Queen Elizabeth in ascending to the thrown of Great Britain succeeded her half sister, known as Bloody Mary. Mary, a Roman Catholic, killed and outlawed hundreds of reformers. Elizabeth was Protestant and established Anglicanism as the religion of England. She, however, would not tolerate other religions, like that of the Puritans and Separatists. The Pilgrims were a group of people who strove for religious freedom and worshipped quietly in Scooby, England. Once King James I (a Stuart) succeeded Elizabeth, their existence was tested, for James proclaimed, “I shall make them conform or I shall harry them out of the land.” So, the Pilgrims as a group fled to Holland where they could worship in freedom.
They stayed about 12 years in Holland, but desired the traditions and nationalism of their homeland. Fearing their children were becoming more Dutch than English and more morally loose and free spirited, they decided to look for new horizons. They found the opportunity in Sir Edwin Sandys, a friend of John Robinson and William Brewster, the Pilgrim leaders in Holland. Sandys was a sympathizer to the scruples of Separatism, which was the religious name assumed by the Pilgrims, for they separated themselves from the Church of England. When Sandys became the treasurer of the Virginia Company of London, which held the land rights to the Virginia Colony and granted charters, he arranged a 7000 pound loan to the Separatists to sponsor a colonization effort in the new world. The loan was terribly small in comparison with the 200,000-pound financial backing given to the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the 300,000-pound loss incurred by the Bermuda and Jamestown effort. Even though small, the Pilgrims would have to trust God for a successful colonization.
On September 16, 1620, a group of 40 Separatists and 62 sectarians sailed from England in the now famous ship called the Mayflower. They first landed at what is now Provincetown, some 200 miles off course, for they were to settle in New Jersey, which was then part of the Virginia land grant. While anchored off the coast, they enacted the Mayflower Compact, which was a covenant whereby all the settlers agreed to submit themselves to the laws of the colony. It contained the seeds of democracy, the foundation upon which America was built. After a month of exploration, the Pilgrims chose Plymouth to become their new home, for there they found a deep harbor, fresh water, and hills for defense. A deserted Indian village was also located on the site; and the fields for planting were already cleared. They realized that God had been one step ahead of them, providing a new home.
The first winter, however, was terrible. Scurvy set in and took more than half of the colonists. Out of 18 married women, only 4 survived the winter. Bodies were buried during the night in order to prevent the local natives from knowing how depleted they were in people. Yet, when spring came, not one Pilgrim abandoned the colony to return to England. They persevered and were fortunate to have met Samoset, who on March 16, 1621, entered the encampment at Plymouth and spoke to the colonists. He had learned his broken English from fishermen that came to fish off the coast of Maine. After spending the night with the Pilgrims, he left and returned with five others, who brought deerskins to trade. As it was Sunday, the colonists declined to trade at that time, but offered them some food. On March 22, 1621 Samoset came back with Squanto, the last remaining Patuxet, who spoke much better English than him. The Patuxet Indians, known to be a more ruthless tribe than the Wampanoags led by Chief Massasoit, had settled the Plymouth area, but were wiped out by a plague. Squanto, at the time, was in England, thereby avoiding the plague. He eventually lived outside the village and became a friend to the Pilgrims.
God surely prepared a place for the Pilgrims. Psalm 104 says, “These all look to you to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things” (vv. 27-28). The Pilgrims certainly looked to God who also provided fields ready to be planted, which insured their survival. He also surrounded them with friendly Indians, with whom they would eventually sign a pact for mutual defense. To celebrate their blessings, they held the first Thanksgiving in which 100 Indians attended. The feast of fowl and venison, pumpkin and corn, lasted three days. Certainly, this great banquet was a fitting celebration of God’s providential care.