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The Pilgrims' Struggle

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“The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts.  No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.” 
~H.U. Westermayer 

    One hundred and three people left Plymouth, England in late August of 1620 in search of religious freedom.  They boarded two small ships, the Speedwell and the Mayflower, loaded with supplies to make a new start in the new world.  Shortly after sailing, the Speedwell began to leak, so most of the crew and passengers transferred to the Mayflower before the Speedwell turned back, still loaded with most of its supplies. 

After months of rough sailing, the pilgrims, exhausted and sick, finally landed off the coast of Massachusetts in Plymouth Bay. Just before disembarking at Plymouth Rock on Dec. 11, they signed the “Mayflower Compact”, America’s first document of civil government and the first to introduce self-government. 

            The Pilgrims were ill-prepared for the realities of the new world. Yet, it would be another two years before a ship arrived with supplies.  They had to live off the land in whatever way they could.  They starved, froze and dealt with disease.  At one point, only six people were well enough to help the scores of sick and the dying.  Before spring had arrived, nearly half died.  By March of 1621, not even a year after arriving, only 51 of the original 102 pilgrims remained alive.   

Yet, they kept the faith, and with the help of local Native Americans who taught them how to plant corn, fish the streams and find game, they learned how to survive. 

On Dec. 13 of 1621, they decided to hold a three-day feast of thanksgiving to God.  Here in America, no established church harassed them, no government agency restricted them and no one ridiculed them.  They were free to worship as they chose. 

The Pilgrims invited the Native Americans who had helped them survive to enjoy the occasion with them and shared their bounty with them as the Native Americans had shared their wisdom with them. 

            The following description of the feast is from the journals of Pilgrim Edward Winslow:

            "Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling, so that we might, after a special manner, rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as... served the company almost a week... Many of the Indians amongst us and...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...And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God we are…far from want.” 

            As we gather around the Thanksgiving table this year, let us be mindful of those who struggled and died all in the cause of religious freedom.  And let us be mindful and appreciative of our freedom to worship according to our hearts and minds.  We cannot imagine the hardships the Pilgrims endured, yet we owe them so much.