As we approach Thanksgiving, images of the Pilgrims assembled around an autumnal feast may pop into mind as we stock our own cupboards with cranberries, stuffing, and canned pumpkin. Although the Pilgrims did bring food supplies with them on the Mayflower, these items ran out during their first winter in the New World; a successful harvest the following year prompted a celebration of “thanksgiving.”
In addition to foodstuffs, weapons, farming supplies, 102 passengers, and two dogs, the Mayflower also carried a copy of the King James Bible belonging to John Alden. In an earlier post, curator Hannibal Hamlin notes that this may have been the first King James Bible to arrive in America.
Alden was not a Pilgrim himself; rather, he was a cooper, or barrel-maker, hired by the Pilgrims at Southampton, where the Mayflower was docked before beginning her trans-Atlantic voyage. William Bradford, leader of the Pilgrims, described the 21-year-old Alden as a “hopefull yong man.” Alden may also have been a man of faith, choosing to carry a Bible with him as he journeyed to the New World.
Alden’s youth and skill must have impressed Bradford, for the future governor of the colony also noted that the Pilgrims very much wished that Alden would join them, although they left the final decision in his hands. Upon arrival on the shores of Massachusettes in November 1620, Alden opted to stay with the Pilgrims and added his signature to the Mayflower Compact, signed on November 21, 1620.
Alden soon had another tie to the Pilgrim settlement. Sometime between 1620 and 1623, he married Priscilla Mullins, a young woman in her late teens or very early 20s. Priscilla had sailed with her parents and older brother Joseph on the Mayflower. However, her parents and brother died soon after their arrival in Massachusetts, leaving Priscilla to fend for herself in the new colony. According to folk tradition, her beauty attracted the attention of Miles Standish, the colony’s military adviser, as well as John Alden, and the two men were deep rivals for her affection. This story prompted Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem, The Courtship of Miles Standish.
The historical record offers no evidence of a Mullins-Alden-Standish love triangle. However, Priscilla did end up marrying John Alden (the younger man) and over the course of their long marriage, the couple had 10 children, with a possible 11th child dying in infancy. Several of their descendents became notable figures in their own right; their oldest son, John, escaped being tried for witchcraft in Boston, and a daughter, Sarah, married Alexander Standish, son of Miles Standish and his second wife, Barbara. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was descended from another Alden offspring, and helped immortalize his ancestors through his literary output.
Amy Arden assisted in the development and production of the Manifold Greatness website and Family Guide. She is a Communications Associate at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC.
Succumbing to an irresistible urge, we’ve put together this list of the most-viewed posts from our Manifold Greatness blog to date this year. Seasoned online observers may not be surprised that mentions of Elvis Presley, debunked myths, and Bible printing errors earned high viewing statistics.
1) Manifold Greatness at Rhodes College. Folger exhibition curator Hannibal Hamlin reports in this blog post on the recent 1611 Symposium at Rhodes College in Memphis, which also hosted the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition. As he notes, the trip included a keynote address by scholar and Bible translator Robert Alter—and a tour of Graceland, which lent Elvis Presley’s King James Bible to the current Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition.
2) Taking the Stage at Shakespeare’s Glove (and beyond!). The 400th anniversary year of 2011 included countless full-length readings of the 1611 King James Bible, most famously for a full week on stage at Shakespeare’s Globe, described here. We later shared a great eyewitness report from Folger Education festivals project coordinator Carol Kelly, who was there on Easter Sunday.
3) Shakespeare Did Not Write the King James Bible, No Way, No How. Curator Hannibal Hamlin debunks the common, but mistaken, belief that Shakespeare contributed to the King James Bible. In other posts, he’s taken on the idea that the King James Bible influenced Shakespeare’s plays (earlier English Bibles did, the KJB didn’t), and the notion that May 2 is the KJB’s publication date (it isn’t).
4) The King and the King James Bible. Folger exhibition curator Steve Galbraith writes on the King James Bible owned by Elvis Presley (and now displayed at the Folger Manifold Greatness exhibition, as noted above) and Presley’s love of gospel music. Other “association copies” on view include a King James Bible owned by Frederick Douglass and one made for King James’s older son Prince Henry, as well as Bibles linked to Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Anne.
5) The Wicked Bible. The commandment “thou shalt not commit adultery” just isn’t the same without the word “not”! This famous printing error is the subject of another post by curator Steve Galbraith on what may have caused it, the consequences for the Bible printer, and the “wicked” challenge of locating this rare edition.
6) Hallelujah! Handel’s Messiah and the King James Bible. The words of the King James Bible may well be most familiar to audiences today from performances of this familiar oratorio, first noted in this blog post from the April 13 anniversary of its Dublin premiere. Folger Consort artistic director Bob Eisenstein recently shared this fascinating, fresh look at the Messiah, which one early admirer said was worth riding “40 miles in the wind and rain” to hear.
7) Gregory Peck Moby Dick Released Today — 1956. One of many literary works (and subsequent movies) deeply influenced by the King James Bible is Melville’s Moby-Dick, represented in this blog post by the classic film.
8) The First King James Bible in America? This Thanksgiving week post considers the King James Bible that came over on the Mayflower (this Bible, on loan from Pilgrim Hall,is in the Folger exhibition, too!)… and the open question of Bibles in Jamestown.
9) The Bible and Othello. This fall, Folger Theatre produced Othello, first performed in 1604, the year that work began on the King James Bible; scholars believe Shakespeare wrote Othello in 1603 or 1604. Curator Hannibal Hamlin writes about biblical (though not KJB-specific) connections to the play.
10) Discovering a “Judas Bible.” Curator Steve Galbraith writes on about another classic early King James Bible printing mistake—and on making a discovery within the Folger collection as the current exhibition was prepared.
Our thanks to everyone who contributed to the Manifold Greatness blog this year (see this full list of blog consultants and contributors) and to all of you who read our blog and created these rankings, one view at a time! Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible will be open to the public, free of charge, at the Folger Shakespeare Library through January 16. (Holiday hours: The Folger exhibition will be closed on December 24 through 26, but will be open as usual on December 31, January 1, and January 2.)