Dr. Richard Booker
Because of the popularity of the Thanksgiving holiday, all Americans have heard of the Pilgrims. Anyone who has studied American history knows something about the Puritans.
But who were the Pilgrims and Puritans? They were Bible believing Christians who did not like the fact that the secular British government, ruled by a secular king, also ruled over the Christian Church of England. The king dictated church doctrines and practices that benefited him and forbade those that didn’t. As you would expect, this corrupted the organized Church of England. That is why it is important, that from an organizational control standpoint, political and religious institutions are not governed by the same entity. This is what Thomas Jefferson meant by the separation of church and state – no state church.
The Puritans and Pilgrims didn’t like a secular king telling them what they could believe and how they could practice their Christian faith. They wanted to study the Bible for themselves, establish their own beliefs as they understood the Bible, and decide for themselves how to live out their faith.
Separation of Church and State Not God and State
In other words, they did not want freedom from religion; but freedom of religion. They did not want the government to have a government church. They acknowledged God as their sovereign; not the King of England. They wanted freedom of conscience to believe and live as they understood the Bible; and not what the King of England told them to believe and do. They would never have thought of kicking God out of the government but wanted to kick the government out of the church. They wanted God to rule the government not the government to rule the church.
Of course this desire for freedom of conscience threatened the king who was not going to tolerate this dissent. King James I vowed to “make these deviants conform or he would harass them out of the land or else do worse.” The more they sought religious freedom; the more the king persecuted them. Using biblical terms, we might say that God hardened the King of England’s heart.
The Puritans thought they could purify the corrupted Church of England from within. The Pilgrims believed otherwise. They didn’t see any hope for change as long as the king was the head of the church. So the Pilgrims separated themselves from the Church of England. This is why they were called Separatists.
The Pilgrim Exodus
Because they were persecuted, the Pilgrims fled England to Holland and then twelve years later they left Holland, bordered a ship called the Mayflower and sailed to America on September 6, 1620. Sixty six days later they arrived at Cape Cod and at Plymouth Rock on December 11. Over the next twenty years, 16,000 Puritans crossed the ocean and founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
The Pilgrims were totally connected to the Hebraic roots of Christianity. They saw themselves as reenacting the Exodus from Egypt except they were fleeing the King of England and crossing the ocean to a new promise land. They identified with the Hebrew people, the Hebrew Bible and the Hebrew language. For example, it is likely that the Thanksgiving celebration of the Pilgrims was based on the Feast of Tabernacles in Leviticus 23:39. It was this connection that brought Judeo-Christian morals and ethics to America that made America great. No matter who is in the White House, we must return to our Judeo-Christian heritage to “Make America Great Again.” This will require intense spiritual warfare and much civil unrest because those who hate God would rather destroy the country than bow to God.
[For further information on the Hebraic roots of the Pilgrims, please order my book, Christians, Jews and Israel: Standing Together in Troubled Times.
The First Thanksgiving
Of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower, only 53 survived the first winter. In the fall of 1621, they celebrated their survival and a successful harvest that we know of as the “First Thanksgiving.”Along with the Pilgrims, ninety Native Americans, including King Massasoit, came to the feast that lasted for three days. Ladies, can you imagine preparing for and feeding this many people for three days?
There are two descriptions of that first thanksgiving from eyewitness accounts, both written in King James English. The first is from Edward Winslow who writes:
“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”
William Bradford was the governor of the Colony. He writes:
“They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.”
There are some teachers and writers who claim that the Pilgrims stole land from the Native Americans and treated them harshly. This is not true. The Pilgrims and the Native Americans in their neighborhood signed a peace treaty of mutual respect and friendship that lasted fifty years. How many treaties do you know that last fifty years? It was only later that less honorable people from both sides violated the trust between the parties.
A Miracle of Survival
Of the original 102 Mayflower passengers, 29 were women. Eighteen were married, ten were children and one was single. Of the eighteen married women, fourteen died in the first winter leaving only four surviving married women. These were Mary Brewster, Susanna White, Elizabeth Hopkins, and Ellen Billington. Symbolically, America was born from the womb of these few godly women who had a Judeo-Christian, Hebraic faith and worldview. Think about it!
Bradford acknowledged the divine providence of God with these words, “Thus out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things from nothing, and gives being to all thing that are; and, as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many, yea, in some sort to our whole nation; let the glorious name of Jehovah have all the praise.”
In 1650, Bradford writes, “Of these 100 or so of persons who came over first, more than half died in the first general sickness. Of those that remained, some were too old to have children. Nevertheless in those thirty years there have sprung up from that stock over 160 persons now living in this year 1650; and of the old stock itself, nearly thirty persons still survive. Let the Lord have the praise, Who is the High Preserver of men.”