When the Mayflower passengers started their pilgrimage in July of 1620, they were traveling on nothing less than blind faith. The 50 Separatists, or “Saints”, wanted to separate from the Church of England. To help cover expenses, they took aboard an equal amount of non-Separatists, or “Strangers”. These Strangers were investors as well as tradesmen and servants.
The king granted them permission to settle in Virginia. Bad weather, or perhaps God’s hand, forced their ship off course. They reached land north of British territory which voided their patent. This caused some strangers to suggest breaking from the crown. To avoid mutiny, William Bradford, the leader of the pilgrimage, composed an agreement ensuring the group worked together. All males of age were required to sign the Mayflower Compact before exiting the ship.
Later, Bradford requested the opportunity to self-govern, which the king allowed. As a result, the Pilgrims are considered the first true Americans outside of the Native Americans.
The ship landed on Saturday, November 11, 1620. After signing the Compact, the group remained on board to observe the Sabbath the following day. Elder Brewster conducted their day of worship and thanksgiving to God for a safe voyage. Bradford recorded their impressions in his book Of Plymouth Plantation:
“Being thus arrived in a good harbor, and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element.”
The 102 passengers slept and lived on the Mayflower over the next several months as they constructed their settlement.
Their first winter was brutal with about half of the Pilgrims dying. Bradford’s young wife fell off the ship and drowned. Others perished from illness, disease, and the cold.
In the spring of 1621, the Pilgrims moved into their new homes and the Mayflower returned to England. The colonists soon met and became friends with Samoset and Squanto. These Native Americans helped the new Americans learn to fertilize the land, plant crops and fish. Bradford cherished Squanto’s friendship as noted in his book. He believed Squanto was a “special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectation.”
The New World proved to be challenging to the Pilgrims. Bradford wrote about a horrible drought in July of 1623. The crops withered under the extreme dryness. The Pilgrims needed to refocus.
Bradford recorded that they “set apart a solemn day of humiliation, to seek the Lord by humble and fervent prayer, in this great distress. And He was pleased to give them a gracious and speedy answer, both to their own and the Indians’ admiration that lived amongst them.”
He continued, stating the rain came, “which did so apparently revive and quicken the decayed corn and other fruits, as was wonderful to see, and made the Indians astonished to behold. And afterwards the Lord sent them such seasonable showers, with interchange of fair warm weather as, through His blessing, caused a fruitful and liberal harvest, to their no small comfort and rejoicing. For which mercy, in time convenient, they also set apart a day of thanksgiving.”
Bradford made it clear that he and the Pilgrims thanked God for a bountiful harvest. In addition, they were able to witness to the Indians about God. The pilgrims definitely invited the Indians as their guests to the 3-day Thanksgiving celebration. However, there is no mistake God was the guest of honor.
The Pilgrims came to America for the freedom to worship God. They truly appreciated the help and generosity of the Indians. However their thankfulness for those helpers went to God. To do otherwise would go against their whole purpose of coming to America.
Our Founding Fathers inherited this spirit of Thanksgiving. As a new country, the Second Continental Congress composed the National Thanksgiving Day Proclamation on November 1, 1777. It declared Thursday, December 8, 1777, as a day of “Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise”.
FORASMUCH as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of; And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence, but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defence and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased in so great a Measure to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops and to crown our Arms with most signal success:
It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States, to set apart Thursday, the eighteenth Day of December next, for Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise; That with one Heart and one Voice the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favour, and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please God, through the Merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole; to inspire our Commanders both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty God, to secure for these United States the greatest of all human blessings, Independence and Peace; That it may please him to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People and the Labour of the Husbandman, that our Land may yet yield its Increase; To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand, and to prosper the Means of Religion for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom which consisteth in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost.
And it is further recommended, that servile Labour, and such Recreation as, though at other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion.
This document is more overwhelming evidence our Founding Fathers were men of great faith. A strong Christian heritage undoubtedly formed the foundation of our beloved United States of America. It was that way from the very beginning.
As shown, the pilgrims turned to God in times of trial. Likewise, they praised Him in their prosperity.
May we never stop being thankful to God for this wonderful country and all her freedoms. We must always fight to keep the precious liberty God has bestowed upon her.
But that’s just my 2 cents