the whole thing):

Not a lot of tyranny mentioned in there – except for the “dread sovereign,” but I think they liked it that way. The covenant “for our better ordering and preservation” is certainly keen, but I’m not sure how revolutionary it was at the time. Whatever great strides the Pilgrims made forming a “civil body politick” back then, it’s been diminished somewhat by the fact that similar covenants with similar aims now govern condominiums.

The Pilgrims were not all Puritans; in fact, the majority were not. And they didn’t call themselves Pilgrims; the Puritans called themselves “Saints” and called the non-Puritans “Strangers”.

Their intended destination was not Massachusetts; they planned on founding their colony in Virginia as previous English colonists had done. But they essentially got dumped by the Mayflower’s captain in Massachusetts and had to make the best of it.

One factor about the Puritans is that they were the first group of English colonists that came to America with the intent to stay. Most previous settlers planned (or at least hoped) on making their fortune in America and, if successful, returning back to England.

The wording of the Mayflower Compact is utterly unremarkable. The phrase ‘dread Sovereign’ was a standard formula and meant no more than conventional respect for the monarch. Early Stuart Englishmen were perfectly familiar with the notion of corporate bodies intended to promote the general good of its members. There was nothing in the wording of the document with which James I would have had the slightest problem.

I think most historians now agree that the idea of the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ as the archetypal early colonists really only dates from the late nineteenth century, at least beyond the confines of Massachusetts, and, yes, part of that was to do with the Civil War. I also have a feeling that they had the advantage of being better recorded than some of the other early colonists.

Well, actually, none of the Pilgrims were Puritans. The “Puritans” believed the Church of England could be reformed along Calvinist principles. The Pilgrims who were religiously inclined belonged to a seperatist group, who believed that the CoE couldn’t be reformed, and the only hope was to draw apart.

Perhaps the Pilgrims got so much credit for starting what became our nation because their colony was the one whose growth most clearly seemed to start our nation. This is unfair in a sense because it was not until 1630 or so when the great Puritan Migration started that the Massachusetts Bay Colony really took off - and the Pilgrims, who did not like the aggressive agenda of the Puritans, must have viewed this with alarm and chagrin.
When the English Civil War wound down and the Puritan migration tapered off around 1640, another wave of migration started into the Virginia colony, but by this time the Massachusetts colony was large and had firmly taken root.
Perhaps the Puritan migration of the 1630’s would be more deserving of the credit. If they had chosen a location other than Massachusetts Bay, perhaps they would have been more celebrated than the Pilgrims.