Leiden Gets a Pilgrim Mis-information Center

Dr. Jeremy Bangs

20 Feb, 2001

In Leiden's town council meeting Tuesday evening, Feb. 20, 2001, a motion was passed unanimously to appropriate 150,000 guilders to set up a Pilgrim information center at the Leiden Municipal Archives. The Conservative party (VVD) sponsored an amendment that would have required the town to affirm it will preserve the Vrouwekerk as part of this proposal, but after other coalition partners and Alderman Alexander Pechtold announced that in their opinion the Vrouwekerk has nothing to do with the topic of setting up a Pilgrim information center, the Conservative Party (a coalition partner) withdrew its amendment. The Conservative Party stated for the record that it will support preservation of the Vrouwekerk whenever the topic does eventually get discussed. An Independent councilman spoke out in favor of preservation, as did the spokesmen for the small opposition party Leiden Weer Gezellig/ De Groenen (Leiden Cozy or Friendly Again/ The Greens) and the United Small Christian Parties.

Alderman Pechtold responded to the amendment offered by the Conservative Party by saying, "That amendment is about the Vrouwekerk. We are not going to talk about that tonight." Ms. Vlasveld of Leiden Weer Gezellig/De Groenen objected that the major motivation for creating the information center was stated to be the need to improve Leiden's image and to offer something of substance to people interested in the Pilgrims, so the Vrouwekerk should be discussed as appropriate to that concern. Mr. Pechtold replied that "People interested in the Pilgrims are interested in a lot of other things, too, but we're also not going to discuss other topics they're interested in tonight."

A major point of agreement among the coalition partners was the opinion that I have been spreading what they call "misinformation." Alderman Pechtold responded to a direct question about why the city had not consulted me about the plans by saying that, "At the Municipal Archives we have employees who are busy every day with the Pilgrim dossier to answer questions and are completely familiar with it; we want to make use of their expertise and have no need for outside advice from someone who is just a private person." He also stated that the archive personnel are making new discoveries about the Pilgrims every day. A new aspect of the town's position appeared when Mr. Pechtold said that, "We all agree that the Pilgrims are clearly a part of Leiden history. We want to do them credit, but without the misunderstandings that have been spread recently. We are very, very happy that in this city there is a museum about them, a small private museum. I repeat, - we are happy with that, but an archive is not a museum." He described the difference by saying that in the private museum at attempt was made to fabricate something like Pilgrim living circumstances in an old house from the time but which was not one of their houses, and that there's someone there who tells stories about the Pilgrims; but in the archive, he said, "we have the real objects and the historic facts."

It was agreed that after the first year of operation, the information center would hope to be able to continue to operate through the assistance of sponsors and from the sale of souvenirs and books.

Although a couple of the council members from opposition parties insisted that the town should immediately seek collaboration with me, a woman from the Christian Democratic Party (CDA) said, "If I have anything to do with it, - without Jeremy Bangs." She later said to another council member that I am a nasty man ("een nare man"), but admitted never having spoken to me. Another CDA speaker said the Vrouwekerk should be preserved [only] as a monument to the Walloon refugees of the past.

Earlier this afternoon I had a pleasant conversation with Dr. Ruud van Maanen, adjunct archivist and a long-standing friend. We agreed that collaboration could be achieved without any problem, but I insisted that it would have to be formally established and properly recognized. I have no idea whether the disjunction between this professional respect and the political reality can be resolved.

To summarize, the city has appropriated money to set up a center whose purpose is to counteract the effects of the historical information I have been providing, while at the same time legitimizing their intention to tear down the Vrouwekerk by denying that it has any connection with the topic of the Pilgrims. Eventually this center is hoped to be subsidized by grant money or fund-raising from Americans and American companies.

The town has made a start on providing their version of unbiased information, and what they now have is instructive regarding the reliability of what is to come. They claim on their new website that William Bradford carried to America a copy (in Dutch) of the document by which the Dutch parliament foreswore its allegiance to King Philip II of Spain (the so-called "Acte van Verlating"). Somehow this then became the direct source for the Declaration of Independence. (!) I don't know where they get the idea that Bradford had a copy; it is not in his library. It might have been the preface to a book on Dutch law he refers to, but it is not certain that he had a copy and was not merely citing from notes in a commonplace book.

Jefferson scholars have rejected the theory that Thomas Jefferson was aware of the Dutch document, despite similarities of concept. A Dutch precedent for revolting against a tyrant was not necessary for English people who knew about the execution of King Charles I. Jefferson's reliance on John Locke might provide an indirect link to the Dutch 16th-century document, considering the significance to Locke of his stay in Holland with Philippus van Limborch (himself an author of a treatise on religious liberty); but to make the jump from the unproven idea that Bradford possessed a copy of that document down a few years and across a few hundred miles into Jefferson's library (where a copy was NOT listed) is unwarranted (to be kind about characterizing the quality of reasoning here seen).

That is the quality we can look forward to in the new unbiased and factual information that the town of Leiden will be providing to offset such "misinformation" as the idea that the Pilgrims and Walloons were closely connected, which rests on no more than the explicit statement that it was so, made by Edward Winslow in 1646, - a statement born out by numerous archival records as well.