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Rebels Lane

Adventures of the Mind

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New England Christmas, 1621

It had been a cold night, and the morning air was crisp with the threat of snow, but Will called everyone out as usual for work, expecting to see men and women taking up whatever tools they needed to build the palisade. So far the Indians had not attacked, but Will had lookouts on the watch day and night, for the threat remained. Their first priority must be protection. The construction of the palisade was dog-wearying work, but urgent and necessary. As he bent to pick up his axe, a deposition of perhaps twenty of the newly arrived men approached Will, and pushed a reluctant spokesman forward. Will stood up straight and looked at them all wondering what this was about, and then focused on the spokesman. .

Will Bradford

Will Bradford

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‘You have something to say, Master Pitt?’

‘We do not work today, Governor,’ William Pitt said.

Will raised his brows. ‘Why not?’ ‘’Tis Christmas day. We do not work on Christmas day. ’Tis a matter of conscience.’

Will glared at them. ‘A matter of conscience, is it?’

He found himself torn between a desperate need to get the palisade finished for security reasons, and the necessity of allowing other men to worship God as their consciences dictated.  

Fairness to their consciences won. After all, he could not force a man to act in a way contrary to his religion, for he had suffered that himself. Still he didn’t like it, for he had a loathing for Christmas which he viewed as pagan idolatry, part of the false religion he had come to New England to avoid. It underscored the fact that he had men here who were not of the Separatist persuasion, Weston’s men. He said curtly:

‘Well then, Master Pitt, in that case I will spare you until you are better informed.’

‘Thank you, Governor.’

The men departed into their homes and Will marched the rest out to work. ‘Christmas!’ he said with loathing.

‘You should make allowances for ignorance, brother,’ Sam Fuller said in his gentle manner. ‘You know how misled people are.’

‘Well I’ll not have pagan idolatry here,’ Will fumed.

‘Then the sooner they are better educated, the better,’ Brewster said on his other side, his manner deliberately calm to take the heat out of Will’s anger. ‘But you cannot force men to conform.’

‘I know that,’ Will snapped.

 

They came back later to the plantation after the morning’s work. Hard work, and fresh air had cooled Will’s anger, but as he walked in the gate, he stopped. ‘What is this?’ he demanded awfully.

The men who had begged off because of their religious holiday, were in the street, playing ninepins, pitching the bar, or stool-ball. They looked up at the sound of Will’s voice. Furious, Will strode forward and grabbed the skittles, the balls, the bats, and tucked them all under his arm. The men looked at him, amazed.

‘It is a matter against my conscience that you should play while others work!’ he told them roundly. ‘If you make the keeping of Christmas a matter of devotion, then do it in your houses. But there shall be no gaming or revelry in the streets. It is not fitting devotion!’

 

William Pitt looked at the others, and then without a word they turned around and went back into their houses.

‘Christmas!’ Will said again as his fury subsided. ‘A licence to shirk one’s duties!’

 

(Quote from: Tidman, Evelyn. ONE SMALL CANDLE, The Story of William Bradford and the Pilgrim Fathers, Kindle Edition.

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