Myth - Pilgrims were harsh, rigid, intolerant and bigoted

The Pilgrims were also more tolerant than the Puritans. When Roger Williams was kicked out of the Puritan colony he was welcomed to stay at Plymouth even though he believed differently than them. Miles Standish was a Catholic who never converted and they respected that and still made him their military commander.

In the book Stepping Stones, the authors write, "Were the Pilgrims a bigoted and intolerant band?  In all fairness, they must be measured against the harshness of the society from which they came, not against the permissiveness of three and a half centuries later."

Did they deny the rights of others?  "There is good evidence that they were willing to accord liberty of thought and conscience to others -- a most remarkable virtue for their day.  Goodwin in his Pilgrim Republic had this to say: 'The Pilgrims were not repressive ... The Pilgrim Fathers heartily welcomed to their little state all men of other sects, who adhered to the essentials of Christianity and were ready to conform to the local laws and customs.'"

"They were in advance of their brethren in England; much in advance of ... their sister colony of Massachusetts ... they were more tolerant.  At the Lord's table they communed with pious Episcopalians, with Calvinists of the French and Dutch churches and with Presbyterians, and recognized the spiritual fraternity of all who held the (Christian) faith."

"Myles Standish came from a well-placed Roman Catholic family, a member of which had been a bishop... it appears that Standish never joined the Plymouth church.  Even more significantly, although he attended services and adhered to the principles of the church, he declined to accept communion."

"It is known that Standish counseled toleration in religious matters. It is also evident from his high place on the General Court that the colony accepted his religious divergence but shared his toleration."

"For themselves, the Pilgrims held to a strong faith but little formal creed."

"At this time Massachusetts Bay Colony restricted the franchise to members of the church.  It also made attendance on public worship compulsory.  Church attendance at Plymouth was voluntary.  Right to vote did not depend on church membership."

Plymouth accepted some who had been expelled from the Puritan colony.  Once the Pilgrims had their spirit of tolerance tested when a group of Quaker evangelists disrupted their community.  One book says, "But despite their hatred of the Quakers, the Pilgrims did not go the extremes practiced by the Puritans in their war on the Friends.  Quakers caught by Puritans had their ears sliced off, their cheeks branded with hot irons, or were beaten insensible, flayed with tarred ropes, stripped of all possessions -- even blinded and hanged."

"Plymouth took a gentler course.  Henry Fell, a Quaker, wrote in 1657: 'In Plymouth there is a people not so rigid as the others in Boston, and there are great desires among them after the truth.' The Pilgrims did use public whippings and confinement in stocks sometimes, but these "were used with restraint.  Repentance frequently brought forgiveness."

In the book The Mayflower Compact we read that the Puritan colonies became theocracies ruled by harsh clergymen:  "The Pilgrim colony was never a theocracy... there was a great deal more individual freedom in Plymouth than in the Puritan colonies.  One who tattled on a neighbor, for instance, could be punished for slander.  There were never any convictions for witchcraft in Plymouth as there were in nearby Salem."

Pilgrims respected the Indians

The Pilgrim's treaty with Massasoit lasted until his death forty years later and after that with his sons.  We read in Stepping Stones, "The treaty also provided for return of the stolen tools by the Indians and the payment to the Pamet Indians by the settlers for the corn that had been appropriated by the Pilgrim explorers when they first landed.  Nothing like this had ever happened before to the Indians, and they were greatly impressed with the policy of firmness and fairness with which these men operated."

"The story of their dealings was to spread, making trading furs easier.  They did not cheat, rob, or corrupt the Indians.  They dealt justly and paid adequately for what they took.  And Squato proved to be both a good interpreter and an able negotiator."

"The colonists, and especially the Governor [Bradford], were held in much esteem. ... The Pilgrims treated the Indian with dignity and with friendship, respecting his personal as well as property rights and receiving him into their community for special occasions."

"The most famous of these, of course, was the first Thanksgiving, when they shared their bounty.  And the Indians responded by killing five deer and presenting them to the Governor, Captain Standish, and others."

"Their dealings with other tribes were equally correct.  When toughness was needed, the Pilgrim fathers could be both brave and stern. When the Narragansetts decided to test them with a hostile threat by sending a great snakeskin wrapped around a bundle of arrows, they sent it back with a protestation of friendship on the one hand and a stuffing of powder and bullets on the other.  The Narragansett chief would not touch it but returned it.  Nothing more was heard of the affair."

"Edward Winslow in his Good News from New England wrote: 'The Providence of God ... possessed the hearts of the savages with astonishment and fear of us.  Wheras if God had let them loose, they might easily have swallowed us up; scarcely being a handful by comparison to those forces they might have gathered together against us ... Blessed therefore be His name!  That hath done so great a thing for us.'  If any one of the 'miracles' had failed the Pilgrims, the Plymouth Plantation might have been still-born."


Rev. Jhoon hyn Pak, a Korean leader in the Unification Church, in a Sunday sermon once spoke of the Pilgrims and the significance of their ship being named Mayflower. May is a symbol of rebirth and renewal. It is a revolutionary month. The Unification Church was founded on May 1.  The Mayflower was God's quiet revolution of love and faith. A flower is a symbol of God.


After the Pilgrims came the  Great Migration of the Puritans. The North and South were split over religion. The Church of England was dominant in the South, but the Northern colonies were settled by Puritans. In 1630 John Winthrop established Boston, 40 miles north of Plymouth. They came well-financed and well-equipped and brought in 1630 alone more than 1,000 settlers.

The Puritans strove to build "a form of civil government instituted by God himself in the Holy Scriptures ... to make the Lord God our Governor." They founded Harvard, America's first college. Students were to consider the main end of their lives and studies to be the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ. They prayed everyday. The Bible was read twice a day. The foundation of America’s first college was religious. Today, it isn't.