Share This Episode
Focus on the Family Jim Daly Logo

Remembering the Pilgrims' Journey

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly
The Truth Network Radio
November 25, 2021 5:00 am

Remembering the Pilgrims' Journey

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly

On-Demand Podcasts NEW!

This broadcaster has 1129 podcast archives available on-demand.

Broadcaster's Links

Keep up-to-date with this broadcaster on social media and their website.

November 25, 2021 5:00 am

Law professor Jay Milbrandt offers a fascinating look at the Pilgrims' flight to North America from religious persecution in a discussion based on his book "They Came for Freedom: The Forgotten, Epic Adventure of the Pilgrims."

Receive Jay Milbrandt's book "They Came for Freedom" for your donation of any amount! And when you give today, your support will be DOUBLED to Give Families Hope!

Get more episode resources:

If you've listened to any of our podcasts, please give us your feedback:

Truth Talk
Stu Epperson
Truth Talk
Stu Epperson
Our Daily Bread Ministries
Various Hosts
JR Sports Brief
Faith And Finance
Rob West
Core Christianity
Adriel Sanchez and Bill Maier

Almighty God, we thank you for the sustaining grace of your love and provision through our Savior Jesus Christ. We thank you for the bounty of fellowship which allows us to share in the food you have given to us. May we receive it with grateful hearts. That prayer is an excerpt from Focus on the Family's radio theater episode, The Legend of Squanto, which really captures the spirit and thankful heart of the pilgrims who traveled to North America. Their purpose was to begin a new colony and to escape religious persecution and we're going to talk a little bit more about that today on our broadcast. Happy Thanksgiving and welcome to Focus on the Family.

Your host is Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller. John, you know, it's so easy in culture to forget kind of the origins of these holidays that we celebrate. And, you know, we get busy.

I'm sure many moms and dads right now are busy. Dad's got his to-do list, clean up stuff before the family gets over and, you know, the cooking the turkey and doing all those things. And we can't forget. We think Thanksgiving is about football and family and pumpkin pie and that's all good stuff.

But what is the true origin of Thanksgiving and it's going to be quite a discussion we have today when we peel back the history, the actual history of Thanksgiving and remind all of us what it was about. And Jay Milbrandt is our guest today. He's a professor at Bethel University in Minnesota and he really has researched the story. He's got a personal interest in it.

We'll hear more about that. He's written a great book called They Came for Freedom, The Forgotten Epic Adventure of the Pilgrims. Jay, welcome to Focus. Thank you. Thanks for having me. Yeah, what a great day to spend a little time together, remembering and giving thanks for the founding really the beginning of the nation and what happened in that sense.

Absolutely. It's the story of where we came from. Now let's start there. You have a background in law, which is great, but you also have that connection of family members. What is that connection? Well, part of our family lore was that we were the descendant of two of the Mayflower pilgrims.

So I was pretty interested in this and kind of what does that mean for me personally. And so it took an interest of one to find out who are they now. It was sort of a discouraging discovery after I went a little deeper because they weren't actually the pilgrims that came for religious purposes.

One was an indentured servant, the other was the hired mercenary, if you will, to protect them. And so unfortunately, they weren't the ones who came on account of their religious beliefs. Hey, they're still on the ship. But they were still on the boat.

They made it. But it was still an interesting discovery. And what was that about? And really what I wanted to explore was that religious persecution question.

And as a lawyer, I wanted to explore what's the evidence that that took place and what did that mean for them? And that's what prompted you to write the book. Is that it? That's right. Just that curiosity.

That's right. And finding that, you know, as I went and wanted to learn more about my story, reading books on the history of the Pilgrims of Thanksgiving, that they mentioned this nugget of there was some religious freedom component to it, but everyone sort of glossed over it and never really gave it any time to explore. Let's describe the pilgrims. I mean, some of us, again, it's a distant memory, it's a distant history. We may have learned about it in fourth or fifth grade. Who knows when? Who were the pilgrims?

