BELIEVE IT OR NOT:
In the Autumn of 1621 the Pilgrims held a 3-day festival of thanksgiving. Many would say they had little to give thanks for. Consider the following:
1. The Separatist (as they were called) were compelled to leave England (and Holland) so they could worship according to their convictions. Unlike the Puritans, who wanted to reform the Church of England from the inside, the Separatists felt compelled to disassociate from the Church of England. Of the 102 Pilgrims on the Mayflower, only 40 were Separatists (or Saints as they called themselves) and 62 were English settlers (or Strangers as the Saints called them) looking for a better life. One baby was born in route for a total of 103 passengers.
2. They had to abandon the Speedwell (their second ship) in England, and with it needed supplies and equipment. The Speedwell sprung leaks while crossing the Atlantic and they had to turn back, twice.
3. The 102 Pilgrims spent more than 66 days cramped on the middle deck (gun deck) of the Mayflower in a space no larger than 1390 ft2 (129 m2) but likely much smaller. The ceiling on the middle deck was likely only 5ft (152cm) high. In that same space a 30ft row boat was stored. Most lived in this space from Sept 1620 thru March 1621 (i.e. 7 months) until accommodations could be built on shore.
4. They arrived in America far north of their planned destination (Virginia). The weather and shortage of supplies compelled them to settle near Cape Code. They had no permission to start a colony in what is now Massachusetts. This was a dilemma. The Mayflower Compact was written in response to this dilemma. It untied the Saints and the Strangers into a single democratic community loyal to the King of England as the Plymouth Colony.
5. They arrive three months later than planned because of having to turn around twice for repairs of the Speedwell and encountering storms and head winds. It took 66 days to cross the Atlantic and another +30 days before they choose a place to settle. Winter had already started. Two died on the voyage and one baby was born. The worst was yet to come.
6. During that first winter, sickness killed half their numbers (50 Pilgrims and perhaps 15 of approximately 30 of the ship’s company).
7. Among the dead was John Carver, the leader of the Plymouth Colony.
8. The wife of William Bradford (the leader elected to replace Carver) died when she fell overboard, probably while boarding a row boat to go to shore for the first time.
By September 1621, the Pilgrims had suffered a great deal of disappointments, pain, and sorrows in the past 12 months. YET THEY GAVE THANKS! They were thankful that they survived! They were thankful for the abundance of the land, the game, fish, fresh water, trees, etc. They were thankful for Squanto (an English speaking Pautext Indian and the last survivor of his tribe) and the Wampango Indian tribe that helped them. They were thankful for the peace treaty with the Indians. They were thankful that the piece of land (now known as Plymouth) where they choose to settle was the only land on the entire coast that wasn’t already claimed by an existing Indian tribe. They were both thankful and sorrowful, for they realized that the previous residence of the land, the Pautext tribe who had a ferocious reputation among the surrounding tribes, had all died due to a smallpox epidemic between 1616-1618.
Tragedy and gratefulness may seem like unlikely bed fellows, but it appears that those who are able to be grateful in spite of tragedy and sorrow are those who are most likely to overcome the paradox of our human condition. The evidence suggests that it was the Pilgrims’ hope in a loving God, that allowed them to be grateful on that first Thanksgiving in spite of their sorrows and sufferings.
NOTE: Thanks you www.mayflowerhistory.com for the Mayflower graphic I adapted for this posting.