Thanksgiving links & Index to Chronologies


Pilgrims, Bible, Persecution and Thanksgiving

     Note: Since some of our sources used the old Julian calendar, the dates shown may not always match today's calendar.


    John Wycliffe translated an English Bible from the Vulgate..


    William Tyndale translated the New Testament from the original Greek and Hebrew texts. Since the printing press had recently been invented, the "common people" with access to the Bible could finally discover God's truths on their own, which angered the Catholic church-state establishment. Tyndale was captured, "tried," and "burned on the stake" in 1536 -- before finishing the Old Testament.


    King Henry VIII authorized the Miles Coverdale Bible based on earlier translations, not on Greek and Hebrew texts. "Circulation of these and other translations... during the 16th century caused a demand for a version of the Bible that would have the sanction of ecclesiastical authorities behind it." Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol 3 (1968), page 580.

1553     The new Bibles were banned under "Bloody" Mary's reign (1553 to 1558) As as Queen over England and Ireland, the oldest daughter of  Henry VIII restored militant Catholicism. In 1554, she entered into a political marriage with Philip of Spain, the Catholic tyrant who spearheaded the Spanish Inquisition. The two agreed that any religion outside the strict boundaries of papal decrees must be eradicated. British resisters were burned at the stake. 
1558   Queen Elizabeth -- the sister and successor of the Catholic Queen (Bloody) Mary, was determined to establish the Church of England as the only church. While Queen Mary had persecuted protestants, government officials now punished those who refused to conform to the new Church of England.

    The Geneva Bible was translated from the early Greek and Hebrew texts by British Puritans. Refusing to compromise their faith, they fled to Geneva for refuge from British persecution.


    Jan Hus, a teacher the Charles University in Prague, Bohemia (Czechoslovakia) was "burned at the stake" for following his conscience and preaching from the Bible to thousands of people, thus defying the Catholic hierarchy. He had translated Wycliffe's books on church reform and, like the Puritans that followed him, stressed the authority of God's Word and personal purity.


    Thanksgiving services were held in English churches to thank God for victory over the Spanish Armada.


    "The term 'Pilgrims', was first used... in the 'Confession of Faith' they adopted and, in later references, to their own idea of life on earth as a pilgrimage towards heavenly bliss." Reference


    Committed Christians with access to Bibles began to question the old Catholic traditions which still influenced the new Protestant churches in England. These "Puritans" longed to see a more "pure" church, freed from the bureaucratic forms that clouded the truth of the gospel. They wanted to continue the "reformation" of the church, bringing it into line with Biblical guidelines.

    Some of these Puritans, called "Pilgrims" or "Separatist" had little hope that the government controlled church could be reformed. They wanted to separate themselves completely from the official (Anglican) Church of England. But that was against the law. So when they decided to start new congregations and live by God's Word, they were persecuted.



     One of the Separatist congregation was led by William Brewster in the village of Scrooby (or Scruby) in Nottinghamshire. But these Puritans had little freedom to worship God and follow His Word and their conscience. Non-conformity was punishable by imprisonment and torture. (Sounds like the illegal home churches in China, doesn't it?) 

    Young, fatherless William Bradford, born in 1590, joined the Scrooby congregation and would be among the 125 uncompromising separatists who fled to Holland in search of religious freedom. Loving God's Word, he read through the Bible at age 12. 


     Queen Elizabeth died. (By now, the Bible was the most read book in the land) Her successor, King James I, persecuted Catholics as well as the Protestant Puritans and Separatists. He believed he had the divine right to rule as he pleased, and he opposed all who refused to submit to the official church bureaucracy. "In a fit of rage at these people, the Puritans, King James vowed, 'I shall make them conform or I will harry them out of the land, or else do worse.'" Glimpses Issue #20: Pilgrims in a Strange Land


     The Separatists (uncompromising Puritans) would not violate their conscience by participating in the (Anglican) Church of England with its remnants of Catholicism. Believing the true Church must submit to the headship of Christ, not to the spiritual edicts of their hostile king or the compromising church establishment, they had asked permission to start their own church, but King James had denied their request.      

     Ridiculed by their neighbors, harassed by the courts, and forbidden to share the truths of salvation, they saw only one option: to flee to Holland. "With the situation growing more intense the Scrooby congregation realized they could not stay, yet they were not allowed to go."  Prisoners in their own land, they could not leave without passports and permission from the King's Privy Council.


     After secretly boarding a ship and paying "the large expenditure," the Separatists discovered that they had been betrayed. "King James' local sheriff with his bailiffs appeared on the scene to arrest them." They "stripped them of their money, books and other goods before they were presented to the magistrates." Many of the men were jailed -- including William Brewster and the 17- year-old William Bradford. The Pilgrims

     Meanwhile, the Jamestown Colony is founded in Virginia.



     The second attempt to leave began even more disastrously. While loading his ship and waiting for the women and children to arrive, "the ship master saw a large company of the Kings' officers, both horse and foot, marching in with weapons to take those on shore. The Dutchman weighed anchor, hoisted his sails and sped away. The poor men who were aboard were in great distress for their destitute wives and children which they saw being taken into custody....