What was it about? Yeah. Well, they were really more probably separatists. They were a group of people that wanted to worship in the way that they read the Bible and they saw fit. And they didn't want to worship in the way that was prescribed by the Anglican church. So they were this group of people mostly lived in the rural English setting.

And what would that prescription be? Just again, to set that out. What was it was King James. He was the one in authority.

The King James Bible, King James. So what was he doing and decreeing that made them so uncomfortable? Well, they were really using the church at that time as a way to control people and to tax people. The church services were in Latin.

You couldn't really understand them. They had a prescribed order of service, they had prescribed prayers. Everything was prescribed and mandated.

And if you didn't follow what they mandated, there was jail time, fines, and potentially even death if you didn't comply. So you had a group of people who said, we actually were reading the Bible. They got a hold of the Geneva Bible. And it doesn't say what we're being told. We think that there's more to this and that there's a personal relationship here.

Yeah. And in that context, think about that. In that prescription that they were following that the leadership of England at the time, King James, it was mandated that they go to Sunday services. It was mandated that they do certain things during the week.

All with this kind of a Christian overtone, but coming from the government. That's key to understanding what the founding fathers were later going to do. That's the separation of church and state they're talking about. And there was no separation. You have to be right.

It was very heavy handed. Right. And that's what they were getting at when they later created the Constitution. It was that the state would not tell you how to worship.

That's what they're going after. But getting back to the pilgrims, one of the things that I found fascinating that I didn't know, and we're using today as a little history lesson for all of us. Both the pilgrims and the Puritans were on the Mayflower, almost in even numbers. I can't remember exactly, 35 pilgrims and 40 or 45 Puritans.

What is the difference in those sects? I mean, we talk about Baptists today and others, but what was their differences? Well, the Separatists, the pilgrims, wanted to separate themselves out from the Church of England.

Be different. The Puritans wanted to purify the Church of England. They said, let's work within it and let's try to get the bad stuff out of this. So the Separatists were really more about separating the church and state. Puritans were really more about, they can work together, but let's purify it. Now, in the end, I think there was more of a majority of the Separatists and the Pilgrims. They all kind of blended together. But we definitely have these two groups that at times, they were at odds. Because they ultimately had the same goal of worshipping in the way that they believed the Bible taught them to worship. But they had different approaches to how to... And that's good to know. I mean, nothing new under the sun, huh?

That's right. It sounds very similar to what separates some Christians today. So going back to the Pilgrims, they're uncomfortable, they're getting persecuted for their practices, their religious practices. They don't immediately say, let's go to the new world. They have a different plan.

What was that plan? Yeah, yeah. And it's interesting because I think we picture them just sort of taking off, right?

Right. And so they tried to work within this for a while. They tried to see if they could have secret meetings and things and those all got broken up. They were watched and the government took a really close interest in them. And their first objective was, hey, let's actually, let's leave for mainland Europe.

And Holland was a place that was more religiously tolerant. And this is one of the interesting parts of the story that's overlooked is that this was a really dangerous escape from England to Holland. That they were captured several times by the English government trying to escape. They were separated. They were a boat that almost sank in a storm. And they barely made it out to mainland Europe. Just to Holland.

Yeah, yeah. In context, what were they hoping to find in Holland? I know a bit more ease, but in fact it didn't go the direction they thought it would go. What took place in Holland? Well, they came from a rural English center.

It was very peaceful. And they came to Holland and they found this industrial center. They were working in the factories. Shipping.

It was a shipping center. Yeah, and it was hard labor, backbreaking. So they really didn't find, it was a cultural change for them. And it was difficult. So they started to worry after a while that the religious intoleration that happened in England was going to happen there. And the English government was trying to extradite some of them and putting pressure on Holland.

So you had two things happening. You had this religious pressure that they saw that had taken place in England might happen here. And then also the cultural issues. That they weren't able to really worship and practice the way they wanted to without that peaceful setting. They really wanted to create their own world. Part of this is that their kids were starting to actually take off and become sailors themselves. I found this really interesting.

