PILGRIMS & THANKSGIVING: A TIME OF MOURNING?


Here’s one from our own Lee Pierce!  This guy is always reading…and in the process, I end up getting educated! 🙂

He has submitted some information here that I was not aware of.  Take a look…. -anita

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PILGRIMS & THANKSGIVING: A TIME OF MOURNING?

I’ve been reading up on what I thought I knew about the Pilgrims at Plymouth settlement. Their courage has always intrigued me and after I read a damaging quote about them recently, I sought to find out more. The quote comes by way of Seattle public school officials back in November of 2007: Seattle school officials are telling teachers that Thanksgiving actually is a time of “mourning” since it represents “500 years of betrayal [of Native Americans].”

I was first shocked that I never heard about this statement at the time it occurred. And upon reading further, I came to agree with at least some of the sentiment expressed. Clearly, Native Americans were treated harshly and often unfairly by our government at many points as the nation expanded across the continent. But were the first Pilgrims part of that; did the Pilgrims treat the Native Americans harshly? I wanted to find out.

Film critic/writer Michael Medved states that for the Pilgrims to be characterized as people fleeing persecution in Europe only to come to the new World and become oppressors of Native Americans themselves “is wrong on every count.” Medved’s position on this is that the Pilgrims were not fleeing religious persecution or the Church of England at all. He states correctly that, in fact, the Pilgrims had been living for more than a decade in religion-tolerant Holland. Rather, the Pilgrims were fleeing social seduction—“worrying that their children would be corrupted by the materialistic Dutch culture.” Their fears must have been dearly held given what they had to endure to cross the ocean in 1620 and attempt to carve out a way of life for themselves in an unknown and hostile land. At the first Thanksgiving, a three-day feast, some 90 natives were present along with 53 colonists (nearly half of the original Pilgrim group died in the first year).

If you want to know more about these early settlers and their intent, I found a wonderful web site, www.mayflowerhistory.com, that you should explore. On this site one can find original source materials regarding the Pilgrims, including several journals written by some of them. If you are willing to invest some time reading through their journals—which are a bit ponderous at times, given the long sentence structures and some archaic verbiage—you will be rewarded with an inside look at the lives of these hardy, courageous Pilgrims.

And while the Seattle educators sought to portray the Pilgrims as those who would steal the natives’ corn, unearth and defile their graves, and ransack their houses, the journals tell a much different story. Regarding the graves: the Pilgrims did find and open a mound which they finally determined to be a grave site. But rather than defile the site, the Pilgrims acted honorably: “because we deemed them [the mounds] graves…left them untouched, because we thought it would be odious to [the natives] to ransack their sepulchers.” The Pilgrims came upon a completely abandoned native village in which they did find some corn and other edibles to which they helped themselves but with the intent that, if they could find the native owners of the corn, they would trade with them and “satisfy [pay] them for their corn….”

What about Squanto, the helpful Native American who helped the Pilgrims immeasurably? His real name was Tisquantum and, incredibly, he was a former member of that abandoned village the Pilgrims had come upon. His story is an astounding tale and his role in helping the Pilgrims sounds like a God-thing to me. He had grown up a child in that village and was captured by men who sold him into slavery in Spain. He later was taught some English and was helped and freed by Spanish monks, and he then made his way to England and eventually back to his village. Unfortunately, at some point, the entire village was wiped out by disease (possibly smallpox). A few months after the Pilgrims landed, on March 16, 1621 according to the journals, Squanto “boldly” walked alone into the Pilgrims’ camp in Patuxet in what is now Massachusetts, and introduced himself in English and told them the story of the “extraordinary plague” which killed every man, woman, and child four years prior. Among his many contributions in aid of the Pilgrims, Squanto was instrumental in helping negotiate a friendly trade agreement with Massasoit, the influential chief of another local tribe and who became very friendly and helpful to the settlers, also.

I quite liked Medved’s interpretation of Squanto’s appearance and the great contributions he made to assist the Pilgrims in adapting to their new land. “Against all odds, [Squanto] proved to be the single human being on the continent best-suited to help the struggling settlers, since he spoke English and had already embraced Christianity,” according to Medved.

The Plymouth settlement never became a major colony—the nearby Massachusetts Bay colony which came later, grew much faster, and swallowed up the descendants of the Plymouth colony by the late 1600s. Medved, however, lauds the original colony settlers for their great influence on the nation’s character. As evidenced so often in their journals, these Pilgrims were convinced God was protecting them and, as Medved puts it, “not to grant special privileges, but to impose special responsibilities.”

Many of these journals were compiled by a Pilgrim settler who signs himself as “G. Mourt.”  Mr. Mourt prefaces his intent in the publication of his journals by stating his “desire of carrying the Gospel of Christ, into [these] foreign parts, amongst those people who as yet have had no knowledge, nor taste of God….” Certainly, with God’s help, great things can be done. And, as Medved puts it, thinking back to the Seattle public school officials quoted above, the Pilgrims “understood that people of every culture and every era can gain more from gratitude than from guilt.” A “time of mourning?” Hardly. Enjoy your blessings this Thanksgiving holiday, just as the Pilgrims did, and remember to give thanks, as they did, to the One who makes it all possible.

Lee Pierce

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