Skip to main content
No. of Recommendations: 7
Thanksgiving and Separation of Church and State

Act I ...My way or the highway

For more than 100 years after the landing of Columbus and until the landing of the Pilgrims, slave traders kidnapped native Americans along the east coast and sold them in the West Indies. As a result, the Indians were willing to trade with explorers and opportunists, cautiously, but they would not let them settle- at all! In 1602 when Bartholomew Gosnold, the man who named Cape Cod, attempted to establish a trading post there; it was repeatedly attacked until he gave up and sailed away.

French explorer Samuel de Champlain landed at Cape Cod in 1605 and was repelled by a very large Indian force. He told King Henry IV of France that America had good harbors, abundant wild life and timber, but the native population was too formidable and the French should look elsewhere for settlement.

It should be noted here that the Spanish followed their explorers with the military, bureaucrats and clergy; the British simply granted charters and told settlers, "good luck."

In 1615 another French ship floundered off Cape Cod. Some sailors drowned, many were killed, but four were taken as slaves by the Indians. One of the captives told them that God intended that settlers should have their land because He was mad at them for things like walking around half naked. The Indians laughed at him, emphasizing that they were too numerous and could not be defeated. The prisoner said that "God had ways unknown to them to kill them." It hasn't been determined whether those sailors introduced small pox, tuberculosis, plague, typhus or all of the above, but they all affected the native population in the following three years. Although ensuing epidemics would hit settlers also, killing many, they devastated native Americans. The population of the western hemisphere was estimated to have been between 50 and 100 million. In the fullness of time as many as 90 percent of them would inevitably die from "an arsenal of diseases" brought from the old world.

Only five years later in 1620 the Pilgrims (separatists from the Church of England) and rigidly orthodox, landed at Plymouth and found few Indians and many abandoned villages and farms with weeds growing up through planted corn fields and forests littered with human bones. The Pilgrims themselves faced great hardship; with half of them dying the first winter. After the diseases had killed so many Indians, the survivors were terrified of the Christian God, prompting Wampanoag chief Massasoit to help the Pilgrims survive; which led to our first Thanksgiving.

One Pilgrim, Robert Cushman noted, "Their countenance is dejected, and they seem as a people affrighted [even though they] might in one hour made a dispatch of us, yet such a fear was upon them...that they never offered us the least injury in word or deed."

The Puritans landed in Boston in 1630; they were not separatists, they were reformers. They believed that by living a pure life style they would be an example to the Church of England, which they considered to be morally lacking. They believed that by being ultra-pious they would be invited back to England to take over leadership of the church. The night before their landing, John Winthrop said. "For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us." The Puritans also found few Indians, leading John Winthrop to claim, "For the natives in these parts, God hath so pursued them, as for three hundred miles space the greatest part of them are swept away by the small pox which still continues among them...God hath cleared our title to this place."

This idea of God as a celestial real estate agent aside, this is the birth of the the concept of "Manifest Destiny" fostering the enduring belief that the Christian God was responsible for America.

Enter Roger Williams, trained as a minister at Cambridge with a gift for languages and a respect for the Indians. He wrote a book titled "A Key into the Languages of America" that is still referenced by scholars. The Puritans found him to be too radical so he went to Plymouth, where he was also considered extreme. When he returned to Boston and the Puritans, he started talking separation from the Church of England, he claimed the British claims to Indian lands were illegitimate and he opposed the citizens oath; which made everyone pledge their loyalty to the colonial authorities in all matters civic and religious. He further said that "first tablet" violations, as they were called then, like sabbath breaking, blasphemy, profanity and dishonoring your parents were not a matter for civil authorities; murder, stealing and lying were. So they put him on trial for heresy.

To give you an idea of how serious the Puritans took heresy, one need only consider the fate of Mary Dyer. In 1635 Mary Dyer came to the Puritan settlement in Boston and met Anne Hutchinson, who was quasi-taking over her dead husband's preaching duties. They banished Anne and Mary Dyer went with her. In 1657 she returned to Boston from England as a Quaker. When she couldn't stop talking about her new faith she was put on trial, found guilty of heresy and hanged.

At his trial Roger Williams defiantly said, "I do affirm it to be against the testimony of Christ Jesus for the evil state to impose upon the people a religion, a worship, a ministry. The state should give free and absolute permission of conscience to all men in what is spiritual alone. Ye have lost yourselves. Your breath blows out the candle of freedom in this land." They found him guilty of heresy and exiled him. While preparing to leave he got word that he was in danger so he fled for his life, "I was sorely tossed for one fourteen weeks, in a bitter winter season, not knowing what bread or bed did mean."

He was taken in by the Indians and he noted, "They have a modest religious persuasion not to disturb any man, either themselves, English, Dutch, or any, on their conscience and worship: and thereupon say, 'peace, hold your peace.'" He subsequently bought land (Providence) from the native Americans and founded the colony of Rhode Island. His wife and friends joined him and their first civil agreement emphasized, " or passive obedience to all such orders as shall be made for the public the major assent of the present inhabitants...only in civil things."

Separation of church and state was not a revolutionary idea by Roger Williams; I think it existed at that time in Holland. But he welcomed Catholics and Jews and that was revolutionary. In 1663 he went back to England and got an updated charter, which contains this passage, "That our royal will and pleasure is, that no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter, shall be in any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called into question, for differences of opinion in matters of religion. And do not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony; but that all and every person may, from time to time, and at all times here after, freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments."

It may be in Elizabethan English to be sure, but this is separation of church and state and a year later the colony of New Jersey adopted it nearly word for word. Then Carolina (not yet divided into North and South) adopted it, followed by Pennsylvania who also legislated religious freedom.

