“Give thanks unto the Lord, call upon his name,
make known his deeds among the people.”
1 Chronicles 16:8
On September 16, 1620, 102 men, women, and children left Plymouth, England on board a small ship called the Mayflower. Little did the 50 men, 20 women, and 32 children know that they were destined for immortality. As long as history is studied, the voyage of the Mayflower and the establishment of the New Plymouth Colony will capture the hearts and inspire the souls of millions. One hundred and two brave souls sailed in search of freedom of worship and a better life.
Most of the people were not expecting an easy future though no one anticipated just how harsh the months ahead were to be. The trip itself across the Atlantic was filled with great dangers. Violent storms arose to toss the vessel about. Many passengers, such as Dorothy Bradford, stayed much on deck; “she was less afraid there, than below, that the shuddering, groaning edifice of scoured wood and bleached canvas would break up about her ears any moment and be scattered over the tossing desert of water” (The Plymouth Adventure).
The stormy weather gave way to frosty weather as the days and weeks passed. At night the settlers huddled under every scrap of clothing and covering they had; by day there was much stomping about and blowing in hands. By then they were suffering from stomach pains, boils, weakness in the legs, stiff joints and dizzying fits; while many had the early sign of scurvy, depression, sallow complexions, tender gums and foul breath, with red patches on the skin.
But there was no turning back. Onward, the Mayflower ploughed the sea with the bow ever turned towards the shore of The Promise Land. The horizon appeared from day to day to be ever the same imprisoning circle, ever the same in all directions, so that to look at it and think of it for very long brought premonitions of madness; the ship was imprisoned in that unadorned thin line that extended all around, dividing the sea from the heavens, fixed at some central point of the universe with all sense of direction lost.
Day after day, they could feel the ship moving through the water, the encircling line of horizon remained always there, exactly the same as it had been the day before and the day before that, for apparently as long as one could remember. It seemed as if the voyage would never end. Then dawned the eventful day of November the tenth .
It began with no one being able to see further ahead than twenty yards. Suddenly, the winds shifted. The dense fog lifted. At last the horizon was broken. A line of solid land stopped the eye. But belief in reality did not come immediately. Men stared and blinked their cold lids as if their sight had suddenly dimmed when trying to see some very ordinary object before their faces. Day after day for a seemingly unending part of their lives, regularly and by habit they had searched the distance for such a solid image, and now that it was to be seen the long habit of looking and seeing nothing made them want to shake their heads, afraid to believe, go below and wait for another morning to try again.
Then a woman began to beat her breast and at the same time her tears ran down her face; and it was their order of release, as if told that they could then jump up and down, sob in each other’s arms, pray, dance ring-a-roses and stare at each other as their tears flowed freely and unashamed. The coast of the New World had been reached.
It did not really matter when the discovery was made that the ship was off course about 500 miles NE of their destiny of Virginia. The Pilgrims were practical people if they were anything and so on November 21, 1620; the Mayflower rounded the end of Cape Cod and dropped anchor off the shore of Provincetown, Mass. The Great Adventure on land was about to begin.
However, the settlers realized that they needed to be bound to a law beyond themselves and so 41 adult males drafted and signed the Mayflower Compact. John Alden William Bradford, William Brewster, John Carver, Miles Standish, and Edward Winslow joined 35 other men in the cabin of the Mayflower and signed the first constitution in America. The historic document consolidated the passengers into a “civil body politic” which had the power to frame and enact laws appropriate for the general good of the planned settlement. All the colonists were bound to obey the ordinances to be enacted according to majority rule.
Once the document was signed, a search party was sent out to locate a satisfactory site for a new colony. It would take time. Over the next few weeks Cape Cod was explored. Meanwhile, Peregrine White, the first European child born in New England was delivered on the Mayflower.
Finally, on December 21, 1620, an area having been selected, the Pilgrims disembarked from the Mayflower near the head of Cape Cod and founded Plymouth, the first permanent settlement in New England. The settlement was to be established despite extreme hardships over the next few months. By all early accounts, the plain tale is one of cold, weariness, hunger and death.
To this mixture was added the terror of discovering what the settlers called the “savages.” Little did they realize that in the providence of God, the “savages” would prove to be their salvation.
It was on a Thursday, March 29, 1620, that the Pilgrims were absolutely stunned when, into the ever-dwindling band of colonist, a man came striding, who was none of theirs. He came on with long, easy steps, a tall savage in leather leggings and short mantle. The women rushed to bring the children indoors. Fast he came and easy, with serene, expressionless face; before anyone had time to gather their wits, the savage was before them. He stood and looked from face to face, at their clothes, their weapons, the solid mud and thatched cabins, his dusky bare breast rising and falling heavily as he got his breath back.
He was a tall, handsome but very thin man, neither young nor old at the first glance; of a glowing brown color, his eyes very black, and no hair on his face. His head was shaved or chopped close over his forehead and ears, the long black hair from the top of his head drawn back and bound at his neck into a long, soft animal’s tail. He had no knives or weapons but a bow and some loose arrows. The savage raised his hand in greeting. “Welcome!” he said in English, suddenly smiling, nodding all around.
In this amazing fashion the Pilgrims met Squanto and learned his story. Also known as TIS-QUAN-TUM, Squanto had been captured early in his life and sold as a slave in Spain. A person of unique talents, he eventually escaped and went to England. In 1619 he was able to return to the New World as a pilot for an English sea captain. Once back home, Squanto escaped and discovered that his people had been destroyed by a plague.
Still, two years later Squanto decided to help the starving Pilgrims to survive by teaching them both fishing and planting of corn. The friendship between this Native American and the new arrivals continued. Squanto acted as interpreter at the Treaty of Plymouth signed in 1621 between the Indian chief Massasoit and Gov. William Bradford. Then, only a year later, in 1622, while guiding a party under Bradford around Cape Cod, Squanto became ill and died. He was only 37 years old (1585?-1622).
Though he died suddenly, 56 people had reason to appreciate Squanto in a special way. Because of him, they lived. Out of one hundred and two colonists, they alone survived the first year. Squanto helped to ensure their survival. The colonist remembered.
They also remembered that after the initial harvest had been completed in 1621, and Gov. William Bradford had proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and prayer, it was Squanto and other Indians who had come to join in the celebration. Together, a day of thanksgiving was enjoyed.
Now Squanto was gone but he existed as a memory of the heart.
It is proper that as the early settlers of our nation remembered to give thanks to God for their continuance, so we this week especially should remember to give thanks for all the good things we enjoy.