They first worked to build a Common House that served as their church and for storage and defense. When it was nearly finished the entire group for the first time went ashore and went directly there and enjoyed religious services. The very first thing the Pilgrims did was to pray and sing. This was the first act of the first true committed settlers in America.
Weakened by scurvy, chilled by the dampness and cold of the water which penetrated their lodging and clothing, almost everyone was sick and many died. By spring nearly half of the 102 passengers were dead. For the few months of 1621 someone died almost every day. It seemed as if the entire colony would be killed. Lacking fresh fruits and vegetables scurvy spread and chills turned to pneumonia. Ill with fever and tortured by scurvy only a handful of Pilgrims were left in spring.
In January and February, one or more died every day. The suffering was unimaginable. They quietly buried the dead at night and made flat graves so the Indians would not see so many graves and get emboldened to attack. Entire families had been wiped out. Of the married couples, only three remained unbroken. Fourteen out of eighteen women were dead.
By spring over half of the 102 settlers had died. Out of the 40 Pilgrims, 20 died. Most of the survivors were young people. Even so, the Pilgrims were still the dominate leading force in Plymouth.
It is inspiring to read Bradford's words of how those Pilgrims who were healthy served those who were ill "without any grudging": "There was but six or seven sound persons who to their great commendations be it spoken, spared no pains night nor day, but with abundance of toil and hazard of their own health, fetched them wood, made them fires, dressed them meat, made their beds, washed their loathsome clothes, clothed and unclothed them. In a word, did all the homely and necessary offices for them which dainty and queasy stomachs cannot endure to hear named; and all this willingly and cheerfully, without any grudging in the least, showing herein their true love unto their friends and brethren; a rare example and worthy to be remembered."
One of the crew of the ship, a young man – the boatswain, cursed at the Pilgrims, but he had a change of heart when they tended him faithfully even though they were sick themselves when he fell sick saying to them, "Oh, you, I now see, show your love like Christians indeed one to another, but we let one another lie and die like dogs." The crew members were callous and didn't help anyone who was sick but even the most hardhearted of the crew were moved by the sacrificial ceaseless effort of help those Pilgrims gave.
There are myths about them but the truth about them is as great as any of the myths. It is a myth that they died of starvation while they saved their seed corn for the spring and sacrificed for future generations. The truth is that no one died of starvation. They had food. What they died of was disease and weakness brought about from not having fruits and vegetables, the cold, pneumonia, etc. But the spirit of the myths around the Pilgrims is true. There are many myths about the Pilgrims but even though they may be wrong it doesn't diminish their greatness.
The Pilgrims did not complain. They did not get angry at God. They did not whine and say, "Why me?" They accepted the challenges and obstacles Satan and life itself puts in front of everyone.
They had one disappointment after another. In January fire destroyed the thatched roof of the common house and some of their supplies. They were grateful that those who were sleeping there escaped with their lives.
The Pilgrims were tried and tested in so many ways. Once an eight year old boy almost blew up the Mayflower when he shot off a musket near a keg of gun powder.
Bradford was a strong leader. Bradford was never moved by personal power. He could have become a dictator of the colony when the patent was made out in his name, but it never occurred to him. He was humble with everyone, and didn't hesitate for a second to sell his own house to help pay the colony's final debts in 1648. He governed for 33 years. He had "more than ordinary piety, wisdom and courage" as one Pilgrim wrote of him. God always sends strong leadership when it is darkest.
Of Plymouth Plantation is one of the great classics of American literature that is also greatly neglected. In this masterpiece Bradford’s moral purity and selflessness shine throughout. Bradford wrote, "Such was the true piety, the humble zeal, and fervent love, of this people toward God and his ways and the single heartedness and sincere affection one towards another, that they came as near the primitive pattern of the first churches, as any other church of these later times have done." They had a real partnership with God. They were ill trained and poorly provisioned. Yet they triumphed so well.
They had monumental difficulties. They were completely ignorant of the ways of the wilderness. They learned by trial and error but within 3 years they had established themselves. They received no aid those 3 years. Their clothes were faded and in rags. Eight years from 1620 the great Puritan migration to New England began. This new exodus was able to happen because of the suffering and steadfast faith of the Pilgrims.
They knew the magnitude of what they were doing. They were not perfect. They made mistakes, but they were champions of God. They were young – in their 20's and 30's, and like the youth who went into Canaan led by Joshua, the Pilgrims were "bold and of good courage."
The suffering and obstacles seemed never ending. Their endurance and patience was taxed to the limit. They saw many "special providences." They advanced painfully slow but always forward. They were determined that absolutely nothing would stop them.
They were acutely conscious that they must take special care in everything they did because they were building God's new house in the wilderness. No house rose more strongly or stood so firm on a solid foundation. The Pilgrims understood that leadership is everything. It determines success or failure. They came to America to lead. The correctly understood that the main requirements of leadership were that a person be a "godly man" and be "such persons as do entirely love and will promote the common good."
