The True Story of Thanksgiving

November 21, 2018

In the words of Jay Mattern, CEO, Peoplelink Group, parent company of Sustained Quality Group:

The story of the Pilgrims begins in the early part of the seventeenth century … The Church of England under King James I was persecuting anyone and everyone who did not recognize its absolute civil and spiritual authority. Those who challenged ecclesiastical authority and those who believed strongly in freedom of worship were hunted down, imprisoned, and sometimes executed for their [religious] beliefs, in 1600, England, the 17th Century.  A group of separatists first fled to Holland and established a community. After eleven years, about forty of them agreed to make a perilous journey to the New World, where they would certainly face hardships, but at least the promise was that they could live and worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences.  It’s a powerful belief, the belief in freedom of religion to engage in this kind of activity in order to be able to do it, to be able to cross an ocean to a place where you have no idea what to expect. 

On August 1, 1620, the Mayflower set sail. It carried a total of 102 passengers, including forty Pilgrims led by William Bradford. They looked to the ancient Israelites for their example. And, because of the biblical precedents set forth in Scripture, they never doubted that their experiment would work. They were people with incredible faith. The journey to the New World was a long and arduous one. And when the Pilgrims landed in New England in November, they found, according to Bradford’s detailed journal, a cold, barren, desolate wilderness. There were no friends to greet them, he wrote. There were no houses to shelter them.  There were no inns where they could refresh themselves. And the sacrifice they had made for freedom was just beginning. During the first winter, half the Pilgrims — including Bradford’s own wife — died of either starvation, sickness or exposure. When spring finally came Native Americans taught the settlers how to plant corn, fish for cod and skin beavers for coats.

That is where the traditional story of Thanksgiving ends: The Native Americans helped them and they learned how to plant corn, had they had a big feast, and that is what we celebrate today.  No!  Thanksgiving is actually often explained as a holiday for which the Pilgrims gave thanks to the Native Americans for saving their lives, rather than what it was. Thanksgiving was a devout expression of gratitude to God — for details, read George Washington’s first Thanksgiving Proclamation.

The ultimate success and prosperity of the Plymouth settlement attracted more Europeans and began what came to be known as the ‘Great Puritan Migration.’  In other words, the Pilgrims had such overwhelming success at growing their community, word spread all the way back to England, and it began this tremendous migration of people. 

Remember, the Pilgrims preceded the founding of the country by hundreds of years.  They thanked God for the guidance found in the Bible for structuring their community, and shared their bounty with the Native Americans, who did teach them how to do things they did not know how to do, basically be farmers. 

That is the True Story of Thanksgiving.  

May you have a wonderful thanksgiving!