Monday, August 24, 2009
I'm halfway through the PBS series Colonial House.
1900 House was pleasant entertainment for the history buff, but Colonial House is much more powerful, in both positive and negative ways.
I have serious objections to the participants who became "colonists" in what was supposed to be a recreation of 1628 circumstances. I disagree with the casting of people who were not willing to abide by the historical realities of 1628.
One family was completely unwilling to attend church services on Sundays. In 1628, they would have been cast out of the colony. Sabbath attendance was civil law. But that family would never have emigrated with this very early group of colonists. The other colonists would not have accepted them as a part of their quest for religious freedom.
I hold the producers responsible for deliberately selecting several people who would not respect the historical authenticity of the experiment. At the same time, I admire the man who played the governor of the colony. A Baptist minister in real life, he eventually refused to institute historically-authentic punishments for Sabbath violations because he feared such punishments might place a higher barrier between these twenty-first century people and their real experience of Christianity. He had to place the reality of the gospel's message of love above the realism of the experiment.
Had this particular group of people actually come over on a boat in 1628, they would have died and their colony would have failed. No question about it. Too many of them were rampant individualists who lacked the communal discipline necessary to work as hard as would have been necessary just to survive in 1628.
Most striking was the lack of true community among the settlers, though the governor did his best to work around the ridiculous inaccuracies created by the casting of the show.
The earliest successful colonies were not "diverse" like today's America. Few people without a shared religious faith could have survived the hardships of settling in a wilderness. Many of us are familiar with the harsh statistics: the early colonists died like flies. Those were people, not numbers. Colonists lost their spouses and children. Some lost their entire families, while suffering from constant cold and borderline starvation. The guilt and regret would have destroyed anyone who had emigrated for earthly reasons.
Jamestown colony was founded in the hope of profit, it's true, but Jamestown essentially failed, and some historians blame that failure in part on the laziness of its settlers!
The groups of pilgrims who had to start from nothing and succeeded were not secular emigrants in search of wealth. The vast majority of the secular emigrants came later, after the religious ones had done the worst of the suffering and dying. (Not that there wasn't plenty of dying to go around, even later in colonial times.)
No, the earliest surviving English colonies were supported by a common faith, and no matter how politically-correct producers may wish to be, they are not creating a meaningful historical show if they cast it with families so opposed to Christianity that they will not attend church services even for the sake of historical accuracy.
As I finish watching the series, I'm very curious to see if anyone will point out that this colony would have failed because of the twenty-first century immaturity and anti-authoritarianism of many of the settlers.