Painting of the Mayflower by Mike Haywood. This post is revised and republished 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 a wild, unknown land. They had their reasons.
Their reasons for going
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.
In their minds these included local governance and a common law that was just to everyone. These ideals had not always been perfectly realized in England, but they had their birth there.
By late November, they had been sailing the Atlantic for two months, and they decided to land wherever they could.
Desperate as they were, when Cape Cod hove into view, the wintry desolation of 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 agreement. They bound themselves to cooperation and self-government under majority rule. Their agreement to make decisions democratically was remarkable then, and is still remarkable today. The Mayflower Compact they wrote was just three sentences long. Their brevity was unusual, too.
They didn’t churn out turgid paragraphs because they knew they had to live according to the Ten Commandments and Christ's teaching to love God and each other. They were not in any doubt about the honesty, respect and love which they were called to. Not surprisingly, they failed at being loving.
This was not because they were not good enough - who, we humbly ask, is good enough? - but because in trying to be good they ignored, as we shall see, a fundamental fact of human nature.
After they landed on the Cape, the pilgrims fished and hunted for food with the help of the spaniel and mastiff. They owned land together. Everyone shared everything. The Indians brought them corn.
Nevertheless half the pilgrims died of malnutrition and exposure. The Indians also suffered, many because they had no immunity to the new infectious diseases the pilgrims innocently carried with them - measles and mumps and chicken pox.
A fundamental fact of human nature ignored
The pilgrims had such a difficult time because they had turned their backs on a source of strength. It is the least-known aspect of the story.
The pilgrims tried to create a system in which no-one owned property, and everything was shared. Alas!
Those who worked hard ended up supporting those who didn't want to work. This would create problems for you, and it created problems for them. They were human. They needed the fuel of competition and individual gain to work hard and succeed.
Rather than resisting reality, or pretending it didn't exist, or pretending that things would change, but their ideology must stay the same, the pilgrims made adjustments.
In 1623 they established a 'new' economic system based on incentives and private property. Their government did not tell them how to make a living, did not insert innumerable regulations as stumbling blocks in their way, and did not seize the hard-earned fruits of their labour in high taxes. Government upheld a fair and just law, and in time, with the growth of the economy, protected citizens from unfair and unjust business practices.
America became a place where desperately poor people from all over the world could make a living.
By 1640 there were 20,000 Brits in New England, and they were flourishing. Despite death and loss, and sometimes despite themselves, they and their descendants helped to plant freedom in their newfound land.
Who to thank
In 1619, British settlers in Virginia celebrated “a day of thanksgiving to God”. In 1621, the pilgrims up north thanked God and their neighbours with a three-day feast with the Wampanoag people.
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 first thanksgivings were accompanied by the prayer that all people under the yoke of tyranny would become free.
In 1789, George Washington issued the first national Thanksgiving proclamation -
“Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be….”
They gave thanks to God, and as both Old and New Testaments instructed, many of them freely chose to share their abundance with others. As many still do today.
We thank God and them. We thank those who defend justice and freedom today. We give thanks for 'the bright inheritance of English freedom' and for Britain and America and for all that we have been given.
Thanks to Instapundit for the pilgrim link.