Home News Mayflower descendants defend their ancestors — and the history of America

Mayflower descendants defend their ancestors — and the history of America


Rebecca Locklear, 64, a 12th-generation Cape Codder, is a descendant of four of the families who arrived on the Mayflower in November 1620. She worries that society today, “is put into groups that are supposedly in a struggle against one another, rather than looking for commonality” — a view that opposes “the more open, inclusive society that the signers of the Mayflower Compact envisioned.”

Keith Whitaker, 49, in Tucson, is a descendant of Plymouth’s stalwart professional soldier, Myles Standish, and grew up admiring the “courage, determination, and propensity for hard work” of the Pilgrims who settled this nation. But in school he was taught that America is “the source of war, racism, consumerism and general vulgarity.”

Locklear and Whitaker both wrote to me after they read my recent New York Post essay, “This American Lie.” In it, I argued that The New York Times’ 1619 Project — which links the beginning of our country to the arrival of the first slaves on our shores in 1619 — is completely wrong. Instead, the Pilgrims’ signing of the Mayflower Compact in 1620 is a more accurate root of our nation, which is built on the idea that “all men are created equal.” Even before the Pilgrims and dozens of non-Pilgrims (or “Strangers” as the Pilgrims called them) stepped ashore in Plymouth, they set aside their deep divisions and voluntarily joined together to sign the Compact, agreeing to govern themselves with “just and equal laws.” After settling in Plymouth, this group lived in peace alongside their Native American neighbors, the Wampanoags, in a treaty that was unbroken for more than 50 years. In 1621, the autumn harvest meal between the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoags marked the first ever Thanksgiving feast in America.

Today, caricatures of the Pilgrims as rigid and cold persist — though the Plymouth colonists held the first-ever Thanksgiving with the Wampanoag natives, surely an enduring symbol of the American spirit. Right: Vandalism of Plymouth Rock
The Pilgrims braved terrible weather, illness and uncertainty to settle at Plymouth Rock, which was vandalized by protestors this year.Library of Congress/AP; Janice Drew

After my article went viral, I heard from several Mayflower descendants who said they were happy to see their ancestors celebrated, especially during the current cultural demolition of our nation.

Brooklyn resident David Randall, 48, who descended from the famous Mayflower crew member John Alden, said he feels vexed by the 1619 Project because it preaches “grotesque hatred of so many people leading happy ordinary lives — which is as much the heart of America as the ideals.”

The Governor of the Oregon Society of Mayflower Descendants, Beth Lambright, 69, of Corvallis, Ore., also wrote to me. She accurately noted that before the Mayflower Compact was signed on November 11, the Strangers — who made up a third of the group — were ready to mutiny, and that the Compact not only quelled the unrest but gave the English colonists in North America their first elected leader and their first example of self-made democracy.

The Cancel Culture can focus on all our flaws if they wish, but they miss the point.

 – Mayflower descendant David Hess, 72

She wrote, “This was the first time in recorded history that free and equal men had voluntarily ‘covenanted together’ to create their own new civil government.”

To say a good word about the Pilgrims today, however, is to risk sneers (and worse) from the woke crowd. For years, progressives have battled to erase the importance of the Mayflower Compact and the history of the Plymouth colony from American history. Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” which was first published in 1980 and is now the country’s most widely assigned history textbook, doesn’t even mention the Mayflower Compact. It briefly refers to the Pilgrims by saying the land they occupied was “inhabited by tribes of Indians” and by including a quote from a Pilgrim missionary who said Indian children had a “natural pride” that the English had to overcome to educate them.

Zinn, a Marxist who had little use for America’s traditions of religious freedom and self-government, has had wide influence on schools and teachers, but he was pushing on an open door when it came to cultivating prejudice against the Pilgrims. In recent decades, they have been depicted as narrow-minded, sexually frigid, hypocritical, and ruthless exploiters of the land and the people they encountered. These stereotypes are based not on any historical facts. Rather they began to form in the 19th century with writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose novel “The Scarlet Letter” depicted the Puritans (not the Pilgrims) as straitlaced neurotics. Later generations, reacting against Victorian strictures, turned the Pilgrims into religious zealots with no trace of human warmth. Serious historians have rejected these judgments, and, with their many descendents alive today, the Pilgrims clearly weren’t averse to sex. Even so, the caricatures persist. And now, The Times has gone one step further, by turning its 1619 Project and its corrosive ideas that America is built on slavery into a curriculum that’s been distributed to schoolchildren nationwide.