Act II...The inevitable result of "My way or the highway"

By 1670 the English settlers had grown to 70,000 occupying 100 towns. Their large family sizes led to an ever increasing expansion into Indian lands, which they used a variety of scams to obtain.

And the Indians were progressively becoming less afraid of the Christian God and much more afraid of Christians themselves after the Mystic Massacre of the Pequot tribe, where 600 died.

"...many were burnt in the Fort, both men, women, and children, others forced out, and came in troopes to the Indians, twentie, and thirtie at a time, which our souldiers received and entertained with the point of the sword; downe fell men, women, and children, those that scaped us, fell into the hands of the Indians, that were in the reere of us; it is reported by themselves, that there were about foure hundred soules in this Fort, and not above five of them escaped out of our hands." - Captain John Underhill

The book An American Trilogy: Death, Slavery, and Dominion on the Banks of the Cape, by Steven M. Wise, notes that Captain John Underhill justified the killing of the elderly, women, and children, and the infirm by stating that "...sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents...We had sufficient light from the Word of God for our proceedings."

When Chief Massasoit died his oldest son Alexander became chief. Alexander, a paragon of fitness, in his prime, mysteriously dropped dead at a meeting with the Pilgrims, making his brother Metacom (I've seen it Metacomet) chief. Metacom told the Pilgrims that King Charles II may very well be king of England but I Metacom will be considered King of America.

The Pilgrims did everything they could think of to humble him and sarcastically dubbed him "King Phillip" but it only drew more tribes to his side. When the Indians finally had all they could take of dishonest and murderous two legged piety, war broke out. It was a horror show; extreme savagery on both sides, each justifying their crimes by accusing the other side of the same. Hundreds of peaceful Indians living near Boston were put on Deer Island in the winter, where most died of exposure, starvation and disease. (our first ethnic relo)

Indians burned village after village while the colonists were driven back to within eight miles of Boston and Plymouth. Incidentally, a Puritan woman, Mary Rowlandson and her three children were captured at Lancaster. After her eventual release she wrote an account of her ordeal, which is generally considered to be America's first best seller.

Eventually the colonial militias coordinated their forces, which were more numerous, better armed and more ruthless than the Indians. Thousands of Indians killed, hundreds of Narragansett Indian women and children were massacred. When they caught up with Metacom, he was killed, beheaded, drawn and quartered and his head stuck on a pike.

Act III...The solution

A decade later (1689) John Locke, in "Letters Concerning Toleration" wrote: "I regard it above all to distinguish between the business of civil government and that of religion. It appears not that God has ever given any such authority to one man over another as to compel anyone to his religion." Shouldn't we kill heretics,? they asked. Locke said "No, because only God knows who is right in these issues." and secondly he added, history shows that religious persecution always leads to bad results.

<IMO>325 years later and people like ISIS and Ted Cruz still haven't got the message.</IMO>

While a boy, Patrick Henry rode home in a carriage from church with his mother, who grilled him on details of the sermon they had just heard. He developed into an oratorical caricature with sweeping gestures and every word laden with enough drama to make Orson Welles blush. In the Vaudeville days he would have been known as a scenery chewer. He wanted a tax on all citizens of Virginia for the Protestant religion. This issue made Virginia the central public focus of the other colonies.

James Madison said, "Torrents of blood have been spilt in the old world, by vain attempts of the secular arm, to extinguish religious discord, by proscribing all difference in religious opinion. Time has at length revealed the true remedy. Every relaxation of narrow and rigorous policy, where ever it has been tried has been found to assuage the disease [religious discord]. The American theatre has exhibited proofs that equal and compleat liberty, if it does not wholly eradicate it, sufficiently destroys its malignant influence on the health and prosperity of the state."

Madison's views were circulated by pamphlet and embraced by Baptists and Methodists, who were fledgling enterprises and feared exclusion. In 1785 the bill by Patrick Henry was defeated. Then Madison introduced a bill written by Jefferson in 1779: "Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, that no man shall be compelled to frequent [attend] or support any religious worship, place, or ministry what so ever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or beliefs; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."

Madison's bill was enacted in 1786. A year later at the Constitutional Convention Article VI was adopted, which states: "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." Then Madison made sure that the Bill of Rights specifically said: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." And that put an end to heretic hanging.

I left poor Metacom's head on a pike, which was triumphantly paraded back to the town square in Plymouth by Capt. Benjamin Church, where it remained on display for over 25 years. In one of those ironies of history, Capt. Church and his men arrived in Plymouth on Thanksgiving day. They used the holiday to celebrate their annihilation of the Indians.

A subsequent investigation by the Crown, as to the cause of "King Phillip's War" and so much damage and carnage placed the blame squarely on the settlers. "It had taken 56 years [since the Pilgrim's arrival] to unfold, but one peoples quest for freedom had resulted in the conquest and enslavement of another." -Nathaniel Philbrick from his book, Mayflower.

And what? One might ask became of Metacom's son; the grandson of Massasoit; honored member of the first Thanksgiving? Did piety have a place for this orphan? You betcha. They sold him into slavery in Barbados at the age of nine.

Most quotations from "Turning Points in American History" by Edward O'Donnell
Print the post  


What was Your Dumbest Investment?
Share it with us -- and learn from others' stories of flubs.
When Life Gives You Lemons
We all have had hardships and made poor decisions. The important thing is how we respond and grow. Read the story of a Fool who started from nothing, and looks to gain everything.
Contact Us
Contact Customer Service and other Fool departments here.
Work for Fools?
Winner of the Washingtonian great places to work, and Glassdoor #1 Company to Work For 2015! Have access to all of TMF's online and email products for FREE, and be paid for your contributions to TMF! Click the link and start your Fool career.