They had heard of massacres in Virginia. Even though they were weakened they worked on building a fort. "It was a great work for them in their weakness and time of want," wrote Bradford. There was some discontent over the building of the fort from some pacifists who grumbled that the Governor was building a "castle" for himself. The Pilgrims could not convince them that not all the Indians were friendly. It was also to be their church. So the Pilgrims still went ahead and didn't listen to the pacifists and gave right leadership.
Bradford was chosen as the leader. He was 30 years old. Jesus was 30 years old when he started his leadership. As always, when things seem the darkest, God provides leadership.
Bradford is modest and hides or ignores his own part in building the community.
He is the first true American and as Emerson would call him – a representative man. He is one of the greatest heroes of America and of all times. School children should study him. Teachers neglect him totally in public schools. Children need heroes, and Bradford is a wonderful one to study.
Bradford: Man of Steel and Velvet
Bradford was 30 years old and widowed in 1620. He was alone, just as Jesus was. He showed practical and spiritual excellence. He lived selflessly a public life. One writer said of him, "He wore a velvet glove softening his hands of steel." The Pilgrims knew they were being tested. This was the New World – a new Canaan and God had to have those who enter it tested severely. If they did not fail then others for many future generations to come would have a free and prosperous home to live in.
They accepted work and discomfort and did not like those who came to pioneer Virginia. Ten years after Bradford had landed at Plymouth, when he was 40 years old, he began writing Of Plymouth Plantation. Bradford is the symbol of patriarchy and brotherhood. His strength and vision pulled them through. Bradford also acted like a brother – not just an authoritarian leader. He worked alongside everyone and looked upon everyone as an equal. Bradford was an extraordinary leader. He never abused his power. He even worked in his shirt sleeves along with the others in the field – sweating like everyone else.
Bradford is the father of America. Bradford begins the first page of his journal by stating that "Satan has maintained various wars against the Saints, from time to time, in different ways – sometimes by bloody death and cruel torment, at other times by imprisonment, banishment, and other wrongs – as if both that his kingdom should be overcome, the truth prevail, and the churches of God revert to their ancient purity .…" He was very aware of God and Satan battling it out over them.
Cain helps Abel
In Spring God provided another extraordinary "special providence." At the end of March 1621 a solitary Indian walked out of the forest and up to them. Just when the colony was at its lowest strength, this tall Indian warrior walked boldly into the Plymouth settlement and startled the settlers by saying in English, "Welcome. I am Samoset." He explained to them how he had learned English while sailing on British ships. He also explained why there were no Indians at Plymouth. Plymouth was formerly the site of an Indian village, Patuxet. In 1617 all the Indians there had died of a disease. This was a three year preparation for the Pilgrims.
Samoset was from Maine and was visiting a tribe called the Wampanoag who lived about 40 miles away. Samoset explained that it was led by a friend of his, Chief Massasoit. The Pilgrims were amazed to speak to him. It was another obvious gift from God. Before he would answer their flood of questions, he asked for some food. They gave him some and also gave him a long red coat to wear because they were embarrassed because he was practically naked (like all religious people they were very modest). He told them that in 1617 the tribe that had lived where the Pilgrims had now settled had all died from some disease. Their tribe had been a large one and the Pilgrims thanked their lucky stars that they didn't have to fight anyone for Plymouth.
A few days later he brought an Indian named Squanto, saying that he "had been in England and could speak better English than himself."
Squanto also introduced them to Chief Massasoit and became their interpreter. Massasoit and the Pilgrims drew up a treaty and it ensured the Pilgrim's survival. This treaty was in effect for fifty years by the Chief and later his sons. God protected them and they knew it.
Squanto had been captured six years earlier by a captain of a trading ship who took him to Spain. Squanto escaped to England and came back. He was the only one of his whole tribe to survive. Brewster said of the death of the Indians and the corn: "It must have been the hand of God that guided our steps toward Plymouth." Squanto taught them how to plant and fertilize the seeds with fish. Their wheat and peas that they brought over did not grow but the lifesaving maize did and Squanto taught them how to fertilize it.
Bradford said Squanto was, "a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectations." How could they possibly imagine that there would be a savage Indian speaking English saving their life, welcoming them to the New World, and he had every reason to hate the white man for kidnapping him and taking him to Europe from which he had to escape!
Squanto fulfilled the role of Cain by restoring what the original Cain failed to do – love, not kill, his brother. The Pilgrims were in the Abel position. Later Squanto accepted Christ and his last dying words were that they pray for his soul that it may be with Jesus in heaven. This unity of Cain and Abel is extraordinary. It is like the unity of Jacob and Esau and had tremendous consequences. It laid the foundation for America's blessing. America could become God's chosen nation.
