Painting of the Mayflower by Mike Haywood.
This post is revised and published every year.
The 102 men, women, and children who left Plymouth in 1620 to sail west across the Atlantic crowded into a small boat with their ploughs, guns, a spaniel and a mastiff. Many of the pilgrims slept on the Mayflower's deck, sheltering under rowboats as they headed into the equinoctial gales of the Atlantic. Halfway across, storms cracked a main beam, and almost sank the ship, but they made the necessary repairs, and sailed on, not toward civilization, but toward wilderness.
Whatever persuaded them to make the voyage?
According to their journals, they decided to go to America because they wanted to share Christ's Gospel and worship as they pleased and because they longed to retain their English language and customs.
By late November, they had been sailing the Atlantic for two months, and decided to land wherever they could. But desperate though they were, the wintry desolation of Cape Cod on America's eastern seaboard, took them aback. They realized they had to make a plan of action if they were going to survive.
On deck the men drafted an astounding agreement.
They bound themselves to cooperation and self-government under majority rule. Their agreement to make decisions cooperatively and democratically was remarkable then. It is still remarkable today.
The Mayflower Compact they wrote was just three sentences long.
They didn’t churn out turgid paragraphs about how their cooperation was to occur. They knew they had to live according to the Ten Commandments and Christ's teaching to love God and each other. They understood that at times they would certainly fail, but they were not in any doubt about the honesty, respect and love which were called to.
After they landed on the Cape they fished and hunted for food with the help of the spaniel and mastiff. The Indians brought them corn. Nevertheless half the pilgrims died of malnutrition and exposure. The Indians also suffered, some at the hands of unscrupulous settlers, and many because they had no resistance to infectious diseases from Western Europe.
In 1619, British settlers in Virginia celebrated “a day of thanksgiving to God”. In 1621, the pilgrims thanked God and their neighbours with a three-day feast with the Wampanoag people.
By 1640 there were 20,000 Brits in New England, and they were flourishing. Despite death and loss, and sometimes despite themselves, they helped to plant freedom in their newfound land.
More than a century later, in the darkest, most miserable days of the American Revolution, a great victory was won at Saratoga on 31 October 1777, and Sam Adams led Congress in declaring "a day of Thanksgiving" to God. Those thanksgivings were accompanied by the prayer that all people under the yoke of tyranny be made free.
To all those who defend justice and freedom today, thank you.