The Pilgrim’s Vision
A few weeks ago, I visited the Plimoth Patuxet Museum in Massachusetts. This reconstruction of the original Plymouth Colony settlement is in great shape as the 400th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving Day approached.
As I stood in the doorway of the timber-framed meeting hall at the top of the hill, I looked down a gravel path running toward Cape Cod between two rows of thatched-roof houses. A couple of houses over, a middle-aged woman in authentic pilgrim clothing was explaining to tourists why her home’s dirt floor was actually more practical than her neighbor’s fancier wood floor. She enthusiastically greeted me in a 17th-century English accent and asked if I’d like to look at her kitchen garden behind the house while she continued to entertain her other visitors. After strolling among the aromatic flowers for a few minutes, I returned and formally met “Susanna Winslow,” wife of Governor William Bradford’s right-hand man, Edward Winslow. She asked me if I was considering settling in Plymouth Colony. (If I could, I would.)
As we strolled through the town, this delightful reenactor told me the story of Susanna Winslow’s life and of Plymouth Colony. It was an especially surreal experience for me, since the real Susanna Winslow was my 12th-great-grandmother.
The story I learned that afternoon was truly one of the most amazing in history. Susanna Jackson was born and raised near Scrooby Manor House in Nottinghamshire, England. She had a good life and was well taken care of by her father, Richard. But to participate in the most important aspect of her life, her faith, she attended church services in secret. King James I had outlawed all churches except the Church of England. Mr. Jackson and his daughter had firm beliefs about the Bible and saw that the Church of England was much like the Roman Catholic Church. They “obeyed God rather than men,” as they saw it, worshiping with a congregation of separatists.
Eventually, the government issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Jackson. Rather than submit to what she knew were wrong beliefs, Susanna fled her country entirely, for religious freedom. In the city of Leiden, the Netherlands, she married William White. They had a son and named him Resolved. But whereas the English forced people to join the Church of England, the Dutch were so permissive that Mr. and Mrs. White feared that Resolved would grow up to reject religion altogether. Their church congregation sent two representatives to England to negotiate with the government. The king granted the separatists religious freedom, but only if they moved to a land grant north of the Virginia territory to be called New England.
In 1620, the Whites sacrificed their homes and almost everything else in their lives for their beliefs and three tickets of passage, boarding a ship with 99 other brave souls. It was called the Mayflower.
Sailing the North Atlantic inside a cargo hold was difficult enough, but within days the voyage turned perilous. Strong winds and storms cracked one of the ship’s beams. The voyagers and the captain had to decide whether to turn back. But one of the pilgrims had brought a “great iron screw” that he intended to use to make apple cider in New England. The crew used it to prop up the beam and continue the voyage.
On November 9, the crew sighted land. Days later, Susanna gave birth. She and William chose a name for Resolved’s new brother: Peregrine. The next day, William was among the men who signed one of the most significant documents in Western history, the Mayflower Compact.
Lacking a good place to land, the voyagers weighed anchor in Plymouth Harbor and waded to shore through the freezing cold water. Many pilgrims caught pneumonia as a result. Within three months of landing, William died.
Susanna, the newest American mother, was now in the wilderness of New England with her beliefs, two children, no money, no food, and no husband.
Before spring, 43 other pilgrims had died, including Edward Winslow’s wife, Elizabeth. But the spring brought new hope—and Plymouth Colony’s first wedding. On May 12, 1621, Edward Winslow married Susanna White.
With her new family, Mrs. Winslow worked to grow as much food as possible that summer. That autumn, the settlers of Plymouth Colony had religious freedom, food, peace and hope. They called a feast of gratitude to God for all the pilgrims there and the natives as well. Exactly 400 years ago, one of the four married women who cooked that first Thanksgiving Day feast was my ancestor, Susanna Winslow.
