Endless Obstacles

The frustrations and obstacles were endless. Just before they left they were forced to pay an added fee. Bradford wrote in a letter, "We are in such a strait at present, as we are forced to sell away 60 worth of our provisions..." that put them into "great extremities…." They had to sell things that they desperately needed in the new world. Finally this little group of people who had no money and practically no personal possessions set off to a savage world in the middle of autumn. In Luke 13 we read of the Parable of the Mustard Seed.  Jesus said, "What is the kingdom of God like?  And to what should I compare it?  It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches."  Who could have seen that this little band of people were the mustard seed of the great tree of America that in the future would be the greatest nation on earth inspiring the world with its freedom and wealth.

True Commitment

The Pilgrims had true commitment. Their faith saw them through. Their situation was desperate. They traveled in the fall which made a more dangerous voyage. They did not have money or skills but great courage and firm faith. They were bold. They knew God was with them. All their troubles at sea and in America they saw was a test to weed out the weak and timid. The Strangers were the seeds of secularism. The majority was not religious but the leadership was. Yet they triumphed. Bradford wrote that God was with them and gave them endurance, "Our fathers were Englishman which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness but they cried unto the Lord, and He heard their voice .... Let them therefore praise the Lord, because He is good! and His mercies endure forever."

It is generally thought by Americans that the Mayflower company was a homogenous religious group. They were a minority and there was considerable friction between the pilgrims and the others.

At first the weather was good, but then came "many fierce storms with which the ship was shrewdly shaken", in Bradford's typically lucid style. The screaming wind, tossing the Mayflower, terrified the Pilgrims. They became exhausted. They were chilled to the bone. Waves of icy water would splash over the ill and frightened passengers, tasting like tears, their hearts pounding as mountains of water pounded the tiny ship. Water crashed about everywhere, and the foul smells reeking among the huddled people made them all sick. It was almost impossible to sleep and every ragged nerve begged for rest.

There were no oilskins or rubber clothing for the crew or the passengers. The only way to dry out when they got wet was to wait until the sun came out. People never undressed or changed clothes all the way across.

They set off in the worst time of the year, when storms raged over the Atlantic. It took twice as long as it would have in good weather. The finally arrived after 66 days instead of the usual 30.

The Mayflower was an undistinguished vessel amid the wealth and learning and prestige in England and Holland. The Pilgrims were safe in Holland. They had money and security, but they gave up their material possessions, their families, their country, and even their lives. The Mayflower carried some of the bravest individuals who ever put to sea. They were young men and women of incredible fortitude. They knew they were part of "the great design." They never for a moment were hesitant or doubting. The delays were maddening and when finally the Mayflower was ready to sail it was in the fall, the worst time of the year. Still they went.  God can't wait until everything is picture perfect.

They were mainly uneducated, young and of the lower class. This little band of pioneers looked totally undistinguished, but they were God's chosen people to lay the foundation for America. They were smart in the truest sense because they prayed for guidance from God, gave thanks for every good thing they received, and they pledged to God determination to stand up to any obstacle. They were open to new scientific discoveries. They emphasized God and values over material things. Their leaders were receptive to liberty of thought. The values they cherished were the same ones generations have used and respected.

They were honest and dealt fairly with one another and with all they met. It would not occur to them to be egotistical. Moral courage was a natural part of their daily existence. They never looked back and saw what they were doing as a great mission for God. In the Bible we read that Jesus used ploughing as a metaphor for total dedication to a cause. In  Luke 9 we read how strongly he speaks of commitment - even to the point of leaving one's family: "To another he said, 'Follow me.' But he said, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father.' But Jesus said to him, 'Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.'  Another said, 'I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.' Jesus said to him, 'No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.'" The Pilgrims never looked back and never went back.  They always advanced.

Ship like a terrible slum

The crowded living conditions, the meager diet, never being able to bathe, stay dry and having to wear the same clothes for two months had undermined their health. Most were coughing and sick. The air in the crowded quarters was nauseating at best and usually simply staggering. They were never warm and dry.

On the long voyage the filthy smell was incredible. There were rats and cockroaches. The flour and ship's biscuits went moldy and produced weevils and maggots. Some ate their biscuits only when it was dark, so that they need not see the bugs in it. There was no bathroom – only buckets. They had no privacy. The tossing and rolling of the ship in rough water made most seasick.  The vomit from the seasickness added to the stench. Sea water kept their clothing and blankets wet through the entire voyage.

The fierce winds and storms moved the devout Pilgrim Saints to sing songs for hours at a time. They prayed with tears coursing down their cheeks, terrified but determined to never give up. The Strangers would shout and jeer at the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims thought that God was angered by the sinful beliefs of the Separatists and would sink the ship. The Strangers could not stop the Pilgrims from continuing to sing though.

Even though the ship was crowded, the Pilgrims would have church meetings every morning during the trip.

