Shakepeare, Puritans and the killing of kings

Every American child gets the story of thanksgiving:

The pilgrims left England to find freedom in America, sailing over on the Mayflower. They suffered and could barely feed themselves, but a nice Indian man taught them how to grow plants. They made friends with some Indians and the next year, they had enough food after the harvest for a feast.

Kids make paper hats with the buckles, because that was the style at the time. That’s the story of America! Freedom and turkey.

Of course that is not the whole story. There is more.

I’ve been doing a review of American literature, and I revisited the famous “City on a Hill” sermon by John Winthrop. Clearly it had a lasting impact on America, but I wanted a point of comparison. What literature was being published in England?

From where I sat, England had the glory days of Shakespeare then literature fell off a cliff until Johnathan Swift came out with Gulliver’s Travels. And he wasn’t even English! Victorians brought literature roaring back to life, but there was this hole.

Looking into it, somehow, I didn’t realize that there were Puritans left behind in England. It turns out that the Puritans played a dramatic part in British history that had nothing to do with Americans.
For all the Puritans that left for America so many more stayed behind in England and caused trouble. Oliver Cromwell was a Puritan, heading an overthrow of the monarchy.

The first of many revolutions to come, Cromwell and the Puritans had a Civil War that executed King Charles the first.

News travelled to America about these developments. Some of our turkey-eating Puritans founders went back to England to support the revolution. Really, isn’t this what they were looking for? If the Puritan religion was the religion in power in England, why bother with the NEW England?

Winthrop’s sermon was preached in 1630. Charles the first was killed in 1649. Charles the second was reinstated in 1660. Those were some exciting years for Puritans.

Revolutions are dangerous times. Cromwell, and then Charles II had some harsh censorship in place. War and censorship put a damper on the creation of literature. Political tracts and sermons were just about it.

Taking a wider view of the world, I have some new perspective on America and what kinds of dinner conversations were happening. There was a lot going on.

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