Years ago I had a history instructor who taught us about the importance of primary source documents—those letters, diaries, receipts and papers written by men and women during their own time about their own lives—compared with secondary sources written at a later date about people and events by those who had no first hand knowledge. I’ve always loved to go back to those primary sources because reading the actual words of those who are describing their own experience removes history from a musty past and brings it into our time. I began to understand and know those people and realize they were flesh and blood as we are.
The past is both foundation and prologue to our present, and it can also give guidance for our future. But the story of the Pilgrims is not just any past, it is our past as a nation. The hopes, anxieties and courage of that company Of plimoth plantation not only describe days long gone, but also provide encouragement, warnings, and wisdom for our own times.
These are the posts I’ve written this week about the Pilgrims, arranged not in order of their publication, but in chronological order of the events.
1621: The First Harvest Festival: the Pilgrim’s arrival at Cape Cod in November 1620, and events of the following winter, spring and autumn in 1621.
Corn, Capitalism & Compassion: their abandonment of communal farming in the spring of 1623, and the ensuing success that was had from assigning each man and his family their own land for crops.
Sweete and Gentle Showers: their deliverance from drought during the summer 1623, and the first civil appointment of a day set aside for thanksgiving.
The Mayflower Passengers: William Bradford’s 1650 annotated list, including those who died during that first year.
Grateful Hearts: on gratitude with a quote from Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day.
Before 1752 the English used the Julian calendar with the new year beginning on March 25. You’ll notice this if you read William Bradford’s Of Plimoth Plantation. I’ve added the Julian year in the 1621 winter reference.
The Pilgrims gave us a foundation of self-government, a beneficial prosperity, and a Christian heritage of beliefs, character and world view. They also left us wisdom and warning for the future. Tomorrow my last Thanksgiving post will be on that rich legacy.
Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, William Halsall: PD-US.