Most lasting changes in human history began with an idea, which turns into a motivation, resulting in words, followed by action.
Follow me on a trip to Badworth, England, specifically, the Badworth All Saints Church.
Before “The Pilgrims” became pilgrims, someone had to give them a motivation to go: Parson Richard Clifton, spiritual forefather of the Separatist movement. He was friends with both William Brewster and William Bradford. His sermons sowed the seeds of Separatism. Those who took his words to heart became the hearty band of Pilgrims on the Mayflower.
The pilgrims were Separatists, meaning, they wished to separate themselves from the Church of England. Richard Clifton found himself at odds with the idea that the King of England was the head of the church (only 40 years earlier, the Church of England split from the Roman Catholic Church, and King Henry VIII set himself up as the church head).
Because of his dissention with the Church, Richard Clifton was relieved of his duties as parson of the Badworth All Saints Church, but he continued to preach at the home of William Brewster, in nearby Scrooby. He and his congregation sought to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience. There was just one problem: meeting to worship this way was illegal–imagine being a lawbreaker just by going to church.
In 1606, the Separatist Church of Scrooby was formed, led by William Brewster, and held in his home. When an orphan from a nearby town visited the Scrooby home church at the tender age of twelve, he witnessed an unusual service. He was astonished by the fellowship of believers, but more so by the lack of ritual. Time and again, this orphan named William Bradford, returned, drawn by the spiritual fervor of the congregation, never once suspecting that he would one day be their leader on another continent.
When the Scrooby congregation learned that King James intended to “harry them from the land,” they fled to Holland. On a side note, if you’ve ever read the King James Bible, it is named for King James I, under whose authority it was translated, the same man who intended to do away with the Separatists.
Their first attempt to flee failed as they had not secured permission to leave. A year later, they were allowed to sail for Amsterdam, Holland. The bustling trade city was somewhat overwhelming for the English country-folk and farmers. While there, they attended an English-speaking church which was built in 1392 and given to an English-speaking Presbyterian congregation in 1607. An international Christian community continues to worship there to this day.
Still, the Separatists were not comfortable in the big city, so they moved on to Leiden, Holland. Conditions were not much better in Holland than in England for the Pilgrims, and things soon became unbearable. While some were able to find work, most did not, due to the language barrier. Because they were not Dutch citizens, their civil rights were few. But of more concern was the effect that permissive Dutch values were having on the Pilgrim children. The congregation realized they would not be able to worship or live as they pleased in England or Holland, so they voted to make their way toward the New World.
Two Pilgrims were sent back to England to secure a land patent which would give them the legal right to travel to the New World and begin a settlement. In June of 1619, they had their patent. They hired two ships to take them to America: the Speedwell and the Mayflower. In July of 1620, both ships departed, loaded with Pilgrims, some fortune-seekers, and cargo.
The congregation fell to their knees on the deck of the Speedwell and it was recorded that, “With watery cheeks commended them most fervent prayers to the Lord and His blessing.”
Soon after departure, the Speedwell began taking on water. Both ships had to return to port where the Speedwell was repaired. Both ships again departed, but once more, the Speedwell began taking on water. The ships returned to Plymouth, England, and the Speedwell was deemed unreliable for the voyage. Suddenly, not everyone who wanted to go to the new world, could.
According to diaries and a ship’s log, the trip was fraught with danger. During a storm, a main mast was split and had to be repaired by using some of the house-building materials the Pilgrims had brought along. A passenger named John Howland was washed overboard during another storm, yet was able to grab a rope and was rescued. Howland would go on to have ten children in the New World. In fact, he is an ancestor of First Lady Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt and the George H.W. Bush family. Before they reached land, a crew member and another passenger died, and a baby was born. The baby boy was named Oceanus, and lived for seven years before dying of illness in America.
When the Pilgrims reached land, they were far north of their intended destination of Virginia. This posed a couple of problems: the land patent was for Virginia, and they arrived in December–not the most hospitable time of year for weather in New England.
Before disembarking, the Pilgrims signed The Mayflower Compact. They knew other settlements had failed due to lack of an established set of rules and government. The Mayflower Compact was a social contract in the form of a sacred covenant, sworn before
God, for the sake of their survival. This short contract is often referred to as the template for the Constitution of the United States, and the cornerstone of American government. Modern textbooks have stripped out the sacred language in the Mayflower Compact in order to be politically correct. I urge you to find an unadulterated copy and read it in full.
In all of this, the important thing to remember is that the Pilgrims, although weary, sick, and running low on food and water, courageously chose to settle. In that first winter, 2 to 3 people died every day. In 3 months half of the passengers and crew were dead.
With the arrival of spring came renewed health and spirits. The Pilgrims wished to build a peaceful relationship with the local native tribes. With the help of Squanto, an English-speaking native, the Pilgrims reached an agreement with Wampanoag Chief Massasoit. This agreement was honored by both the Pilgrims and the Indians for the next 60 years.
As spring gave way to summer, the Pilgrims busied themselves with building homes. Under the direction of their Indian friends, they began planting crops and were shown plentiful hunting and fishing grounds. The first autumn yielded an abundance of every kind of food. So what did they do? They celebrated!
They organized what we like to now call the first Thanksgiving. The idea of Thanksgiving–giving thanks to God–has a rich history. Begun by the Pilgrims in 1621, we still celebrate Thanksgiving today. But like so many things in the past, there are now disputes over the exact origin of the celebration. Was it a time of giving thanks to God and their native friends or just a fall harvest festival? That is up to you to decide for yourself.
But for further edification, there are two written accounts of that famous first Thanksgiving. The first is by William Bradford who gives no details about the “why.”
The second is by Edward Winslow. He describes how the governor sent four men out fowling (turkey hunting). The Pilgrims, along with 90 Wampanoag warriors and Chief Massasoit, feasted for days. In a letter, Winslow wrote, “And although it be not always so plentiful, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”
William Bradford, the orphan member of the Scrooby congregation, became governor of the Plymouth Colony in 1621. He served in that position for eleven years, and served in other ways until he passed away in 1657.
Today, millions of people in the United States can trace their ancestry to the original settlers from Scrooby. Most notable descendants of the Mayflower Pilgrims include seven American Presidents: John Adams, John Q. Adams,Taylor, Taft, Franklin D. Roosevelt, George H. W. Bush,George W. Bush.
In their lifetime, the Scrooby settlers lived as they believed; but their descendants lost the zeal for their faith and for peace between the settlers and the Indians. They took the words of Romans 12:8 seriously: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” The pilgrims from Scrooby remain a shining city on a hill in the annals of American history.
A condensed version of this blog is published in The Corry Journal, November 30, 2013.