Keith Whitaker (right), 49, is descended from Myles Standish (left), the British officer hired on by the Pilgrims.
Keith Whitaker (right), 49, is descended from Myles Standish (left), the British officer hired on by the Pilgrims.Getty Images; Courtesy of Keith Whitaker

But many of the Pilgrim descendants who wrote to me are also educators — and they said they’re fighting back. Locklear is a teacher who has published her own grade 6-12 unit study, “The Mayflower at Cape Cod — Stories, Activities, and Research that Connect 1620 with Life Today.”

Another Mayflower descendant and teacher, D’Ann Nash, 48, in Terrebonne, Ore., asks her high-school students to read parts of “Of Plymouth Plantation,” the “warts and all” history of the Plymouth colony written by its long-serving second governor, William Bradford. “Dedicated to the truth, Bradford wrote about human frailties on all sides,” Nash said in her email to me. “The Pilgrims really were courageous and those that criticize them should really take a look at their experiences and try to walk a mile in their moccasins.”

Lambright is also a teacher. She said she is “proud of my Mayflower ancestors for a multitude of reasons — but mostly for their brave choices.” They endured arrest twice before they left England and “gave up all their worldly goods to achieve the goal of living in peace, where they could have freedom of speech and religion.”

Brooklyn’s David Randall (right), 48, is kin to John Alden (left), who crewed the Mayflower in 1620.
Brooklyn’s David Randall (right), 48, is kin to John Alden (left), who crewed the Mayflower in 1620.Alamy; Courtesy of David Randall

David Hess, 72, of Reno, Nev., is the 9th great-grandson of Plymouth’s Mary Allerton. She arrived on the Mayflower at age 4 and was the last survivor at her death in 1699. She lived long enough, said Hess, to see her son graduate from Harvard. “It just hit me,” said Hess, “that amid all the hardships, our early forefathers built a university. Yes, it only awarded Divinity degrees, but here in the darkness was a light destined to be one of the world’s greatest houses of learning. The Cancel Culture can focus on all our flaws if they wish, but they miss the point entirely. They see the trees but not the forest. The ascent of man may not always be pretty, but on the whole it has been a magnificent journey.”

Locklear, Randall, Whitaker, Nash, Lambright and Hess are six Mayflower descendants, but they have a lot of company. (Full disclaimer: I, too, am a Mayflower descendant. Peter Brown is my 9th great grandfather and Samuel Fuller is my 8th great grandfather. Brown was a Stranger perhaps best remembered for getting lost in the woods and surviving a chilly night by climbing a tree. Fuller, though no doctor, became the go-to physician for the colonists.)

The children of the 102 Pilgrims and Strangers, as well as some of the 30-man crew of the Mayflower who decided to stay in Plymouth, and their children’s children, proliferated and now, after some ten generations, number about 35 million living people. Most, of course, have no idea about that pedigree, but about 150,000 of them care enough to belong to the General Society of Mayflower Descendants — including quite a few under age thirty.

Rebecca Locklear (right) teaches about her forebears. Fellow descendant and teacher D’Ann Nash assigns William Bradford (left).
Rebecca Locklear (right) teaches about her forebears. Fellow descendant and teacher D’Ann Nash assigns William Bradford (left).Courtesy of Rebecca Locklear

They are wise to honor their history. After landing on a rocky New England shore in 1620 with few provisions, winter coming on, and an uncertain welcome from the native inhabitants, a “great sickness” killed 45 of the 102 Mayflower passengers, and of those who were left, 26 were children under the age of 18. Randall said that learning about his Mayflower ancestors deepened his “sense of how my very ordinary ancestors built the country.” They were “ordinary Americans, going about the business of their daily lives.”

Whitaker added that he doesn’t “see descent from the Mayflower as a matter of blood or history” — or even an exclusive birthright.

“Anyone who believes that America is, or can be, a light among the nations, a city on a hill, a promised land …” he wrote in his email to me, “… is a Mayflower descendant and a recipient of the blessings of 1620.”

Peter W. Wood is president of the National Association of Scholars. His book, “1620: A Critical Response to the 1619 Project” (Encounter Books), is out now.

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