Category Archives: USA

The tale of ‘habitual criminal’ William King: a Black life in Victoria’s white justice system



William King circa 1890.
Public Records Office, Victoria

Alana Piper, University of Technology Sydney

The Black Lives Matters movement in the United States and Australia has drawn welcome attention to Black deaths in the criminal justice system. Such fatalities are extreme manifestations of a long history of excessive punishment of Black bodies: from the use of neck chains on Indigenous Australian prisoners into the 1940s to their over-incarceration for minor offences today.

One historical case that demonstrates this in Australia is that of William King, an African-American sailor who arrived in Melbourne in 1887. Little is known about King’s life before this but the following year he was convicted for burglary and sentenced to 18 months’ hard labour. Thus began a cycle in and out of prison.




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King’s second conviction in 1889 — on four charges of receiving stolen goods — earned him nine years’ imprisonment. This sentence was unusually steep. Data on prosecutions for this crime in Victoria during the 1880s show the vast bulk of offenders were sentenced to less than two years in prison, even when facing multiple charges.

Even more remarkable is the wide range of additional punishments King was subjected to in prison.

‘Insolence’

Prison records show during his time in Pentridge, King was punished for 53 infractions of prison discipline, far more than any other prisoner at the time. These infractions, mostly consisting of “insolence” or “disobedience of orders”, were punished by stints of solitary confinement, months spent wearing heavy, iron chains and an extension of his original sentence.

King was a problematic individual. But the colour of his skin probably engendered hostility from the guards or increased their perception he was a dangerous offender in need of rigid control. King later said he believed his race had made him a target.

Public attention was drawn to King’s treatment in 1898 when an anonymous informant — most likely a former inmate — alerted socialist newspaper The Tocsin to his plight.

In a lengthy exposé, the paper alleged prison guards not only deliberately targeted King by imposing groundless punishments on him, but even ganged up to give him beatings at night. King had spent more than 100 days in solitary confinement in the previous year alone.

Continued media attention may have prompted the decision to release King by “special authority” in 1900.

Just six weeks later he was convicted on two counts of burglary. At his trial, King said he would “rather be hanged” than return to prison. He alleged continual police persecution following his release, and said he was merely a convenient suspect for the crimes.

While King’s assertions of innocence must be read with a grain of salt, officials at the time were undoubtedly influenced by pervading racist rhetoric that associated Black men with increased criminality and violence.




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‘Big, burly, repulsive’

One of the detectives who worked the 1900 case, David George O’Donnell, tellingly recalled King in his later reminiscences as “a big, burly, repulsive looking American nigger … absolutely dangerous to life and limb”.

William King circa 1908.
Public Records Office Victoria

King’s return to prison was marked by further infractions and solitary confinement. In 1908, he was released for only a month before again being convicted of burglary. Declared a habitual criminal under the 1907 Indeterminate Sentences Act, King was remanded to prison indefinitely.

In 1909, King was convicted of stabbing prison guard William Sharp in the cheek with a knife. King claimed Sharp had brought the knife into his cell, and had been stabbed as King tried to get it away from him. As a result, King spent even more time in solitary confinement.

Later that year, Pentridge’s medical officer expressed concerns about the toll lengthy solitary stays were having on King’s mental and physical health after he lost ten pounds (4.5 kilograms) in just one week.




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The use of solitary confinement against King was halted for several months — until he stabbed another warder. King’s defence was that he had been held down and beaten by five warders until he had managed to draw out a knife to defend himself.

King’s final trial occurred in 1911, this time for attempted murder of a guard. While admitting the offence, King again claimed to have been defending himself after repeated, racially-motivated violence from both guards and fellow prisoners.

‘Treated like a wild beast’

He claimed to have been treated “not like an ordinary prisoner, but more like a wild beast”. The jury appears to have been sympathetic, returning a verdict of not guilty.

William King, circa 1915.
Public Records Office Victoria, VPRS 515/P1, volume 60, page 277.

King remained incarcerated until 1916, when the government ordered his release on the condition he be immediately deported to the US. Police escorted King on board the ship Puacko, bound for San Francisco.

According to Detective O’Donnell’s memoir, the vessel’s Captain told King if they had any trouble from him during the voyage, a quick burial at sea would mean there would be no coroner’s inquest.

