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Posts Tagged ‘Pilgrims’

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Lots of folks will be trekking to the grocery store today or tomorrow, picking up ingredients for their traditional Thanksgiving feast: turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and more.

But that’s probably not what the Pilgrims and their Indian guests ate in 1621. According to the two primary sources that survive, their feast included wildfowl (wild turkey among them, for sure, but those taste nothing like a Butterball), waterfowl, cornbread or corn porridge, and venison. Perhaps vegetables from their gardens were also on the menu, but they received no mention.

Soon after that first Thanksgiving, our American forefathers added a custom to the meal: putting five grains of corn at each place around the table as a memorial to those first Pilgrims—a people of strong faith who had faced persecution and even imprisonment in England.

So the small band left everything—extended family and friends, jobs, homes, and goods—to establish a colony for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith (according to the Mayflower Compact).

 

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“Embarkation of the Pilgrims”

by Robert Walter Weir

 

You may remember a late departure from England delayed their arrival in America by two months. To complicate matters further, they were blown off course by a storm. Instead of arriving at Jamestown, Virginia where other colonists already lived, they landed at present-day Massachusetts.

In numbing cold and deep snow the Pilgrims began the overwhelming task of building a colony from scratch. Shelter was their highest priority, and construction of a common house began immediately.

At night the men stayed on land while the women and children returned to the Mayflower, thanks to the captain, Christopher Jones, who anchored the ship a mile offshore. Jones knew that if he left, they would all die.

But even the ship offered little relief from the frigid temperatures. To keep their children warm, the mothers would actually sleep on them.

 

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“Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor”

by William Halsall

 

It’s no wonder that severe illness decimated the Pilgrims. At one point, only seven colonists were strong enough to care for the others. Half of the original 102 colonists died, many of them the women who had protected their children from the bitter cold. Most of the children survived.

The trial of rampant illness was compounded by the lack of food. During that first dreadful winter in America, corn had to be carefully rationed. Each person received just five grains at a time.

And thus began the custom among early settlers to put corn kernels at each place for Thanksgiving—in memory of those resolute and persevering men and women who suffered so much to live for the glory of God and share the good news of Jesus with the American Indians.

 

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William Bradford

 

Sometime later, Governor William Bradford of the Massachusetts colony wrote, “We have noted these things so that you might see their worth and not negligently lose what your fathers have obtained with so much hardship.”

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Forgive me, Lord God. I do forget these things and become focused on the delight of gathering with family and friends on Thanksgiving Day. I neglect to soberly note the worth of the Pilgrims’ sacrifices, that they might live for your glory. Their perseverance, courage, and passion put me to shame.

Help me to be a voice of remembrance to those around me. May we not negligently lose what the Pilgrims and other heroes/heroines have obtained for us with so much hardship.

 

Sources:

 

The Higher Happiness by Ralph W. Sockman (1950), p. 45.

The Founders’ Bible by Shiloh Road Publishers, pp. 95-104.

http://www.eagleforum.org; “Thanks-living Time–The Extraordinary Example of the Pilgrims.”

 

(Photo & art credits: http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikipedia.org (2); http://www.biography.com.)

 

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Mayflower_compact

 

They had been at sea for sixty-six days, enduring overcrowded conditions. Storms had caused damage to their ship and sea sickness plagued them all– passengers and crew alike. Meager provisions and no heat on chilly autumn days caused further discomfort.

So on November 9, 1620, when they finally saw the coastline of North America in the distance, the Pilgrims and others aboard the Mayflower must have cheered enthusiastically. Soon they could abandon the cramped, cold, and fetid ship and begin new lives in a new world.

But. All had not been peaceful and congenial among the passengers during the crossing. And when it became apparent the storms had blown them too far off course to land in the Virginia Colony as planned, relations deteriorated further.

Not all of the travelers were Pilgrims. Also aboard were merchants, craftsmen, skilled workers, and indentured servants. The Pilgrims called them “strangers.”

No sooner had the decision been made to anchor off Cape Cod, than an argument ensued. Several of the “strangers” pointed out that, since they were not going to be under the jurisdiction of the Virginia Company, they would “use their own libertie” and do as they pleased. “None had the power to command them, they said.” (Quoted words are from William Bradford’s records. He served as historian for the Pilgrims.)

To avoid anarchy, five men gathered in the cabin of the ship to create a basis for law and order. The result of their efforts: the Mayflower Compact.

The first words of the document give strong indication of the Pilgrims’ hearts.

In the name of God, Amen.

“Everything they did started with God” (The Founders’ Bible, p. 187).

Next, the Pilgrims stated their purpose for coming to America.

We, whose names are underwritten,…by the grace of God,…having undertaken for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and country…

Several phrases indicate the Pilgrims’ desires for their new colony:

  • “For the glory of God” would be a guide for all manner of decisions.
  • “Advancement of the Christian faith” would encourage them to remain strong in Christian faith among themselves and to introduce others to Jesus.
  • “Honor of our King and country” indicates their loyalty to native England and its monarch, in spite of his untoward actions that caused their flight to America in the first place.

…[We] do solemnly and mutually in the presence God and of one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic…

The Mayflower Compact expressed their commitment to live together in a civil manner, in the sight of God.

[We] will enact…such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.” 

