My elementary school classrooms were always filled this time of year with pictures of austere-looking men in black hats and shoes with big buckles. The women in the pictures had white headdresses and aprons over their black dresses. These were the Pilgrims, we were told, who had crossed the ocean in a tiny ship to come to start America—definitely the condensed and inaccurate version.
I was shocked (and relieved) to discover that the people in black were not the Pilgrims but those who came later, the Puritans. The Pilgrims were a church from England, formed when they saw no hope for positive change in the Church of England. They were persecuted for believing that a person could have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and for wanting to see “the churches of God revert to their ancient purity and recover their primitive order, liberty and beauty” (William Bradford)*, for believing that no one but Jesus could be the head of the church. They were “hounded, bullied, forced to pay assessments to the Church of England, clapped into prison on trumped up charges, and driven underground,” and “constantly spied upon”*. Finally, (to put it very simply) these “Separatists” had had enough and left England. The black-clad Puritans stayed and tried to “purify from within”*.
And surprise! The Pilgrims didn’t wear black, either! They wore colors such as plum red and emerald green!
*The Light and The Glory by Peter Marshall & David Manuel