“After salutations, our governor kissing his hand, the king kissed him,
and so they sat down.” (56)

[1]  The Pilgrims sought after only one goal in the New World: to live peacefully amongst themselves and the natives of the land.  They arrived tired and hungry, as was to be expected after a long voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.  An exploration party was initially sent forth, with the goal of collecting firewood, exploring the land, and seeing “what inhabitants they could meet with” (18).   Even at this early stage in the colony, then, the Pilgrims accepted the fact that there were already people living there.  Their goal, however, was not to conquer these people, but only to live peaceably among them.

[2]  Before the Pilgrims left the Mayflower, they wrote and signed a pact to bind themselves together under self-government.  This Mayflower Compact shows how they were motivated to be accountable to one another and to live by standards set not by a king or a profit-seeking merchant, but by themselves in order to succeed as a self-sufficient unit.  Unlike other Europeans, the  Pilgrims didn’t come to the New World to establish an empire or to seek wealth, but only to live on their own, free from an oppressive European government.  Since this was their only motivation, they treated the natives with the same respect that they would want for themselves.  The only time they stole from the native people was when they first landed.  Having no food, they ate corn that they found in buried storage pots, but even this they did not do immediately.  They first talked about what to do with the food. They consciously knew that it wasn’t rightfully theirs, but (because they entrusted the success of the voyage to God) decided that it was His will that they found the food.  Even after arriving at this conclusion, they planned to repay the owners if they were found.

[3]  The Pilgrims’ first contact with the natives was an attack, but one in which the Pilgrims were on the defensive.  They fired few shots from their muskets, although many arrows narrowly missed them, and did not try to pursue and destroy or enslave their attackers.  When they finally met with the natives on a personal level, the Pilgrims treated them with respect and as equals: “After salutations, our governor kissing his hand, the king kissed him, and so they sat down” (56).  The fact that the leader of the tribe was referred to as a king shows the Pilgrims' great respect for the native people as a functioning society.  The Pilgrims did not try to force the natives to conform to their own style of religion, probably because they were themselves fleeing forcible religious conformity.  Their only interaction with the natives was peaceful.  A pact was set up to ensure this peace.  In it, both parties agreed to respect the property and persons of each other, come unarmed to each other’s residences, and, going beyond simple mutual respect, they agreed to assist each other if either party came under attack.  This treaty was not violated in any way for the generation of the original Pilgrims.  The Pilgrims wanted only peace and made sure that their actions would have only positive results in their relations with the native people.

Daniel Spangler

(page references to Mourt's Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, ed. Dwight B. Heath [Bedford: Applewood Books, 1963])