The Pilgrims sold nearly everything they owned, not just once, but twice. They first moved to Holland for about twelve years to escape persecution and the corrupt political ties between the Church of England and the King. They eventually sensed a calling from God to set up their own Christian colony in New England. Everything had to be sold once again to help raise the money to purchase the two ships they felt they needed and there would only be room for a very few personal belongings. Although they all knew that the trip had great risks, but being a united people of fervent prayer, they also knew what God was calling them to do.
From the first two ships purchased they ended up with only one, the famous Mayflower. This meant that only 102 pilgrims out of the 600 plus congregation from Holland were able to sail to New England. This was the final number and even John Robinson their pastor had to stay behind to shepherd the remaining flock.
It was decided the chief elder, William Brewster, would make the trip and be the group’s teacher. William Brewster stated that he believed that God used the early difficulties to “sift” the congregation to allow only those that God had chosen to make that first voyage. Early journals record that Pastor John Robinson diligently sought the Lord with his congregation over every step of this voyage’s undertaking. He felt specifically led by God that they were a chosen people and he declared that this new settlement would be “The New Jerusalem” forming the foundation for a truly Christian community.
Testimonies too numerous to mention in this article took place throughout this adventure. About halfway across the ocean during a large storm something incredible happened. The storm swells were so great and the ship was being tossed so severely that they feared the worst. “Suddenly a tremendous boom resounded throughout the ship. The huge cross beam supporting the mast had cracked and was sagging alarmingly,” according to the book The Light and the Glory by Peter Marshall and David Manuel. The pilgrims cried out an urgent prayer, “Yet Lord thou canst save!” About that time William Brewster remembered the great iron screw of his printing press. It was found, put into place, as a jack and cranked up. It met the beam and was successful in rising back to its original position! God used a special part from a printing press to save the Mayflower!
After arriving in America on November 9th, the first winter was very hard on them. By the end of March, 47 or nearly half of their original number had not survived the winter. Thirteen of the eighteen wives died. Only three families remained unbroken. Incredibly, these super heroes of faith although grieving, continued to trust in their God.
In the middle of that month of March as they were gathered in the common house, someone shouted “Indian coming!” The unexpected visitor walked right in on them and exclaimed, “Welcome” in a deep voice. Dumbfounded the group responded, “Welcome” in reply. They were further surprised when he began to ask them about their supplies. It turned out that his name was Samoset. ˙He was the chief of the Algonquins in Maine. He had learned his English over the years from various fishing captains. He was very helpful educating them about the friendliness of the nearby Wampanoag tribe and its chief Massasoit.
Soon thereafter, Chief Massasoit visited the new settlers and brought with him a Native American brave named Squanto, who had an incredible life story. Squanto had been captured by early slave traders and sold into slavery in North Africa. He was rescued by a group of local friars who introduced him to the Christian faith while he was with them in the monastery. He eventually met up with a local merchant bound for London and in 1619 embarked from London for New England, landing at Plymouth in search of his native family. To his dismay, he discovered that a devastating disease had wiped out his tribe. When he met this group of Pilgrim settlers who were struggling to survive in this new world, Squanto was heartbroken and searching for his purpose in life. On the very first day, Squanto eagerly set out to teach them how to catch eels in the mud to eat. The following day he taught them the Native American way to plant corn, and many other crucial skills!
By October, after what was described as a “beautiful summer”, the Pilgrims were overflowing with gratitude, not only to Squanto and the local Wampanoags who had been so friendly, but also to God. Governor Bradford declared that there was to be a day of public Thanksgiving. Chief Massasoit was invited. However, when he unexpectedly arrived a day early, accompanied by ninety members from his tribe The Pilgrims were dismayed, at first, not knowing how they could feed such a large number of visitors. As it turned out however, they arrived with five field dressed deer, and more than a dozen wild turkeys. They taught the Pilgrim women how to make hoecakes and tasty pudding out of cornmeal and maple syrup. They then showed them a new delicacy: how to roast corn kernels to make popcorn! The Pilgrims cooked vegetables from their gardens and took dried fruit their visitors had provided and made pies. They all happily competed in shooting contests with gun and bow and some of the younger men competed in foot racing and wrestling. The first Thanksgiving celebration lasted three days!
Oh that our faith may be stirred by the story of our forefathers the Pilgrims, fifteen of which have been discovered to be in my own family tree. May we thank God this Thanksgiving for a true faith, which can bond very different people groups together in His love! May we learn to pray as they prayed, love as they loved, and trust God as they had to, and as we also have to, in these uncertain times!
Rev Nolan J Harkness is the President and CEO of Nolan Harkness Evangelistic Ministries Inc. since 1985. He spent most of his adult life working in youth ministry. He also felt the calling of Evangelist/Revivalist and traveled as the door was open holding evangelistic meetings in churches throughout the Northeast. His website is www.verticalsound.org.