King was indeed buried at sea during the voyage. His cause of death was recorded as a stomach complaint.The Conversation

Alana Piper, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Christopher Columbus



Mayflower 400: how we brought the pilgrims’ ship to life using VR technology



An image showing early VR models of the Mayflower and Speedwell. The Speedwell was left behind in Sutton Pool after two attempts to make the transatlantic crossing failed.
HIT Team, University of Birmingham, Author provided

Robert Stone, University of Birmingham

It’s almost impossible, 400 years later, to imagine the scene in September 1620, when groups of English Puritans took their last look at the land of their birth while descending a few damp, slippery steps in Sutton Pool (today, the Barbican), Plymouth. How they felt while being ferried out to the Mayflower, a cramped, creaking square-rigged merchant ship, moored outside the harbour – and what they thought of the vessel, with its basic facilities and cargo.

But after four centuries, thanks to virtual and augmented reality technologies, for the first time we are able to see what that departure might have been like.

The Virtual Mayflower project has been one of the most challenging we have ever undertaken, seeking credible, historical research and deciding how we can use interactive technologies for a broad range of end users of different ages and backgrounds.

The project took us from a beached wreck near Hastings to the Mayflower II replica in the US. Meetings ranged from demonstrations at the US ambassador’s London residence to visualisation trials on Plymouth Hoe and from the council chambers in Droitwich Spa to Canary Wharf in London’s Docklands. The Virtual Mayflower story spans six years of ambition, elation, disappointment and – ultimately – a respectable degree of success.

We have been involved with numerous Plymouth maritime heritage projects since 2005 – mainly undersea wrecks – exploiting VR to “render the invisible visible”, as we did in the 1990s with projects such as Virtual Stonehenge. The Virtual Mayflower effort was kickstarted 250 miles to the east of Plymouth, on Pett Level Beach near Hastings. The Anne, a warship built for King Charles II’s Royal Navy, was launched in 1678. She was deliberately beached and torched at Pett Level in 1690, during the Battle of Beachy Head, to prevent capture by the French.

There she remained until the storms of 2013 exposed her lower structures. Collaborating with the Hastings Shipwreck Museum, we developed a detailed and explorable VR model of the ship and undertook a world-first demonstration using AR techniques, visualising the ship from above through the cameras of a drone – in effect looking down through the Anne’s masts as she rested in situ on Pett Level’s sands.

VR depiction of 17th century sailing ship The Anne.
The Anne in a simple 3D harbour scene as recreated using VR and AR technology.
HIT Team, University of Birmingham, Author provided

Realising a vision

Our success in exploiting VR and AR techniques during the Anne project brought numerous requests to become involved in the 400th anniversary commemorations of the Mayflower’s sailing. The first major development for us was an invitation to visit the Mayflower II in Plymouth, Massachusetts (at that time being prepared for transit to Mystic Seaport in Connecticut for her major refit) and Plimoth Plantation, the original location of the Pilgrims’ first home in the New World.

We were able to use 360-degree spherical panoramic cameras to capture many areas of the ship (including views from the crow’s nest) and were also shown the impressive costume repository held by the plantation. This was to be invaluable during the later reconstruction of the virtual pilgrims and ship’s crew. Also presented was the Mayflower II’s “shallop” – a replica of a small boat that was, in 1620, shipped across the Atlantic in four pieces, reassembled to ferry the early reconnaissance teams to Cape Cod’s peninsula (known today as Provincetown Harbor), and later used to land the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock.

The data collected from the visit, plus a range of 3D assets available online, enabled us to recreate a VR scene featuring both the Mayflower and the smaller unseaworthy Speedwell (ultimately abandoned in Sutton Pool). We then set about developing more detailed versions of the ship and harbour. One of the biggest challenges we faced was how best to represent the passengers and crew of the Mayflower, and the Sutton Pool inhabitants.

In 2017 we acquired a new piece of wearable motion capture (MOCAP) hardware. The Perception Neuron was a flexible “exoskeleton” comprising small Inertial Measurement Units, data from which were transferred to a backpack-worn laptop. We undertook a unique trial of this technology on board one of the Jubilee Sailing Trust’s tall ships, the Lord Nelson, moored at London’s Canary Wharf. Despite appalling weather, the ship’s bosun’s mate, Beth Goss, climbed 34m of the vessel’s main mast, her every movement recorded by the suit and two 360-degree cameras.

But in the final evaluation, we decided that neither this, nor a more conventional optical MOCAP technique, provided us with sufficiently reliable, noise-free human movement data for use with virtual humans (“avatars”). So we approached game designer, Mike Acosta, from Royal Leamington Spa College, to develop the virtual passenger, crew and Sutton Pool inhabitants – with appropriate period clothing – for the VR scenarios.

As well as conducting research into how best to represent the humans of the time, including one of the more important of Pilgrim leaders, Edward Winslow (only one painting of whom exists, in the Pilgrim Museum in Plymouth Massachusetts), we also sourced many historic documents and maps, each providing different views of the Sutton Harbour area.

