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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Let Us Give Thanks

 What Is Thanksgiving?  

We can find many, many varied historical accounts of the first Thanksgiving and its real origins from many points of view -- those of supposedly unbiased historians in volumes of books, those of Native American descent in oral and written tradition, and those of the Mayflower English settlers noted in old journals and documents. Who would not suspect that the first American Thanksgiving was a combination of all accounts?

Whether a person wishes to celebrate Thanksgiving as a religious observance, an acknowledgment of peace between explorers of the New World and its original inhabitants, or a time marking the beginnings of a genocide as two cultures collided, most historical writings about Thanksgiving cite the occurrence of an actual event (a harvest feast) in 1621 involving a day (or days) of a special occasion. 

Who Were the So-called Pilgrims?  

At least, we can generally agree on the English ancestry and identity of the Pilgrims. Or, can we?

We all grew up with a traditional view of the Pilgrims dressed in somber and straight-laced clothing with shades of grays and black and wide collars. In American grade schools, we made Pilgrim hats and learned Pilgrim traditions in addition to drawing scenes of a bountiful turkey feast. And, we all were asked to remember the Pilgrims in honor of these, our founding fathers, on this wonderful day. 

The Pilgrim story actually began long before the Mayflower set sail when a group of religious dissidents from Scooby in the northern part of England believed it was necessary to separate from the Church of England.  Persecuted in England, these "Separatists" moved to Holland in 1607/1608.  Holland was a haven for the fleeing English Separatist families. 

Historian Kathy Leigh stated, "The Separatists did not recognize the established church, and some of them, at least, doubted that the Church of England was scriptural or that its administrations were valid. They held that any convenient number of believers might form a church and make or unmake their officers as they saw fit; that over the spiritual affairs of the church no bishop, council, synod, court, or sovereign had authority." 

Other churches of the same faith might not, unasked, even offer advice. Their pastors had no standing outside the parish. They were known as Separatists, Independents, or Congregationalists. 

(Kathy Leigh,, September 22 2006)

After first settling in Amsterdam, the Scrooby congregation moved to the Dutch settlement of Leiden in 1609.  Leiden was a university town, vibrant and cosmopolitan.  There, the refugees found jobs, sometimes as textile workers.  

After a decade in Leiden, the low wages, the danger of renewed war with Spain, and concern for their children's future led them to seek another solution. The Scroobies had noticed that their children were growing up more Dutch than English. 

 (Alan Brinkly, American History, 11th Edition) 

They feared their solemn puritan beliefs would suffer through continued contact with the pleasure-loving people of Holland.  At this point, the Leiden Separatist community decided to relocate to America. 

(Pilgrim Hall Museum, May 18 2005)

In another view of the Separatist journey to America, the Reverend Roger Fritts stated that only five in the group had actually suffered religious persecution in England. "In reality they wanted to sail to America because they hoped to establish in the New World the 'Kingdom of God' foretold in the book of Revelation. 

(, November 24 2002)

 People Of the Mayflower

The Separatists that boarded the Mayflower were also joined by other colonists recruited by the venture's financial backers. The Dutch were unusually tolerant, having themselves suffered religious persecution by Spain, so many people other than the Leiden Separatists had moved there.

The Englishmen who sailed on the Mayflower were a very unusual mixture of people from many different backgrounds.They came from both big cities like London and small villages. Some were fishermen; others were weavers, farmers, or even printers. About half of these original settlers had been living together as part of an English church in Holland. Many were simply hoping to improve their lot in life. 

According to the Pilgrim Hall Museum of Plymouth, Massachusetts (May 18, 2005), "Early Plymouth records refer to all passengers from the first four ships as 'First Comers.' These ships were the Mayflower (1620), the Fortune (1621), the Anne and the Little James (1623)." 

The term Pilgrim was not generally used until the early 1800s. In fact, no single definition of "Pilgrim" exists. What we typically call Pilgrims today were really many families, Separatists and non-Separatists and Separatist sympathizers alike, all who traveled to America in the 1620s.

Reverend Roger Fritts of the Unitarian Universalist Church stated, "Of the seventy adult passengers on the Mayflower, only twenty-seven adults were Pilgrims. Forty-three of the adult passengers the Pilgrims called 'Strangers.' The forty-three strangers had no religious interest in the colony. The Strangers were personal servants, indentured servants, or adventurous pioneers. Their goal was to seek their fortune in the New World, not to find religious freedom."   

(, November 24 2002) 

Financing the Journey

It cost a lot of money to sail across the ocean and bring everything needed to start a new colony.

