Providence and the Pilgrims
Every Thanksgiving is an annual reminder of our nation’s Christian roots. The Pilgrims began the tradition, and Presidents Washington and Lincoln made it an official holiday.
The details surrounding the Pilgrims were such that they had much to be grateful for. Here is just a sample.
The Pilgrims were a small body of believers who secretly became a congregation in central England in 1606 when they formed a spiritual covenant with one another.
The initial attempts of the British to create colonies (which happened in Virginia) failed. But Jamestown became permanent. The Pilgrims were not adventurers. They would never have wanted to do what the Jamestown settlers did, carving out a colony in the wilderness. In fact, they were sailing for the Northern Parts of Virginia, because getting providentially sidetracked.
There are specific details about their classic voyage and early settlement that I believe show us the Providence of God. He was watching out for them.
1) No Pilgrim died on the voyage over—a miracle in that day and age. But there was one man who died on the way over.
Because the voyage was so difficult, the Pilgrims comforted themselves by singing the psalms—to remind themselves of God’s care. Yet this gained them the ire of some of the crew members.
One crew member in particular sneered that he looked forward to throwing overboard their shrouded corpses after they succumbed to routine illnesses, from which we can infer that death was common in those days on such voyages. This vile man was a Pilgrim-hater who cursed these “psalm-singing” religious nuts.
Gov. Bradford (their leader for decades) writes: “He would always be condemning them [the Pilgrims] . . . and cursing them daily with grievous execrations . . . but it pleased God before they came half seas over, to smite this young man with a grievous disease, of which he died . . . and so was himself the first that was thrown overboard.”
He was the only known casualty of the whole voyage. Peter Marshall reports that the Pilgrims showed him love by honoring him in a service, thus, putting into practice the biblical admonition to “love your enemies.”
2) How come only one person died on that voyage? A little-known fact about the Mayflower helps answer the question. The Mayflower was normally a wine cargo boat, and the wine from previous voyages had soaked some of the beams and essentially acted as a disinfectant. “God works in mysterious ways. . . .”
3) The Mayflower had to contend with some severe storms, yet they still made it over. In fact, the storms were so bad, some considered the possibility of turning back to England. Cotton Mather says, “they met with such terrible storms, that the principal persons on board had serious deliberations upon returning home again.”
During one storm, catastrophe struck—the main beam of the mast cracked. Death was certain for the crew and passengers if this couldn’t be repaired. The whole Pilgrim adventure could easily have ended up on the bottom of the Atlantic. But one of the Pilgrims had a large iron screw on board—some historians argue it was a jack for lifting roofs onto houses; others argue it was part of a printing press. Whatever it was, the main beam was secured with this large screw, and so the Mayflower was saved.
4) The Pilgrims were blown off course, which forced them to pen the immortal words of the Mayflower Compact, which they wrote in the cabin of the ship. If everything had gone as scheduled, if they had landed where they had intended, they likely would have not written that document, which was the first step toward the U.S. constitution. Free people creating their own free government under God—spelling out representative government.
The Mayflower Compact says, “In the name of God. Amen. We whose names are underwritten…having undertaken a voyage for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith…do covenant and combine ourselves into a civil body politic…”
Historians, such as Dr. Donald Lutz, author of The Origins of American Constitutionalism, tell us that the Mayflower Compact, based on the biblical concept of covenant, eventually morphs into “We the people” (after about a hundred other additional biblically-based charters written by various Christian colonists to North America).
5) The Indians in the area they landed were very hostile, yet as the late Dr. D. James Kennedy pointed out, most of them off the coast of Cape Cod had died off in a plague that swept through there a few years before the Pilgrims came. So the Pilgrims didn’t have to contend with fierce Indians, which was a constant problem for other settlers in other regions.
The Pilgrims loved peace and were able to make friends with the remaining Indians. One of them they described as “a special instrument sent of God.” His name was Squanto. Providentially, he spoke English, and he was a God-send to them to help them.
Peter Marshall tells us: “Now Squanto came and offered them his services. They were desperate. They had nothing to eat. They had no more idea how to live in this wilderness than to fly to the moon. Squanto taught them how to track eels in the wet flats when the tide went out, what berries were edible. All the Indian lore. Most important, he taught them how to plant the Indians’ winter staple, corn, which Europeans had known nothing about.”
So we can see just from these few examples that the hand of God was upon them, as they paved the way for a permanent settlement. A settlement where they could worship God freely as they saw fit and where they could live their lives in peace.
As Gov. Bradford put it, “Thus out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things of nothing, and gives being to all things that are; and, as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many, yea in some sort to our whole nation; let the glorious name of Jehovah have all the praise.”