Saturday, November 13, 2010

Mayflower Voyage of Pilgrim Settlers

This Thanksgiving Holiday, let us remember the Mayflower Pilgrims paid a great sacrifice from severe suffering to death to ensure religious freedom and found the new colony. They endured outward trials with strong inner faith.

Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall, 1882 (PD).
  The Mayflower Pilgrims suffered a dangerous journey to evade severe persecution. As we consider this holiday Thanksgiving Feast, there is so much we can emulate from their story. King James I declared them undesirables. Archbishop Tobias Matthew raided their homes and imprisoned their families. Their leader, William Brewster, fled into hiding.

Betrayal. The Pilgrims were beset with disappointments and false starts before finally setting sail. They intended to leave England in early 1620 with their sister ship the Speedwell. However, after much complication, they attempted a first journey on August 15 but were forced to turn back. It was later surmised, the master of the Speedwell actually sabotaged his ship with a leak to avoid making the journey. Eventually, the dauntless Mayflower departed on its own September 6, 1620.

On board were 102 settlers: 27 adults were Pilgrims, 43 were not. The remaining passengers were called “strangers,” pioneers and servants with not such a religious interest in founding the new colony. The ship worked a crew of 25 or 30, including William Bradford and John Alden. Alden hired on as a barrel-maker at South Hampton. Eventually, he chose to throw in his lot with the Pilgrims.

Heaving and rolling in the waves, the little ship on its westerly voyage logged sixty-six days resisting strong Atlantic storms and turbulent seas. It's return journey months later lasted only half that time.

The miracle realized day by day 
was the ship remained afloat!

Man overboard!” The waves washed John Howland overboard. By God's blessing, he managed to grab a topsail halyard dragging in the water. The line saved his life and the crew pulled him aboard.

Land ahoy!” The crew sighted the new world on November 9th off Cape Cod. An attempt to sail on south to their intended destination, the mouth of the Hudson River, failed at the shallows off Pollack Rip in shoals approaching Nantucket Island. With cold winter coming on strong, the adventurers agreed to return to the safety of Cape Cod.

Unsure of the legal rights to settle, they wrote and ratified the Mayflower Compact in the waters of Provincetown Harbor. This further gave them the right to govern themselves officially as an English town.

Cold and hunger forced the explorers to steal corn from nearby Indian caches to survive. While the men undertook these exploits, Susanna White gave birth to her son, Peregrine White, on board the ship in November. The stealing of Indian corn, however, caused the first hostile encounter in December with local Indians near Eastham.

Fearing further hostilities, the settlers decided to sail into Plymouth Harbor on December 17th. After a few stormy days, the first landing party set foot ashore near the legendary Plymouth Rock, December 21st, 1620, and prayed for God's blessings.

The continued wintry weather severely slowed plans to build shelters. Sickness and death weakened the settlers: men, women, and children. Many of them did not depart the ship for some six months. Slowly, only seven residences and four common houses were initially constructed during that first winter.

The settlers suffered from a mixture of scurvy, pneumonia, and tuberculosis, compounded by winter cold and the crowded conditions waiting on board the ship. Sadly, 45 of 102 settlers died during the first critical winter. Half the crew died as well. One baby was still-born during the construction. Of 18 women, 14 died, leaving only four living adult women. As a result, by the following November, 1621, only 53 survivors celebrated that first Thanksgiving.

On March 21, the remaining families 
left the waiting ship. 

On April 5, 1621, the crew of the Mayflower, itself, departed the colony having spent a four month anchorage in Plymouth Harbor. The ship returned to England.

These early Pilgrims paid a great sacrifice from severe suffering to death to ensure their religious freedom and found the new colony. They endured outward trials with strong inner faith. The Pilgrims persevered to overcome persecution and hardship and give this nation a new birth of freedom.

This Thanksgiving, will we dare to remember, cherish and preserve this heritage of freedom?

Bill Hunt

Resources: Read “Mayflower” and “Plymouth Colony” at

Getting ready for your first turkey or dissatisfied with the dry results you got last year? Not to worry--"Mr. Thanksgiving," Rick Rodgers, is here to teach Thanksgiving 101. And he ought to know. For the last eight years he has been traveling the country to teach his class as the media spokesperson for Perdue Farms, an industrial giant among turkey producers.

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