Who were the Psalmsinging puke-stockings? What was the “general sickness?” Is there an historic connection between beer and Thanksgiving?

The Story Of the First Thanksgiving

Our Pilgrim ancestors were Englishman and women who had fled from religious persecution to the Netherlands.  In Holland, they were treated as second-class citizens and were not able to provide for their families or enjoy the freedom to worship as they had wished for so long.  From a group of just over 600 people, eventually only 102 could board the Mayflower and sail for the New World.

This group of committed Christians had previously entered a solemn covenant with God and one another.  Their strong desire was to see the kingdom of God lived out in this world.  There was an intense sense of calling that they must devote their lives to establishing a community of people who were organized and governed by the Word of God.  The Lord had brought them through many trials in preparation for this adventure in the New World.

And so, the 102 Pilgrims, after at least two false starts and time delays, sailed for America.   Once underway, the living conditions seemed unbearable.   They lived in cramped quarters with only one small lantern for light.   Because of the ferocious storms, the hatches had to be battened down for almost the entire voyage.   There was no opportunity to cook food.  The Pilgrims huddled together in the lantern-lit darkness and endured over seven weeks of torment.   The little ship rolled and pitched.   The stench and sickness was terrible.  The babies never stopped crying.

Add to all this the constant ridicule and mocking of the seasoned sailors who called the Pilgrims “Psalmsinging puke-stockings.”   In all this the Pilgrims held steadily to their calling.  They met daily for services of repentance, singing and scripture reading.  The captain and his crew had never seen such endurance.  Not once, did these landlubbers complain; rather, they kept giving thanks to God.   The harassment from the sailors finally stopped when the ringleader, who delighted in telling these Christians that he would feed them to the fish, suddenly took ill with a mysterious fever and died within a day.

At last the Mayflower sighted land.  Once into the bay, the hatches were opened and the families flooded the decks to get their first breath of “fresh air” in weeks and to see their new homeland.  Their three-month ordeal of living on board the Mayflower was nearly over.

But it was now, mid November 1620.  Their meager provisions had been nearly exhausted by their delays and long trip over.  The harsh winter weather was about to set in and they must find an adequate place to settle.  They explored the bay and had a minor skirmish with some Indians, but no one on either side was killed or wounded. The settlers also found a cache of several ears of corn in a large iron pot.

God in his good providence led them to a small harbor in the bay near Cape Cod.  It had four spring-fed streams, an a large field, which had recently been cleared proved to have rich fertile soil.  It was here that they would begin their God-given task of planting a colony to the glory of God.  They called the place “Plymouth” after the port from which they sailed in England and where many Christians had treated them kindly.

Another ordeal was about to begin.  The long harsh winter had to be faced.  The cold made it difficult to use an axe; thus, construction went on at a very slow pace.  On one night in January, the roof of the long common building where most people were living caught fire and nearly burned the place down!   Fortunately, the timbers of the roof did not ignite and the building was saved.

Now came the time known as “The General Sickness.” During the months of December, January, February and March, the sickness and fever was so severe that at times there were only three or four people healthy enough to care for others.  About half their number died.  13 out of 18 wives died; only three families remained unbroken.   Most of the children survived, but 47 persons in all, died that first harsh winter.  Through it all they remained confident that God would see them through.  The high point of their week was Sunday worship when they paraded up to the blockhouse to the beat of a drum.  As Elizabethan Englishmen, they would have worn festive and bright colored clothing, not the drab black and brown often depicted by the media around this time of year.

In mid-March God sent an incident that would be a turning point and an encouragement to these people.  The Pilgrims, who were gathered in the common house, heard the report: “Indian coming.” They had been dreading an attack.

As they peered out the windows, they saw a huge, lone Indian, dressed only in a loincloth, striding up their main street.  He approached the door and stood there like a marble statue and stared at them. The brisk March wind broke the silence.

Finally, he spoke with a deep resonant voice.  “Welcome!” he said.  The startled Pilgrims mustered a reply, “Welcome.”   The visitor stared at them and again spoke in flawless English, “Do you have any beer?”  To their amazement, he drank and ate all the English style food they set before him.

The name of the Indian was Samoset.  He was a chief of the Algonquins, from Maine, who had come south with an English sea captain, Thomas Dermer.   Apparently, Samoset just liked to travel and often took rides on the trading and fishing ships, where he learned to speak English.