According to Plimouth Plantation ( "Since the English colonists were all of the 'middlin sort,' neither very poor nor very rich, they depended upon some wealthy men in London to pay for everything. In return they promised to work together as a company for 7 year's time. At the end of their 7-year contract, the colonists would get land in the 'New World' and the wealthy men in London would be even wealthier because of all the fish sent back." 

But, when they anchored in the New World, some of these passengers thought they could do as they pleased since they were outside the bounds of English law. So they threatened to take their freedom as soon as they got on land. 

To solve the problem, the Pilgrims wrote the Mayflower Compact. The Compact was an agreement signed by all the men on board-including the indentured servants-promising to abide by laws that would be drawn up and agreed upon by all male members of the community. The women were not allowed to participate in the governing process. 

(Duane A. Cline,, 2006)

John T. Marck, author and freelance writer, revealed that the wealthy men financing the exploration were the Virginia Company, granted permission my King James. The 70 English merchant financiers were known as the "Adventurers," and money needed to charter the ship and buy the provisions was raised by taking stock at ten pounds a share. This stock was derived by the colonists selling their estates and putting their money into the common stock. The joint-stock company they invested in hoped to make a profit from the fur trade, from fishing, and from any other method they could invent. 

As it turned out, it was more profitable for the colonists to trade with Native people for beaver and otter furs, and then send the furs back, than try to catch fish.

("The Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving,"

The First Voyage  

Paula Aspell, executive producer of Mayflower, a six-hour reality series, said that the original Mayflower was not a comfortable ship. It was a merchant vessel — designed to transport cargo, not people. Folks slept on hammocks rigged below deck in tight quarters. During stormy weather, they were forbidden from coming on deck.
(Dan Oldenwald, Current, November 3 2003)

Dr. C. Matthew McMahon reported the first group of 102 Mayflower colonists braved harsh elements for almost three months to arrive off the coast of what is now Massachusetts.
Halfway across, the ship was damaged by a bad storm. Once there, It took almost a month for the search party to find a suitable place for their settlement, but they finally found it: an abandoned Wampanoag village with a plentiful water supply, good harbor, cleared fields and a hill on which to build a fort for protection. 

The Mayflower dropped anchor in Provincetown Harbor on Novembr 22, 1620.


It took ten years to transfer most of the rest of the community to Plymouth.  The many ships after the Mayflower carried members of the congregation. Some, including pastor John Robinson, died before they could arrange passage.

Calvanism In The New World

Loraine Boettner, American theologian and author, stated that Calvanism came to American in the Mayflower, and George Bancroft, one of the greatest American historians, said the Pilgrim Fathers were "Calvinist in their faith according to the straightest system."

John Calvin was a French reformer and a prominent influence throughout the 16th Century because of his role in the confessional and ecclesiastical debates of the day. Calvin believed in the predestination of human events, and thought Christian religious art and sculpture were forms of pagan idolatry. He practiced plainness, simplicity, and strict morality.


Today, this term Calvinist also refers to the doctrines and practices of the Reformed churches of which Calvin was an early leader. 
Estimates say of the 3,000,000 Americans at the time of the American Revolution, 900,000 were of Scotch or Scotch-Irish origin, 600,000 were Puritan English, and 400,000 were German or Dutch Reformed. 
In addition to this, the Episcopalians had a Calvinistic confession in their Thirty-nine Articles, and many French Huguenots also had come to this western world. Thus, about two-thirds of the colonial population had been trained in the school of Calvin.  
 (www.oldtruth, November 24 2005)
Plimouth Plantation ( stated a revolutionary Thanksgiving idea: 
"In fact, the Pilgrims weren't really pilgrims at all! The word pilgrim refers to someone who travels a great distance to a special or sacred place for religious reasons. But the people who came on the Mayflower in 1620 and settled on the site of modern-day Plymouth, Massachusetts, didn't come just for religious reasons. Mainly, they came for economic ones—to build a better life for themselves and their families." 
Plimouth Plantation historians call the Pilgrims English colonists. The strict religious separatists were the smallest group within the ranks of the colonists. But, they were also the most organized. 
("Who Were the Pilgrims...Really?
Even today, the group known as "Pilgrims" are often confused with the Puritans of the same time era. They were not the same although superficially they did share some of the same characteristics. 


The so-called "Pilgrims" (Scrooby colonists) came first in 1620 to Plymouth, Massachusetts. Then, the Puritans arrived some ten years later at Massachusetts Bay. The Puritans were a much larger religious group that eventually took over the Plymouth Colony.

Thanksgiving 8000 Calorie Poem

May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious
and your pies take the prize,
and may your Thanksgiving dinner
stay off your thighs!


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