VR image of two 17th-century sailing ships in harbour.
A virtual view of Plymouth’s Barbican/Sutton Pool as it may have looked in the 1620s with the Mayflower moored out in the Cattewater.
Chris Harvey/ HIT Team, University of Birmingham/Modux Ltd, Author provided

These, as well as information from books and images by numerous authors and illustrators, enabled us to develop a detailed 3D model of the Sutton Pool area, complete with lighting, mist and other environmental effects. Users can now don VR headsets and explore the harbour before descending the original location of the Mayflower Steps. There, they will get into a small boat that will ferry them out to board the small ship that was to be home to 102 Pilgrims for 66 days in the most abominable of circumstances.

Visitors to our project website can read about the Virtual Mayflower story in detail. The hope is that our reconstruction of such an important historical event, emphasising not only the “here today, gone tomorrow” nature of the Mayflower’s visit to Plymouth, but the rich history surrounding that small, remote west country harbour, will provide a legacy contribution to the 400th anniversary commemorations and an inspiration to future generations of creative media students.The Conversation

Robert Stone, Chair in Interactive Multimedia Systems, University of Birmingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


The complicated legacy of the Pilgrims is finally coming to light 400 years after they landed in Plymouth



Plimoth Plantation, in Plymouth, Mass., is a living museum that’s a replica of the original settlement, which existed for 70 years.
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Peter C. Mancall, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

The 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ voyage to Plymouth will be celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic with a “remembrance ceremony” with state and local officials and a museum exhibit in Plymouth, England. An autonomous marine research ship named “The Mayflower” has been equipped with an AI navigating system that will allow the ship to trace the course of the original journey without any humans on board.

Yet as a scholar of early 17th-century New England, I’ve always been puzzled by the glory heaped on the Pilgrims and their settlement in Plymouth.

Native Americans had met Europeans in scores of places before 1620, so yet another encounter was hardly unique. Relative to other settlements, the colony attracted few migrants. And it lasted only 70 years.

So why does it have such a prominent place in the story of America? And why, until recently, did the more troubling aspects to Plymouth and its founding document, the Mayflower Compact, go ignored?

Prophets and profits

The establishment of Plymouth did not occur in a vacuum.

The Pilgrims’ decision to go to North America – and their deep attachment to their faith – was an outcome of the intense religious conflict roiling Europe after the Protestant Reformation. Shortly before the travelers’ arrival, the Wampanoag residents of Patuxet – the area in and around modern day Plymouth – had suffered a devastating, three-year epidemic, possibly caused by leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that can lead to meningitis, respiratory distress and liver failure.
It was during these two crises that the histories of western Europe and Indigenous North America collided on the shores of Massachusetts Bay.

Despite a number of advantages, including less competition for local resources because of the epidemic, Plymouth attracted far fewer English migrants than Virginia, which was settled in 1607, and Massachusetts, which was established in 1630.

The Pilgrims, as they told their story traveled so they could practice their religion free from persecution. But other English joined them, including some migrants seeking profits instead of heeding prophets. Unfortunately for those hoping to earn a quick buck, the colony never became an economic dynamo.

A shaky compact

Plymouth nonetheless went on to attain a prominent place in the history of America, primarily due to two phenomena: It was the alleged site of the first Thanksgiving, and its founders drafted the Mayflower Compact, a 200-word document written and signed by 41 men on the ship.

Generations of American students have learned that the Compact was a stepping stone towards self-government, the defining feature of American constitutional democracy.

But did Plymouth really inspire democracy? After all, self-governing communities existed across Indigenous New England long before European migrants arrived. And a year earlier, in 1619, English colonists in Virginia had created the House of Burgesses to advance self-rule in North America for subjects of King James I.

So American self-government, however one defines it, was not born in Plymouth.

The Mayflower Compact nonetheless contained lofty ideals. The plan signed by many of the Mayflower’s male passengers demanded that colonists “Covenant & Combine ourselves into a Civil body politic, for our better ordering, & preservation.” They promised to work together to write “laws, ordinances, Acts, constitutions.” The signers pledged to work for the “advancement of the Christian faith.”

The signatories of the Mayflower Compact aboard the Mayflower.
Jean Leon Gerome Ferris’ ‘The Mayflower Compact, 1620.’
Library of Congress

Yet as the years after 1620 bore out, the migrants did not adhere to such principles when dealing with their Wampanoag and other Algonquian-speaking neighbors. Gov. William Bradford, who began writing his history of Plymouth in 1630, wrote about the Pilgrims arriving in “a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men” even though Patuxet looked more like a settled European farmland. The Pilgrims exiled an English lawyer named Thomas Morton, in part because he believed that Indigenous and colonists could peacefully coexist. And in 1637, Plymouth’s authorities joined a bloody campaign against the Pequots, which led to the massacre of Indigenous people on the banks of the Mystic River, followed by the sale of prisoners into slavery.

