Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What Cheer!

I've begun reading Susan Moore's 2007 book Pilgrims: New World Settlers and the Call of Home, a study of 600 Puritan colonists who left New England in the mid-17th century and returned to old England. I've come across two anecdotes of personal interest:

1) Many of the returnees were drawn back to England by the lack of economic opportunities in Massachusetts, whose economy stagnated in the 1640s and '50s, creating a shortage of work for those in specialized trades. This included Harvard graduates, who after completing their training for the ministry found a distinct shortage of open posts in the colony. Nearly half of the college's students left for England after graduation, including 7 of the 9 members of the first graduating class (56, 70). (One of these students, George Downing, fought with Cromwell in the English Civil War, submitted to Charles II in 1660, became a baronet, and is now remembered as the namesake of Downing Street in London.) The Puritans and their 19th-century descendents were quite smug about establishing the first college in British North America, but apparently they opened it a few decades too soon.

2) To illustrate the "alien and mysterious character" of early Massachusetts, Moore tells the story of John Dane, who while walking from Roxbury to Ipswich (north of Salem) encountered a party of 40-50 Indians (probably Wampanoags). Startled, Dane "stuttered out" the old English greeting "What cheer." The Indians thought this was hilarious. "What cheer! What cheer!" they repeated, until "the woods rang with the noise" (p. 45). I think I may experiment with this greeting myself.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

I like this greeting as well =)