A Way for the Ransomed to Pass Over
1We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old.
2How thou didst drive out the heathen with thy hand, and plantedst them; how thou didst afflict the people, and cast them out.
3For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them: but thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou hadst a favour unto them.
4Thou art my King, O God: command deliverances for Jacob. Psalm 44
As children growing up in America's schools, almost all of us remember celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday by making construction paper turkeys and pilgrim hats. We have all listened to our teachers describe what the first thanksgiving was like and why the pilgrims came to America. What we may not have considered is God's hand in bringing these people here and how His power sustained them.
The pilgrims were a group of people living in Great Britain that did not agree with the Church of England. They were considered Separatists. After being persecuted in England, several groups set out to the Netherlands in hope of having freedom there to practice what they believed. But what they found after living there for several years was their way of life was being compromised and their children were becoming more and more Dutch. They decided they needed to find a place better suited for their beliefs. That is when they negotiated with the crown in England and received a grant of land in America to start a colony.
After several delays they finally set out on their journey to the new world on September 6, 1620. There were 102 people to begin the colony on the ship, a gentleman by the name of Bradford that the colonists had hired to be in charge of security and about 25 crew members. Following some strong winds and storms they found themselves slightly off course from their intended landing, which was northern Virginia, and found themselves at what is now Cape Cod. They landed on November 11th. This was late in the year and winter was beginning.
When they began exploring the surrounding area for a good place to begin their settlement, they found several old buildings; some European, some native built. They also found cultivated fields. What the pilgrims did not know was just a few years earlier an epidemic had spread through these native Indian villages and most of the inhabitants had died. Could it be, that just like the Hebrews, God had driven the inhabitants out before the pilgrims arrived?
When they looked into the empty dwelling they found corn and beans; seeds that they were able to plant the next spring. Could God have supplied their needs? William Bradford later recorded in his book, Of Plymouth Plantation:
"They also found two of the Indian's houses covered with mats, and some of their implements in them; but the people had run away and could not be seen. They also found more corn, and beans of various colours. These they brought away, intending to give them full satisfaction (repayment) when they should meet with any of them, - as about six months afterwards they did, to their good content."
"And it is to be noted as a special providence of God, and a great mercy to this poor people, that they thus got seed to plant corn the next year, or they might have starved; for they had none, nor any likelihood of getting any, till the season had been past, as the sequel did manifest. Neither is it likely they had had this, if the first voyage had not been made, for the ground was now all covered with snow and hard frozen; but the Lord is never wanting unto His, their greatest needs; let His holy name have all the praise."
After exploring the area for several weeks they decided to build in an area known today as Plymouth Rock. The land was already cleared by the native people but they had all perished in the previous plague.
That first winter almost half of the pilgrims died. When Spring arrived there began sightings of the natives around the camp. The pilgrims were fearful that the natives would find out they were fewer in number and weakened by sickness. As they were making plans to try defend their village a native Indian walked into the middle of their camp and saluted the men in the English language with "Welcome, welcome Englishmen." This native was Samoset. He was a member of a tribe that resided in Maine. He was at that time visiting the chief of the area, Massasoit and had learned of the pilgrims. He had learned some English from trading with English fishermen near his home. He spent the day talking to the pilgrims and answering all their questions. What were the chances of God sending a native to their camp that could speak their language?
Two days later Samoset returned to the village bringing with him another native, Squanto. Squanto had an adventurous life. He had been taught English as a young man while trading. He was taken to England, returned to find again his home, but captured again to be sold as a slave in Spain. He was then rescued by friars, sent again to England, and then returned to America. He returned to his home only to find everyone in his tribe had perished in the plague and the colonists inhabiting his homeland. He became friends to the pilgrims and taught them how to fertilize the corn for better yields and where the best places were to fish. He became an interpreter between the natives and the colonists. William Bradford wrote, "Squanto continued with them, and was their interpreter, and was a special instrument sent of God for their good, beyond their expectation. He directed them how to set their corn, where to take fish, and to procure other commodities, and also their pilot to bring them to unknown places for their profit, and never left them till he died."
In April 1621, the Mayflower sailed away, back to England. Not one of the survivors chose to leave with the ship.
The crops that they had planted that spring grew well but as the summer wore on, it became hot and dry. The drought came and their crops began to wither. Bradford wrote, "Upon which 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 among them. For all the morning, and the greatest part of the day, it was clear weather and very hot and not a cloud or any sign of rain to be seen, yet toward evening it began to overcast, and shortly after to rain, with such sweet and gentle showers, and gave them cause of rejoicing, and blessing God. It came without either wind, or thunder, or any violence, and by degrees in abundance, as that the earth was thoroughly wet and soaked therewith. 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, warmer 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."
Edward Winslow wrote of the autumn of 1621, what we call the first 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 fathered 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 partaker of our plenty."
Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilgrims ; GoogleBookSearch: History of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford, Charles Deane
Written by Kathryn Currier and Kathie Davidson
posted May 12, 2009