     "While at sea the men had to endure a terrifying storm at sea, 'being fourteen days or more before they arrived at their port, in seven whereof they neither saw the sun, moon or stars.'" The ship, headed [headed] north toward the coast of Norway, began to sink and "even the mariners themselves feared for their lives."
      Desperate, the Pilgrims turned to God. As Bradford recorded, "when man's hope and help wholly failed, the Lord's Power and mercy appeared in their recovery; for the ship rose again and gave the mariners courage again to manage her. And if modesty would suffer me, I might declare with what fervent prayers
they cried unto the Lord in this great distress.... Upon which the ship did not only recover, but shortly after the violence of the storm began to abate, and the Lord filled their afflicted minds with such comforts as everyone cannot understand, and in the end brought them to their desired haven, where the people came flocking, admiring their deliverance, the storm having been so long and sore...."
      "Those on shore who were arrested were shuffled from one place to another and from one justice to another. The authorities did not know what to do with them. If they jailed so many women and innocent children for no other reason but having to go with their husbands, there would be a public outcry against them. The remaining women had no place to go because their homes and goods had already sold or otherwise disposed of and they had no way of making a living. In the end the authorities were so weary of the problematic situation they were happy to be rid of them on any terms....
     "Bradford continues, 'They endured many other passages and troubles and underwent these wanderings and travels both at land and at sea. Yet, by those so public troubles in so many places their cause became famous and occasioned many to look into the same, and their godly carriage and Christian behavior was such as left a deep impression in the minds of many.... And in the end, notwithstanding all these storms of opposition, they all got over at length, some at one time and some at another, and some in one place and some in another, and met together again according to their desires, with no small rejoicing.'"
     Finally, 125 members of the Scrooby congregation reached Holland, including William Brewster and William Bradford, who had stayed behind to help the women and children."
Second Attempt to Depart



    "The twelve years these Christians spent in Holland were difficult ones, but they accepted the difficulties as part of their lot as pilgrims --wanderers and sojourners in a strange land.... Most of the pilgrims had been farmers in England, but in Holland they had to learn new jobs, and even the children were worn down by hard work." Glimpses


    Despite his treatment of the non-conformists, King James authorized the translation of the Bible we know as the King James Version. The work had begun in 1604, urged by John Rainolds, a Puritan, and accomplished by 54 scholars from Oxford, Cambridge and Westminster. One of the King's objectives was to totally replace the Geneva Bible with a new Bible that would honor him through future generations.


    While Holland offered a sanctuary from persecution, the pilgrims were still within reach of King James, who continued to harass the dissident pilgrims.

    "Many of the Separatists began to wonder if there was any improvement in their lives since they were still overshadowed by persecution and religious strife. William Brewster had to go into hiding. Edward Winslow said: 'How hard the country was . . . How grievous to live from under the protection of the State of England. How like we were to lose our language, and our name, of English. How little good we did, or are likely to do, to the Dutch in reforming the Sabbath. How unable to give such education to our children as we ourselves have received.' ...
    "William Bradford wanted to spread the Christian gospel in some distant part of the world - in truth to be a pilgrim. Having noted that the twelve year truce between Spain and Holland would expire in 1621, William also realised a new war would turn Leyden into a bloody battleground.
"Pilgrims Sail from Plymouth"
    The congregation voted to emigrate to America, and young William Bradford began to plan the journey. Later he would write in his journal that the main reason for leaving was concern for the children who were "drawn away [from Christ] by evil examples into extravagant and dangerous courses."
    A second reason was "a great hope and inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way thereunto, for the
propagating and advancing the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world--yea, though they should be but even stepping stones unto others for the performing of so great a work."
["Bradford Becomes Governor of Plimoth Plantation"]

July 22 1620

    The Scrooby Pilgrims left Holland for Southampton, England. Here they joined another group of English separatists.

5 August

    The Mayflower (with 80 passengers) and the Speedwell (with about 40 passengers) set sail and headed for Virginia. But when the Speedwell began to leak, the ships turned back for repairs. After a second attempt, the Speedwell was declared  unseaworthy.

Sept. 6 1620

    Once again, the Mayflower, an old cargo vessel used for hauling wine between England and France,  set sail for Virginia carrying 102 passengers and 30 crew. Crowded together on the 90 foot long ship, the pilgrims endured cramped conditions, rough weather, sickness and shortage of food. "Not all of the 102 passengers on the two-month voyage were Christians, however. Some had other than religious reasons for going to America, but the pilgrims provided the leadership for this group composed of what they called 'strangers and saints.'" Glimpses

Nov. 11


    After 66 days at sea, they sighted land and anchored at the tip of Cape Cod (now Provincetown) -- far north of the territory officially granted to them in northern Virginia. On the cold, rocky shores of what would become "New England,"  the pilgrims "fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven who had brought them over this vast and furious ocean." (William Bradford's journal) 

Nov. 11-Dec 20


     For 36 days they remained at Cape Cod. Here the 41 men -- pilgrims and "strangers" together -- wrote the Mayflower Compact. To avoid rebellion and anarchy in the new land, the men signed this legal covenant (their constitution) thus establishing a self-government that promised equal rights and elections:

     "In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the Grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these present, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In Witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord, King James of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini, 1620."

