Thursday, November 24, 2011


Thanksgiving means something special to me this year.  I've recently completed a genealogy of part of my family tree that as it turns out, harkens back to some of the first folks to come to America, the Pilgrims.  It was not only news to me but news to some member of my family as well.  It turns out that my 10th Great Grandfather, Edward Bompasse was born in England in 1605 and sailed to America on the Good Ship Fortune in 1622.  The Mayflower is of course the ship that we all think about when we think about the Pilgrims.  The Pilgrims of course, were separatists from the Church of England who were persecuted for their attempts to change the church (like asking for English translations of the Bible which was still read in Latin at the time) who fled first to Holland and then across the Atlantic to "The New World".The first colonists to land in Massachusetts came over on the Mayflower which embarked from England in 1620 and landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621. 103 passengers set out on the Mayflower but only half of them made it through the first winter at Plymouth.  Along the way, they signed "The Mayflower Compact" which declared certain necessary laws and government offices:

In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are under-written, 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 advancement 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 of another, covenant and combine our selves 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 hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the eleventh of November [New Style, November 21], 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. Anno Dom. 1620.
In 1621, the Pilgrims planted their crops in the spring and harvested them in the fall.  Once the harvest was brought in, they had a feast intended to thank God for the bounty they'd received and for the Providence bestowed on them with regards to the Indians.  Below are the only two primary sources of the story of the first Thanksgiving:

Edward Winslow, Mourt's Relation :

(In modern day spelling)
"our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others.  And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want,  that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."William Bradford, Of Plimoth Plantation :

In modern spelling
"They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty.  For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees).  And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion.  Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports."
The stories both talk about the struggles that the Pilgrims faced in that first year. Reading more of the stories that these excerpts are taken from, you will learn that the Pilgrims dug graves for their friends and families upon their first arrival in America.  They buried their friends and family who'd died on the long journey from England across the Atlantic Ocean and set to surviving while the Mayflower returned to England with news of the landing and the loss of life.  The Pilgrims had limited supplies, had to build their homes from scratch and only a limited defense force to deploy against wild animals or Indian attackers.  The first harvest would determine the survival of the colony as Bradford writes in "Of Plymouth Plantation":
"They also found two of the Indian's houses covered with mats, and some of their implements in them; but the people had run away and could not be seen. They also found more corn, and beans of various colours. These they brought away, intending to give them full satisfaction (repayment) when they should meet with any of them, - as about six months afterwards they did.
"And it is to be noted as a special providence of God, and a great mercy to this poor people, that they thus got seed to plant corn the next year, or they might have starved; for they had none, nor any likelihood of getting any, till too late for the planting season."
Monument to the settlers of Marshfield
including Edward Bompasse
The first Thanksgiving was a feast intended to thank God for His Providence and also to celebrate the good that God had done for the Pilgrims.  It was also a prayer for future good to befall them and God delivered on his promise to protect them.  Days after the first Thanksgiving celebration, The Good Ship Fortune landed at Plymouth with the second wave of settlers including the necessary Tradesmen, families and the rest of the original settlers.  Among them was Edward Bompasse, my ancestor, who was among the original separatists and who was a farmer and land owner in America.  This refreshment of people and supplies ensured that the colony would not only survive but thrive and it's hard to imagine this taking place without the finger of God in support of the cause of the Pilgrims.  So when you give thanks today, remember to give thanks for God's providence in 1621.

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