I have just returned from a wonderful and prayerful hunting trip in a wild and largely untouched place in North-East Wisconsin. Sitting alone in a Cedar Swamp from before dawn till dusk waiting for game to chance by gives one an opportunity for much prayer and thought, and camping in the snow and the cold gives one a renewed appreciation for the basic comforts of life. God was very gracious to this middle-aged hunter and I came home Sunday evening with a store of game to last my family many months.
In the U.S.A. we celebrate Thanksgiving this weekend. For some years now, I and my family have enjoyed recalling the story of the first Thanksgiving by reading this week's devotional as we sit before our Thanksgiving feast. On the table before us, our plates are empty, save for five kernels of corn - lest we should forget.
The pilgrims came to America in 1620. They spent 66 days in the hold of a ship called The Mayflower, arriving on Nov. 21. One month later, on Dec. 26, all 102 passengers set foot on land and began to establish the colony of Plymouth.
The pilgrims immediately began to build shelters, but soon they were overcome by a general sickness. Through the course of the winter 46 died, nearly half their original number.
One day in mid-March a lone Indian appeared, his name Samoset, he had learned to speak English from the sea captains that sailed up and down the coast, and was friendly. He left the pilgrims the next morning returning a week later bringing another Indian with him named Squanto.
Squanto had been captured and taken to England and lived there for 15 years. He had returned to America six months earlier only to find that his tribe had been massacred. When he learned that this colony of English were struggling to survive, he adopted them as his own, teaching them how to plant, fish, hunt, and trade with their neighbors the Wampnoag Indians and their Chief, Massasoit.
The following is adapted from The Light and the Glory, by Peter Marshall, and David Manuel.
That summer of 1621 was beautiful. Much work went into the building of new dwellings, and ten men were sent north up the coast in the sailing shallop to conduct trade with the Indians. Squanto once again acted as their guide and interpreter. It was a successful trip, and that fall's harvest provided more than enough corn to see them through their second winter.
The pilgrims were brimming over with gratitude, not only to Squanto and the Wampanoags who had been so friendly, but to their God. In Him they had trusted, and He had honored their obedience beyond their dreams. So, Governor Bradford declared a day of public Thanksgiving, to be held in October.
Massasoit was invited, and unexpectedly arrived a day early-with NINETY Indians! Counting their numbers, the Pilgrims had to pray hard to keep from giving in to despair. To feed such a crowd would cut deeply into the food supply that was supposed to get them through the winter.
But they had learned one thing through their travails, it was to trust God implicitly. As it turned out, the Indians were not arriving empty-handed. Massasoit had commanded his braves to hunt for the occasion, and they arrived with no less than five dressed deer, and more than a dozen fat wild turkeys! And they helped with the preparations, teaching the Pilgrim women how to make hoecakes and a tasty pudding out of cornmeal and maple syrup. Finally, the Indians showed the Pilgrims a special delicacy: how to roast corn kernels in an earthen pot until they popped, fluffy and white - POPCORN!
The Pilgrims in turn provided many vegetables from their household gardens: carrots, onions, turnips, parsnips, cucumbers, radishes, beets, and cabbages. Also, using some of their precious flour, they took summer fruits which the Indians had dried and introduced them to the likes of blueberry, apple, and cherry pie.
It was all washed down with sweet wine made from the wild grapes. A joyous occasion for all! Between meals, the pilgrims and Indians happily competed in shooting contests with gun and bow. The Indians were especially delighted that John Alden and some of the younger men of the plantation were eager to join them in foot races and wrestling. There were even military drills staged by Captain Standish. Things went so well (and Massasoit showed no inclination to leave), that Thanksgiving Day was extended for three days.
One month later, in November, a full year after their arrival, the first ship from home dropped anchor in the harbor leaving off a cargo at Plymouth: thirty-five more colonists. In the air of celebration that followed, no one stopped to think that these newcomers had brought not one bit of equipment with them-no food, no clothing, no tools, no bedding.
In the cold light of the following morning, a sobering appraisal by Bradford, Brewster, and Winslow was taken, and a grim decision was reached: they would all have to go on half-rations through the winter, to ensure enough food to see them into the summer season, when fish and game would be plentiful.
That winter they entered into a time of starving, much like the starving that took place at Jamestown that killed 8 out of 10 of their people. With all the extra people to feed and shelter they were ultimately reduced to a daily ration of Five Kernels of corn a piece.
In contrast to what happened at Jamestown, where they were driven to despair, the people of Plymouth turned to Christ, and not one of them died of starvation.
When spring finally arrived (1623), They were well aware that they needed at least twice as much corn as their first harvest. The first planting would be for common use while the second planting would be for private use.
After the first planting, a dry spell set in that turned into a 12 week drought. The crops withered - along with the hopes of the pilgrims.
In the words of Edward Winslow:
"These and the like considerations moved not only every goodman privately to enter into examination with his own estate between God and his conscience, and so to humiliation before Him, but also to humble ourselves together before the Lord by fasting and prayer.
To that end, a day was appointed by public authority, and set apart from all other employments.
But, O the mercy of our God, who was as ready to hear, as we were to ask! For though in the morning, when we assembled together, the heavens were as clear and the drought as like to continue as it ever was, yet (our exercise continuing some eight or nine hours) before our departure, the weather was overcast, the clouds gathered on all sides.
On the next morning distilled such soft, sweet, and moderate showers of rain, continuing some fourteen days [!] and mixed with such seasonable weather, as it was hard to say whether our withered corn or drooping affections were most quickened or revived, such was the bounty and goodness of our God!"
The yield that year was so abundant that the Pilgrims ended up with a surplus of corn, which they were able to use in trading that winter with northern Indians, who had not had a good growing season.
That fall a second Day of Thanksgiving was planned, and Massasoit was again the guest of honor, and this time he brought his principal wife, three other sachems, and 120 braves! Fortunately he again brought venison and turkey, as well.
The occasion was described by one of the Adventurers, Emmanuel Altham, in a letter to his brother:
"After our arrival in New England, we found all our plantation in good health, and neither man, woman or child sick... in this plantation is about twenty houses, four or five of which are very pleasant, and the rest (as time will serve) shall be made better... the fishing that is in this country, indeed it is beyond belief ... in one hour we got 100 cod ....And now to say somewhat of the great cheer we had at the Governor's marriage.
We had about twelve tasty venisons, besides others, pieces of roasted venison and other such good cheer in such quantities that I wish you some of our share. For here we have the best grapes that ever you saw, and the biggest, and divers sorts of plums and nuts ... six goats, about fifty hogs and pigs, also divers hens ... A better country was never seen nor heard of, for here are a multitude of God's blessing."
What Altham neglected to mention was the first course that was served: on an empty plate in front of each person were five kernels of corn ... lest anyone should forget.
Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
Lets close with a prayer.
Father, this story of the Pilgrim's faith and your love and grace brings us to our knees before you. Help us to learn to depend on you as they did and to examine our lives confessing and repenting of our sins each day - knowing that you are able to empower us to live Holy lives. Father, my sins are not hidden from you, but let me name them now in your presence...................... Lord I repent of these sins, please give me strength to turn from them when I am tempted, in the name of your Holy Son Jesus, Amen.