And this is good old Boston,
The home of the bean and the cod,
Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots,
And the Cabots talk only to God.
~Boston Toast, by Harvard Alumnus John Collins Bossidy
Last labour day I drove from Toronto to Montréal, only to decide that I needed to see the sea (ok, ok, to watch the ocean), so, packed with ma petite famille, we went to New England’s largest city, Boston.
Usually when I travel I like to see not the touristic points and the well know places (I can’t afford them anyway), but to get lost on the little streets and small cafés, having a taste of how life is like there. This is practically impossible in Boston, because every spot is already packed with tourist, and the prices are higher than in Toronto, which I tough to be the most expensive city in America. Still, there are places like Beacon Hill, Boston Commons, and Commonwealth Avenue, where the tourism is minimal, the old buildings are well preserved, and you see more locals than tourist. After Boston we drove to Plymouth and Cape Cod, where the Pilgrims landed. Traffic, traffic, traffic, then small villages, large beaches, and lobsters! Whilst there, I couldn’t escape the feeling of how was life here from 1620 to the earlies 1800s, and how the puritan families lived here.
People often confuse the pilgrims from Plymouth Colony with those from Massachusetts Bay Colony, because both groups were puritans. The two groups are historically distinct and differed in religious practise, but in effect, they were both puritans.
The history of Puritans in England and The Netherlands is fascinating, but I was impressed by the era when they left Europe and arrived to America. These earlier travellers got here to work the land and to worship God in their way. They didn’t arrive to an empty land, since the Algonquins and other immigrants were already here, but, at difference with those from Jamestown and the Virginia Companies, they didn’t came as part of a corporation to trade, but as particulars to create a new world. The pilgrims didn’t chase the natives away, as latter occurred in the West, but they bought the land they build their towns from the natives (not with mirrors and beads, give the natives some credit!).
In Boston, the families made a lot of money with the trade and commerce, being Boston the closest port to Europe. They build beautiful houses in Beacon Hill. Their religion imposed restrain so the houses lack ornament, but not personality. Strolling on Acorn Street, Louisburg Square, and Mount Vernon Street, I could feel all the hard work that these families endure. After a while, they were known as the Boston Brahmins, named after the upper cast in India. But they were respected and celebrated, as the quote that starts this post shows.
My admiration lies on how quickly these families prospered in such adverse environment. The Puritans quickly build churches and houses, but also founded Harvard University, as early as 1639. There was no room for complains. They were fiscally conservative, socially liberal, and well educated. Children must learn to read, if only to read the Bible, and to start learning a trade by the age of eight. They respected and traded with the natives, and they worked hard for whatever they wanted, asking nothing to the King, counting only with themselves in a hard work culture where family was the core. They were religious but didn’t impose their faith to the natives.
When I compare the history of these puritans with the Spanish that came to what is now Latin America, I can see the contrast of results. From a culture of hard work and self reliance, a country with a great economy and love for freedom emerged. From the Spanish conquers, looking for gold and for converting the natives to Christianity, just to make slaves of them later, only nations with huge social and economic divisions emerged. Used to depend on the King of Spain for everything, our Latin American culture is today one of complaining about the government, and preserving privileges instead of creating wealth.
While I can talk for hours about the later history of USA, and find so many flaws, I cannot stop thinking about the people who founded that Country in the New England, being a Pilgrim myself.