Inevitably one’s thoughts this week turn to the Pilgrims. I pulled off my shelf “Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War” (2006) by award-winning author Nathaniel Philbrick, who recounts a tale amazing, inspiring and sometimes perplexing.
These Separatists were, according to Philbrick, the radical fringe of the Puritan movement. England contained many devout Christians who could not agree with the practices of the Church of England. But the largest number of these Puritans either kept their disagreements private or formed secret worship communities while remaining in England. Only the most devout segment of Puritans took the radical step of leaving the country, first by forming their own church and way of life in the Netherlands and then by sailing to uncharted, largely unexplored North America.
The voyage from Southampton, England, to Cape Cod took more than two months, during which the 102 passengers were housed mid-ship in a windowless space 75 feet long and less than 5 feet high. These adventuresome souls included three pregnant mothers, one who gave birth during the voyage. There were also quite a few children and many entire families.
By the time they arrived at Cape Cod, having been blown considerably off course, their supply of water was reduced to the slimy bottoms of the barrels and their supply of beer, supplementing the often-unhealthy water, was even more perilously dwindling. They arrived on the barren tip of Cape Cod on Nov. 11, 1620, with nobody to welcome them, no provisions and no housing.
Many of these hearty people had second thoughts about taking such a radical step. It couldn’t have helped when, during their planning stages, word came of the disastrous failure of another group of Pilgrims who previously had set sail with the same goal only to see 130 of 180 of them die during the passage.
By the time these Puritans set sail in 1620 their company had been reduced so much that the leaders had to take on “non-Puritans” to ensure the survival of the colony. Almost half of the 102 passengers were what the Puritans called “Strangers:” adventurers, malcontents, and perhaps entrepreneurs with no religious inclination to separate themselves from society.
It is seldom remembered that these hardy founders were a mixture of deeply pious and perhaps not-so-pious individuals. Almost 50% of those who stepped ashore that November were not Puritans. Philbrick concludes that the Mayflower Compact, composed and signed a few days before they landed, was an acknowledgement that the colony could not survive unless all the passengers agreed to work together regardless of their various reasons for sailing.
The 102 passengers put the success of the colony above their own religious, political or philosophical viewpoints, realizing it was better to survive together than to fail separately. Is this not a lesson worth recalling for Thanksgiving 2019? When so many of our leaders are sharpening their own swords, can we not find ways to survive and thrive as one nation under God?