The Mayflower Survivors: April 1621

 As the dreadful winter of 1621 neared its end, the first soft breezes eased from the south, and the Pilgrims gratefully anticipated the blessed warmth of spring.  They had lost half their company during the “starving,” freezing winter and now those surviving focused on gathering their strength to plant their first crops.  Yet April was to bring two more severe losses.

On April fifth the Mayflower, their last English home, left for England, breaking the final tie between the Pilgrims had their homeland.  The remnant of colonists gathered on the shore to bid goodbye to the crew who had carried them safely to their new home, surely a poignant parting after so much shared misery.  The colonists watched the ship fade away on the horizon, some hearts no doubt aching to return with her, yet not one colonist accepted Captain Jones’ invitation to return with the ship.

And why not?  They had forsaken everything to commit to this voyage to the New World.  Only estranged families, poverty and persecution waited them in England. Their future must have seemed more hopeful here in Plimoth.

Then as the colonists busied themselves in the warm April weather clearing, hoeing, digging, and hauling, Governor Carver working with the others, suddenly collapsed with a searing headache.  Dr. Fuller diagnosed a heat stroke and prescribed rest and cooling.  But beloved John Carver did not awaken and passed on within a few days.  This was a stunning loss.  Not only this good man’s death, but who could take his  place?  What more severe pain would the Lord demand of this community?

Then, the big decision:  As their spiritual leader Elder Brewster was ineligible, for they kept strict separation of church and state, they looked for suitable candidates for a new governor.  Several of the other younger men could serve admirably.  After much prayer and discussion they chose William Bradford  whose spiritual devotion and practical good sense displayed the special qualities the colony needed.  It would be a significant change for the infant colony.

The Relevance of the Pilgrims’ Story for Modern Americans

The Pilgrims of Plimoth Plantation believed in the Christian faith as it was presented in the Calvinist Geneva Bible. They found no mention in this Bible of doctrines of the Church of England in their Book of Common Prayer, or the hierarchy of priests, deacons, bishops, and liturgical rituals. If the official Church/State had respected their Biblical version of Christianity, they would gladly have stayed within the Church fold, but the Church forbade any “gatherings” outside prescribed Church services and imprisoned or executed “heretics” who did not follow Church teachings. These restrictions forced “separatists,” like the Pilgrims, to practice their Biblical faith in secret or to try to leave the country, which was also illegal.

These Pilgrims established the concept of separation of church and state in America. As other European settlers arrived bringing their versions of Christianity with them, they were free to practice their faiths without persecution. This heritage prevails in modern America which allows other religions unknown to American colonists. Some clashes occur today, e.g. the controversy over the building of a mosque in New York City near the Trade Center site. This issue will probably be settled on legal grounds rather than by any restriction of Islamic religious practice.

New Pilgrim Histories Published

Another definitive history by Nick Bunker, Making Haste from Babylon, was published in 2010. Had either Bangs’ Strangers, or Bunker’s Babylon been available before my One Candle’s Light was published in late 2009, I would have had a wealth of new historical fact to draw upon. Instead I used the personal accounts of William Bradford in his Of Plymouth Plantation, Edward Winslow in Good Newes from New England, and Phineas Pratt’s account of his escape from Wessagussett, all contemporary versions of the Pilgrims’ story.