I want to punch this point. Because in reading the book, the idea that they were concerned their kids were assimilating into the Holland culture. I mean that is a direct parallel today.

You know, where we are maybe living in a city or they go to a university and they start to move into more secular thinking. Speak to that. I mean, again, those parents of that time were experiencing similar angst that we are today. They were. And it's interesting because they were really concerned. I think in a lot of ways that was more the motivation to go to North America than anything else.

Let's get our kids out of this mess. That's right, right. And there was a lot happening in Europe at that time and they didn't quite know where it was going to go. And so, there was an opportunity to go to a completely new place where they could create a distinct culture and practice in the way that they wanted to. And so, that's what they decided to do. Well, as a historian, help paint the picture for me in terms of the numbers.

What are we looking at here? I have no concept. Is it thousands of people? Hundreds of people? Dozens of people that go to Holland and now are thinking, let's go to the new world.

Yeah, it's not as many as you'd think. I mean, you started with just a couple dozen that made that trip to England. They picked up a few people in Holland, a few people that came in over time.

They were there ten years in Holland. So, there were more people that came over from England. And then you have about a hundred that want to make this journey. So, you're really starting with a small group.

You've got a hundred people. And then they decide we're going to do this. How did they, in fact, in historical fact, how did they go about planning the trip? What did they have to buy?

How did they do it? Well, this was really interesting to me is that they looked around the world. I mean, they didn't just say North America is our spot. They actually looked to go into South America, down by the Amazon, because they thought, hey, warmer climate, could plant crops all year. I'm telling you, people think exactly the same, don't they?

Nothing is new. Yeah. They looked at opportunities to stay in Europe. They thought about whether they could go back to England.

They looked at everything. And, you know, eventually they got together and voted. This is what is sort of mind-blowing to me is that they knew that a lot of them were going to perish. I mean, they just knew that that was the reality of the day, that this journey, that they would not all survive the journey and the process. And yet they made that decision to go.

It was sort of mind-boggling that they were willing to take that risk, that I don't know if we'd be as eager to do that today. Now, some of the A students listening will remember that fourth grade class and William Brewster and some others that may have been, you know, distracting one another may not remember him. Talk about William Brewster. Who was he? What type of man was he? Why was he the leader? Who appointed him? How did he gain kind of control over the pilgrims to give that leadership?

Yeah. Well, you had several leaders who really stepped forward and Brewster was one of them. And you had a lot of people. It was a group of people that came from a rural setting. And so there were farmers. There were a few people like Brewster who were really well read.

And this is one of the things that also surprised me. It's people who studied philosophy. They studied political science. And they spent a lot of time thinking about how do we govern a group of people and how do we transition them to somewhere else.

So Brewster was among these several handful of leaders who had some background in leading the church and wanted to find a way to lead the government there as well. And so a handful of people that stepped up and took the reins and moved them on this journey. And so they're in Holland.

They come back to England to pick up the ships. Speak to the, again, the logistics. I don't feel like I got the answer I wanted. Yeah. Okay. The logistics. They bought two ships.

Yeah. And just purchasing two ships. I mean, I didn't know that. I thought I was under the impression that they simply paid their fare to use the ships to get across. But they actually purchased the ships. They actually bought it. And they didn't buy the Mayflower. They bought the Speedwell. And so they bought a different ship. And that ship had a lot of problems.

Mainly hulls. Right? Yeah. It was leaking. It leaked. And to the point where they couldn't take it. They got out halfway into the ocean and had to turn back. Think of that.

I mean, that would be discouraging. Yeah. I don't know how they got their money back on that one. Well, they didn't.

They didn't. So they were taken for a ride. Essentially. They were sold a boat that was improperly equipped. Not seaworthy.

No. So they come back to England. Then what happens? So they bought the Speedwell. And then they also took the Mayflower. And so they ended up. They sailed both of them out into the ocean. Came back to mainland England when the Speedwell was leaking. And they transitioned everyone to the Mayflower. Now, you had some people who decided, hey, we're not going to. We don't want to join anymore. They've been out.