Note:  there is no mention of a leader who would oversee the colony. The Pilgrims created a democratic, representative form of government, in covenant with one another, rather than by a monarchy or dictatorship.

It was the first document of its kind in the history of the world.

But the Mayflower Compact would only be as good as the commitment of Pilgrims and Strangers alike to abide by its guidelines.

Would the mutinous Strangers sign?

John Carver, church deacon and one of the organizers of the voyage, was the first to affix his signature. Other Pilgrims followed.

One book says there was a long pause. Then Captain Myles Standish stepped forward to sign. Standish had been hired by the Pilgrims to be their military captain; he was with them, but not one of them.

Soon other Strangers followed Standish’s example.  In total, forty-one signatures appeared on the document. One freeman, two hired men and seven servants declined.

At long last, Pilgrims, Strangers, and crew were able to disembark. And what did they choose to do first?

Pray.

According to Bradford, they “blessed the God of heaven, who had brought them over the fast and furious ocean..and a sea of troubles before.” Then he quoted scripture:

“Let them therefore praise the Lord, because He is good and His mercies endure forever.” (Psalm 106:1).

 

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We, too, praise you, Lord, for your goodness and mercy upon America all these years.  As we celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday, may we remember the solemn history behind this occasion.  Thank you for the supreme example and sacrifice of our Pilgrim forefathers–strong in faith, commitment, and perseverance.  May we follow their example, not only because you are faithful to the faithful (2 Samuel 22:26), but out of appreciation for what you, our loving God, have already done.

 

(Sources:  By These Words by Paul M. Angle; The Founders’ Bible; The Intellectual Devotional:  American History by David S. Kidder & Noah D. Oppenheim; The Rebirth of America;  http://www.learningtogive.org; http://www.humanities360.com; http://www.crf-usa.org; http://www.americanhistory.about.com; http://www.tparents.org; http://www.mrkash.com; http://www.mayflowerhistory.com; http://www.plimoth.org.)

 

Art credit:  www.washingtonmayflower.org.  

 

 

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Have you ever noticed that, except for the first line, the familiar Thanksgiving hymn, “We Gather Together” is not about God’s blessing?

We sing such statements as:

  • The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing
  • So from the beginning the fight we were winning
  • Let Thy congregation escape tribulation

Don’t those seem strange concepts to emphasize on a day set aside for thanks?

The truth is:   although Thanksgiving is about gratitude, it is also a celebration of religious freedom.  That was surely on the minds of the Pilgrims back in 1621.

Freedom to worship God, and to read the Bible for themselves, were among the chief reasons the small band of believers left England for Holland in 1609.  Then, as circumstances became difficult there as well, they courageously set out for America to establish their own colony (albeit with a charter from the king of England, which granted them permission to inhabit the Virginia Colony).

The Pilgrims had faced the threat of imprisonment and death in Holland as well as England.  In addition, the trip to America included such hazards as shipwreck, illness, and accident.

Yet troubles only mounted upon reaching the New World.  The Mayflower landed too far north–at Cape Cod—not in Virginia as planned.  A late launch and a sixty-six day voyage on stormy seas (instead of the planned three weeks) meant they arrived in late fall.  Shelters were not completed until February.   Then there were Indians to worry about.

Yet they were willing to face all these challenges in order to establish a colony “for the Glory of God and Advancement of the Christian Faith” (from the Mayflower Compact).

The third line of the hymn  speaks of one joy they embraced:  “The wicked oppressing” (King James of England and his bishops) “now cease from distressing.” God had removed the Pilgrims far out of the king’s reach.  No longer could he persecute them.

The first verse ends with:  “Sing praises to His name.” There is no historical record that the Pilgrims sang at their first Thanksgiving celebration in 1621.  But music was typical at their gatherings, so perhaps they did participate in a psalm or two.  After all, the feasting lasted three days!

Undoubtedly the Pilgrims would have offered their prayerful thanks– even though half their number had died the previous winter, and the first harvest had been quite meager.  (The ninety Native Americans who attended that celebration actually brought most of the food.)

The second verse of the hymn begins:  “Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining.”

God certainly chose an interesting way to guide the Pilgrims and join with them in surviving the harsh conditions of New England.  Remember Squanto?  He’s the one who showed the Pilgrims how to fertilize the soil with fish.  Without that first crop of decent corn, the Pilgrims never would have survived.

Even more amazing?  Squanto just happened to speak English!

The third verse of “We Gather Together” begins:  “We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant.”  The Pilgrims honored God as Lord.  They recognized that from him all blessings flow.  And the hymn concludes:  “Thy name be ever praised; O Lord, make us free.”

In actuality, this hymn was not written as a direct tribute to the Pilgrims’ experience.   It dates back to Holland, in the late 1500s, written in celebration of a Dutch victory over the Spanish at the Battle of Turnhout (1597).

Under the rule of Spain’s King Philip II, Dutch Protestants had been forbidden to gather for worship.   Perhaps the Pilgrims heard the song while living in Holland.  But the words we sing today were translated into English by Theodore Baker, in 1894.

Even so, the words remind us that the Pilgrims suffered much and risked everything to found a colony where they could gather together in freedom—to proclaim:

“All glory be Thine!”

May we, too, extol our Leader triumphant, as we sing this hymn through the coming week.

(Sources:  The Founders’ Bible, www.plimoth.org, History News Network at http://www.hnn.org )

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