“[We] covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation… [and shall] enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony.” — The Mayflower Compact (November 11, 1620)
Armed with those words, 41 brave Pilgrims brought democracy to American soil, and the Mayflower Compact earned its spot as one of the most significant documents in American history.
Just don’t ask St. Albans, where the U.S. History curriculum completely skips 1620’s landing at Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower Compact. I’d guess that few of my classmates know what the Compact said, and much less why it is significant: 156 years before the Declaration of Independence, the Pilgrims charted the revolutionary values that came to define our nation.
It’s not hard to see why 1620 gets shortchanged. In the era of the New York Times’s 1619 Project (which emphasizes white supremacy as the driving force of American history), many set their gaze fifteen months earlier, to 1619. In that year, a pirate ship traded 20-30 captive Africans at Jamestown, marking the first time African slavery blemished America’s shores. Though the Project has faced significant criticism, it left its ideological mark on the interpretation of early American history, and 1620 withers in 1619’s shadow in academia and the mainstream press.
The STA History Department has even more reason to steer clear of the Mayflower. The much-dreaded “curriculum audit” threatens to banish any discussion of an event some revisionists view as an early symbol of white supremacy and Native American exploitation. Several Native American groups even celebrate a “National Day of Mourning” on Thanksgiving.
To be fair, U.S. history classes skipping pre-Revolutionary American history is no new phenomenon at St. Albans. However, with the 1619 Project’s distortions all the rage and the DEI review hanging over 1620, the Department has little incentive to start teaching the Mayflower Compact now.
But the warped perspective of the Pilgrim-detractors is long on rhetoric and short on facts. In the days and months following the Compact and subsequent Plymouth landing, Squanto (a member of the Pawtuxet tribe) taught the Pilgrims how to survive in the unforgiving terrain and helped broker an alliance between the settlers and the local Wampanoag. The alliance lasted for 50 tranquil years, a shining — though sadly, rare — example of early Native-settler peace. The “First Thanksgiving” in 1621, a joint meal between the Pilgrims and their Native allies, was no celebration of supremacy or exploitation; it fulfilled the ideals of the Mayflower Compact, honoring the fruits of Squanto’s teaching (a successful harvest) and the benefits of the newfound alliance.
This country has wrought many evils on its Native American population, and tribes are right to champion the recognition of them. But Thanksgiving does not symbolize that history: It celebrates interracial peace, the revolutionary ideals of the Mayflower Compact, and, most of all, appreciation for the blessings that an often-difficult world has to offer, as the Pilgrims demonstrated in 1621.
So this Thanksgiving season, celebrate the Pilgrims. Let’s hope St. Albans does, too.