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JackAdams's avatar

Using the broadest-possible definition, were the Pilgrims who arrived on the American continent (1620), "Cowards"?

Asked by JackAdams (6492points) September 5th, 2008

They were indeed Running Away from the oppressive British Empire of that time period (and they were right, for doing so), but because they refused to stay and fight for their ideals, “isms” and principles, or to at least try to engineer some kind of peaceful protest that may have resulted in positive changes, weren’t they just retreating, and demonstrating that they had no “backbone” to stand up for that in which they believed, on their own home turf?

Aren’t those who run away from their problems, exhibiting cowardice?

The question isn’t intended to denigrate anyone’s religious beliefs, so please don’t interpret it as such. I am merely asking a question related to a true historical event, and how some might view that event.

September 5, 2008, 1:24 PM EDT

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19 Answers

RandomMrdan's avatar

I’m sure many of them did try and stand up against being oppressed. But to say they were cowards I think is a bit much. To travel into an unknown and start from scratch is very brave.

Harp's avatar

“Cowardice” seems always to be defined as the opposite of bravery. I don’t know of any reasonable person who believes that bravery requires not fleeing danger when such flight serves a greater goal.

The pilgrims had little concern for earthly affairs. Their goal was not social or political reform. Their sole aim was carrying out what they saw as “pure” worship (hence the name Puritans). This had become impossible in the context of a country where they were legally obliged to participate in the Church of England.

Had they been intent on forcing some reform of the English government and its Church, then perhaps it could be argued that the brave thing to do would have been to stay and accept the consequences. But such was not the case. Their primary aim was worship, and that aim was best served by moving the worshipers to more hospitable lands. This prompted their move to The Netherlands (not America).

In The Netherlands, the were free of religious persecution, though they suffered economic hardships. Their move to America was prompted by missionary zeal, not by religious persecution. Protestantism was already well established in The Netherlands, and they saw in the New World an opportunity to bring their faith to a new and remote outpost.

Since all of their actions were in keeping with their sense of what was right and worthwhile, and didn’t represent a compromise of their values but worked toward the fulfillment of their purpose, I can’t see how their immigration could be considered cowardly.

scamp's avatar

I agree with RandomMrdan. To leave everything you know behind and travel to an unknown new land it anything but cowardly, no matter what the reason. Let’s not forget how long it took them to get here, and what travel conditions were like back then. After all, they didn’t just hop on a jet. Also, they didn’t simply move into new houses. They had to build their own after chopping down the trees needed to do so.

I don’t know of many people today who would voluntarily suffer the same hardships. In my point of view, they were very brave indeed.

wildflower's avatar

I don’t think you should deem someone a coward or not based on their actions, as much as their motivation for that action. Like Harp explained, these people weren’t out to bring about a reform – they didn’t even show much patriotism. They were religious and wanted to practice their faith, their way. From that point of view, moving was smarter than fighting.

JackAdams's avatar

I agree with those who claim they were very brave, to face the unknown, and the hardships associated with ocean travel, back then.

But the fact remains that they “ran away” from their problems, instead of facing them and over-coming them.

My fantastic mother once told me, “You do not SOLVE a problem by running away from it, unless the ‘problem’ is an approaching forest fire or a tornado.”

September 5, 2008, 2:48 PM EDT

Harp's avatar

They solved their problem. They found their freedom of worship. If my problem is that I’m dying of thirst, and I have a choice of either digging a 100 foot well or walking 100 feet west to a watering hole, am I a coward for declining to stay where I am and dig the well?

cwilbur's avatar

Many of their problems were self-created. The popular mythology is that the Puritans just wanted the freedom to practice their religion, and went to the New World to find that freedom; the fact is that the Puritans had just spent quite some time persecuting Catholics, and left England because they were concerned that if the Catholics got back in power, the Puritans would get as good as they gave. So they went to the Netherlands, where they were perfectly free to practice their religion—except that they found it too tolerant.

They weren’t cowards; they were the first incarnation of the Religious Right.

JackAdams's avatar

Harp, how does digging a well correlate/equate to fighting and conquering/overthrowing an oppressive/dictatorial regime?

And suppose the Pilgrims had not been able to accomplish their goals on what is now American soil? Would they run away AGAIN, to another place, like Botany Bay?

September 5, 2008, 3:13 PM EDT

Harp's avatar

Well the man dying of thirst would be unlikely to attain his ultimate goal by digging the well, because he would have undertaken a foolhardy and needlessly difficult means to that end. Chances are he would die first.

The pilgrims were unconcerned about how secular governments operated; changing them was God’s job, not theirs. If they had sought religious freedom by bucking the system, they would have needlessly imperiled their larger goal.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

Caving in to the forces that were persecuting them would have been the cowardly thing to do. They held to their convictions and embarked on a dangerous adventure to an unknown future. In the broadest or narrowest sense – that takes courage.

JackAdams's avatar

Harp, that’s a good answer.

I am always amazed by your displays of intellect.

You belong to Mensa, don’t you?

September 5, 2008, 3:52 PM EDT

Harp's avatar

yeah, although I barely passed the entrance test

JackAdams's avatar

I wish I could join…

September 5, 2008, 4:18 PM EDT

Seesul's avatar

You’ve obviously never seen a full scale replica of the ship they came over on. It took courage just to get on that thing.

JackAdams's avatar

I believe you. I remember it: The HMS REPLICA.

September 5, 2008, 5:33 PM EDT

augustlan's avatar

@harp: Thanks for the chuckle!

Seesul's avatar

My answer was serious. There is a replica of the Deliverance, which was basically the same size ship and conditions. I have been on it and beneath the deck. Try not to be sarcastic when someone gives you a serious answer, please. Read up a bit on the history of the times and conditions when they left. Put it into context and one can only come up with the conclusions that they were not cowards, only trying to improve their circumstances, after being unsuccessful in their home country.

JackAdams's avatar

My apologies for making light of your answer.

The so-called bottom line with regards to the Pilgrims, is that they did, in fact, run away from a fight, instead of staying and fighting.

I must confess that you have corrected me, regarding my poor knowledge of history, because the ship’s name you mentioned (“Deliverance”) was far different from the name I was told in school: the “Mayflower”.

Seesul's avatar

It would help if you read the answers more carefully. I stated clearly that the Deliverance was basically the same size and type of ship, not the one the Pilgrims used.

They left because fighting would have been impossible, in light of the government at the time. Instead, they had the courage to take off, for unknown lands and uncertain circumstances to attain the freedom that they could not in the country of their birth. That, in itself took courage beyond reproach.

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