National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version

Spring 2003


Published in Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council 4:1, Spring/Summer 2003. Copyright © 2003 by the National Collegiate Honors Council.


A formidable mythology has grown up around the Pilgrims and their voyage to the New World. In the popular myth a group of idealistic religious reformers fled persecution into the wilds of the New World, braving seas, storms, winter, hunger, and death at the hands of teeming hordes of Indians, carving a new life out of an unspoiled wilderness, building a civilization with naked force of will and an unshakable religious vision. As with most historical myths, this account has been idealized to the point that it obscures the facts of the Pilgrims’ voyage. When the handful of separatists stepped onto the shores of New England in 1620, they did not step into an untamed wilderness. They did not run into wild bands of ravenous savages bent on their destruction, nor did they ever have to contend with the full force of nature’s fury. In fact, they walked into an abandoned village, whose inhabitants had been gone barely long enough for weeds to grow over the tilled fields of corn. They discovered caches of crops, tools, and other supplies, as if they were waiting to be found and put into use by industrious hands. They moved quietly into a graveyard and built their shining example of a city on the hill directly on the still-exposed carcasses of dead Indians.