Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Interesting Pilgrim facts

First of all, did you know that when the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, there were already two Indians in the area could speak English, despite the fact the nearest English settlement at the time was in Virginia. In fact, one of the two could also speak Spanish, and had spent time in both Spain and England. (By the way, in the link above, note the role of Catholic priests in freeing Indians who Europeans attempted to enslave.)

Secondly, by the time the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts, somewhere between 70 and 90% of the coastal Indians had been wiped out by a plague caught from English traders with whom they had brief contact. The European effect on the Native American population is sometimes described as a "genocide." It is certainly true that Europeans often behaved very badly towards the natives. But the vast majority of the killing was done by germs which the Europeans had no idea even existed, and they certainly had no clue that mere contact with them could affect the Indians in such a way. That is a lot different than deliberately shoving people into gas chambers, and to use the same word to describe both events does not seem very helpful.

Thirdly, in discussions of social contract theory, you sometimes see it said that no political society has ever been founded in such a manner. That is just not true: the Pilgrims founded their polity with just such a social contract, namely the Mayflower Compact. I grant the critics of social contract theory that one case out of all polities is not very many, but still, it has happened.


  1. I may be mistaken here, but was it not only a minority who actually made the Compact, in an effort to keep the servants bound - as they had only agreed to serve in the Virginia Colony not Massachussets?

    1. There were only 22 servants out of 100 people who made the crossing. (I found this fact on thr Internet, which i bet you were using when you posted the above!)

    2. Only 22!

      Is the number itself significant?

    3. "only a minority"

      Given that someone claimed that above, certainly the number is significant!

    4. We're going past one another or you're just going way over my head here.

      Less than half of the people on board signed the Compact (I keep finding different numbers - between 41 and 44) the remainer did not. Why the fact that 22 of the majority were indentured servants, as opposed to 5 or 35, is where I'm at a "so what?"

    5. Yes, yes, I shouldn't have entered into the numbers here at all. The real point is that, as in ideal social contract theory, 100% of the members of the polity explicitly signed a contract to create it. The fact that there were other people around who were not considered members of the polity is irrelevant: no polity ever considers as a member just anyone who happens to be in the vicinity, and all polities subject non-members to their rules under certain circumstances.

    6. And this is the point where it looks less and less like a contract. I'll look into this more.

    7. "And this is the point where it looks less and less like a contract."

      Why? It certainly wasn't one with women or children or indentured servants. They were not considered suitable candidates for being political actors. (We may disagree, but we still have our limits that others may criticize: we generally don't include children ourselves, or felons, or recent immigrants, or, especially, any non-human creatures.)


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