That seems unreasonable, doesn’t it? Not everything benefits me. In fact, I don’t like a lot of what happens. Yet much of thankfulness has to do with our perspective and attitude toward life. Some people suffer through hardship or calamity and ask, “Why me?” Others realize it could have been worse, and thank God it wasn’t. Some people see gloom and doom in difficult times, others see opportunity to serve; instead of continually questioning their fate, they understand what they can and do what they must. As happiness often depends on how much we put into life rather than how much we take from it. These contrasting ideals are graphically portrayed in two of the more famous settlements in American history; Jamestown and Plymouth.
Jamestown evokes memories of Capt. John Smith, Pocahontas, and death. Settled on May 14,1607, Jamestown became a magnet for street urchins, the unemployed and the gentleman adventurer as well as those who sought honestly for freedom and the benefits it offered. Yet this expedition was poorly planned and it’s objectives even more poorly executed; the building site was on marshland, provisions were in short supply, knowledge of the local flora and fauna virtually non-existent and the Indians quickly angered by the colonists constant demand for food and gold. They planted little, living mostly hand to mouth as many looked to get rich quick and go back home to live in luxury. Weakness and fever brought on by the long sea voyage, malaria from the mosquito-infested swamp, starvation due to the lack of harvestable crops, skirmishes with Indians and death as a result of the extreme Northeast winters took a terrible toll.
A particularly bad winter caught the colonists unprepared and un-provisioned, desperately waiting for a ship from England and hoping for the most part in vain to convince the Indians to help, resulting in what has come to be called the “starving time.” In a desperate attempt at survival, they ate anything they could get their hands on; some resorting to eating the flesh of the newly dead. May of 1610 brought the ships Deliverance and Patience to Jamestown’s dock to find only sixty souls alive, the town a shambles, the graveyard over-flowing. This was all that was left of the investment of 480 settlers the previous August. Re-supplied and re-settled – the dying continued.
For example, 1200 people went to Virginia in 1619, only 200 were still living in 1620. With more boats delivering people ashore the enterprise carried on its ghastly record, as a census taken in 1622 recorded 1240 people in and around Jamestown. Encouraging? Hardly! 1580 new people had embarked on the great adventure to Jamestown. There had been 843 living colonists there in 1621, the additional 397 noted in the census of 1622 had come from this group of 1580. 1183 had died en-route or soon after arriving in Virginia. In this same year the Indians rose up in anger and wiped out a third of the remaining colonists in a bloody massacre.
The Plymouth Colony, on the other hand, was founded by Pilgrims some months after their departure from England on Sept. 16,1620; the founding of this colony being one of the major events in early American history. Their ship, financed by investors in exchange for most of the produce of the colonists first six years, was the Mayflower. The Puritans, among others, left England for the New World, new opportunities, new freedoms, and new responsibilities. They wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact, the first constitutional policy statement in America; a large first step toward democratic rule, signifying not only a desire to make a living but the desire to live well, to live free and to live as God and man should – in partnership.
Settlement was difficult. After a long and hazardous sea voyage of several months and it’s attendant illnesses, the colonists had to build shelter, plant crops, adjust to the new climate, hunt, fish, explore and make peace with the neighboring Indians. The first winter was bad. Already weak and sickened by the voyage, lack of food and exposure to the elements, many died; only the strongest survived. But once gotten through, the opportunities to live well began to present themselves. And these people knew where their success came from. Hard work? Yes! Attention to detail? Always! A willingness to sacrifice? Absolutely! But they knew without God all was for naught.
A series of what some would call coincidences can be listed to bolster the idea of providential destiny and highlight their thankfulness as they settled in for the long term. They desired to live well but not merely get rich; intending to take advantage of freedom’s opportunities while living in such a way as to leave a legacy for those who would follow in their footsteps. They knew the meaning of Paul’s words recorded in 2 Corinthians 9:11 “You will be made rich in every way (in goods and goodly living) so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”
In 1605, an Indian named Squanto was taken captive by European explorers along what was to become the New England coast. He was taken to England and taught the English language so he could be questioned about other Indian inhabitants and favorable places for colonization. He spent nine years in England before returning to the Cape Cod area with John Smith’s exploration and mapping expedition in 1614. Thomas Hunt, commanding a sister ship along-side Smith’s stayed behind to dry and pack fish caught along the New World’s coast in preparation for their return to England. But he picked up an even more profitable cargo, Indian slaves; to be sold in Spain. Lured aboard to barter over beaver skins, Squanto and twenty-six others were then chained up in the hold of the ship and transported back to Europe. A few, Squanto included, were bought by priests in an effort to save them from the rigors of slavery and taught the Christian faith. In time, Squanto was able to make his way back to England and became acquainted with and attached to an English merchant in London, embarking for the Cape Cod area once more in 1619. Upon arrival he found his entire tribe, including his family, dead; probably from disease unwittingly brought over by the European explorers. He went to live with a neighboring tribe and there met Samoset, another native American who had met Englishmen, learned their language, and been introduced to the settlers at Plymouth; who were near starvation. They soon set about teaching them to catch eels, plant corn – which they fertilized with fish – hunt deer, plant pumpkins, refine maple syrup, identify and use healing herbs and to trap and trade beaver pelts. Squanto also acted as guide and interpreter for trading expeditions carried out among the other Indian tribes.
As a result of God’s blessing through Squanto, Samoset, and the Pilgrims hard work, they began to prosper. They in turn dedicated a day to give thanks and to celebrate the bounty of the newly harvested crops, inviting the local Indians who had assisted them – who in turn brought venison, turkey and popcorn to the settler’s table. Never-the-less, their second winter was again rough, ending with a daily food ration of five kernels of corn apiece until the spring thaw – but all survived. They replanted their crops and gardens, hunted and fished, restocked their provisions from a passing trading ship and prepared to celebrate another Thanksgiving Day. However, the first course that year was a reminder of past difficulties. On a plate in front of each colonist were five kernels of corn – and then the feast began; combining that remembrance of past difficulties with the realization of God’s provision. This year, amidst the food, family and fellowship – let’s not forget to give thanks to the one who has made the enjoyment of all these blessings possible. Give thanks to God this Thanksgiving!
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