Obituary by Dr. Francis J. Bremer
The recent passing of Jeremy Bangs is a loss to all who knew him. He was a true Renaissance man--an artist, a musician, and a scholar of wide-ranging interests.
Jeremy was born in January 1946 in Astoria, Oregon, the son of Carl Bangs and Marjorie Friesen. A few years later the family moved to Chicago, where his father entered the doctoral program at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Jeremy, a talented basoonist who had turned down an opportunity to study at Julliard, studied art and art history at Chicago, though he left a few credits short of graduation when some of his friends were beaten up in the riots surrounding the Democratic convention in 1968. He travelled to Leiden, where his father was a visiting professor of theology. Carl was authored the definitive biography of the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius. Jeremy had already been exposed to the Dutch language and theology by assisting his father in reading manuscripts relevant to the project.
Jeremy completed his undergraduate education at the University of Leiden and went on to receive his PhD in art history in 1976, his dissertation focusing on 16th-century Dutch tapestry weaving and church furnishings. His studies led to his immersion in the municipal archives of Leiden where he was taken under the wing of archivist Bouke Leverland, who trained him in paleography recommended him for employment at the archives following his completion of his degree. Working in the archives he was identified as the "Pilgrim expert," answering queries about the Pilgrim stay in Leiden prior to their settlement of the Plymouth colony in 1620. Contrary to what he had been told there was much more to say about the subject than believed, and he embarked on a career that would largely focus on their story. From 1980 to 1985 he held the post of Historian at the Municipal Archives and Curator of the Leiden Pilgrim Documents Center. He returned to the United States in 1986 as Visiting Distinguished Professor of Art History at the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies of Arizona State University.
In 1986 he was hired as Chief Curator of the Plimoth Plantation Museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He held that post for five years, during which he was largely responsible for the application of new research into the architecture of the village. He subsequently served as the Assistant Archivist of the town of Scituate and Visiting Curator of Manuscripts at Pilgrim Hall Museum. It was at this time that he began work transcribing and editing the town records of Scituate, Sandwich, Eastham, Marshfield, Duxbury, and previously unpublished records and deeds of the colony.
In 1996 he and his wife, artist Tommie Flynn, whom he met in Massachusetts, moved to Leiden. With the help of his friend and antique dealer Ron Meerman, on Thanksgiving Day 1997, he opened the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum on the ground floor of the oldest known house in town, built around 1370. There, over the subsequent years, Jeremy discussed the Pilgrims and their experience in the Netherlands with countless visitors. In the last years of his life he was working to insure the continued existence of this small gem of a museum.
Jeremy published extensively on art history (he was working on an article on a rediscovered painting that must have been painted by Pieter Saenredamver), church architecture, Dutch toleration, and the story of an American businessman during the Revolutionary War. In the past decades he has produced works of art, some collected in Images of Leiden and of Pilgrim Topics (2020) and Picturing Pilgrims (2023), and published a novel in Dutch following the story of a student at the University of Leiden.
His major contributions were made to the study of the Pilgrims. In addition to his edition of town and colony records, these included Pilgrim Edward Winslow: New England's First International Diplomat (2004), Strangers and Pilgrims: Travellers and Sojourners: Leiden and the Foundations of Plymouth Plantation (2009), and New Light on the Old Colony: Plymouth, the Dutch Context of Toleration, and Patterns of Pilgrim Commemoration (2029). His work on Indian Deeds: Land Transactions in Plymouth Colony, 1620-1692 (2002) led to his engagement in current controversies over tribal lands. This prompted him to write Josias Wompatuck and the Titicut Reserve of the Mattakeeset-Massachusetts Tribe (2020). At his death he was working on compiling information about the tribal land reservations as a further contribution to the subject.
Jeremy did not suffer fools gladly and had little time for sloppy history motivated by filliopietism, but he was extraordinarily generous with serious scholars, many of whom have attested to his assistance with their work. In recent years he served as a co-editor on the 400th anniversary edition of William Bradford's Of Plimoth Plantation (2020), co-published by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts and the new England Historic and Genealogical Society. A volume of Bradford's other writings, being edited for the Colonial Society by Francis J. Bremer, Kenneth Minkema, and David Lupher will be dedicated to Jeremy's memory. In the summer of 2022 he donated a collection of sixteenth and seventeenth century books to the Congregational Library in Boston, Massachusetts.
His contributions were recognized by a variety of awards. In 2017 the General Society of Mayflower Descendants and the Pilgrim Academic Research Committee awarded him the annual Pilgrim Academic Research Award. In 2018 he was named a Knight of the Order of Oranje-Nassau by King Wiollem-Alexander of the Netherlands. In 2019 the Cothutikut Mattakeeset Massachusetts tribe presented him with a wampum belt and blanket in recognition of his work on Indian deeds.