They've gone out. Well, they probably were fearful. I mean, that's a big ocean. Yeah. Yeah. They're almost safe.

They even said, I think this is a sign from the Lord that we shouldn't do this. That's right. That's right. Our ship is leaking.

Yeah. So they stayed back. They decided to stay back. How many stayed back? Is there a record of that?

You had about 40 or 50 that ended up staying back or peeling off in different ways. And some just decided they wanted to go back to Holland. They wanted to stay in England. They had other reasons. And so then they crammed everyone into the Mayflower, which was now over full.

And that was part of your problems. And how many people would that be? About 100 and then a few sailors, so just 110 or so.

Okay. It was packed. And if you get out to the East Coast, you can actually board a replica of the Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor. And you can't believe that they can fit 100 people. It's not that big.

It's not big at all. This is Focus on the Family, and Happy Thanksgiving. We're talking today to Jay Milbrandt about his book and all the research that went into this. They Came for Freedom. We've got the book and a CD or download of our conversation. Just click on the links from our episode notes in the podcast.

So Jay, they've done this. They start their journey now in the Mayflower. Describe what that journey is like from England to the New World.

And what were some of the things they encountered on the journey? Well, we talked about logistics. And they tried to gather what they thought they needed for what was intended to be a relatively short journey.

What would that be? You could probably make it in six to eight weeks. But they brought what they thought they needed, some dried meat and some butter and things. They ended up having to sell a lot of it just to pay port fees before they left England. So they started off with less than they thought they needed for a regular length journey. They sailed into winds that were in the wrong direction.

You have no control of this because it's all tack and work with the wind and zigzag it back and forth across the ocean. So it was a long journey. It was stormy.

It was tumultuous. But thankfully, they didn't capsize. It was kind of amazing that they actually survived the voyage. How many did survive, Jay?

I'd have to look up the numbers to give you the exact total. But they didn't lose anyone from their group. There was a sailor that passed away that fell overboard. But the pilgrims all made it and actually gained. They had some children born at sea. Oh, is that right?

So they arrive in that shape, not tip-top shape, but they're struggling. Describe even the idea of the compact. Where was that created?

Were they still at sea when they drafted the Mayflower Compact? What is it? Why is it revered?

What are the elements of it? So you can imagine, you've spent four months on the ocean. You want to get off this boat. And everyone wanted to go on land. First thing they do is they decide, before we step off this boat and we step on the land, we've got to decide how we're going to govern ourselves, which I think is a great insight here is that they had the forethought to do this. And how are we going to structure this?

Who's going to lead the group? And so they created this document called the Mayflower Compact while they were on board. And it was really our first example of self-government by the people. And they said, okay, here's how we're going to do this.

Here's how we're going to make decisions and govern ourselves once we're on land. And so it was a document that laid out what they were going to do before they stepped foot. I think in your book you mention this, John Quincy Adams, the quote by him about the Compact. He said it was the first example in modern times of social compact or system of government instituted by voluntary agreement conformably to the laws of nature by men of equal rights and about to establish their community in a new country. So the point of that is that had a profound impact on the founding fathers again who used elements of that for the Constitution. Absolutely. Now, several people have cited it throughout history as a precursor to our Constitution. And while we don't see it directly cited in the Constitution, it certainly set up the ethos of that document, of the Constitution. And would we have had the Constitution without the Mayflower Compact?

Hard to say. Now speak to the difficulty that they encountered. I mean, they're low on food supplies. Squanto, the Native American Indians engage. Describe what that was like for them. They're out there on the frontier.

Yeah, yeah. Well, they come off the boat as winter is setting in and it's cold and it's icy. They're sick. I mean, they have not had nutritious food for months.

And so the biggest challenge before them is trying to find what do you eat because it's all new. Even though they picked an area that was in the same latitude as where they lived in England and in Europe, it was very different. It's colder.

It's not as mild. It's a harsher climate. And so they had a really difficult time. And also there was a lot of stories about the Native Americans and that they should be fearful of people and that people weren't to be trusted in North America. And they had this fear instilled in them and falsely.