The Compact was even used by loyalists to the British crown to argue against independence. Thomas Hutchinson, the last royal governor of Massachusetts, pointed to the Pilgrims as proof that colonists should not rebel, highlighting the passage that defined the signers as “loyal subjects” of the English king.

History told by the victors

After the American Revolution, politicians and historians, especially those descended from Pilgrims and Puritans, were keen to trace the origins of the United States back to Plymouth.

In the process, they glossed over the Pilgrims’ complicated legacy.

In 1802, the future President John Quincy Adams spoke at Plymouth about the unique genius of the colony’s founders and their governing contract. He announced that the Pilgrims would arrive at the biblical day of judgment “in the whiteness of innocence” for having shown “kindness and equity toward the savages.”

In the mid-19th century, the historian George Bancroft claimed that it was in “the cabin of the Mayflower” where “humanity recovered its rights, and instituted government on the basis of ‘equal laws’ for ‘the general good.’”

Nineteenth-century anniversary celebrations focused on the colonists, their written Compact, and their contribution to what became the United States. In 1870, on the 250th anniversary, celebrants struck a commemorative coin: one side featured an open Bible, the other a group of Pilgrims praying on the shoreline.

Missing, not surprisingly, were the Wampanoags.

The front of the coin, which features praying Pilgrims reads, 'Pilgrim Jubilee Memorial,' while the back reads, 'Whose faith follow' above the Bible.
A coin honoring the 250th anniversary of the Pilgrims landing in Plymouth.
NGC Coin

A more nuanced view of the past

By 1970, the cultural tide had turned. Representatives of the Wampanoag nation walked out of Plymouth’s public celebration of Thanksgiving that year to announce that the fourth Thursday in November should instead be known as the National Day of Mourning. To these protesters, 1620 represented violent conquest and dispossession, the twinned legacies of exclusion.

The organizers of an international group called “Plymouth 400” have stressed that they want to tell a “historically accurate and culturally inclusive history.” They’ve promoted both the General Society of Mayflower Descendants and an exhibit featuring 400 years of Wampanoag History. Unlike earlier generations of celebrants, the organizers have acknowledged the continued presence of Native residents.

Prior celebrations of Plymouth’s founding focused on the Pilgrims’ role in the creation of the United States. By doing so, these commemorations sustained an exclusionary narrative for over two centuries.

Perhaps this year a different story will take hold, replacing ancestor worship with a more clear-eyed view of the past.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]The Conversation

Peter C. Mancall, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Mayflower 400: how the pilgrims coped with separation



Writing letters allowed the puritan community spread across England, Holland and the US feel a lot smaller continue practices that were important to their worship.
Scisetti Alfio/Shutterstock

Sarah Hall, University of York

Those who emigrated on the Mayflower in 1620 seeking religious liberty might not have realised the challenges that lay ahead of them. Roaring summer heat and bitter winters were only part of their test. Economic instability, disease and troubling encounters with the native population meant that the early years of the Plymouth colony were tarnished by hardship.

However, it was not only material and environmental adversity that faced the colonists or their friends and families back home. The distance stretching between those who stayed and those who sailed was felt painfully and persistently.

As such, correspondence played a central role in the pilgrims’ lives. It sustained friendships and kinship over immense distances. Letters extended social habits of communal worship, sharing spiritual knowledge and advice, and collective prayer that had once been practised in person.

Communal worship

Many of the Mayflower pilgrims had left England long before they set sail for the New World. They had radical religious beliefs and did not agree with the way the Church of England was run.

Looking for religious freedom, they fled to Leiden, the Netherlands. There, many worshipped at the Pieterskerk with their pastor, John Robinson. This group of refugees stayed in Leiden for 12 years. However, Holland was not as tolerant of their religious practices as they liked, and they began to fear the spread of the Thirty Years War that was overwhelming much of Europe.

In 1620, many of the group set sail again, this time for the New World. By then, they were a close community, and in 1625 those that had stayed behind expressed their grief that, “[they were] constrained to live disunited each from other, especially considering our affections each unto other”.

Puritans were intensely sociable in their worship. They believed that they belonged to a society of God’s saints. These were radical Protestants.