Over the next seven years, she had five more children with Edward Winslow and raised them all in a two-room house slightly larger than my living room. Year after year brought hardship and self-sacrifice for the Winslows and their neighbors. But in all the books and letters left for posterity, nothing indicates they ever regretted coming to the New World. Susanna’s new husband went on to succeed William Bradford as governor of Plymouth Colony. And her firstborn son, Resolved, married a daughter of a French Huguenot family that fought for religious freedom in the colonies. These two went on to have eight children, whose descendants went on to have many more descendants of their own, including me.
The pilgrims knew they were part of something bigger than themselves. In fact, that is why they are called the pilgrims. In his memoirs, Governor William Bradford recounted that the original Plymouth colonists left Leiden, “that goodly and pleasant city which had been their resting place for near 12 years; but they knew they were pilgrims, and looked not much on those things, but lift up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits.”
Governor Bradford was paraphrasing Hebrews 11:13. There is summarized the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”
Many early Americans compared themselves to the children of Israel. Some of them might have even understood that they were literally the 120th-great-grandchildren of the man named Israel. The knowledge had been circulating enough for a generation or two before 1621 that the father of Galileo Galilei wrote the harp was the symbol of Ireland because the Irish “descended from the prophet king David” and the French Huguenot magistrate M. le Loyer described an Israelite genealogy for the British people in The Ten Lost Tribes. Whether or not the pilgrims knew they were Israelites, they believed their New World settlement in New England was akin to Abraham’s descendants settling the Promised Land.
As their writings show, William Bradford, Edward Winslow, and others dreamed of establishing a new “Jerusalem” where they could live together in faith, in peace and in brotherhood in preparation for the second coming of Jesus Christ. The Mayflower Compact itself was partly inspired by the laws of the Bible. Governor Bradford was often compared to Joshua, the Israelite leader who conquered Canaan and established the law of Moses in the region.
“Four hundred years ago, in late 1620, the 102 pilgrims of the Mayflower landed in Plymouth Rock, which they considered the modern-day Promised Land,” Israeli ambassador Yoram Ettinger (Ret.) wrote for The Federalist last year. “They were inspired by the Bible, in general, and the Mosaic legacy, in particular, which features a civic covenant, cohesive peoplehood, 12-tribe governance, and a shared vision. These beliefs and values planted the seeds of the Federalist Papers, the 1776 American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the overarching American political and justice systems to come. These seeds vaulted the United States into the leadership of the Free World, economically, technologically, scientifically, educationally and militarily.”
It was the vision of a new Jerusalem that inspired Mrs. Winslow, her family, and her neighbors to give up everything, to risk everything in a perilous journey to the New World, and to live out a life of hardship, all for the sake of what they believed about obeying and serving God. Like their father Abraham, these fathers and mothers of our country died without having received God’s promises, but they lifted “up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits.”
Today, few Americans understand their Bibles like the Pilgrims understood it. Few would sacrifice everything for what they know about God. All have enjoyed physical blessings from God more immense and wondrous than the Pilgrims could have ever imagined, but few are truly thankful for them. Our ancestors lacked gadgets and comforts. We lack gratitude and purpose.
This is the reason why God is stripping away those same physical blessings from us. He is trying to drive people to repentant and faithful attitudes. In fact, His purpose is to produce a repentance, a faith and an obedience in each human being who has ever lived that will be even deeper and more meaningful than what my ancestral grandmother had in her life.
Some few are true Christians. Some few are hearing God’s message. But once again the world will persecute that message and those of true faith. True Christians will soon have to flee persecution and separate themselves from the world in a similar way to how Susanna and her family fled to the New World. This Thanksgiving Day, we must lift up our eyes to the one and only true hope for our nation, our ancestors and all who have ever lived: New Jerusalem!
Read William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation to learn about the pilgrims’ experience this Thanksgiving. And read The Eternal Has Chosen Jerusalem by Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry to learn about the revealed biblical vision of New Jerusalem that our father Abraham had. It will show you a richness and a vividness that even Susanna Winslow never knew, but toward which she lifted up her eyes, with hope.