And so they were very afraid of what they were going to find. It was a long time before they even encountered some of the Native American groups. But eventually they did and Squanto was one of them who found them and befriended him.

And he is an interesting character in and of himself. And what was that interaction like? Did the Native Americans actually save them as history suggests? Did they teach them things that they needed to know to survive? And not all the tribes were their friends. They had their enemies.

They did. If the Native peoples wouldn't have found them and befriended them, I don't think they would have survived. Think of that. Squanto, who is just a fascinating character in this, he had probably made four transatlantic trips by the time he met the pilgrims. So he spoke English and that was the reason he went and met them is that he was the only Native person who had English fluency. Think of that meeting the first time though. I mean how shocking that had to be to the pilgrims. That Squanto comes through the forest and says hello.

I mean that right there is amazing. And it completely changed the preconceived notions they had of the people there. Because here is someone who wanted to show them how to survive. But Squanto is interesting because he had been captured on at least two occasions and taken as a slave, sold in a Spanish slave market. I mean just a really interesting person but this is how he learned English. And so he took them under their wing and showed them how the Native peoples planted corn, how they caught fish, things that the pilgrims probably would not have figured out on their own.

And I think it would have been a hard, hard survival without him. So they make it through, speak to the feast, let's get to it. The whole idea of Thanksgiving is a much later tradition. But they did celebrate that first bounty. How did they celebrate it? What did they call it?

And who was there? Yeah, so what's really interesting about Thanksgiving is we have, as our holiday looks at it, we sort of mixed up several different events that took place at that time. And when they survived their first year and they had a crop, they had a harvest festival. Now a harvest festival was, it was a secular event. There wasn't a purely religious event. It was, hey we have food finally, let's eat it.

Let's celebrate. It was a great event. They invited the Native peoples who helped them survive. But they ate too much of their food and actually put themselves back into near starvation. Yeah, I'm sure the Native Americans are saying, why are they eating everything they've grown? But they were celebrating.

Let me make sure something's clear though. These are the pilgrims. I'm sure that all the thanks was given to God ahead of time. Absolutely. But what you're saying in it not being a religious expression, it wasn't Thanksgiving as we know it today. Right, right. But they would have been grateful to God. God would have been the centerpiece of all of they were celebrating I would think. Absolutely.

But it was still called a harvest celebration. Absolutely. I just want to make sure that's clear. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Because they were very religious people, very God-fearing people. So that would have been an element. Absolutely. It just, it wasn't a church-sponsored event per se. So it was a, they absolutely would have been thankful and it was, they gave all credit to God for getting them through and surviving.

But it was a, it was a non-religious event in and of itself. Now William Bradford is a key character in this. Who is he? What's his role? And what did he do?

Bradford was a young man at the start of this and he was well read. He was one of the people who helped chart the course in their government structure. And he became the governor again as a young man.

He was appointed governor of this colony. Do we have an age of that? For decades. How old he was? He was in his early 20s.

Yeah, think of that. Which at the time, you know, was, was a kind of middle age given the survival. But he was one of the, one of our heroes of the story because he really brought the pilgrims through so many times and led them faithfully.

And he was a man of great faith. So now in the last few minutes, and this has been very educational as Jean and I were reading the book and looking through the material. There's some great nuggets in here that we don't understand, that we don't appreciate the history of. Talk about the declaration of Thanksgiving. What it has become in the modern world.

Who started it? What's the history of the actual Thanksgiving celebration? So we had that harvest festival that we talked about. Now the following year, we have the, they try to, they plant crops again and the crops almost fail because of a drought. And so about the point where they said, you know, if we get any more drought, we are probably going to starve.

The crop's going to fail. They held a day of Thanksgiving. So they brought everyone in the colony together. This was a religious expression. So they brought everyone in the colony together for a day of prayer and petition to God for their survival. And as they're having this day. And praying for rain. Praying for rain. And they're having this day of Thanksgiving and as the evening sets in, these clouds come in and it starts raining. It's a rain that saves the crops and they have perfect weather. This is mid-July.

