Archive for Thursday, November 18, 2010

Smith: Give Pilgrims thanks

November 18, 2010

Every year Jean decorates for Thanksgiving and among my favorite items is a set of tiny Pilgrims. The Pilgrims seem very happy as they smile across the table while we are eating. I know when they appear, the holiday season is just around the corner. I enjoy the holiday a great deal with great food, football and family gatherings. In fact, Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday.

In real life, however, I doubt you would have found many happy Pilgrims. Their life was difficult. They lived an austere life and probably existed from day to day. The fact they survived is a miracle probably largely due to their tremendous spirit and toughness. They remain good role models.

The Pilgrims were different from most of the early arrivals in the New World. They weren’t fortune hunters; they were very religious and simply wanted freedom. Actually, the new world was their second attempt at establishing a new life. Led by William Brewster and the Rev. Richard Clifton, they moved from the village of Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, England, to Holland. The small band was composed mostly of farmers who were largely poorly educated. In England, they had no social status and were second-, no, third-class citizens. While they enjoyed religious freedom in Holland, they were concerned about the Dutch influence on their children.

They were also plagued by economic hard times, and in 1617, they voted to go to America. They pooled what small resources they possessed and made a financial agreement with Thomas Speedwell, an iron merchant, to help finance their voyage.

They first sailed to Southampton, England, where they joined with others for the dangerous and long voyage to the New World. In all, there were 102 passengers aboard the 180-ton ship “Mayflower” on Sept. 16, 1620. The “Mayflower” was just 90 feet long and was very cramped due to overcrowding. To appreciate the hard voyage, you can visit an exact replica anchored in Massachusetts. Jean and I did that a few years back, and I can’t imagine spending two months in such a small space with very little, or no, privacy.

They arrived off the coast of what is now Massachusetts after a grueling 65-day journey. Unfortunately, they were supposed to be in Virginia. Actually, they had no authority to colonize the area they arrived at, but that didn’t stop them. They sighted Cape Cod on Nov. 19 and since they couldn’t reach Virginia they anchored on Nov. 21. After they discovered Plymouth Harbor, they made their first landing on Dec. 21 and the entire body came ashore on Dec. 26.

Certainly their struggles were far from over. They did have the good sense to draw up the Mayflower Compact before going ashore. The Mayflower Compact set the rules of government for the new settlers.

The first winter was brutal with freezing temperatures and poor diet taking a heavy toll. Certainly without the aid of their first Native American friend Squanto, the Pilgrims would never have succeeded. He taught them methods of agriculture, which allowed them to survive in the New World.

After harvesting a very average crop, they celebrated the first Thanksgiving the following year with a three-day festival that included hosting more than 90 Native Americans as guests.

Were the Pilgrims a happy bunch? No, they probably weren’t. In fact their lifestyle was very severe and certainly austere. There was relatively little joy in their everyday lives.

It seems to me that the important lesson they gave to us is, however, that they never quit. No matter how tough things were, they battled forward. They kept their dream alive and passed a great legacy to us.


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