Life in Plymouth, Year One and the First Thanksgiving

The Pilgrims and Strangers had so meshed together that Sunday was the highlight of their week. They would dress up in their best clothes, red capes, green waistcoats, with colorful plumes in their hats; not the drab and somber black and brown attire pictured in history books. Two generations later under Puritan influence, a philosophy that frivolous clothes would cause frivolous attitudes was adopted.

Pilgrim worship services were held in the blockhouse at the top of the hill that was built as a fortress with a flat roof and trapdoor. They had two large cannons on the roof that Captain Jones had left with them.
William Brewster would preach and, according to Bradford’s journal, he was a gifted teacher. His preaching brought about a “sweet” repentance to their hearts. Repentance was a lifestyle as they continually searched their hearts for hidden or secret sins.

If these settlers arrived in America today, what would they think of the church and society as a whole?

By spring, only three families remained untouched by death. The children survived best. Of eighteen wives, thirteen died, of seven daughters, none died and of thirteen sons, only three died. However, no matter how things appeared, their hearts remained soft towards God.

One day in early spring, God sent an Indian named Samoset to them. He spoke English and was able to educate them about the surrounding Indian tribes. While traveling up and down the coast with various sea captains, he had learned to speak English. Through Samoset, they met Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag’s tribe. As a result of that meeting, a forty-year peace treaty of mutual aid was forged. Samoset also introduced them to Squanto who was invaluable in preserving their existence.

Squanto was a Patuxet who had been kidnapped by English traders and taken to Europe where he learned English and became a Christian while living in a monastery. When he was finally freed and returned to the New World, he found his family was dead. He lived with the Wampanoag’s but had no zest for life due to his grief. When Samoset took him to the Englishmen, Squanto found a new purpose in life as a life-saving mentor to the settlers.

God had prepared and then used these two English-speaking Indians to bring about a peace treaty and to teach the ill-prepared settlers skills to survive in the wilderness. They had all grown up in cities and knew nothing of farming and basic survival so the Indians literally had to teach them everything about surviving in the New World. About the same time, God sent another Indian to them named Hobbamok. A good man, he remained faithful to the Pilgrims until the day he died. To find out more about the details of God’s miraculous provision and the running of Plymouth Plantation, read “The Light and the Glory” by Peter Marshall and David Manuel. It is written as a very interesting novel.

Governor John Carver fell ill and died that April. They then elected William Bradford governor, a position he held for many years. His book “Of Plymouth Plantation” is a journal of all that happened to them. The first wedding in the new colony occurred in the summer and was quite a joyful event. The happy couple was Edward Winslow, who had lost his wife, and Susanna White, who had lost her husband.

The First Thanksgiving

In the fall, the settlers celebrated their first harvest with a day of Thanksgiving to God, inviting the Indians as their guests of honor. Chief Massasoit arrived the day before with 90 of his warriors carrying numerous deer and turkeys dressed to cook. They taught the Pilgrim women to make hoecakes and a tasty pudding from maple syrup and cornmeal. They even taught them to pop corn! The Pilgrims provided the vegetables and pies. The first Thanksgiving celebration lasted four days with an abundance of food, footraces, wrestling and shooting contests with guns and bows. This was a true heartfelt time of gratefulness to God’s goodness and faithfulness.

Dinner Table Discussion Question: Reflect on your past Thanksgiving holidays and talk about how you celebrated over the course of your life. Did your experience reflect a true attitude of thankfulness and acknowledging God’s blessings and faithfulness?