He related to them these details.  The territory on which they had landed during a blinding snow storm and had decided to make home, had been the residence of a hostile tribe of Indians, known as the Patuxets, who had murdered every white man who had landed on their shores.  But four years prior to the arrival of the Pilgrims a mysterious plague had wiped out the entire tribe.  Every man, women and child had died.  The devastation was so rapid and complete that neighboring tribes of Indians had shunned the area ever since.  The cleared land belonged to no one!  The other Indian tribes near by would probably leave them alone, if they were not provoked.   A very wise chief named Massasoit ruled over some smaller tribes nearby and could be appeased by a gift.   Thus, Samoset disappeared into the forest bearing gifts for this tribal leader.

The following Thursday, Samoset showed up again.  This time another Indian was with him.  He too spoke English well.  His name was Squanto. Bradford, a Pilgrim leader, records that Squanto was a special instrument sent of God for their good, beyond their expectation.

Here is his story.  Squanto and four other Indians were taken captive by a sea captain and transported to England in 1605.  They were taught English and quizzed about the geography of the New England coastline and the Indian population.  Squanto spent nine years in England before being able to return to his homeland.  Immediately upon his return he was kidnapped by slave trader and sold to some friars who ran a monastery in Spain.  Before long, he attached himself to an English gentleman and was bound once again for London.  Finally, in 1619 Squanto arranged his return to New England.  Imagine his surprise when he arrived home, just 6 months prior to the Pilgrims landing.   His entire Patuxet tribe had been decimated.  He had nothing to live for.  He wandered in the forests and finally came to the camp of Massasoit.

When Squanto heard the report of Samoset, how these Englishmen were like children, not knowing how to survive, how to plant corn or hunt and fish, Squanto found his reason for living.  On the first day, he was with them, he showed them how to catch eels in the mud using their feet and hands.  According to the records, these eels were sweet and fat.  Excellent eating!

Next, Squanto showed them how to plant corn and fertilize it with fish.  This seemed an impossible task as they had caught only one fish since they had arrived.   It would take a lot of fish to fertilize 20 acres.  “Never mind” said Squanto.  The creeks would be over flowing with fish in four days.  The settlers obediently plowed and planted.  In four days, the alewives made their spring run and the Pilgrims harvested the fish using a technique taught to them by Squanto.  In many other ways, he helped them to survive in the wilderness.

That autumn they harvested a bountiful crop of corn, pumpkins, turnips, onions, cucumbers, radishes, parsnips, beets, cabbages and carrots.  In appreciation for all the blessings of God, a day of feasting was declared.  Massasoit and Squanto were invited as special guests.

Imagine the surprise of the Pilgrims when they arrived a day early with 90 other Indians.  They did not arrive empty handed however.  They brought 5 dressed deer and at least a dozen fat wild turkeys.  The Indian women shared their dried fruit and the Pilgrim wives made blueberry, cherry and apple pie.  Roasting corn in earthen pots until it popped into fluffy white popcorn made a treat for all!

God had been very gracious in providing for these settlers.  He heard and answered their prayers and met their needs in amazing ways.  He was faithful to them.

Consider Philippians 4.4 –  7:

4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Rejoice in the Lord.  As Christians, we have many reasons to rejoice. God’s love for us is so great that, his one-of-a-kind Son identified with us in our weakness to live a spotless life, which he offered as a sacrifice. He did this to pay the debt of our rebellion against God. The deep love of God for us in Christ is always a wonderful reason to rejoice.

Rest in God’s Providence. Remember that God is always in control, even when it appears that he has forgotten us.  Consider how he has sent people into your life like the Patuxets or Squanto. God is always at work accomplishing his plan. Even though it doesn’t seem like it. Trust him.

Resist Worry by Prayer with thanksgiving. Mimic the attitude and actions of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower. Give thanks to God in all circumstances, while you offer up your requests and needs to him. “Cast all your cares upon him because he cares for you.”

Result:  The Peace of God guards your heart and mind in Christ. The result of the spiritual exercise is peace. God guarantees that a peace which can only come from him will literally set up camp around or function as a guard around your heart, that is what you love and mind, what you think about.

Indeed, we have much for which we can be thankful!


Note: Most of the details of the above narrative are found in the book: The Light and the Glory, co-authored by David Manuel and Peter Marshall.

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