Land of the Pilgrims’ Pride
Just mention the Mayflower and hearts begin to flutter with memories of childhood stories and elementary school pageants.
Roanoke failed. Jamestown almost failed but the settlers shifted from searching for gold for the joint-stock company to creating a community where individuals could profit from their labors and gradually the settlement took permanent roots. Stories of rich soil, plentiful waters and an opportunity for a new beginning — coupled with footnotes about potentially threatening native peoples and the hardships of creating a “new world” — reached Europe. For those who saw no possibility for social or economic success for themselves and their children, the idea of starting anew where hard work and self-discipline could profit the laborer, not the master, was appealing.
So, more settlers moved to Jamestown. The new colony named Virginia for Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen, grew and stretched out across the region and groups of immigrants organized for the trip to a “New Canaan.” By 16l9, Virginians had created the House of Burgesses, establishing the first representative government, had begun the importation of slave labor from Africa, via the Caribbean Islands, and had faced even more conflicts with the native peoples whose lands were needed by the settlers. The planting of the Anglican Church provided order in a constantly changing environment while the exportation of tobacco to England and the continent provided Virginia a successful economic foothold, encouraging expansion of the colony.
Yet Virginia was only the beginning.
If one can say that Jamestown — and ultimately Virginia and the South — was settled with economic reasons at the forefront, the Massachusetts colonies were guided primarily by a goal of religious freedom.
Just mention the Mayflower and hearts begin to flutter with memories of childhood stories and elementary school pageants. We’ve just celebrated Thanksgiving and, as families across the United States gathered for food, fellowship, and reflection, they probably found themselves recalling the first day of thanksgiving and the Pilgrim settlers. The Pilgrims, known as Separatists for their unwillingness to worship within the Church of England’s theological framework, braved a stormy voyage that blew them off course to Cape Cod, spotting the shores in November 1620. By late December, they had landed on Plymouth Rock — named for the English town from which the Mayflower had sailed — built their first fort and established a colony. But, again, the settling of a “New Jerusalem” was not easy and half of the immigrants died that first winter.
Why would a predominantly middle-class group of immigrants be willing to start over in an unknown world? If you disagreed with the Church of England’s dogma and ritual, could you not just follow the catechism and silently commune with the Creator? Is freedom of religion that important? For the Pilgrims, religious freedom was not just important; it was fundamental to life’s purpose. If one’s existence on earth is temporary and heaven’s paradise is eternal joy in the presence of the Father, then man’s purpose is to glorify God and serve him according to his commandments.
The trans-Atlantic journey was not the Pilgrims’ first voyage. They had been searching for religious freedom for more than a decade prior to the Mayflower’s voyage. Most had left England in 1607 or 1608 and settled in the Netherlands where they were free to freely practice their faith. But the situation was not ideal. Parents watched as their children “lost” their native language and English cultural heritage and were encouraged to seek a site where they could be English citizens while worshiping God without the high church rituals. The idea of a voyage to the New World, offering religious freedom, cultural security, and economic possibilities, led to the voyage of the Mayflower.
The storms that blew the Pilgrims off-course might be considered a divine blessing for the religiously self-governing Separatists. Aware that the charter they had been given did not extend to the land where they had anchored, the leaders realized that they were walking into an unknown situation and had no governing authority to rely upon for guidance. Before leaving the small ship, they drafted and signed a short document, the Mayflower Compact, easily identified as creating the first constitutional government in the New World, that committed all the signers to obey the laws and those in authority.
Let’s pause for a moment of silent reverence because the Mayflower Compact, a document signed by 41 men aboard ship, signifies an amazing moment in our history.
English philosopher John Locke had not yet written his Two Treatises on Government, justifying revolution and self-government, but these Separatists in a New World had created a covenant between themselves and God that provided for self-government based on four major points: 1) the colonists are loyal subjects of King James, 2) the colonists would create and enact “laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices…” for the good of the colony, and abide by those laws, 3) the colonists would join together to create one society and work together to further it, and 4) they would live in accordance with the Christian faith.
Yes, Plymouth was a new beginning and it would become the land of “Pilgrims’ Pride.”
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