The sailors were coarse and unsympathetic and often made fun of their

Tensions high

Tensions were high on the Mayflower's long voyage between the Saints and the Strangers. The sailors hated the pious ways of the Pilgrims "cursing them daily with grievous execrations." The Pilgrims said nothing. One young seaman especially taunted the weak and sick Pilgrims. He was strong and healthy and swore at them. Stepping over and around the crammed men, women, and children, he cracked vicious jokes telling them constantly that he would like to throw them overboard. He taunted the Pilgrims saying he expected to bury half of them at sea. When they gently reproached him, "he would curse and swear most bitterly." One morning he became sick and this "proud and profane young man" was dead by afternoon. He was the only person to die during the voyage. It astonished the crew. The Pilgrims knew this was punishment for persecuting God’s chosen people. They correctly saw everything from a spiritual point of view. Everything had heavenly meaning and heavenly cause and effect.

Bradford wrote, "Thus his curses light on his own head, and it was an astonishment to all his fellows for they noted it to be the just hand of God upon him." This was a neat Providential sign. Everything that happened to them had providential meaning. To read Bradford and those others who kept a record is like reading the Bible. God's hand was working everywhere.

Like the exodus of Moses

The Pilgrim story is like the exodus of Moses.

It was rare that one ship would travel alone, because it was dangerous for only one ship to make such a long voyage. They were one tiny ship alone on a huge ocean. They had no support but God.

The prospects of victory looked dim for the Pilgrims. They left too late in the season for a fair voyage. They were ignorant of how to survive in a wilderness. But as one writer said, "they had something better than money and skills – stout courage and firm faith."

In the middle of this terror, Elizabeth Hopkins had a baby, Oceanus, named after the ocean.

During one fierce storm halfway across the ocean a main beam cracked under the strain and bent. They feared for their safety. This caused the main deck to leak rain and sea water. The passengers were drenched. Should they go on or turn back? The sailors wanted to turn back, but the Pilgrims broke out a "great iron screw brought out of Holland" to be used for raising houses – and used this mechanical jack to lift the cracked beam in place.

It was not by accident or luck that they had brought a "great iron screw."

After using the jack, they "committed themselves to the will of God, and resolved to proceed."

When the Pilgrims met to conduct their morning devotions on the deck of the Mayflower in the cold dreary winter, they always gave thanks and gave God their pledge to never give up.  Brewster had said just before sailing for the New World, "It is not with us as with other men, whom small things can discourage, or small discontents cause to wish themselves home again. We believe and trust that the Lord's with us, unto whom and whose service we have given ourselves, and that he will graciously prosper our endeavors according to the simplicity of our hearts therein."

Arrive at Cape Cod, Massachusetts - November 21, 1620

After two months of agony, they arrived at is today Cape Cod in Massachusetts.  It was November 21.  They had arrived in the dead of winter.  The first thing they did was fall on their knees and praise God.  Bradford writes these famous words: "Being thus arrived in a good harbor, and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof."

"But here I cannot but stay and make a pause, and stand half amazed at this poor people's present condition; and so I think will the reader, too, when he well considers the same. Being thus passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before in their preparation (as may be remembered by that which went before), they had now no friends to welcome them nor inns to entertain or refresh their weatherbeaten bodies; no houses or much less towns to repair to, to seek for succour. It is recorded in Scripture as a mercy to the Apostle and his shipwrecked company, that the barbarians showed them no small kindness in refreshing them, but these savage barbarians, when they met with them (as after will appear) were readier to fill their sides full of arrows than otherwise. And for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of that country know them to be sharp and violent, and subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search an unknown coast. Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men – and what multitudes there might be of them they knew not. Neither could they, as it were, go up to the top of Pisgah [the mountain top where Moses saw Canaan] to view from this wilderness a more goodly country to feed their hopes; for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to the heavens) they could have little solace or content in respect of any outward objects. For summer being done, all things stand upon them with a weather-beaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hue. If they looked behind them, there was the mighty ocean which they had passed and was now a main bar and gulf to separate them from all the civil parts of the world."

Bradford wrote of their determination in simple, virile language reminiscent of the Bible, "What could now sustain them but the Spirit of God and His grace? May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: ‘Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and He heard their voice and looked on their adversity,’...  ‘Let them therefore praise the Lord, because He is good: and His mercies endure forever.’ ‘Yea, let them which have been redeemed of the Lord, show how He hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor. When they wandered in the desert wilderness out of the way, and found no city to dwell in, both hungry and thirsty, their soul was overwhelmed in them. Let them confess before the Lord His loving kindness and His wonderful works before the sons of men.’"

The 40 days from November 21 to the end of the year December 31, would be ones of tragedies and triumphs as they began the search for their new land and begin building their first shelter.  On their calendar it was November 11 when they arrived, but November 21 is the day we celebrate because our calendar was updated later. One month later on December 21st of our calendar we celebrate "Forefather's Day" when the first of the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth.