Sunday, November 22, 2009

A New Look At The Old Thanksgiving Story

Everyone knows that the pilgrims came from England in order to escape religious persecution, but are you aware of the fact that without the help of a certain Indian, the little group likely would have perished?

I marvel when I read details about the pilgrim and Indian story. There are so many factors that relieve any doubt that Plymouth settlement was directed by God. Here are some interesting facts and amazing twists . . .

The "pilgrims" were actually English Separatists who left the Protestant Church of England. In a nutshell, they found it too similar to the Catholic Church and wanted a much simpler, more Bible-focused denomination. They were not in accord with the other Protestants (Anglican and Puritan) and were, shockingly, oppressed under King James, who translated the Bible into English for the common man.

To escape persecution, the Separatists had to flee to Holland, but after several years, they found a new threat in this freedom-loving land -- secularism. Their children were being tempted away from the faith and were adapting the "Dutch" language and culture. This was not acceptable. The Separatist leaders knew they needed a new home and quickly considered North American where England had recently developed a successful colony, Jamestown, in Virginia.

Besides the opportunity for freedom and self-rule, the Pilgrims hoped to be a witness for their faith to the local Indians -- but that was a huge risk. Hostile Indians had battled with the Virginia settlers many times and the Separatists would be even more vulnerable and largely void of protection. They considered themselves at the mercy of God and called themselves "pilgrims."

Now, while the Separatists were trying to make a life in Holland, things were happening in the Massachusetts area where they would later settle. Explorers from England were interested in what was possible north of Virginia and made several expeditions into what is now New England, but they were faced with harsh weather conditions and more confrontations with local Indians. There was much hostility that exasperated when the English kidnapped Indian braves to be sold into slavery. Among a batch of Patuxet captives was a young brave named Squanto.

In 1605, Squanto was sold as a slave in England, yet he was treated well. He was taught English and was educated a bit on English ways, but he always longed to go home. His master agreed to send him on a ship under the protection of Captain John Smith, of Pocahontas fame, in 1612.

Squanto was barely home when he was kidnapped again by the English. Because Squanto was ordered back to his tribe, his captor decided to sell him to a monastery in Spain. This could have proven disastrous to the young Patuxet but, again, he was under kind masters. They had taken Squanto with the goal of teaching him about the Christian religion. Amazingly, Squanto embraced this new faith and held it until his dying breath.

Though treated well by the Spanish friars, Squanto still longed for his American home and the religious order agreed to let him leave. It took awhile (he first went back to England where he further mastered the English language), but finally he found passage back to his home.

Most people would be terrified and hopeless being captured, taken away from their family, and sold into slavery -- and this happened to Squanto TWICE. But, both times, he managed to be set free and even find passage across the massive Atlantic at a time where that kind of travel was still rare and very dangerous. In learning more of his new faith, he may have wondered why God would allow such things -- he would soon find out.

When Squanto got back home, his tribe was gone. All the Patuxet were dead of Smallpox brought by the English. If Squanto were not taken away in slavery, he would have died, too. If he had not been able to come back to America, there would have been no surviving Patuxet left there.

Squanto went to live with a friendly, neighboring tribe and as you can imagine all of the neighboring Indians were very afraid of the "white man's disease." Unlike many Europeans, Indians had no natural immunity against Smallpox. This was a more frightening and potent "weapon" than any gun or cannon the Europeans could have brought. From this point on; in this part of the country, the Indians stayed very far away from white people.

This brings us back to our Pilgrim friends. Sailing across the dangerous Atlantic . . . Besides the constant threat of sinking, the passengers had to deal with rotting food, stale water, scurvy, and wretched sanitary conditions. The pilgrims had been crowded together with a rough crew and several other "strangers" (non-Separatists), all willing to get to the new land and work together to make a colony. And not one pilgrim perished. A crew member did, though -- after tormenting the Pilgrims, he came down with a sudden fever and died.

Once, the ship sailed right into a terrible storm and another time a main beam cracked, threatening to snap in half. This would have meant disaster for sure. There was little that anyone thought could be done, but one of the passengers remembered a printing press he had with a huge screw on top. That would hold the beam in place until they arrived, saving all their lives.

The little Mayflower landed near Cape Cod in 1620. It was not where they intended to go, but weather and sea problems prevented them from going further south, so they decided this was God's will and they stayed. That choice proved vital. Due to the Smallpox epidemic, the natives of the area had largely abandoned it. This also prevented the neighboring tribes from approaching the pilgrims.

Normally contact would have been made fairly quickly (and, no doubt, the Indians may have been hostile toward these intruders), but fear kept the Indians away, watching from the forest. Even though the Pilgrims were weak and helpless in many ways, they were completely protected from harm by the Indians. No doubt, they must have wondered about it, but rested in God's provision.

As we know, things were not easy for those first settlers. Though they had the land and God's protection, There was hardship, disease, and death that first winter. But they survived. The leaders were strong men of God and hard workers (unlike the first settlers at Jamestown), yet their future was very uncertain. There were just over 50 of them and they knew little about this strange, cold new land . . . and when things seemed especially bleak, a young brave walked into town and brought with him, Squanto. An Indian who spoke English! Imagine their shock.

Enough time had passed that the local Indians were willing to approach the small group and the pilgrims were greatly relieved to find them peaceful and helpful. The Indians were likely relieved, too.

Squanto had been with his new tribe for a long time, but he had not forgotten his Christian faith. Though he eagerly shared it with the other Indians, he felt lonely in faith and in the loss of his original tribe. When he met the pilgrims, he found a home. He eagerly helped them and was drawn to his Christian brothers and sisters.

Most of us know the rest of the story . . . Squanto lived with the pilgrims, helping them his whole life. He and they continued to spread the Christian message among their neighbor tribes and Squanto remained a liaison between white man and Indian and there was peace between them for over 50 years. When Squanto finally lay on his death bed, he spoke of his longing to be with Christ in Heaven. He was greatly appreciated and mourned by the pilgrims who knew and loved him. William Bradford wrote that Squanto was a "special instrument sent by God for their good beyond their expectations . . . "

It's very hard to argue otherwise. When you look at all these events surrounding the Plymouth settlement, you can see why both Indian and pilgrim found it necessary to have a week of celebration and thanks to God. It's amazing to pause and think about how different life in this country might be if it weren't for a little group of faithful pilgrims and one Indian brave.


Jakki said...

I really enjoyed reading this! Quite a fascinating story in our history.

Sally said...

Wow, that was great, so well written. I am going to print this out and read it to the family!

Sally said...

BTW - we loved this!