They had come together as minority groups in the face of criticism and ridicule from those around them. The name “puritan” was originally an insult, made by mocking neighbours poking fun at their intensely pious nature. With the sailing of the Mayflower, the separation of their close communities meant the disruption of the religious practices that defined them, particularly their emphasis on collective worship.

The Bible was a vital text for puritans and they felt strongly that they should study it together as often as they did privately. They did so constantly searching to learn more of God’s intentions for them.

In a practice called “gadding”, many puritans would travel to hear sermons given by ministers who believed the same things as themselves, since not everyone had access to a puritan preacher in their home parish or town. When unable to travel, they counselled each other. This happened in person where possible, but also in correspondence due to networks spread across Great Britain and the Netherlands.

Getting word across oceans

Puritan friendships were spiritual and social, and communion between friends provided emotional and material support. Their dispersal across England and the Netherlands made letter writing essential, even before emigration to the New World.

But these distances proved little in comparison to the Atlantic Ocean. With the prospect of a long term or permanent separation, puritans relied on their letters with increased urgency. Writing to her brother in law John Winthrop in 1629, Priscilla Fones expressed her fear at his impending departure:

… for though the bond of love still continues, the distance of the place will not let us be so useful one to another as now we are.

Correspondence provided the Leiden pastor John Robinson with a space to reassert his ties with his former congregants. In 1621, he wrote that “neither the distance of place nor distinction of body, can at all either dissolve or weaken that bond” between them. He vowed to maintain their spiritual connection with prayer and passed on well wishes from the wives and children of the emigrants, and others of the congregation who had stayed behind in Leiden.

Transatlantic correspondence came with many problems. Ships had to be available to carry these letters, while the journey was slow and the passage unreliable. Roger White, a citizen of Leiden, wrote to the pilgrims in 1625, lamenting that “I know not whether ever this will come to your hands, or miscarry, as other of my letters have done”.

Exercising caution, in 1630 John Winthrop, a leading figure among the Puritan founders of New England, sent news to his wife across two letters and sent it on different ships. These fears were not misplaced. News came to Massachusetts in 1633 that some other letters recently received in England had been washed “white and clean with saltwater” after the ship carrying them was wrecked.

Portrait of John Winthrop in a ruff.
John Winthrop, a leading figure among the Puritan founders of New England.
Author provided

The Mayflower pilgrims and those that later settled in other parts of New England were supported by their letters. They relied on them for the endurance of their friendships, and the lifting of their spirits. Words set in ink provided emotional support; letters were kept, stored, read and reread to bring absent loved ones to heart and mind.

Waiting aboard the Arbella at Southampton, on the eve of his departure for the new world, John Winthrop wrote to his wife. He told her that he often re-read her letters with “much delight”, although he found that he could not “read them without tears”. More than just words on a page, letters were an emotional and spiritual lifeline. Correspondence brought people together in familiar patterns of worship, despite their great distances.The Conversation

Sarah Hall, Postdoctoral Researcher in Early Modern Transatlantic History, University of York

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Mayflower 400: the science of sailing across the ocean in 1620


Jonathan Ridley, Solent University

It is July 1620 in Southampton, England. Arriving into port is the Speedwell, a ship carrying a small religious group from the Netherlands. Anchored just off of the west quay of the town is the Mayflower, a larger ship with more passengers aboard, which is loading for a transatlantic voyage with the Speedwell. The passengers have permission and funding to start a trading settlement in the Colony of Virginia (which at the time extended far further than the modern state of Virginia), under the control of the Virginia Company.

Despite the historical significance of the Mayflower, we know very little about the ship and its voyage. We only know its name from a document written three years after the voyage. At the time the Mayflower was not notable or special and – because some of the passengers faced persecution for their religious activities – they probably kept a low profile.

Evidence suggests that it was “burden about nine score” or 180 tons. “Burden” was a term for cargo capacity, while a “tun” was a large cask of wine. The ship could therefore carry the equivalent of 180 tuns of wine.

There are unfortunately no illustrations or plans of The Mayflower from the time, so we don’t even know for certain what the ship looked like. We do know, however, that ships around this time were built to a series of similar rules (outlined in Swedish shipbuilder Fredrik Henrik af Chapman’s Architectura Navalis Mercatoria, published in 1768). We can therefore begin to estimate the proportions for the cargo carried, but with a caution that the rules varied between shipwrights, with many details not recorded and drawings not made.

In fact, the famous 17th-century diarist Samuel Pepys tells us that shipwrights “depended on their eyes … never pretending to the laying down of a draught, their knowledge lying in their hands so confusedly”. Based on typical proportions from the time we could expect that The Mayflower would have been around 30 metres in hull length and about 7.5 metres in breadth.