Dec.  11


     After signing the Mayflower Compact, an exploratory team of 16 men left in a "shallow" (small sailboat that could navigate shallow coastal areas more safely than the ship) to search for a place to settle. On the 11th, they landed at Plymouth Harbor, on the western side of Cape Cod Bay. They found a good harbor, rivers of fresh water, and fields cleared for planting -- and saw no sign of the dreaded natives.

Dec.  21


    The Mayflower sailed into the Plymouth Harbor. They Pilgrims had reached their new home.

     But all was not well. While all had survived the journey across the Atlantic, disease now ravaged the small Plymouth colony. Weakened by cold weather and the hardships of the stormy journey, half of the travelers -- 51 of the 103 -- died soon after arrival. Day after day, new graves were dug. Heartbroken families mourned the loss of fathers, mothers and precious children.  

Jan.- March 1621

     At first, the surviving pilgrims continued to live in the stuffy, windowless hull of the  Mayflower. They enduring gnawing hunger and continuing hardships. During the day, the men would face cold, wet winds to build simple houses for their own families as well as a "Common House" to store tools and shelter homeless women and children. Each Sunday, the Pilgrims would sing their beloved Psalms and hear sermons by William Brewster.

 March 1621

     Spring brought sunlight, warmth and other blessings. To help introduce them to the land, God first sent Samoset, a friendly native who spoke English. Samoset, in turn, brought Squanto, a local native who -- by God's providence -- had escaped the epidemic that killed his tribe. Some years earlier, slave traders had captured and brought Squanto to Europe where he had learned their language. He now stayed with his new friends and taught them how to catch fish, plant corn, hunt game, and separate safe edible plants from the poisonous plants.

 Spring 1621

     By the end of March, all the Pilgrims had moved into their new homes. Children were taught to read by their parents or someone else in the colony. The Bible provided the guidelines for living together as well as the certain hope that -- no matter the difficulties they might face -- God would bring ultimate triumph.



     John Carver, the elected governor of the small colony, died suddenly. By unanimous election, William Bradford became the new governor.  "He proved to be a gentle but firm ruler and served thirty one-year terms. This was not by his own choice. He rejoiced on the few occasions when someone else could be convinced to take a term."

October 1621

    The first Thanksgiving celebration was held in October, not November. Chief Massasoit and his 90 Indians brought wild turkeys and venison, and for three days the Pilgrims and Indians feasted together. Like the Israelites who praised God after entering the promised land, they praised God for bringing them through the horrendous challenges of the past year and into their new land.

July 23 1623

    A day of thanksgiving -- for rain after a drought -- was formally proclaimed in the Plymouth colony.


    Connecticut began annual celebrations.

June 20, 1676 "On June 20, 1676, the governing council of Charlestown, Massachusetts, held a meeting to determine how best to express thanks for the good fortune that had seen their community securely established. By unamimous vote they instructed Edward Rawson, the clerk, to proclaim June 29 as a day of thanksgiving. That proclamation is reproduced here in the same language and spelling as the original.

Dec 18 1777

    Continental Congress proclaimed first national day of Thanksgiving for Gen. Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga.


    Thanksgiving became an annual event  in Massachusetts Bay Colony during the Revolutionary War, several days for prayer and thanksgiving were announced by the Continental Congress.

Nov 26


    Washington proclaimed the first national day of thanksgiving.


    The Mayflower's passengers were first described as the Pilgrim Fathers.

    John Quincey Adams would later describe The Mayflower Compact as "the first example in modern times of a social compact or system of government instituted by voluntary agreement conformable to the laws of nature, by men of equal rights and about to establish their community in a new country."


    President James Madison proclaimed a day of thanksgiving for peace at the end of the War of 1812.

Feb. 18 1815

    President Madison called for National Thanksgiving at end of War of 1812.


    Sarah Hale begins advocating a national Thanksgiving celebration, believing this spiritual means would unify and preserve the nation.

Sept 6 1863

    Abraham Lincoln issues a Thanksgiving proclamation after Gettysburg.

Oct 3


    Lincoln issues first annual Thanksgiving proclamation, continued by presidents to the present day. He proclaimed the last Thursday in November as the first national Thanksgiving Day. "This came three months to the day after the Civil War's pivotal battle, when the republic once again was saved, seemingly by Divine intervention." "Pilgrims understood the real source of security"

July 4 1876

    President Grant proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving for a century of blessings on the nation.


    President Franklin Delano Roosevelt named the next to the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day - to provide more shopping time between the two holidays.


    Congress declared the fourth Thursday in November as a national holiday.


" everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."

1 Thessalonians 5:18

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