Our first Thanksgiving: How the pilgrims established a tradition

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 3, 2005

The pilgrims were a group of Separatists (Puritans who had separated from the Church of England.)

They believed that God wanted to restore the church to its original condition, as portrayed in the New Testament.

The Pilgrims were persecuted by the state and by the church.

They immigrated to Holland to find freedom of worship.

About ten years later the Pilgrims returned to England and made their plans to set sail for the New World.

They wanted to spread the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and find freedom of worship.

On September 16, 1620, 102 passengers boarded the Mayflower ship.

The average age of the Mayflower passenger was 32.

The oldest Mayflower passenger was 64.

These brave Pilgrims made the dangerous 65-day voyage through the storm-tossed Atlantic Ocean to the shores of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

On the way one died and one was born.

The Pilgrims sighted Cape Cod on November 19 and dropped anchor at Provincetown harbor on November 21.

It was here that 41 men signed the Mayflower Compact, the first agreement for self-government in America.

They elected John Carver as their first governor.

For almost a month they explored the coast around Cape Cod Bay.

In the Provincetown harbor four more people died, and one was born.

A group of 99 weary Pilgrims came ashore at Plymouth Rock on December 21, 1620.

This rocky territory was once the site of Pawtuxet, an Indian village, but a smallpox plague had wiped out all the Indians in 1617.

One spring morning, an Indian walked into the little village and introduced himself in broken English to the startled people as Samoset.

Two weeks later he returned with Squanto.

The Pilgrims were astonished that both Indians spoke English!

Samoset and Squanto introduced the Pilgrims to Massasoit, the chief of the Wampanoag tribe that controlled all of southeastern Massachusetts.

Governor Carver and the chief exchanged gifts and arranged a treaty of peace.

Shortly afterward, the Mayflower sailed for England, leaving the Pilgrims on their own.

Then Carver died, and William Bradford became governor of Plymouth Colony.

When the Pilgrims first met Samoset and Squanto, they were not in good condition at all.

They were living in crude mud-covered shelters.

There was an extreme shortage of food, and 46 of the original 102 had died during the winter.

They needed help badly, and the two young Indian men were a welcome sight.

Squanto, who providentially knew more English than probably any other Indian in North America at that time, decided to live with the Pilgrims for the next few months and teach them how to survive in this new place.

The way in which God had prepared Squanto for his key role in saving the Pilgrims from starvation is quite amazing.

Squanto was of the Pawtuxet tribe.

He was taken to England in 1605 and lived in London until 1614, when he was returned to America.

Later, Squanto was kidnaped and sold in Spain as a slave, but he escaped to England.

In 1619, an English sea captain returned him to Cape Cod, just in time for his providential meeting with the Pilgrims!

Samoset was not as fluent in English as Squanto was.

He was a chief of the Pemaquid Indians and first came into contact with Englishmen when he met some fishermen along the coast of Maine.

He learned a little English from them.

In 1625 Samoset made what is believed to be the first deed of Indian land to English colonists.

He transferred 12,000 acres of his tribe's land to John Brown, one of the settlers.

America owes a debt of gratitude to both Samoset and Squanto in assisting the Pilgrims as they built a Christian foundation for the United States of America.

Squanto began his mission of mercy to the Pilgrims by bringing them deer meat and beaver skins.

He taught them how to cultivate corn and how to construct Indian-style homes.

He explained how to dig and cook clams, how to get sap from the maple trees, use fish for fertilizer, and dozens of other skills needed for survival.

When fall arrived, the Pilgrims had healed and learned, thanks to Squanto's help.

The corn they planted had grown well.

There was enough food to last the winter.

They were living comfortably in their Indian-style wigwams and had also managed to build one European-style building out of squared logs.

This, appropriately, was their church.

They were now in better health, and they knew more about surviving in the new land.

The Pilgrims decided to have a Thanksgiving feast after their first harvest in 1621 to celebrate their prosperity, give thanks to God, and acknowledge His many answers to their prayers.

They had observed Thanksgiving feasts in November as religious obligations in England for many years before coming to the New World.

Governor William Bradford, only 31 years old, was the leader of the Pilgrims.

He invited Squanto, Samoset, Chief Massasoit, and their immediate families to join them for a celebration, but the Pilgrims had no idea how big Indian families could be.

As the Thanksgiving feast began, they were overwhelmed, because Squanto and Samoset brought 90 relatives with them!

The Pilgrims were not prepared to feed such a gathering of people, especially when you consider it was to last for three days.

Seeing this, Massasoit gave orders to his men to go home and get more food – five deer, many wild turkeys, fish, beans, squash, corn soup, cornbread, and berries.

As the celebration began, Governor Bradford sat at one end of a long table, and Chief Massasoit sat at the other end.

For the first time the Wampanoag people were sitting at a table to eat instead of on furs spread on the ground.

For three days the Indians feasted with the Pilgrims.

It was a special time of friendship between two very different groups of people.

A peace and friendship agreement was made between Massasoit and Governor Bradford, giving the Pilgrims the clearing in the forest where the old Pawtuxet village once stood to build their new town of Plymouth.

At the conclusion of the Thanksgiving feast Chief Massasoit solemnly told the English: &#8220The Great Spirit surely must love his white children best.”

What a testimony to the light of Christ shining through the Pilgrims as they struggled to be faithful to God's call to establish a Christian nation.

This celebration shows that these people understood the importance of acknowledging the providence of God.

William Bradford served as governor of Plymouth Colony for more than 30 years.

He wrote a firsthand account of the Pilgrims' journey called Of Plymouth Plantation.

He said that Squanto was &#8220a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectation.”

Of the incredible hardships the settlers endured in seeking freedom, he wrote: &#8220But these things did not dismay them (though they did sometimes trouble them) for their desires were set on the ways of God, and to enjoy His ordinances; but they rested on His providence, and knew Whom they had believed.”

The Thanksgiving feast was not celebrated again until June of 1676 in Charlestown, Massachusetts.

The first time that all 13 colonies celebrated Thanksgiving was in October of 1777.

It was the efforts of a magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale that led to the Thanksgiving holiday we have today.

She wrote editorials and letters to governors and presidents for 40 years, until she finally convinced President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 to set a national Thanksgiving holiday.

President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving.

In 1941, Thanksgiving was set as a legal holiday by Congress, the fourth Thursday in November.

For 142 years (this year of 2005) Americans have been celebrating Thanksgiving every year.

Today we honor the sacrifice of our forefathers and thank God for their principles and integrity.

May we imitate their reliance on God and give God praise and thanksgiving for all His blessings and for using the Pilgrims to establish the great land of America where we can worship our God freely.

&#8220Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise.

Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.

For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations.”

(Psalm 100: 4, 5)

Compiled by Nancy W. Petrey

November 16, 2005