Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Thanksgiving: A Christian Holiday Part II

“They [the pilgrims] brought with them familiar customs, among which were an autumn secular harvest celebration and a Puritan religious Thanksgiving holy day. As we shall see, these two events were totally separate and independent in their minds.” (James Baker, former Director of Research, Plimoth.org)

With all due respect to Mr. Baker’s research, the pilgrims did nothing in the light of secularism. Their lives were Biblically oriented in all area, including harvest festivals. With the Church of England outlawed the many Separatist movements in the motherland, a group of Pilgrims began to hold secret meetings in Scrooby, England. To escape persecution, the group, under Rev. John Robinson, moved to Holland, and then decided to make the voyage across the Atlantic to the New World. Cotton Mather writes, “It was resolved, that part of the Church should go [to America] before their brethren, to prepare a place for the rest; and whereas the minor part of the younger and stronger men were to go first, the Pastor was to stay with the major, till they should see cause to follow.” (Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christii Americana)

The harsh and dangerous voyage and resulting settlement would prove costly. 102 persons set sail on the Mayflower, with two dying during the trip, and one baby being born. They landed at Plymouth Rock on December 11, 1620. 45 more died during the first winter from diseases and harsh conditions, including the wife of future governor William Bradford. Bradford explained the purpose of this journey.

“A great hope and inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way thereunto, for the propagating and advancing the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world; yea, though they should be but even as stepping-stones unto others for the performing of so great a work.” (William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation).

Survival in the New World would require different skills (and different crops), and thus a Patuxet Indian by the name of Squanto decided to live with the Pilgrims and teach them how to survive. Bradford wrote that Squanto was a “special instrument sent by God for their good beyond their expectations." The resulting harvest in 1621 was plenteous, and the settlers began to regain their health. Bradford writes,

"They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports." (William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation).

Despite the hardships, the pilgrims honored the Providence of God Almighty, on the First Harvest that is the precursor to our modern day Thanksgiving.

"our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty." (Edward Winslow, Mourt's Relation)

Governor Bradford “set apart a day of Thanksgiving” during the harvest of 1623, after enduring a horrible drought.


Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Puritan Lad said...

Thanks Anonymous,

I intend to continue this line of study soon, but have aot on my plate right now.