English merchant vessels were also expected to form a navy to protect the country if required. From similar vessels of the time, we can therefore reasonably assume that The Mayflower had raised “castles” at the bow and stern. A height advantage from the castles would have been useful in battle to fight and resist boarding.

The ship would also have carried a small number of cannon – mainly for self-defence. These would have been on a cramped gun-deck (where the passengers would also live) with gun-ports.

The voyage

On August 15 1620, the two ships sailed for the New World from Southampton, but as soon as they departed, the Speedwell started leaking badly (despite some repairs already having been made in Southampton), requiring a diversion to Dartmouth to make repairs.

In mid-September 1620, they again departed England, but around 300 miles west of Land’s End the Speedwell leaked badly again, with the ship’s master complaining that “his ship was so leaky, as he must bear up, or sink at sea”. They returned to Plymouth, transferred as many passengers and stores as possible to the Mayflower, and set sail west again on 16 September. At the time it was suggested that the leaks were a plot by the captain and crew of the Speedwell to avoid a long and dangerous voyage.

Navigation in the 1600s was comparatively more advanced than many other sciences at the time. Sailors could measure their heading with magnetic compasses, and their speed with a log that was trailed behind the ship.

By measuring the height of the North Star above the horizon with instruments that were the forerunners of sextants, sailors could determine their position north of the equator (known as the “latitude”). However, on a rolling ship under cloudy skies taking accurate measurements and finding accurate positions was far from easy.

Knowing your position west or east of a point (“longitude”) was far more complicated. It could be found from measuring the local time when the sun reached its highest point in the sky, and comparing it to the time at a known point on land, as the local noon occurs four minutes later for every degree of longitude travelled west around the world.

Sadly clocks at the time were nowhere near accurate enough to measure this, and accurately measuring the height of the sun was difficult. Instead, sailors at the time used a combination of the compass, hourglasses and a log to record direction, time and speed, calculating a resulting position based on “dead reckoning”, which would become more inaccurate as the voyage progressed.

Despite some treacherous storms that nearly destroyed the vessel, The Mayflower arrived in North America after 66 days’ sailing. The ship was, however, just off Cape Cod, slightly north of the Colony of Virginia (which at that time extended north to Long Island Sound) where the colonists had permission to settle.

They tried sailing south, but encountered treacherous reefs and breaking waves and, low on provisions, they wisely headed north again, coming ashore initially at Provincetown, Massachusetts on November 21. But having landed outside of the Colony of Virginia, they had no contract to settle, or laws to follow.

Their solution was to draw up a democratic agreement (known as the Mayflower Compact), which governed them independently from England until they could obtain permission to settle where they landed. This was the first western example of a consensual government without a monarch. If their navigation had taken them just 65 miles further south, they would have landed in the Colony of Virginia, and history may have been different.

The Mayflower itself returned to England the following year, but sadly her Captain died in 1622. Left on the riverbank of the Thames, she fell into disrepair and was in such a poor condition that she was sold for parts in 1624. Ironically the Speedwell lasted far longer, sailing from Southampton to Virginia and back in 1635.The Conversation

Jonathan Ridley, Head of Engineering, Faculty of Creative Industries, Architecture and Engineering, Solent University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Mayflower 400: were the Pilgrims asylum seekers or subversives?



Principled revolutionaries: the Pilgrim Monument at Provincetown, Massachusetts.
TWA Photography via Shutterstock

Polly Ha, University of East Anglia

They were enemies of the state – religious malcontents and political subversives. This left England’s most radical puritans with just two options under Tudor treason law (besides execution, of course): either shut up or pack up and leave.

Elizabethan severity against Roman Catholics made sense, as Catholic powers across Europe were waging war against England. They united in a series of conspiracies to replace Elizabeth I with Mary Queen of Scots. The pope excommunicated Elizabeth and even ordered English subjects not to “dare obey her orders”.

But why would a Protestant queen outlaw zealous Protestants – and what was so subversive about worshipping the way they wanted?

The trouble was that some reformists went beyond insisting on minor improvements to the Church of England. They denounced it all together as false. They rejected the monarch’s supremacy over the church. And they widely publicised all this, calling bishops monstrous beasts.

When James VI of Scotland came to the English throne in 1603, his attempts to appease both ends of the spectrum fell on deaf ears. Disaffected Catholics hatched an elaborate plan to blow up the king and parliament in the Gunpowder Plot. On the other end of discontent, zealous Protestants separated from the Church of England and decided to pack up and leave. But they refused to shut up.

