By Patricia Anders, Editorial Director
As I write this, Thanksgiving is quickly approaching and we are all being told to stay home and celebrate solely with members of our individual households. It’s too dangerous to fly anywhere, and we want to show love to our extended families and our friends by not infecting them with the coronavirus (especially Grandma or Great-Uncle Bob). So, this is definitely a unique Thanksgiving this year.
This year is also unique in that it is the 400th anniversary of when the Pilgrims landed in what is now Provincetown on Cape Cod (some five weeks later, they sailed across to Plymouth where they settled). The replica of their ship, Mayflower II, has been restored and once again sits in the harbor at Plymouth. But the long-planned anniversary events are all now taking place online (which actually enables people from around the globe to join in).
Three years ago, my husband and I were able to visit Plymouth for Thanksgiving, which included a few hours at the historic living museum, Plimouth Plantation. As we wandered around the dirt lanes and then made our way to the indoor museum with various Puritan artifacts, we wanted to find out what really happened when the Europeans first arrived (we’d already learned long ago that there was a lot more to it than the picture-perfect dinner party as depicted in my 1960’s Hallmark pop-up table decoration!).
We then discovered the Native American National Day of Mourning that takes place every year on Thanksgiving Day in Plymouth across the street from that famous rock (unimpressively housed within a white marble shrine). A large crowd gathers next to the tall, noble statue of Massasoit (who was the sachem, or chief, of the Wampanoag when the Puritans arrived), and they, well, mourn—through song, ritual dance, and speeches. They mourn the fact that by welcoming the Europeans, they ended up losing everything. While that first generation of immigrants seems to have had good intentions toward the local inhabitants, any noble aims of theirs quickly disintegrated with the second generation.
This Day of Mourning began fifty years ago when Wamsutta Frank James (a Wampanoag man) was asked to speak at a dinner for the 350th anniversary of the pilgrim landing. When he refused to read the whitewashed script (which he called “false words”), he was disinvited. He and other Wampanoag then held a vigil to draw attention to the ugly reality of what really happened.
Fifty years later, the anniversary celebration is refreshingly different—one might say enlightened. Instead of disinviting those who have lived in southeastern Massachusetts for over 12,000 years, this time the Plymouth 400th celebration includes all the nations involved, and there seems to be a bona fide commitment to being historically accurate and culturally inclusive. To this end, the federally recognized tribes of Aquinnah and Mashpee of the Wampanoag Nation are working to promote increased understanding of the people, places, and motivations behind the true story of the aftermath of the arrival of those Europeans in 1620. As already mentioned, everything is online this year, and I’m looking forward to jumping in and expanding my worldview—all from the comfort of my desk chair!
There are other options for exploring and learning about not just our heritage as a nation (good and bad), but our spiritual heritage as well—the majority of which has its roots in New England. These Puritans separated from the Church of England desiring to start a new community, John Winthrop’s “city on a hill” that would be a godly witness to the rest of the world—someplace where they could worship as they pleased. But there is so much more to discover, which is where Garth Rosell’s Exploring New England’s Spiritual Heritage: Seven Daytrips for Contemporary Pilgrims comes in handy. Written in 2004 for a “Spiritual Heritage Tour” for Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary faculty, administration, and trustees, Dr. Rosell—a professor of church history at the seminary—updated the book and published a new version with Hendrickson.
It’s perfect to take along on the “Spiritual Heritage Tour” Dr. Rosell has created for all of us. It’s a full-color, spiral-bound guidebook that provides practical trip-planning suggestions, maps, and directions. It’s also a wealth of historical information about the growth of the Christian faith in Boston and surrounding areas. At the end of each section, he includes detailed notes and further reading lists. There are even instructions on how to decipher seventeenth- and eighteenth-century gravestones (not easy!).
The seven daytrips include Boston, Ipswich, Newburyport, Salem, Plimouth (the old spelling), Northfield, and Northampton. On these trips, you’ll learn about famous figures such as John Winthrop (the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony), Ann Bradstreet and her husband, Simon (the last governor of the colony), Ann Hutchinson and the “Antinomian Controversy,” and Mary Dyer, the Quaker who was hanged on the Great Elm with two others on the Boston Commons.
You’ll also learn about the eighteenth-century African Meeting House in Boston and Prince Hall’s determination to educate Black children as far back as 1787. Like the welcome changes in the Plymouth celebrations this year, Dr. Rosell brings attention to the abolition movement and the first anti-slavery tract, “The Selling of Joseph,” believed to have been written by Samuel Sewall, the only repentant judge of the infamous Salem witch trials. Of course, there is also William Lloyd Garrison of Newburyport, the staunch abolitionist and supporter of Frederick Douglass.
Dr. Rosell also focuses on important women figures of the time, including Ann Bradstreet, who was America’s first published poet. Then there is Phillis Wheatley, a slave girl who was encouraged by her owner to study classical literature. She became America’s first great Black poet. When the renowned preacher George Whitefield died in Newburyport in 1770, Wheatley composed “an Elegiac Poem on the Death of the celebrated Divine, and eminent Servant of Jesus Christ, the late Reverend, and pious George Whitefield.” Dr. Rosell provides the entirety of the poem on pages 68–69 in a section he calls “A Closer Look” (found in each chapter). These sections include detailed essays about the various prominent figures (such as Whitefield and Ann Bradstreet). He also talks about Zilpah Grant, Mary Lyon, and Eunice Caldwell, pioneers in women’s education who founded the Ipswich Female Seminary in 1828, which soon branched out into Mount Holyoke College and Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts.
And, of course, there has to be a chapter on Salem and the witch trials of 1692 that resulted in the death of twenty-three people, including seventy-one-year-old Rebecca Nurse and eighty-year-old Giles Corey. (Although not mentioned in this book, the Salem Witch Museum is highly recommended for gaining a better understanding of these events and the “witch hunts” against various “scapegoats” that continue even today—most notably in recent history, Senator Joseph McCarthy’s 1953–54 hearings, which Arthur Miller clearly linked to the Salem trials in his 1953 play The Crucible.)
The last two daytrips include Northfield and Northampton, both west of Boston. In the first, we focus on Dwight Lyman Moody, the well-known evangelist who lived from 1837 to 1899. In the second, we look at Jonathan Edwards and others associated with him during the eighteenth-century Great Awakening. Both of these men played large roles in spiritual revival in America, bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to untold thousands—something we all still need to hear and live out in our own day.
As you can see, there is a lot in this book—a lot to read and explore. But while we all continue to stay safe by staying home, it’s the perfect time to sit back by a cozy fire and read about your spiritual American forebears and plan for the day when you can visit in person. In the meantime, although we have much to repent of, we also have much to be thankful for. Let us therefore focus this Thanksgiving on what binds us all together as the children of God created in his image. As Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island and cofounder of the first Baptist church in America, wrote in his seventeenth-century defense of Native Americans:
Boast not proud English, of thy birth & blood;
Thy brother Indian is by birth as Good.
Of one blood God made Him, and Thee and All,
As wise, as fair, as strong, as personal.
Patricia Anders is editorial director of Hendrickson Publishers. She lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts, which will be celebrating its 400th anniversary in 2023. She attended a congregational church that recently celebrated its 300th anniversary, and she lives in a nineteenth-century converted Methodist church. A direct descendant of Roger Williams (1603–83) and an official Daughter of the American Revolution (through Captain James Brodrick, 1752–1813), she is the proud great-great-granddaughter of Cora Cook, an Iroquois woman.
Academic Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hendrickson_academic/?hl=en