Wednesday, November 7, 2018

What Else Was Happening in 1621?


Although Thanksgiving is still two weeks away, most Americans are deep in their travel/food/football planning. As I was firming up my plans, I had a thought: We know the story of the first Thanksgiving
A painting of Pilgrim settlers gathering around a table with Native Americans
The First Thanksgiving by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris
(or at least one of the versions), but what were people doing in other places in the world that year? Here’s a quick tour of the world in 1621:
Portrait of the 17th century Japanese Shogun, Tokugawa Hidetada. He is wearing a black coat with a red lining and a small black hat.
Tokugawa Hidetada

JAPAN– Japan was under the rule of a Shogun, Tokugawa Hidetada. Hidetada was the son of the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, which ruled Japan for 265 years (1603-1868). Tokugawa’s rule was notable for the extreme measures he took to control outside influences in Japan. Although Christianity had been banned under his father's rule in 1617, there were still Spanish and Portuguese missionaries in Japan openly converting individuals and building communities. Unhappy with this meddling in Japanese culture, Hidetada began executing missionaries and martyring believers. In 1622 alone he put 120 people to death for their religious practices. To further break away from outside influences, Hidetata took steps to severely limit the number of foreign vessels allowed to enter Japan.This time in Japan was depicted in the 2016 movie Silence from the novel of the same name by Shusaku Endo.  Draconian repression and isolationist acts aside, the Tokugawa shogunate was a time for peace and prosperity for many Japanese.

Portrait of the 17th century King Philip III of Spain and Portugal. He is wearing a  black suit with large white frills at the neck and wrist.  
King Philip III

BRAZIL – Portugal rules over Brazil, with King Philip III of Spain and Portugal as its absolute monarch in 1621. Throughout its long colonization of Brazil (1500-1815), the mechanics of administration were always difficult. The country was just so big and its rulers so far away. In 1621, in an effort to get better control, King Philip changed it from the Governate General of Brazil into two states: State of Brazil and State of Maranhão. Presumably this helped, as Portugal maintained control for another 194 years.

PHILIPPINES – The Spanish ruled over the Philippines for 333 years (1521-1898). In 1621, there was a religious revolt known as the Bankaw (or Bancao) Revolt. The agitators were tired of the religious dominance of the Roman Catholic Church and wanted a return to traditional beliefs. The battles went on for two years, but the revolt was ultimately squelched and the leaders executed.

NORWAY – In 1621, Norway was in the thick of a long and virulent witch-hunting phase. In the years between 1593 and 1692, there were at least 140 witch trials in the small village of Vardø. These trials resulted in 91 found guilty and either tortured to death or burned at the stake. This is an extremely high number when the population of the entire county would have been about 3,000 people. The Vardø witch trial of 1621 was the largest trial of this period, with many people losing their lives. The last to burn was Kristi Sørensdatter, on April 28, 1621. In June 2011, the Norwegian government dedicated the Steilneset Witch Trial Memorial as an apology to those lost lives.

Tianqi Emperor (Zhu Youjiao)
CHINA – In 1621, China was living in the waning years of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The end of this dynasty was the result of a combination of things that went unchecked and untreated over a long period of time: infighting and power-grabbing by civic officials, intrigues and interference by palace eunuchs, a growing and unsettled populace and a succession of inattentive and ineffectual emperors. The emperor in 1621, the Tianqi Emperor (Zhu Youjiao) was one of these inept rulers. He was just 15 years old when he took the throne (following his father's mysterious death after ruling for less than a month). He was illiterate and uninterested in state affairs; he preferred to do carpentry. Before long, the scheming eunuch Wei Zhnogxian and the emperor's wet nurse,
Wei Zhnogxian
Madame Ke, had made themselves de facto rulers. Wei raised up his allies and destroyed his enemies. Meanwhile, Ke went to extremes to keep him away from any other female influences – she imprisoned and starved to death his concubines. Unfortunately for this ambitious duo, the emperor died young in 1627. By 1628 they were both dead; Madame Ke was beaten to death in an interrogation in 1627 and Wei hung himself in 1628.


Richard Jobson
AFRICA – Africa in 1621 was a hodge-podge of kingdoms, empires, sultanates and colonials. There was also any number of Europeans traipsing around the continent looking for adventure, riches and fame. One such explorer was Richard Jobson, who traveled 400 miles up the Gambia River in 1621 and 1622. He was seeking gold (which he did not find), but what he brought back was a unique chronicle of the then-unknown African interior. He was also an early voice against slavery. On his return, he wrote The Golden Trade Or A Discovery Of The River Gambia And The Golden Trade of The Aethiopian (1623), which can be read in its entirety here.

In 1621, many parts of Europe were fighting over religion, people in colonized areas were either trying to keep control or get out from under it and others were deeply entrenched in traditional ways. And then there are the areas where little is known about what people were doing. Those people may have been the lucky ones, no outsiders had gotten to them yet.

Submitted by Pam

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