Many puritan dissenters headed to the Netherlands, where they exploited freedom of the press to print and distribute illicit texts from Leiden. They did so, according to the chief minister and leader of the core Mayflower migrants, John Robinson, because “lesse hurt comes by silence, than by speech” but so too “doth lesse good”.

New documents

Recently discovered manuscripts held at Trinity College Dublin Library shed new light on the pilgrims’ views and their later reception. Robinson himself had been strongly influenced by Henry Jacob (1562/3-1624), a Calvinist minister from Kent.

Jacob engaged in extensive underground exchanges with his fellow puritan critics. These hidden debates open up new ways of seeing how Jacob and Robinson played a far more radical role in one of the greatest political, military, and religious conflicts in British history.

According to his critics, Jacob was the first in the English-speaking world to espouse a view of ecclesiastical “independency”. Invoking the ancient Roman Republic’s idea of liberty as non-dependence, he argued explicitly that each particular church was free and not dependent on any higher ecclesiastical authority (whether the pope, bishop or church council). More importantly, he argued for the first time that any group of individual believers had the freedom to set up a new church society if they so chose.

Contemporaries feared Jacob would “begin a new world” by justifying the freedom to create new self-authenticating church societies. And that was exactly what he did. He migrated to Virginia after planting an independent church in London.

He also inspired Robinson, who cited Jacob to justify the freedom to establish new churches. Robinson further developed the idea of the freedom to discover the unknown, warning that injury from falling forward was less fatal than falling backwards.

Brave new world

Two decades after the Mayflower voyage to the new world, these ideas were threatening to create another crisis back in the old world.

Critics claimed that Robinson was responsible for spreading far more radical ideas back in England than in the new Plymouth colony. As the British Isles spiralled into civil war in the 1640s, radicals seized the moment to make new claims to liberty – which ended in the trial and execution of Charles I.

Painting of crowd watching execution of Charles I. Four figures in inset pictures including one of a man with king's head.
Regicide: the execution of Charles I on January 30, 1649, outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall, London.
Unknown artist/Scottish National Gallery

It was here that Robinson reappeared. His work was allegedly plagiarised by revolutionaries in parliament’s New Model Army who were fighting against royalist troops and threatening to dismantle all social hierarchy.

Edmund Chillenden was one such army agitator who appeared to silently lift Robinson’s arguments to make the case for any man – however humble and whether ordained as a minister or not – to preach publicly. No surprise that Chillenden was also a member of one of Jacob’s offshoot churches in London.

Jacob’s brand of independence did more than simply revive the Roman idea of freedom as non-dependence. He was the first person to argue that the church was defined in the New Testament solely as an independent congregation, as opposed to seeing each church as part of a single universal visible church.

This stretched independence beyond a political idea reserved for an elite group of men and made it universally applicable to every believer. This meant it could appeal to men lower down the social order and might even extend to women.

Robinson was careful to qualify the most egalitarian implications of his ideas. For instance, he denied that women had the right to speak and teach in public church assemblies ordinarily. (Exceptional women who were seen as prophetesses could speak openly in church, but this was rare.) New England colonists were at pains to deny their views would result in social anarchy.

But the Jacob connection again tells a different story.

Another member of the Jacob offshoot churches in London cited Robinson to stretch the social boundaries of freedom as independence. Katherine Chidley was one of the earliest and most vocal female writers and political activists in the English Revolution, leading an army of women in London to petition parliament.

She vigorously defended Robinson’s views in her Justification of Independant Churches. For Chidley, there was nothing exceptional about this. She believed in the freedom and natural ability of women to speak independently in public.

Following the Plymouth plantation in the new world, Robinson helped plant a new one in the old. Chidley used his ideas to justify female speech and dissent. Her public interventions were offensive – and even insulting – to many at the time because they challenged traditional hierarchy and overturned social conventions. They were pushing the same ideas in England that had prompted the Mayflower voyage.

One obvious difference, of course, was that she didn’t have to pack up or shut up. Instead, she spoke up.The Conversation

Polly Ha, Reader in Early Modern History, University of East Anglia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Mayflower 400: the English were relative latecomers to the Americas, despite the USA’s founding myth



Map of the New World from the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, believed to be the first true atlas in the modern sense.
Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598)/Boston Public Library

David Gehring, University of Nottingham

Popular anglophone histories tend to play up England’s settlement of the “New World”, but – in reality – England under Elizabeth I was, by comparison with Spain and France, a minor player on the European scene and for the most part non-existent in the New World.

Having lost Calais, its final territory in France, in 1558 – and having experienced the two short reigns of King Edward VI and Queen Mary – England could not compete with the strength, stability and financial resources of Spain. At that time Spain was vastly rich as gold and silver flowed from the mines of the New World, especially from Potosi, into Spanish coffers.

