Thanksgiving is such a great tradition in America, and it’s an annual reminder of our nation’s Christian roots. Our Thanksgiving tradition goes back to the Pilgrims who founded Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620.
It is amazing how many setbacks the Pilgrims endured and how they thanked God through it all. All they wanted was the freedom to worship Jesus in the purity of conscience.
Historian Rod Gragg wrote The Pilgrim Chronicles: An Eyewitness history of the Pilgrims and the Founding of Plymouth Colony (2014). I thought I knew a lot about the Pilgrims, but this book added greatly to my knowledge.
The Pilgrims were one congregation that was born in mid-England around 1606 at a time where church meetings, apart from the Church of England, were illegal. Their goal was to worship Jesus in the purity of the gospel as they understood it. The Bible (Geneva version) was the focus of their existence.
Because of persecution in England, they decided to emigrate to Holland, but even leaving England was difficult, with some being put in prison for a time.
Initially, the Netherlands was good for them. At least they could worship without government interference. But over time, they saw that some of their children were following the ways of the worldly Dutch youth. Meanwhile, the permanency of the Jamestown settlement in the New World allowed them to explore the possibility of coming to America to stay intact as a congregation and be able to worship Jesus in peace.
They borrowed money, and they received permission from King James, who was glad to be rid of them, to sail to the “northern parts of Virginia,” which at that time that would have been about where New York Harbor is today.
A treacherous journey
The voyage of the Mayflower was treacherous. One storm was so fierce they almost ended up on the bottom of the Atlantic.
When they finally came to the New World, they were 250 miles north of their target and unable to safely sail south. They made history by writing up a Christian agreement for self-government that they signed before disembarking. This Mayflower Compact was the first step in the eventual creation of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution 150 years later.
Then came the hostile winter of 1620-1621, where illness, cold, and starvation killed about half of them.
Of the 18 women on board the Mayflower, only four survived that winter. Half of the married men died. There were 29 unmarried men – of these, ten died, 19 survived. The children had the best survival rate. All seven girls lived. Of the 13 boys, three died, and ten lived. Yet through it all, they trusted in God and gave Him thanks.
The spring came early in 1621, and the deaths stopped. Two friendly Indians, able to speak English, came and greeted them and helped them make peace with the Indians and learn how to plant corn and capture eels to survive. The Pilgrims enjoyed a great relationship with the Native Americans – including making a peace treaty that lasted for about 55 years and was brokered by Chief Massasoit.
At harvest time in 1621, the Pilgrims gave thanks to God and enjoyed a three-day feast with the Indians. This was the beginning of our Thanksgiving celebration in America
Although they were off to a rocky start, God blessed their efforts. They were not only able to survive, but to thrive. As Pilgrim leader Edward Winslow said, “None will ever be losers by following us so far as we follow Christ.” Happy Thanksgiving.
Jerry Newcombe, D.Min., is the executive director of the Providence Forum, an outreach of D. James Kennedy Ministries, where Jerry also serves as senior producer and an on-air host. He has written/co-written 33 books, including George Washington’s Sacred Fire (with Providence Forum founder Peter Lillback, Ph.D.) and What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? (with D. James Kennedy, Ph.D.). www.djkm.org @newcombejerry www.jerrynewcombe.com
For more on Thanksgiving traditions, visit https://www.goodnewsfl.org/are-family-traditions-important/