The story of the Pilgrims has its origins in early 17th Century England. It was at that time, nearly four hundred years ago, when religious persecution was making it difficult for many people to practice their religions and live comfortably and safely in London and in the rural areas outside of London. England, at that time, was a monarchy. Today, it is a Parliamentary Monarchy in which the Queen has no real power. At that time, however, the King had absolute power over all of the nation’s citizens and, as a result, could make the practice and observance of religion difficult. That is exactly what happened. Persecution ruled the day … especially if the religion you chose to practice was different from the “national religion.” England, at that time and today, as well, was and is primarily Protestant.
These persecuted individuals met frequently and, after a time, decided to seek permission to start a new life in “the colonies.” Remember, it was very early in the 17th Century and there was no America … certainly no states, as well. Once granted permission to travel across the Atlantic Ocean, these persecuted people, dubbed Pilgrims, began to make plans for their trip and the new life that awaited them far from England.
The planning took some time, well over a year, but it eventually began to materialize. In their original plan, there were to be two boats, not one … the Mayflower and a much smaller boat, each to be filled with crew and with Pilgrims. In fact, the first attempted voyage did have two boats, but a leak in the smaller vessel forced both boats to return to London.
They remained there briefly until it was time once again to embark on their dangerous, but exciting, voyage. One hundred and two Pilgrims and as many as twenty-five to thirty crew members sailed toward the Americas in 1620. As you might imagine, it was not an easy trip.
That’s because the boat, while large, was constructed entirely of wood. There were limited sleeping quarters, little or no sanitation. And, because of the fear of fire, all food was eaten cold, not cooked. This, of course, led to illness in many of the Pilgrims. But, they persevered.
In fact, the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean took sixty-six days, more than two months. And when the Mayflower finally reached land, it was not their intended destination. They had hoped to sail to northern Virginia. Instead, a storm pushed them off-course and they ended up much further north, in Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts..
And that is where they stayed that first year … and for all the years that followed. It should be noted that the Pilgrims arrived in America ill-prepared for what they would face during the first winter. They did not bring food with them and did not know how to hunt, fish, farm or gather food for their survival. Fortunately for them, local Indians were friendly, not hostile and taught them the basic skills they would need to survive.
That, of course, led to the first Thanksgiving which took place in August … not in November.