My first-grader asked me about the Pilgrims yesterday after having seen a movie in school about a mouse who stows away aboard the Mayflower. She liked the mouse, didn’t know what she thought about the Pilgrims, but was curious about the Compact made aboard the Mayflower. She said that she would like to see the original document (which made my heart leap) to check if the mouse’s prints were on it (my heart sank). So I told her that the mouse was fiction, the compact was not. I then wondered why we need to include mice in historical stories, why not just make either a movie about a mouse or a movie about the Mayflower. But then she asked a question that put things back in perspective–did any girls (read: women) sign the compact? After my response, her heart sank.
A teachable moment? Well, she thought so. We talked about who these Puritan-Separatists were; why they felt the need to make a dangerous trek across the sea; and why that compact might have made it possible to survive a pretty terrible first year. She took all that in, and wondered aloud why the women and the Native Americans didn’t get to sign the compact later. She even knew enough to point out that the Pilgrims were supposed to land somewhere else. A gesture from my first-grader toward to a point made in recent cover of the ‘New Yorker’ which illustrated, as Nathaniel Philbrick has observed, that the Pilgrims might be considered America’s first illegal immigrants.
In a gesture toward my kid’s pragmatism, I think it’s time to renew our interest in compacts and covenants, if only to imagine whether there is such a tradition left in a nation of contracts, commerce, and conspicuous consumption.