Knowing nothing about the reality of the Pilgrims’ journey to America or those first years of deprivation and death, it was a fun holiday to celebrate during my younger years. At school, we would make Pilgrim and Indian hats and headpieces, eat vegetable soup and cornbread, and sing loudly, “Come Ye Thankful People Come.”
The faces and body language in this painting show us a more authentic view of the Plymouth Rock that the Mayflower brought the Pilgrims to.
Leaving England nine weeks late, New England’s harsh weather fiercely threatened their survival. In December, the men built crude shelters for the winter; the women and children stayed on the ship. There is a melancholy tone in the journal entries for that winter:
“…Aboute no one, it began to raine…at night. It did freee &snow …still the cold weather continued…very wet and rainy, with the greatest gusts of wind ever we saw…frost and foule weather hindered us much; this time of the yeare seldom could we worke half the week.”
During that winter, more than half of the heads of households died. Five of the eighteen wives lived through the scourges of pneumonia, tuberculosis, and scurvy.
On March 24, a journal entry sums their situation up:
“Dies Elizabeth, the wife of Mr. Edward Winslow. N.B. This month thirteen of our number die. And in three mons past dies halfe our company…Of a hundred persons, scarce fifty remain, the living scarce able to bury the dead.”
What a courageous group of men, women, and children; there are no words to laud their fortitude. During the third week of March, the weakened survivors from the Mayflower rowed ashore to their new homes in New Plimouth in those huts that needed rebuilding.
They could have given up and returned to England. They could have thrown up their hands in despair. But their faith was in God, and they chose to not let the hardships make them bitter. Their trust laid the enduring foundations of our country America, and they were thankful.
If these few could fight, fall, and rise to fight again against wild animals, extreme weather, poor housing, and a starvation diet, I believe we should certainly sing this November, 2016.