Dr. Richard Booker
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.”
LET US GIVE THANKS!