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  • What Looks like a GraveNative and Anarchist Place-Making in New England
  • Theresa Warburton (bio)

When the Pilgrims first landed on Cape Cod in 1620, they discovered 'a place like a grave'. Digging it up, what troubled the graverobbers were not these Indian things, but the contents of a larger bundle: a blond European sailor, shipwrecked or abandoned on the Massachusetts coast.

—William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England

they find what looks likea gravewhat looks like a gravea grave and theydig it up

—Cheryl Savageau, "Before Moving on to Plymouth from Cape Cod—1620"


In the time I have been writing this essay, preparations for the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the voyage of the Mayflower have been ramping up on both sides of the pond with a four-nation consortium of the UK, US, Netherlands, and Wampanoag Nations coming together to create hundreds of events that highlight the political, cultural, and historical significance of the Pilgrims' journey.1 For instance, from Plymouth, UK, an unmanned Mayflower Autonomous Ship will retrace the 1620 voyage of the Mayflower; Leiden, Netherlands, where the Pilgrims received initial refuge in the seventeenth century, will host [End Page 75] an exhibit called "From Columbus to Mayflower" that uses Rembert Dodoens's Cruydt-Boeck to commemorate "the plants from America that were known in our region at that time"; Plymouth, Massachusetts will host an opening ceremony complete with "speakers, dignitaries, and military demonstrations"; and the Wampanoag Nation will continue its in-demand traveling public exhibit "'Our' Story: 400 years of Wampanoag History," which "reveals little-known historic and cultural realities of the 'people of the first light.'"2

Across multiple continents, events like these (and the hundreds of others with which they coincide) are meant to celebrate the voyage of the Pilgrims, "an event of global significance resonating down those four centuries… [whose] values have since guided all modern democracies."3 These events deftly mark the connection between storytelling, place-making, and statecraft in the history of settlement in the United States. Like all places, Plymouth is a story. Plymouth is many stories.4 The making of "New England" out of the Northeast is a storytelling tradition that predates the US while also forming a foundational role in its consecration as an exceptional harbinger of Western democracy. This is the tradition upon which these commemorations of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower build, making and remaking Plymouth and New England in the contemporary moment by drawing on the storytelling practices of place-making while solidifying in the present the structure of the US as a state whose honorable place in the history of democracy ensures its continued existence in the future.5 The contours of this commemoration and the sites of its replication are significant since the construction of a regional identity, a bounded territory, and a relational network all depend on stories we tell about ourselves, each other, and our places within larger sets of stories.

Here, I am interested in how the malleability of this narrative has enabled it to permeate surprising places, being remade within the contexts of stories that seem opposed to its moral and territorial claims. In particular, I am interested in how this narrative, and its concomitant method of place-making as a settler practice, is replicated within contemporary anarchist narratives about the history of anarchism in the United States. Though anti-statism is one of the central tenets upon which anarchists tend to agree, I locate within this particular narrative a confluence of anarchist and settler place-making in New England that works to supplant Native claims to place with anarchist ones. [End Page 76]

For instance, what do we make of the Black Rose Anarchist Federation's insistence in 2019 that Albert Parsons, one of the four people hanged by the US government after the Haymarket Affair in 1886, "was the only US citizen of 'pure stock' among the Chicago Martyrs" since he had "ancestry going back all the way to one of the pilgrims in [sic] the Mayflower in 1632"?6 Though this refers to a later voyage of the Mayflower, it...


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