They have perfect weather for the rest of the season. And so this was where we get the idea of Thanksgiving. Now what happens is the harvest festival about food and eating food gets combined with the day of Thanksgiving over time. And about 200 years later, Sarah Josepha Hale, who wrote Mary Had a Little Lamb. She was the one who wrote that poem, that song. And she wrote a book about, where she talked about this event Thanksgiving that had happened in the colonies. And she lived around the time of the Civil War. She did. She did. This is about the time of the Civil War.

And she, this is a fictionalized event in her book. But it becomes this greater idea. And so Sarah Josepha Hale starts partitioning states to make it a holiday.

And she eventually gets the ear of Abraham Lincoln who says, Okay, the Civil War has just ended. We need a holiday that is unifying. That brings people together and focuses us on God and being thankful for this nation. And he loves this idea of Thanksgiving. And so we get the food, we get the thanks, the prayers to God, and they all sort of coalesce. And Abraham Lincoln creates this national holiday in November.

And so it's kind of an interesting story about how, you know, all these things came together. And Thanksgiving gets created some 200 years later after the pilgrims. And I like the fact, I mean, if you look at the inflection points of our nation, it's a good thing. I mean, President Lincoln was trying to save the Union. Way back then, they're simply trying to survive so the Union can actually be saved later, right?

So these are two big inflection points. So the idea of combining these things, creating a day of thanksgiving, it's so appropriate. Now, the other part of this, Jay, as we're ending right at the end here, the pilgrims, they went through an economic upturn, they were able to sell their goods. But then they moved along. They went to a different part of the area, to Cape Cod. And then, this is what I didn't realize, it didn't work well, and they simply disbanded.

Well, yeah. Plymouth ended up kind of failing, which is really surprising to me. And the history sort of fades off. How many years was that, from the times that we were talking about the harvest celebration, the first crops, all the good news, and then kind of an uptick?

What was that number of years? Well, the uptick started happening in the first 20 years as more of the Puritans then started coming in from England, and they established Boston, and there was a lot of economic growth in Plymouth. And then after that, the kids in Plymouth started moving away to Boston and these bigger cities, and they slowly started shrinking away. They sort of pushed out some of the new ideas and weren't willing to adopt, and so Plymouth as a colony faded away. And that's why we don't have a 14th colony of Plymouth. If you look at the 13 colonies, Plymouth wasn't one of them, because it just sort of disappeared and got absorbed into some of the others.

And so they took that colony and moved out further away so they could further isolate themselves and their small group from what was happening in the rest of New England. Well, Jay, this has been really informative, man, I'm telling you. I so appreciate the depth that you've been able to collect here in your book, They Came for Freedom. Thank you.

New information, new things that I never understood. Thank you. And I feel I'm pretty well versed in it, so wonderful, wonderful research. Thank you. Appreciate it. Thanks for being with us. I hope everyone will pick up a copy of this, so we really do know that Thanksgiving is not about football and pumpkin pie.

Yeah. It's about so much more. And get a copy by writing us or calling us here at Focus on the Family. And if you can make a gift of any amount, we will say thank you by sending you a copy of Jay Milbrandt's book, They Came for Freedom. Donate and get a copy of that book by clicking on the links from the episode notes in this podcast.

Thanks in advance for your generosity. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I'm John Fuller and join us next time as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ. Just like a warm fireplace when it's cold outside, the joy the Christmas season gives comfort. I'm John Fuller and Focus on the Family is excited to let you know about our Christmas Stories podcast. Each episode brings heartwarming conversations to bring your family closer together and remind you of the hope we have in Jesus. You can enjoy that podcast at Focus on the Family dot com slash Christmas stories, hear past shows and the brand new season five at Focus on the Family dot com slash Christmas stories.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-17 16:05:25 / 2023-07-17 16:18:09 / 13

Get The Truth Mobile App and Listen to your Favorite Station Anytime