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Thanksgiving, The Pilgrim’s Gift

By Dr. Stan Cooke

In 1621, the Mayflower Pilgrims held the first Thanksgiving celebration in what is called Plymouth Plantation within modern day Plymouth, Massachusetts. Forty-five of the 102 immigrants had died during the first winter while there was only one recorded birth. These Pilgrims not only celebrated a bountiful harvest that would sustain them for the next winter, they celebrated their survival and saw it as the providence of God. This celebration would become a gift of a “holiday” to the American society that would forever link the foundation of this nation with thanksgiving to God.

According to the colony’s governor William Bradford and future governor Edward Winslow, the first Thanksgiving meal included onions, beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots, peas, corn, potatoes, lobster, bass, clams, oysters, turkey, and various water fouls. Winslow tells us that the first guest to this Thanksgiving were the Wampanoag Indians and they arrived with an offering of five deer. They Pilgrims gave thanks to God, offered prayers and sang hymns in celebration.

Another gift that the Mayflower Pilgrims gave to our nation was the Mayflower Compact. The Mayflower Compact was the first governing document of Plymouth Colony and of the new world. It was written by the Pilgrim Separatists that were fleeing from religious persecution by King James of England. The Mayflower Compact was signed aboard ship on November 11, 1620 by 41 adult men while the Mayflower was anchored in what is now Provincetown Harbor.  This gift would forever link God and human government. It would establish the ideal of “freedom of religion” as a guiding principle of government. The Mayflower reads,

“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.

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The Geneva Bible is another gift that the Mayflower Pilgrims gave to our American society.  The Geneva Bible is one of the most historically significant translations of the Bible into English, preceding the King James translation by 50 years. It was the primary Bible of the Protestant Reformation and was the Bible used by William Shakespeare, Oliver Cromwell, John Knox, and John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress. This more accurate translation of the Holy Scriptures would become the Bible of choice of early American seminaries and would shape the thinking of the Founding Fathers.

A final gift that the Mayflower Pilgrims gave to our nation would be a lineage of leaders that would govern and influence the United States of America. Some of the more famous descendants of the Pilgrims are John Adams, George Herbert Walker Bush, George W. Bush, John Ellis “Jeb” Bush, Charles Curtis, James A. Garfield,  Ulysses S. Grant,  Herbert Hoover,  James Danforth “Dan” Quayle, Nelson Rockefeller, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Zachary Taylor.

As I prepare to celebrate the Thanksgiving of 2014, I set aside time to pray and thank God for my many blessings which are His gifts to me. I thank God for my wife, Michelle; my two daughters, Heather (Cooke) Hill and Heidi Loren Cooke; my son-in-law, Cliff Hill; and the newest member of our family – my granddaughter, Etta Elizabeth Hill.

I also thank God for my American heritage – for I am a descendant of the Mayflower passengers Francis Cooke, John Cooke, William White and his son, Peregrine White. Peregrine White is recorded to be the first documented English child born in America. As I look at my desk I see my inherited copy of the Geneva Bible that was printed in 1610 and was the property of the Cooke family aboard the Mayflower. Now, four hundred years later, I can read their notes concerning scripture and also a thanksgiving prayer.

Let us remember this Thanksgiving season that Every Good and Perfect Gift Comes from God and that were are the custodians of God’s Blessings for a future generation.

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