The story of the first Thanksgiving begins in 1608, when a group of people called the Separatists fled England because of religious persecution. While they found freedom in Holland, they also found poverty, grueling work, and a culture with different values than their own. Under the leadership of William Bradford, they sold everything and, to finance their journey, bound themselves to an English company for their first seven years in America. On the Mayflower, the Separatists joined others seeking the new land for other reasons. These two groups, a passenger list of 102, together were the Pilgrims.
Along the nine-week journey, their ship lost its course and, instead of reaching Virginia, landed at Massachusetts, a territory outside of the King's Charter. Without a government, they took the responsibility for establishing their own. The Pilgrims wrote a set of laws called The Mayflower Compact. Only after all had signed it, on November 11, 1620, did they leave the Mayflower to begin their new life at the place they named Plymouth.
After a harsh winter in which half of their group died, the Pilgrims clung to their faith in God, and when given the opportunity to return to England the next spring, not one Pilgrim chose to leave! That spring, aided with the help of an Indian named Squanto, the little colony learned how to grow corn, use fertilizer, stalk deer and catch fish.
The first harvest brought plenty. In October, Governor Bradford set aside a day for everyone to give thanks to God for meeting their needs through that difficult year. Squanto, along with other members of his tribe were their invited guests.
As folks across the Sixth District gather to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, I hope they will retain the gratefulness to God displayed by the Pilgrims, and remember that it is to those early and courageous Pilgrims that they owe not only the traditional Thanksgiving holiday but also the concept of self-government, a sense of community, a strong work ethic, and the inseparable role of faith in our history.
For my family, Thanksgiving has always been a time to give thanks to God and to help those who may be less fortunate. There's an old saying: "Shared joy is double joy, and shared sorrow half the sorrow." Thanksgivings through the centuries have provided unique opportunities to show appreciation for others, as well as to come alongside those in need. Even on those occasions when we are hurting, or find an empty chair at our table, we can find consolation in doing something for others. Thankfulness is multiplied as we reaffirm our sense of community. God bless you all, and from my family to yours - Happy Thanksgiving.