In 1621 many die
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 Bradfords 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.