The first to arrive in the New World brought with them something extremely valuable: The Gospel of Jesus Christ. It was through these first “Americans” that this nation grew to be the greatest the world has ever known. It would be the descendants of those in Jamestown and Plymouth, and similar settlements, that would later fight for independence from Great Britain.
Those who arrived first were English and remained English. They were in search of a place where religious freedom reigned supreme, not a new nation. In fact, the pilgrims who arrived in 1620 on the Mayflower signed the Mayflower Compact. It was a constitution of sorts, perhaps America’s first; but in that pact, it is clear their allegiance was to the King of England.
From the founding of Jamestown to landing in Plymouth Rock in 1620, America has been a nation of hope, opportunity and freedom. One nation under God.
The English Pilgrims that sailed for the New World were religious separatists from the Church of England. Although the Church of England had separated from the Roman Catholic Church, it still closely resembled Catholicism. Henry the VIII didn’t reform the church during his reign out of religious conviction, but out of desperation for a divorce that the pope refused to grant. In fact, Protestants during this time were executed by being burned at the stake, tied to the rack or boiled alive.
The reign of “Bloody Mary” was only a generation prior to landing in Massachusetts in 1620. It was illegal to be a part of any religion besides the Church of England. In fact, it was heresy. Doing so resulted in harassment, gossip, arrest, torture, humiliation and execution by a variety of methods. Burning at the stake was used often. Religious persecution was common in the sixteenth and seventeenth century England.
Some of those first to arrive in the New World had faced these persecutions themselves. Some had been arrested and tortured for being heretics.
These were God-fearing men and women who could not put the Church of England, or the Catholic Church for that matter, above God and His word.
The Mayflower, with its 102 passengers, set sail on September 6, 1620, nearly two months after they originally set out. Twice the Mayflower had to return to England for repairs.
After two long months on the sea, they arrived in Massachusetts, where they immediately thanked God and already had visions of a world where religious freedom was tolerated.
What they didn’t expect was for more than half of them to die during that first long, cold winter of 1620. They died due to starvation and disease. They didn’t blame God for their woes. Instead, they thanked Him for the opportunity they had been given. They especially thanked Him for a young Indian man named “Squanto.”
The English had been to the New World many times prior to the Pilgrims first arriving and settling in Plymouth. In fact, Jamestown was founded over a decade earlier. The English had traded with the local Indian tribes and, in turn, they were trusted by them.
Born around 1580 somewhere near Plymouth, Squanto, who’s given name was Tisquantum, helped some of those first Pilgrims in America.
There isn’t much known about his life. He was born to the Patuxet tribe in Massachusetts and was captured and sold into slavery around 1605 by Captain George Weymouth.
He was sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to England where he was taught the English language and later became a interpreter. After several years in Great Britain, he was able to get back home to Massachusetts and his family.
Unfortunately for Squanto, only days after arriving home to his village in 1612, he was again taken captive by the English. This time by a cruel man named Captain Hunter. He was sold into slavery and bought by monks from a monastery in Spain. They bought him, and in turn, freed him. Spiritually and physically.
He was freed spiritually by teaching him the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Later, they physically freed him when he once again found himself sailing towards home. The future America.
It was now the year 1618 when Squanto was able to return to his village; only this time there was nobody left alive, including his own family. Disease had killed them all.
Neighboring tribes were not considered to be his own people. He was an outsider even to them. He went into the woods and lived, destined to die alone, or so he thought. God had other plans for him though.
In 1620, the first English settlers (pilgrims) had arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He watched as they began building on the ground of his old village. After that first brutal winter where many died, God used Squanto. One day, he simply walked out into the middle of the “town” and introduced himself. Some accounts say his first words were asking if they had any beer. This was an Indian who grew to like all that England had offered.
He then taught these newly arrived “Americans” how to survive the harsh winters. He taught them how to hunt, catch game and plant crops. How to build shelter and stay warm. He acted as interpreter for neighboring tribes.
