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“The Screw that Saved America”

Suzanna M. White shared this, and I thought it was worth reposting. I had never heard this story of the printing press.

“The Screw that Saved America”

The year was 1620. The crowd of passengers crammed into the small vessel numbered 101. Among them were adventurers, seekers of fortune…and a group of Separatists who wanted a fresh start in a new land where they could worship as they saw fit.

We’ve all heard the story of the Mayflower. But I confess that for many years it was just a tale trotted out at the end of November, and I had always been far more interested in making paper-bag Indian vests and coloring my cornucopia than in some of the finer details of the Pilgrims’ journey. Of course, that was before I became a history nerd, so it’s only to be expected that now, as I’m reading those old stories to my kids in our homeschool curriculum, they’re the ones coloring happily away while I pause in my reading to go, “Wow, I never knew that! Just think of it…”

Just think of it. This collection of Separatists who called themselves Pilgrims were starting an entirely new life in a new, unfamiliar world. They had to bring with them anything they might need for the first year.

Seeds for planting.
A printing press.
A fishing boat, to set up a trade.
Lamps and oil.

The Pilgrims saw God in every aspect of their lives, every event that took place. They trusted Him to deliver them to their new home in His way. But I imagine as the storms rocked the small Mayflower, as they had to batten the hatches and huddle together in a space the size of a volleyball court yet again, a few of them probably wondered if they’d made the right choice.
Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall, 1882

But this storm was worse than the ones that had come before. This storm howled and raged. The Mayflower was tossed through the waves. Boards groaned. Wind ripped. Small children whimpered and hid their faces in their mothers’ skirts.

Hushed assurances turned to panic when the Mayflower rolled to her side. They would go down, surely. The lanterns swung. The hull moaned. Then boom!

A sailor rushed belowdeck. “Watch out, everyone!” he called to the frightened mass of people. “The crossbeam that supports the main mass has cracked! It could give way at any moment!”

Everyone hurried to help. All the men tried to hold that crucial timber into place. But this was beyond what mere arms could do. Brewster and Bradford, leaders of the Pilgrims, looked to the wide-eyed captain.

“We must pray,” Bradford said.

They did. And the idea came instantly to Brewster. “The printing press! We must find it!”

Now, as an author, I’m all for words saving the day. But in this case, it wasn’t what the press could produce that saved the Mayflower, the Pilgrims, and hence America as we know it. It was the press itself.

The people scrambled to the hold where they’d stored all their furniture and larger items, and soon enough a shout came out that they had found the press. Brewster hurried to it and took off the enormous screw that was the press, the thing that applied pressure to put ink on page. This giant screw was then hauled into place on the cracked beam.

“Slowly,” Brewster cautioned. “Carefully.”

And it worked. The screw pushed the beam back into place–and held it there. The Mayflower survived the storm, and at that point she was closer to the New World than the old. They pressed onward. Forward.

To a land that would soon become home to so many.

I’m not sure when Brewster could reclaim his screw press, but you can be sure he did–the Pilgrims put high stock in education and the written word. A mere 16 years later, they founded Harvard College. And helped forge a nation that would never forget them.


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