President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens" It was celebrated on November 26, and it was celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November from then on.
However, the First Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 by the Pilgrims in Plymouth after the first Harvest. There were about 50 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans in attendance. The feast and time of Thanksgiving lasted 3 days.
But who were these Pilgrims?
The Pilgrims were essentially our forefathers who came from England to escape religious persecution. They were known as "Separatists," because unlike the Puritans, they saw the corrupt Church of England that was a subsidiary of the Crown, as too far gone to Purify. Thus, they separated themselves. At the core of their dissent was the fact that the Church, under the direction of the Monarch, would not allow the Bible to be printed in English and distributed to the people for fear that the people might shake the chains of tyranny, both politically and religiously.
The majority of those in the Separatist Movement were a part of the Scrooby Congregation and led by William Brewster, who was a former diplomatic assistant to the Netherlands. He and others of the Scrooby Congregation were imprisoned and persecuted numerous times for sedition yet finally managed to escape to the Leiden in Holland. While in Holland, he taught English and operated a Printing Press where they would print Bibles as well as pamphlets critical of the King and his Bishops and smuggle them back into England. Upon learning of this, King James orders Brewster's arrest, and Brewster was forced into hiding.
After hiding out in Holland and England for a year, Brewster joined other Separatists in September 1620, as they boarded a ship called the Mayflower and headed to the New World. Brewster would become a leader in Plymouth Colony and Spiritual Adviser to William Bradford the Governor of the Colony.
Bradford had been a member of the Scrooby Congregation and had written all of their trials and journeys in a journal, which was later published as the book Of Plymouth Plantation. He along with the other men on board the Mayflower, signed the Mayflower Compact, which became the first governing document of the New World. After a hard and miraculous journey to the New World, before leaving the ship, they signed this document.
The Mayflower Compact, read as follows:
In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, defender of the Faith, etc.
Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.
In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, 1620.
Essentially, they agreed that they were more likely to keep laws if they agreed to the laws and had a say in their passage. They set up a crude judicial system and even put to death one of their own colonists upon the witness of 2 Native Americans.
The First Winter was very hard and many didn't survive. Most of the women died but children survived because the mothers laid on top of the Children to keep them warm. With the Spring, the Native Americans helped them to learn how to plant and grow crops in the New World. After this Harvest, came the First Thanksgiving, where Europeans and Native Americans sat down together to enjoy the fruits of their labors and thank God for the bountiful blessings he had given them.
As we sit down with family and friends this Thanksgiving, let us remember the First Thanksgiving and truly give thanks! We should thank God for our Separatist Forefathers who through much tribulation shook the chains of tyranny and forged a better life, not necessarily for themselves, but for their children and children's children. Let us thank God for all of those who have paid a price that we might be free. Let us thank God for His bountiful blessings, His Providential Watchcare and every good and perfect gift that comes from above!
WE TRULY ARE A BLESSED PEOPLE! Let's do as Scripture exhorts us and, "In EVERYTHING give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you!" HAVE A BLESSED THANKSGIVING!