The Story of Thanksgiving
“Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.” Colossians 2:7
There are so many stories that have been forgotten or twisted in such a way that they lose their meaning. The story of Thanksgiving is no different. There are laws which do not enable teachers to mention the Creator in our schools and colleges. This is the same creator who is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence “That we are endowed by our Creator …” Therefore they are not able to tell the whole story of what really happened.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
Our story begins in 1612, A trader by the name of Captain Hunter, came to the coast of Massachusetts and was trading with the Indians. When they came down to trade with him, he took them to the ship, threw them in the hold, and took them across the Atlantic, where he sold them into slavery in Malaga, Spain. One of the captives was a young Indian boy by the name of Squanto.
Monks there bought him, and it seems from what we know, treated him well. Obviously he was well exposed to the Christian faith; and it seems that they made it possible for him to get to England. In 1615 he went from Spain to England hoping to find passage from England to his home in Massachusetts. But when he arrived, more heartbreak awaited him. An epidemic had wiped out Squanto's entire village.
We can only imagine what must have gone through Squanto's mind. Why had God allowed him to return home, against all odds, only to find his loved ones dead?
A year later the answer came. A shipload of English families arrived and settled on the very land once occupied by Squanto's people. When Squanto went to meet them he startled Pilgrims in English.
According to the diary of Pilgrim Governor William Bradford, Squanto "became a special instrument sent of God for 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."
When Squanto lay dying of a fever, Bradford wrote that their Indian friend "desire the Governor to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishmen's God in heaven." Squanto bequeathed his possessions to the Pilgrims "as remembrances of his love."
Like the story of Joseph, Squanto was sold into slavery for evil, but God meant it for good. It seemed that God had chosen him to be the one to save a people that would prosper and become a great nation.
The Pilgrims come to America
The story of the first Thanksgiving starts in 1608 when a group of people called the Separatists, persecuted for forming a church apart from the Church of England, left their homeland to settle in Leyden, Holland. There they found religious freedom but also poverty, grueling work and a secular culture that threatened to undo the values they had carefully instilled in their children.
After seeking God's guidance, under the leadership of William Bradford they sold everything and to finance their journey, indentured themselves to an English company for their first seven years in America. On the Mayflower, the Separatists joined others seeking the new land for other reasons; these they called the Strangers. These two groups, a passenger list of 102, became the Pilgrims.
The Atlantic crossing in the fall of 1620 had been an extremely difficult journey for the Pilgrims. For two months, 102 people were wedged into what was called the “’tween decks”—the cargo space of the boat which only had about five-and-a-half feet of headroom. No one was allowed above deck because of the terrible storms. This was no pleasure trip. Fortunately only one person died during the voyage.
The Pilgrims had comforted themselves by singing the Psalms, but this “noise” irritated one of the ship’s paid crewmembers. He told the Pilgrims he was looking forward to throwing some of their corpses overboard after they succumbed to the illnesses that were routine on such voyages. As it turned out, this crewmember himself was the only person on the voyage to become sick and be thrown overboard. God providentially protected His people. A little-known fact about the Mayflower is that this ship normally carried a cargo of wine. The wine spillage from previous voyages had soaked the beams, acting as a disinfectant to prevent the spread of disease. Once again, God protected his people!
During one terrible storm the main beam of the mast cracked. Death was certain if this beam could not be repaired. At that moment, the whole Pilgrim adventure could very easily have ended on the bottom of the Atlantic. Providentially, one of the Pilgrims had brought along a large iron screw for a printing press. That screw was used to repair the beam, saving the ship and all on board.
After sixty-six days at sea, land was sighted off what is now known as Cape Cod, Massachusetts. But that was not where the Pilgrims wanted to be. They had intended to establish their new colony in the northern parts of Virginia, but two factors interrupted their plans. The winds had blown them off course, but they also learned that some other Englishmen who wanted to settle in the same northern part of Virginia had bribed the crew to land them somewhere else.
Once again God was in charge and the Pilgrims were right where God wanted them to be. Had they actually landed where they were supposed to, they would have most certainly been attacked by hostile Indians. Instead, there were no Indians on Cape Cod when the Pilgrims made landfall there.
Before leaving the Mayflower, the settlers knew that there needed to be some kind of Covenant or law that all would follow. The document they drew up is what is now known as the Mayflower Compact which reads:
“Having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine our selves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the eleventh of November [New Style, November 21], in the year of the reign of our sovereign lord, King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Dom. 1620.”
Many years before the pilgrims made their journey some local Indians had captured a Frenchman on a fishing expedition in that region. Just as he was about to be killed, the Frenchman told the Indians that God would be angry with them would destroy them all and would replace them with another nation. The Indians boastfully told him that his God could never kill them. However, when the Pilgrims landed in that same region the land had already been cleared and the fields had already been cultivated. Those Indians who had prepared the land had nearly all died of the plague a year or two earlier.
Despite this provision of safety from hostile Indians, the Pilgrims barely survived their first winter on the Cape. Only four families escaped without burying at least one family member. But God was still faithful. In the spring of 1621, He sent Squanto to them. He was an Indian who could speak their own language and who offered to teach them how to survive in this strange new land.
Today at Cape Cod ancestors of the Pilgrims are still there bearing the same faith as the ones who came several hundred years ago as well the same last names. A testimony of how faith can be transformed from one generation to another.