Thanksgiving is rooted in Christianity and is the molecular DNA of America. Liberals, atheists, and those somewhere in the middle scream aloud during the Holiday Season over America being a secular society. I am certain that the thought of the origins of Thanksgiving add a degree of distaste to the turkey they eat. What adds insult to injury to many “intellectuals” is the fact that the same people who celebrated the first Thanksgiving also created one of the first documents of governance in the New World. The events that led to the first Thanksgiving gave birth for the New World’s earliest written committment to the Glory of God and Christian teaching to be included in the foundation of government.
It almost never happened.
The Pilgrims that came over on the Mayflower were not your average religious crowd. They were Separatists who had issue with the Anglican Church of England and wanted to literally break away from the Church. They were persecuted as heretics and fled England to Holland were they spent years in poverty and turmoil to be able to practice religion freely. Thoughts and prayers of the New World told the Pilgrims that crossing the great Atlantic was their directive from God.
The challenge would be how to get to the New World and New England. Some of the paths that the Pilgrims believed would take them across the ocean did not happen. When other paths beckoned, the Pilgrims were concerned if they had misunderstood God’s directive. The Pilgrims, through their trials and tribulations to pursue religious freedom, became very loyal to one another. They had envisioned a path to the New World that would allow them to keep their group together. In the end, they would have to make sacrifices in leaving part of their group behind and sharing ships with total strangers.
When the Pilgrims first left for New England, there were 2 ships – the Speedwell and the Mayflower. Both ships would leave England in August of 1620, but only the Mayflower made the crossing. Twice to sea, the Speedwell developed issues with leaks and had to come into port twice for repairs. The second docking at Plymouth, England for the Speedwell determined her to be unseaworthy for the long Atlantic crossing. So, food & supplies, along with the passenger count, were crowded onto the Mayflower.
For the next seven weeks, the Mayflower appeared to attract every storm possible. The passengers endured extreme sea sickness as well as other sea-going pestilences of the time. Conditions were poor and people were crowed upon one another. There was no means for preparing hot meals or proper hygiene. It was truly a miserable voyage.
However, the Puritans never cursed God for the conditions. Hardened over the years, they knew how to survive hardship. They prayed and sang during the voyage and were a source of inspiration for the non-Pilgrim passengers that were also on board the Mayflower.
In November of 1620, land was seen at what is present day Cape Cod. The original destination of the ship was the Hudson River to eventually go to Jamestown, so the voyage was slightly off course by a hundred miles or so. A decision was made to attempt to correct the course and sail to the Hudson, but Mayflower encountered another storm and was washed back out to sea for 2 days. When the ship was finally able to come back into land sight, it was agreed that God wanted them to land at this location and not Jamestown. The Pilgrims founded the site that we currently called Plymouth, Massachusetts for their first colony.
Plymouth represented new territory without a sovereign. The orignal plans to Virginia Territory was in keeping with the London Virginia Company, who had financed the voyage in return for goods to come back to England. Jamestown was clearly under command of England and the King, but Plymouth was “unchartered” territory. As such, the Pilgrims felt the need to establish a form of government. Thus the Mayflower Compact was born.
The Mayflower Compact reads as follows:
- In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, etc.
- Having undertaken, for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.
- In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini 1620.
This document served as the form of government for the Pilgrims until the colony merged with the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691. The document influenced the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut and other state constitutions, as well as the US Constitution. All from a group of people who wanted to worship God in the manner they chose for themselves as opposed to the orders from others. Imagine that – religious people with a clear thought of the need to form and define government. Certainly not the descriptions you get from MSNBC or CNN when they speak in condescending tones towards those that proudly declare their love for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
A year later in 1621, the Pilgrims would celebrate the first Thanksgiving to God for surviving the harsh north American winter in New England. Thankfully, we carry on that tradition today both from respect for heritage and the actions of Abraham Lincoln in 1863 by making Thanksgiving a national holiday.
So when we set down to give thanks, we recognize a people dedicated to the Glory of God, the teachings of Christ, and some pretty smart people who penned one of the first documents of governance in our nations history.