[JR.] Like a lot of you, I finally got to see Hamilton last month when it dropped on home video. And also like a lot of you, I loved it! It was so fun. And I’m sure this will surprise no one, but I wanted to know more about that time period, so I started to download the biography of Hamilton the musical is based on.
But I don’t know how many of you noted this in the musical, or saw some of the critical conversation after it was widely available, but one of the critiques leveled at the musical was how it just sort of skipped past the reality that the nearly all the founding fathers owned slaves.
So rather than reading Hamilton’s biography first, I decided to dive into a book that won the Pulitzer Prize back in 2009, The Hemmings of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed. It’s the biography of Sallie Hemmings, who was Thomas Jefferson’s slave-mistress, who bore a number of Jefferson’s children.
We don’t have time to go all the way into how terrific and eye-opening this book is, but I wanted to share a quote from the first chapter that blew my mind up:
“It is hard to associate the earliest Virginians who controlled society with any aspiration loftier than that of making a killing. The colony was, after all, founded by the Virginia Company. It was from the very beginning a moneymaking enterprise, a place for men seeking their fortunes with limited reference to spirituality, with no nod to sentimentality and, apparently, very few limits on how the moneymaking could proceed…
“That this economic and social system eventually came most fully into its own on the backs of enslaved Africans adds depravity to the overall picture of venality. Unless one is willing and able to overlook extremely important details about the fundamental nature of this society, the story of Virginia’s origins does not lend itself to romanticizing. This is probably why for most Americans the national narrative begins at Plymouth Rock instead of Jamestown, even though the Virginia fortune seekers arrived more than a decade before the Pilgrims.” — Annette Gordon-Reed
I had never considered before why we learned in history class that Jamestown was the first permanent British colony in North America, but what we celebrate as America’s origin story, so to speak, is the Pilgrims.
[Sue] I work in a school district, so I know how this pretty much goes down in elementary school. The teacher reads a book like “Stone Soup” to the kids. They emphasize this idea that there was a famine and the people were hungry. Everyone brought something small for a soup and because of everyone’s generosity, the soup was enough to feed everyone. This segues nicely into a Thanksgiving story where the poor Pilgrims were hungry and the native peoples felt sorry for them and helped them out and everyone. They had a nice meal and everyone was happy and at peace. That’s really the end of story until you take American History in 8th grade and hopefully find out what really happened to native Americans.
Aw. Yes. I have some questions. Why are the Peanuts characters playing Pilgrims and not the Wampanoag people? David J. Silverman, a history professor at George Washington University says,
“Most poignantly, using a shared dinner as a symbol for colonialism really has it backward. No question about it, Wampanoag leader Ousamequin reached out to the English at Plymouth and wanted an alliance with them. But it’s not because he was innately friendly. It’s because his people have been decimated by an epidemic disease, and Ousamequin sees the English as an opportunity to fend off his tribal rebels. That’s not the stuff of Thanksgiving pageants. The Thanksgiving myth doesn’t address the deterioration of this relationship culminating in one of the most horrific colonial Indian wars on record, King Philip’s War, and also doesn’t address Wampanoag survival and adaptation over the centuries, which is why they’re still here, despite the odds.” — David J. Silverman
Every culture has myths… and that includes the cultures that produced the Bible. Let’s explore the myths we find in the Bible, and how God intends them to form us into God’s own people.