Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations:
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
William Bradford was born in Austerfield, Yorkshire. Some years later he would join the illegal Puritan groups that met illegally in nearby village of Scrooby. Bradford was among the 125 Scrooby uncompromising separatists who fled to Holland in search of religious freedom to worship God according to His Word.
1590s Queen Elizabeth -- the sister and successor of the Catholic Queen (Bloody) Mary, was determined to establish the Church of England as the only church. Just as Mary persecuted protestants who sought to reform the Catholic church, so Elizabeth punished those who refused to conform to the new Church of England or to submit to its bishops.
Several groups of committed Christians began to question the ongoing Catholic ceremonies and influences within the new Protestant churches in England. The "Puritans" longed to see a more "pure", Biblical church, freed from the bureaucratic forms that clouded the truth of the gospel. They wanted to continue to "reform" the church, bringing it into line with Biblical guidelines. Starting new congregations without official sanction, they were persecuted.
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.
Committed to God and wanting to follow His Word, many of the English Puritans broke away from the Church of England. One such Separatist congregations was led by William Brewster in the village of Scrooby in Nottinghamshire. But they had little freedom to worship God and follow His Word according to their conscience. Non-conformity was illegal and punishable by imprisonment and torture.
1603 Queen Elizabeth I died. (By now, the Bible was the most read book in the land)
Her successor, King James I [already King of Scotland], 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 sought to conform the church to the Bible. "In a fit of rage at these [uncompromising] 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
1606 The Separatists (faithful but viewed as more "extremist" Puritans) refused to support or participate in the Church of England. They asked permission to start their own church, but King James denied their request. Believing the true Church must submit to the headship of Christ, not to the spiritual edicts of their hostile king, many fled to Holland to escape religious persecution. 1608 Among these migrating Pilgrims were William Bradford, William Brewster and his Puritan gathering from Scrooby. Ridiculed by their neighbors, harassed by the courts, and forbidden to share the truths of salvation, they chose to move to Leiden (or Leyden), Holland. Glimpses Issue #20 1609
"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
1611 Despite his treatment of the non-conformists, King James authorized the translation of the Bible we know as the King James Version. 1617
While Holland offered a sanctuary from persecution, the pilgrims were still within reach of the King of England who continued to pursue 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 in 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. William Bradford began to make the arrangement for emigration.
July 22, 1620 They 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 passangers) set sail. But the Speedwell began to leak, and the ships turned back for repairs. After a second attempt, the Speedwell was declared unseaworthy. Sept. 6 1620 The Mayflower set out once again for Virginia carrying 102 passengers and 30 crew. Crowded together on the 90 foot long ship, they 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
After 66 days at sea, the Pilgrims sighted land and anchored at the tip of Cape Cod (lnow Provincetown) -- far north of the land in Northern Virginia originally granted to the group as a settlement. 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." (from William Bradford's journal)
Nov 11-Dec 20
For 36 days they remained at Cape Cod. Here the 41 men -- both pilgrims and strangers -- wrote the Mayflower Compact. Needed to prevent rebellion and anarchy in the new land, the men signed the binding contract 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, e&. 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."
After signing the Mayflower Compact, a scouting team had searched for a place to settle. They discovered Plymouth Harbor, on the western side of Cape Cod Bay. It included a good harbor, rivers bringing fresh water and fields cleared for planting. They saw no sign of the dreaded natives.
1620 But all was not well. While all survived the journey across the Atlantic, disease ravaged the small community, weakened by the the cold weather and the hardships of the stormy journey. Half of the travelers -- 51 of 103 -- died soon after arrival. Day after day, graves were dug and families mourned the loss of their fathers, mothers and precious children. Jan- March 1621
At first, the pilgrims continued to live in the stuffy, windowless "dormitories" of the Mayflower. In spite of the cold, wet winds, the men built simple houses for their families as well as a "Common House" that stored tools and provided shelter for the homeless. But each Sunday, the Pilgrims would sing the Psalms and hear sermons by William Brewster.
March 1621 Spring brought sunlight, warmth and other blessings. To help introduce them to the land, God sent Samoset, a friendly native who spoke English. Others came to visit, including Squanto who had learned English from slave traders who had captured and brought him to Europe. He stayed with his new friends and taught them how to catch fish, plant corn, hunt game and separate the safe wild plants from the poisonous ones. Spring 1621 By the end of March, all the Pilgrims had a new home. Children were taugth to read by their parents or someone else in the colony. The Bible provided the guidelines for life 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, Willliam Bradford became the new governor. He would be reelected 30 times. 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 terrible challenges of the past year and into their new land.
Connecticut began annual celebrations.
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.
Washington proclaimed the first national day of thanksgiving.
1799 The Mayflower's passengers were first described as the Pilgrim Fathers
President James Madison proclaimed a day of thanksgiving for peace at the end of the War of 1812.
On October 3, Abraham Lincoln 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" by Don Feder (11/21/01)
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.
...in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
1 Thessalonians 5:18