Some promoted the idea that American history began with the Indians; others argued that American history kicked off with a slave trade ship arrived in 1619.
History is like a little girl waiting to be dressed up. The final presentation of the little girl reflects the taste of her fashion stylist; the way history is narrated reflects the values of the narrator. Where do the traditional values of America come from?
During Thanksgiving this year, let’s revisit the history of the Puritans who first arrived at America 400 years ago. Together, we can reaffirm the traditional values of the United States and its American spirit behind.
In order to worship freely, a group of Puritans from Nottinghamshire, England longed to break away from the control of the state religion. They left their homeland in 1607, endured hardship and arrived at Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where the majority of Christians were Calvinists. Then they moved to Leiden, the Netherlands in 1608.
Having mastered some advanced technologies of the time for production, this group of diligent Puritans quickly settled down comfortably in the Netherlands. However, there seemed to be no end to the Dutch War of Independence. Meanwhile, the power of the Catholic church could come back at any time. Hedonism and secularism of the wealthy Dutch people had already threatened the faith of their next generation. Therefore, these Puritans conceived the idea of migration to the North American Continent, and eventually they took action in 1620.
The puritans chose what we may call a “reverse migration”, from the much more modern and civilized Europe to the savage land of North America in the new world. There was a loud voice of opposition to the idea. However, the supporters believed that great and glorious decisions always come with struggles. And they were ready to face the challenges with enormous courage and responsibilities. Laboring to achieve an honorable purpose that abides in God’s holy Law, they trusted God for blessings and dedicated human efforts for God’s glory.
So, these Puritans were split into two groups. One group stayed in the Netherlands; the other group moved to the new world. Many of them never met each other again. Before their departure, Pastor John Robinson quoted Ezra 8:21 in his sermon “then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.”
On July 22, 1620, they prayed together on the ship before departure and left Port of Delft, the Netherlands.
They left behind a beautiful and prosperous city, knowing their identity as pilgrims pursuing sacred glory. Their eyes were lifted and fixed upon heaven where the beloved kingdom of God provides ultimate peace for human souls.
They first went back to England in search of sponsorship from local merchants. As a result, they attracted all sorts of accompanies to the new world. On August 5th, 1620, around 120 sailed from Southampton on two ships, Speedwell and Mayflower. Soon, Speedwell aborted the trip and stayed in England due to a serious water leak and perhaps the captain’s lack of will to go. Except for a few, most people boarded Mayflower. On September 6th, Mayflower departed Plymouth with 102 people on board.
Mayflower was 32 meters long, 7.5 meters wide. She traveled only 2 miles per hour within the 65-day voyage and nothing was particularly unexpected. During that voyage, they suffered the loss of two lives but celebrated the birth of two new lives.
On November 11th, they arrived at Cape Cod in New England. December 11th, 1620, they settled down in Plymouth Rock, 35 miles from today’s Boston. On December 25th, they started to build the first communal house.
In order to build up their community, the Pilgrims drafted the Mayflower Compact. This historical document brought forth a special civic and political unity. They unanimously agreed to
frame just and equal Laws and ordinances on the foundation of their Christian faith for the general good of the colony and promised all due submission and obedience.
One of the core ideas that United States was founded on is this: “We the people” govern ourselves by making laws for the general good. The birth of the Mayflower Compact on Mayflower proclaimed a brand-new era. The Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were only possible because the Mayflower Compact paved the way for them. The Mayflower Compact was the source of the ideas of American constitutional republic. This significant piece of document served as a precursor to the American Constitution. Its impact on the founding and development of the American political and legal system can never be overstated.
The Mayflower passengers also brought forth the most important traditional holiday of the United States: Thanksgiving.
It was bitter cold when they set foot on the North American Continent praising God. The land was full of uncultivated wilderness. With the vast ocean behind them they had no return. The first winter was extremely harsh, within 2-3 months, death of half the population clothed the whole colony with grief. Sometimes, they could count two or three death in a day. And they were hit to the bottom when only 6 or 7 among them were healthy enough to work. In such toil and turmoil, whom else could they trust but the triune God!
At first, they were enemies to the Indians. Things changed soon, in the Spring of 1621, Samoset, an Indian came to them speaking some English. Then Samoset introduced to them Squanto, who had been to England and fluent in English. Squanto later helped the Puritans to sign a peace treaty with the Chief of the Wampanoag tribe.
In April 1621, William Bradford was elected as governor. He was re-elected 30 times before he passed away in 1657. His writing “Of Plymouth Plantation” became an important historical document of this period of time. One of his famous quotes says: “I have bene (pray) the larger in these things, and so shall Grave leave in some like passages following, (though in other things I shall labour to be more contrate,) that their children may see with what difficulties their fathers wrestled in going through these things in their first beginnings, and how God brought them along notwithstanding all their weaknesses and infirmities.”
Finally, their labor harvested great fruits in the Fall of 1621. They decided to set apart 3 days for celebration and to give thanks to God for His grace. Participants included all who survived the winter of 1620 and also around 90 Indian friends. Only four wives and 5 single young ladies prepared abundant food for all. The menu included five roasted deer and various birds (probably including turkeys), pumpkins and all kinds of vegetables.
This was the real history of the first Thanksgiving. Afterwards, in 1789, the first American president, George Washington, issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation; in 1863, President Lincoln issued his Thanksgiving Proclamation. In 1941, the US Congress passed a bill to set apart the last Thursday of November as the official national holiday of Thanksgiving.
Mayflower only marked the beginning of the Puritan journeys to North American Continent. Subsequently, one voyage after another, more Puritans came to New England with the same noble purposes for life and eternity.
In 1630, on Abella sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, Puritan leader Pastor John Winthrop preached in a sermon, “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God‘s sake. We shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going……Therefore let us choose life, that we and our seed may live, by obeying His voice and cleaving to Him, for He is our life and our prosperity.”
This was the historical origin of the American spirit: A puritan made a covenant with God to build a city on the hill. It came from an initial decision through a covenant and it would have to take many decisions thereafter to keep that covenant and fulfill the promises. Today, America is standing at a crossroad. Will she choose to return to this covenant at the heart of her original spirit and founding values? Or will she choose to break the covenant? It is a decisive moment for all of us who live on this land, it is our choices.
Thanksgiving is near, may this short glimpse into the American history 400 years ago bring peace to you. Together, let’s celebrate, give thanks to God for His grace, and keep praying for the future of the United States of America!