During the last month, contributors to The Federalist’s 1620 Project have demonstrated the resounding influence and positive legacy of the Pilgrims of the Mayflower and subsequent early sojourners to New England, such as the Puritans. Indeed, one can go far before overstating their invaluable endowment to the foundations of the American character.
The Pilgrims and emerging New Englanders made an additional contribution to the formation of the American ethos that is worth expanding upon, however: the daring, intrepid, and risk-taking qualities of those who settled in the northeast coast of what would become the United States. The resolve to pull up stakes and strike out into the perilous unknown — and the faith and fortitude to follow through on it — is an inspirational cultural debt we owe to the first early Pilgrims and New England settlers.
If instead of religious, freedom-seeking, young family units, arrivals on the northern shores of the future American coast had been the unwed, flighty, gold-seeking ruffians of the Jamestown variety centuries hence, the America that followed would have been remarkably different.
While such a divergent alternative history is nigh impossible to conceive, the adaptive, adventurous, and trailblazing traits of the American character would assuredly be underdeveloped — even dormant — had our Pilgrim ancestors been too risk-averse to leave the Old World, cross the Atlantic, and doggedly hone their innovative habits in the untamed wilds of New England.
As Frederick Jackson Turner put it three centuries later, “Since the days when the fleet of Columbus sailed into the waters of the New World, America has been another name for opportunity.” The relatively sparse territory of the early 17th-century New England coast presented such an opportunity for the competent and resourceful — an opening the Mayflower Pilgrims seized.