Imagine the surprise of these English men and women of God. An English-speaking Indian who wanted to help them. Almost all of them had died the year before, and winter was setting in again. Squanto was needed at a specific time and for a specific purpose: to help them.
God had prepared him his whole life for that purpose; even his trials and tribulations had a reason behind them. He learned to speak English and learned their way of life. What better person to help bridge this gap between the Pilgrims and Indian tribes? Squanto was the bridge between the two just as Paul was the bridge between Romans (Gentiles) and Jews.
God had used Squanto’s past trials and tribulations to train him for this very moment.
Pilgrim Governor William Bradford wrote in his diary that Squanto “became a special instrument sent of God for our good . . . He showed us how to plant our corn, where to take fish and to procure other commodities . . . and was also our pilot to bring us to unknown places for our profit, and never left us till he died.”
Later, while Squanto was dying from disease, Bradford wrote that Squanto “desired the governor to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishmen’s God in heaven.”
He also left his worldly possessions to his English friends “as remembrances of his love.”
God’s hand is all over the founding of the New World, America. Only by His hand could we have a lonely Indian who somehow comes together with the English, each helping the other in different ways. And through it all, Christianity began to flourish.
The Pilgrims set out for the New World believing that God was leading them every step of the way. They trusted in their creator and sailed from England, never looking back.
Our trials, tribulations and even persecutions mold and prepare us for what this world throws at our feet. What has God prepared you for? What is God doing in your life that can benefit the lives of others, and most importantly, glorify God?
America as we know it was not founded for over 150 more years after the first Pilgrims arrived. It was the sons and daughters of these first Englishmen that fought for this land and freedom. They saw America as theirs, not Britain’s. How could someone living in London, England, know what it’s like to be an American?
Their fathers may have been English, but they were not. They were American.
Our Founding Fathers won their independence from Britain through bloodshed, war and sacrifice, not by simply arriving here and slaughtering and stealing land from “Native Americans.”
These sons and daughters of the Revolutionary War period had been here for generations. This was their land, their children’s land. King George who? Why were they paying taxes to a king they had never seen? No taxation without representation.
Our Founding Fathers were patriots who loved this country and saw the potential in it. Britain saw this land as tax revenue for the king – that and a land of harsh winters, but also a certain toughness in the people that were becoming harder to control. That American spirit of fierce pride, hunger for greatness, and all glory given to God is what made us flourish rather quickly.
In November of 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated a large harvest and held a three-day feast to give thanks. Not only to God, but to people like Squanto.
Those first Americans, English as they were, are examples of what America came to be. It took courage and strength to settle in a new land. That first Thanksgiving is a symbol of who we are. Many years passed before Thanksgiving would be officially celebrated by America.
On October 3, 1863, after a decisive Union Army victory at Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln announced that the nation would celebrate an official Thanksgiving holiday beginning that year on November 26, 1863. With Lincoln, the Thanksgiving holiday finally took hold and became an American holiday celebrated each year.
The Union and Confederate troops were brothers after all; many were literally related. This was a war fought between father and son, brother against brother. The Union had to be saved at all costs, but Lincoln also wanted to remind the nation, both North and South, that we were literally cut from the same cloth. We wanted and believed in the same things – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
As divided as things are this Thanksgiving, let’s try to remember what our forefathers fought for, what they gave us. At the end of the day, the vast majority of people in this nation still see America as a beacon of hope. A shining city on a hill.
This Thanksgiving, try to remember the evenings you once spent gossiping in bed with your sister as your parents slept, not that she voted for Trump or Hillary. Remember the football games and jokes/pranks you shared with your brother, not that he supports Trump or Bernie.
Remember the way your mom looked at you as she kissed you goodnight, not as an old “boomer” who needs to get out of the way for the next generation. Think back to the fatherly advice you received as a teenager, not whether your dad is a Democrat or Republican. We are divided enough as a nation. So, for one day, let’s not be divided at the dinner table. Let’s come together and give thanks for the things we do have. For the breath in our lungs, the roof over our head and the food filling our stomachs.
This Thanksgiving, for one day, let’s remember who we were before politics.
From my family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!