Desperate Crossing
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Desperate Crossing- The Untold Story of the Mayflower

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The only thing most people know about the Pilgrims and their ship, the Mayflower comes from a brief lesson in grade school. Typically this part of American history is presented just before the long Thanksgiving weekend. Students get to make buckle hats, some dress up as Native Americans and if your school has the budget for it you might even get a papier-mâché rock. Like so much of American history schools gloss over the real events and people giving only the most superficial look at the events that helped to shape this country. Thankfully, we now have the History Channel is part of most cable packages. They have been in depth programming that is both informative and entertaining. Now, they have taken a look at these earliest of European settles in this continent, ironically, just in time for Thanksgiving. ‘Disparate Crossing: the Untold Story of the Mayflower’ looks beneath the veneer most of us remember from history class.

At the start of the program there is a little note: "The following program contains scenes that are dramatized. All dialogue and events are derived from the historical record." The Pilgrims were religious and social rebels despised and persecuted by the King of England and much of the population. In 1620 they set out to build a new life for themselves in the Americas. As this show opens we are transported to the Mayflower, sometime in October of 1620. a brutal storm is pounding the little wooden ship. The would-be settlers are hold up below deck, wet and despondent. The story then begins to detail just how these men, women and children came to be in such a predicament. Scrooby, England was a small town like so many others of the time. William Bradford chronicled the crossing and they events that drove his neighbors to such drastic action. He would lead his people to the new world and eventually become the first governor of the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. His book, ‘Of Plymouth Plantation’ is a major source for this program. This story really began some 13 years before the voyage as the people of the town met to discuss just how religion was being used to oppress the population. A young Bradford was there listening to the older men talk about the misuse of religion. Bradford was an orphan living on his uncle’s farm and has already made religion his passion. Pastor John Robinson and elder William Brewster where at the vanguard of what would become a break with England. These people wanted little more than to worship according to their own believes. They did not hold with the official state religion, the Church of England. Created to break away from the Catholics and the Pope the King was installed not only as the head of state but the religion as well. Like many Protestants the Pilgrims were against the trappings and structure of the Church of England. They met in secret, always afraid capture. Initially separatist such as those in Scrooby only wanted to go as far as the Netherlands to finds the safety to worship as they choose. Due to political pressure on that country the Pilgrims were unable to find the safe haven they sought. Finally, they decided to make a complete break with Europe and head for the relatively new world of the Americas.

The rationalization was that the Americas had plentiful land of rich abundance. The only populations were savages that needed to hear the world of God. Not only would the Pilgrims find a place safe from persecution but also they would be able to spread their religion to others in need of such salvation. After many months of debate the general consensus supported the venture. It was not only the only thing to do but it was the right thing as well. Surely they would have the blessing of God. In the Americas there was a growing animosity between the naïve people and the Europeans. Many natives were kidnapped and brought back to Europe as novelties. Originally the Pilgrims wanted to settle in the England owned Virginias. In order to do that they needed the permission of the King, who would look the other way as long as they remained peaceful. After three years of planning two ships set out; the larger of the two, the Mayflower and its companion the Speedwell. They were barely out of the English Channel before the Speedwell began to take on water. Twice the ships had to turn back and return to England losing an entire month. This put them into the worse weather possible for the crossing. Finally they were on their way. The Pilgrims had to share their small quarters with some four dozen ‘strangers’; people not of their faith who were also seeking a new life. As the Mayflower was in the Atlantic Ocean there were many problems just holding the craft together. The hull was battered, the masts in serious trouble. The main beam was split and had to be rigged together with some lumber hauling equipment that happened to be on board. There were also many problems with the passengers. Many fell ill not only to the constant motion sickness but also diseases the came from the lack of proper food, water and sanitary conditions. As the Mayflower made its way alone across the ocean a sailor would die just as one woman was about to give birth. There was almost no privacy aboard the tiny ship; perhaps only a sheet hung to separate the young woman in labor from the others. After nine weeks at sea they finally spot land. Instead of landing near the Hudson River they made landfall far north near what is now Cape Code. The legal issues of who would govern became a hot point of discussion between the Pilgrims and the others on board. Before they could begin to settle the land the new colony had to create some semblance of a contract to hold the company together.

This program uses the tried and true techniques that have made the History Channel one of the most impressive channels on cable. They reenactments here are incredibly realistic. It is more like watching a movie or perhaps a documentary created as the events unfolded. Sure there are the now famous talking heads to help explain some of the background but for the most part this program is like taking a time machine back to the 1600’s. When we think of the Pilgrims sitting down to that first Thanksgiving we usually don’t realize just how much it took to get them there. They were rebels, going up against their government just to worship. With religion so much at the heart of many of the issues today it is important to see jut how much religious freedom was to the first Europeans to settle here. As with everything presented by the History Channel they make us think about something we knew with a completely different viewpoint. This is something for the whole family to watch together, a rarity for television now.

Posted 11/5/06

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