England and Spain had long been allies before Elizabeth’s reign – Henry VIII’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon, was Spanish, as was Mary Tudor’s husband Philip II. But animosities beneath the surface eventually boiled over into open warfare after England intervened in the Dutch Revolt to support the Dutch against Spanish control in 1585.

Philip had entertained the idea of aggression against England prior to 1585, but English engagement in the Netherlands along with piracy on the seas by the likes of Francis Drake provoked the launching of the Spanish Armada in 1588 in an attempt to invade and subjugate England to Spanish control. As the saying goes, “God blew and they were scattered”, and the 1580s mark a turning point in English ambition on the seas and relative to its European neighbours.

With adventurers such as Drake, Walter Raleigh and other privateers, soon independent Englishmen found private investors to finance their voyages to, and activity in, the New World. This was seen as a countermeasure to Spain and an opportunity to explore commercial ventures for trade.

The landing of the Mayflower in November 1620 is a significant historical marker. Its recognition is warranted because of the legacy that followed. But in many ways, the Mayflower represents not only the beginning of an Anglo-American story, for it is just one part of a wider European tale of exploration, settlement, and displacement and subjugation of indigenous populations.

The Mayflower followed the first successful English settlement at Jamestown in 1607, which itself was more than a century after the initial forays of the Spanish and Portuguese in the Americas.

‘In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue’

Christopher Columbus (Cristoforo Colombo) was Italian and sailed to the New World under a Spanish flag. Other Italians followed in his wake – including Amerigo Vespucci, under both Spanish and Portuguese flags shortly after Columbus, and Giovanni Verrazzano under the French flag in 1524. Zuan Caboto (Britain knows him as John Cabot) sailed under an English flag in the 1490s, but his efforts never resulted in any permanent settlements by the English. Spanish exploration and colonisation in the New World stretched thousands of miles from deep into South America to the plains of North America.

Set of Spanish stamps featuring explorers and monarchs involved in settlement of the Americas.
Spain was very proud of its role in colonising the Americas, as this set of stamps from 1987 suggests.
neftali via Shutterstock

New Spain (“Hispania Nova”) dominated early maps of the western hemisphere, and in these lands the Spanish government established colonial governance and administration, complete with churches and missionaries to attempt converting the indigenous. Lands claimed by Portugal in modern-day Brazil were also vast and easily recognisable on such maps.

International acknowledgement of Spanish and Portuguese territories and domination came with the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 – which, in the years that followed, earned the pope’s approval in Rome. Not to be outdone, by 1550 the French explored and subsequently claimed massive lands in what is now Canada – “Nova Francia”, though active settlement by the French in this area was limited.

Spain’s activity was not restricted to Central or South America. Spanish exploration in North America continued to expand as the century progressed. Hernando de Soto explored Florida during the 1540s, while Francisco Coronado the south-west (and Grand Canyon) at the same time. What is today Mexico had by this point been thoroughly occupied by Spain, the colonial capital city of Mexico City being built upon the ashes of the former Aztec city of Tenochtitlan.

The Spanish empire expanded further and further across the globe under King Philip II during the second half of the 16th century, especially when all Portuguese lands came under his dominion in 1580. So mighty, so awe-inspiring was Spanish power in Europe and the New World that none dared question it, even if daredevils like Drake drew Spanish ire by plundering along the coasts of South America during the 1570s.

Statue of Francis Drake in armour at Plymouth Hoe in south-west England.
Hero or villain? Francis Drake is a bit of both.
ian woolcock via Shutterstock

So expansive, so far-reaching were Spanish lands that Europeans – the English very much included – knew how the sun never set on the Spanish empire in the 16th century (long before it never set on the British empire of the 19th).

Playing catch-up

By the early 17th century, England was more assured of itself on a European level than it had been since the reign of Henry VIII, but it still had a lot of catching up to do. Alongside Spain (especially having absorbed Portuguese dominions), the Dutch and even the Danish soon became active in exploring and claiming lands in the Americas.

The English, led by private companies or religious refugees, such as the Mayflower pilgrims, were in some respects on the back foot until the second half of the 17th century.

To situate the Mayflower within a broader context of European exploration and colonisation, and to understand early modern England among its mainland European neighbours, is not to belittle the achievements or significance of either. Rather, doing so helps us to see how a wide variety of countries and peoples came together – in commerce and trade but also in rivalry and war – to bring European cultures to the indigenous cultures of the New World with dramatic and often horrible effects.

And so began the great mixing and melding of peoples in the Americas.The Conversation

David Gehring, Assistant Professor in Early Modern British History, University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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