He had been their first welcome to America, their guide, interpreter and teacher. In many ways he made their survival possible. Squanto stayed with them for the rest of his life. Massasoit's statue stands in Plymouth today, but perhaps it ought properly to be Squanto's, for the debt owed to him by the United States is incalculable. He was like a guardian angel.
Kate Caffrey writes of how amazing it is that Squanto would befriend the Pilgrims after the mistreatment by whites. It is a beautiful example of Cain forgiving and helping Abel. In her book The Mayflower, she writes: "Newfoundland; in 1619 Mason lent him to Captain John Dermer, who was setting out to explore the New England coast. Dermer dropped Squanto at Patuxet, or perhaps Squanto jumped ship there: it was the place his people came from. He found nothing left of them but bones: the Indians of Patuxet had all died of the plague two years before. Dermer died of arrow wounds on Martha's Vineyard early in 1620; Squanto, roaming upcountry looking for friendly shelter, threw in his lot with Massasoit."
After all his experiences it seems astonishing that Squanto was willing to go anywhere near a paleface ever again, but he proved to be worth his weight in gold to the Plantation. In the book Stepping Stones we read, "He taught them where and how to catch fish, how to find game, how to plant and tend their corn. This was highly important that first year."
"The soil was 'old ground', meaning it had been over-cropped. Squanto taught them to put two or three herring in each hill of corn for fertilizer. He told them how deep to plant and how to tend the corn. None of them had grown corn previously -- it was an Indian grain."
"Without this knowledge there might have been a meager crop and the second winter could have been worse than the first. With their home supplies now virtually depleted, they were largely dependent on the corn. Further, the improvident Adventurers sent them 35 more settlers - without provisions -- on the Fortune at the end of November. Here were 35 more mouths to feed. What had been thought an abundant harvest turned into an inadequate granary, and the colonists existed on half rations and what the sea and forest could provide. Without a good crop of corn, there would have been starvation."
In April the following Spring Captain Jones of the Mayflower stood before the Pilgrims and told them that he would take any of them who wanted to go back with him. But not one Pilgrim stood forward. They would not look back. Their commitment was total. Not one Pilgrim returned. And the story of their sufferings did not prevent their fellow church members in the Old World from joining them. Within a few years all who remained were reunited in the Plymouth colony.
No one asked to go back after all this death and suffering. They could easily have gone. They could have given up. They had experienced death of loved ones, disease, terror and extreme privation but they were undaunted and totally united. Nothing would stop them and they expected their friends and relatives to come – which all did even after hearing of the terrors of America. The captain of the Mayflower thought they had the "hearts of lions", and indeed they did. The Pilgrims knew that what they were doing was a "miracle" of God.
They never doubted that God's will had placed them in the New World. As Bradford says, "as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone to many, yea in some sort to our whole nation."
It is so impressive that not one sailed back.
After the first harvest in the Fall of 1621 they celebrated their first Thanksgiving. The Indians celebrated with them. This is a case of Cain and Abel uniting. This laid the foundation for America to become God's champion.
The first thanksgiving was probably in October instead of the November date we celebrate. There were 140 people – 90 Indians and 50 settlers.
During the first three years there was often a meager meal. They were lucky sometimes to have a thin bean porridge, or succotash made with beans and corn. Yet the meal was always served on a clean tablecloth. This was to show respect for God who gave these precious gifts.
The leaders had faults but many were genuine heroes. They were
They could laugh at their troubles in some of the worse times. During the 3 years of hunger one Pilgrim wrote a ballad, part of which had the following lines:
"The place where we live is a wilderness wood,
Where grass is much wanting that's fruitful and good;
Instead of pottage and puddings and custards and pies,
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies;
We have pumpkin at morning and pumpkin at noon;
If it was not for pumpkin we should be undoon."
Everyone, including children, worked from sunup to sunset. At sunset the children were taught their ABC's and religion. Then they had their evening meal. After the meal they read a chapter of the Bible and prayed together. The parents were loving and strict with their children. They taught their children that the hardships in the New World was a test of their faith in God.
Children worked all day. Every morning the head of the household read a chapter of the Bible and had prayers before breakfast.
The Pilgrims slept on the floor. Every morning they rolled up their sleeping bags and placed them in a corner out of the way. In the early history of the Unification Church in America, members slept in sleeping bags.
They wore russet or deep green. Many women had dark blue dresses with wide white collars. Brewster had a violet coat and a red cap. The stereotype that they dressed in black is wrong.
The Pilgrims worked relentlessly day and night. They had to tend to the corn constantly. At night they had to build huge bonfires and keep watch by shooting squirrels, rabbits and woodchucks that came at night to eat the plants. Boys spent days chasing away blackbirds and crows that tried to swoop down on the young plants. Squanto taught the children how to dig around the roots and find the cutworms and kill them.
Through everything, they sang often and loud. Rev. Moon also has a tradition of always singing. Through his long, tortuous life he has always sang songs. He teaches that we should always feel joy in being a son or daughter of God, no matter what is going on around us.