Much can be said about the beginnings of America. If the revisionist historians have their way, and they do in most universities, one might think that America was built entirely on oppression by white supremacists who hated Africans and Indians. You might get the impression that the main reason for the founding of America was to set up a slave state for world dominion.
Though we are certainly not a perfect nation, let us step back and look at what actually happened that led up to our first Thanksgiving celebration in November of 1621.
Over 400 years ago, the settlers of Jamestown and Plymouth risked their very lives to come to the shores of present-day Virginia and Massachusetts for:
- Freedom from an oppressive government.
- Freedom for anyone to pursue his or her dreams regardless of one’s inherited status.
- Freedom to worship God in any way they desired.
- Freedom to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ wherever and whenever they so were led.
They came with no guarantees that this expedition would work. They came, leaving behind fortune and family. They came and founded America.
In April 1607, a fleet of three ships settled into Chesapeake Bay. The settlers sailed up a river they named James, after the king of England, and in May established a settlement they called Jamestown.
Jamestown had many problems, all of which were spiritual in nature. The settlers at Jamestown did not seek the Lord’s direction or wisdom and the location chosen was low-lying and malaria infested. The river water was contaminated. They treated the Indians with contempt and paid dearly with hostile attacks a regular occurrence. With little spiritual input or commitment, the people were either too lazy to work or too proud to do common labor.
But the biggest problem was the communal system by which each person had to give to a common store, meaning that the most industrious had to provide for the idle and lazy. Jamestown was an abject failure! It took nineteen years before Jamestown produced its first crop!
Two Great Movements in England
In the 17th century several groups of Englishmen longed for a deeper communion with God through obedience to the Scriptures. They became dissatisfied with the spiritual state of the established Church of England.
One movement that was gaining momentum all over England was a group of highly committed Christians who wanted to see a revival within the Church of England. They were called Puritans for their desire to purify the existing church.
Another group decided to separate from the Church of England, and they were called Separatists. They withdrew completely and formed their own independent churches.
In a country where the civil government ruled over the church, any disagreement with the church was considered rebellion to the political/civil system. Thus, the Separatists were hunted down, jailed, tortured, and in many cases executed for their deep commitment to the Bible and the Lord Jesus Christ.
To escape persecution, a congregation of Separatist from the village of Scrooby, England, decided to move to Holland. In 1609 under the leadership of their pastor, John Robinson, they arrived in the Dutch city of Leyden where they lived for eleven years. Holland was a very difficult place to live as the children were put under great stress, being forced to work long hours and neglect schooling. They left Holland and returned to England.
These Separatists, better known as the Pilgrims, began to believe it was their destiny to bring the light of Christ to the New World. John Robinson, the pastor of the group, wrote at this time,
“Now as the people of God in old time were called out to Babylon civil, the place of their bodily bondage, and were to come to Jerusalem, and there to build the Lord’s temple…so are the people of God now to go out of Babylon spiritual to Jerusalem…and to build themselves as lively stones into a spiritual house, or temple, for the Lord to dwell…”
In 1620, thirty-five Pilgrims, making up a total of one hundreds one passengers, boarded the Mayflower in Plymouth, England and set sail for the new world. The day they were to leave was declared a day of Fasting and Prayer.
It was seven weeks of hell on earth. An ill-lighted, rolling, pitching, stinking inferno. The Pilgrims were also daily harassed by the sailors. The story is told of one of the seamen who was the most obnoxious, calling the Pilgrims, “psalm-singing puke stockings.” At the peak of one of the worst storms, this sailor suddenly became gravely ill and died.
The Mayflower Compact
Finally on November 9, 1620, the cry “Land ho!” was heard. The place was identified as Cape Cod. On November 11, William Bradford wrote: “Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed God of heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean….”
But the Pilgrims had a problem; having landed outside the territory of the London Company, they had no basis for a civil government. But understanding man’s sinful nature, they knew they would need discipline among themselves. The Pilgrims drew up a document that has become a milestone in American history. Before the settlers went ashore, forty-one Pilgrims, including many who were not Separatists, signed the Mayflower Compact:
“In the name of God, amen. We whose names are under-written…Having undertaken, for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and honor of our King and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid, and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, acts, constitutions and offices from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony…”
The First Winter
The first winter was dreadful. Food and shelter were inadequate, and the Pilgrims started dying: six dead in December, eight in January. By February, they were dying at a rate of two per day, even three on some days! At one point, only five men were well enough to care for the sick.
Forty-seven men, women, and children had died. Thirteen out of eighteen wives were dead. But compared to Jamestown, where the mortality rate had been 90%, they felt blessed.
Yet gradually the light of Christ was winning the victory. Even the non-believers were being touched by the witness of the Pilgrims. But the struggle for survival continued until one day a most remarkable thing happened. This event was the turning point of their fortunes.
Samoset and Massasoit
One day an Indian walked into the settlement and said in perfect English, “Welcome.” His name was Samoset, and he was a Sagamore, or chief, of the Algonquins. It was then in conversation with Samoset that the Pilgrims discovered how providential their location for the settlement had been.
They soon learned that this area had been the territory of the Patuxent, a large hostile tribe that had murdered every white who had landed on their shores. Four years before the Pilgrims arrived, a mysterious plague had broken out, killing every man, woman, and child of the tribe. Hence, all the land had been cleared, perfectly prepared for the Plymouth settlement. The land literally belonged to no one!
Samoset then returned with Massasoit, the Indian chief who would prove to be a great blessing to the Pilgrims. It was Massasoit that signed a peace treaty with the Pilgrims that lasted for over forty years and would be a model to all other future settlements in America. After Massasoit and Samoset left, one Indian brave remained. His name was Squanto.
Squanto, according to Governor Bradford, would become “a special instrument sent of God for their good, beyond their expectation.” Squanto showed the Pilgrims how to plant corn the Indian way, which was better suited for American climates than England. That fall, through Squanto’s help, the Pilgrims harvested twenty acres of corn. Squanto showed the Pilgrims how to catch cod and eels. He showed them how to hunt for turkey and deer, how to harvest and refine maple syrup, discern herbs, and trap beaver.
The First Thanksgiving
By the summer of 1621, the Pilgrims were brimming with thanksgiving. There was now enough food for the coming winter. Governor Bradford called for a day of public Thanksgiving, to be held in October. Massasoit was invited, and unexpectedly arrived a day early with ninety Indian braves!
Fortunately, the Indians did not come empty handed. They brought with them five dressed deer and over a dozen turkeys. They were also the first to introduce a new product line in America: corn kernels dropped into a hot pot over the fire, that popped! The Thanksgiving celebration lasted for three days!
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day with family and friends. Take some time to pray and thank the Lord for the founding of America. God has truly shed His grace on our nation. May we never forget our original beginnings and vision.