Author and historian Jeremy Bangs will explore the world and worldviews of Pilgrim men and women as revealed in the books they owned and read.
PLYMOUTH – Historical depictions of the Pilgrims arrival in 1620 typically show the heavily garbed Separatists clutching muskets and children as step ashore.
But the Pilgrims carried more as they arrived in the new world. As they settled in Plymouth nearly 400 years ago, the passengers on the Mayflower carried books and ideas that would ultimately shape a nation.
Noted author and historian Jeremy Bangs, director of the Leiden American Pilgrim Center, will explore the world and worldviews of Pilgrim men and women as revealed in the books they owned and read in a new lecture, “Intellectual Baggage—Pilgrim Ideas – Ours and Theirs” at 6:30 p.m., Monday, at Pilgrim Hall Museum.
Proceeds will help restore American artist Edward Percy Moran’s painting, the Signing of the Compact in the Cabin of the Mayflower. The painting, on display at the museum since 1919, was removed from the exhibit hall last year after the museum staff noticed problems with the frame.
Director Donna Curtin said the museum is looking to raise $4,000 to restore the painting and frame for the town’s 400th anniversary commemoration in 2020.
Curtin said Bangs will discuss the world view of Pilgrim men and women as revealed the books they owned and carried across the Atlantic.
“He’s calling it intellectual baggage. What did they bring over? They brought over their tools. They brought over their clothing, and they brought over their cooking materials. But they brought over ideas and a way of thinking about the world as well,” Curtin said.
Bangs examined 510 wills and probate inventories that were left behind by Plymouth colonists to try to identify the books that the first generation read and shared and kept in their private libraries.
“Not everybody owned books; 198 wills didn’t list any and 90 just mentioned the Bible. That would have been the best-selling book of the colony,” Curtin said. “But 50 inventories had detailed inventories of what the colonists read, and some of people as diverse as Myles Standish and Elder Brewster each had libraries numbering the hundreds of volumes inventoried at the time of death.”
“We can imagine that many of them were brought over with them and then others continued to be added to their libraries over time. This was a place where books were important,” Curtin said. “These weren’t people who read a book and stuck it back on the shelf. These books influenced what they did. These books really helped the creation of America, when you really think about it.”
Bangs’ lecture is a natural fundraiser for the painting, as Moran’s depiction of the signing of the Compact shows books scattered about the cabin of the Mayflower.
“They’re strewn all around. These were people that had books. And it’s just not what we think about when we think about the settlers arriving in the new world, with blankets around their shoulders, gripping muskets and carrying their baskets of supplies. We really ought to be looking at them with libraries,” Curtin said. “I think this is going to be a great way of looking at the story through the power of the books.”