Pilgrim Ruminations

Dateline: 28 November 2013
Thanksgiving Day

This beautiful 1857 oil on canvass painting by Robert Walther Wier is titled, "Embarkation of  the Pilgrims." Click on the picture to get a much closer look.

December of 2020 will mark the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim landing at Plymouth, Massachusetts. I don't know what America will be like seven years from now, but I know what it was like 400 years ago. It was a vast, wild, pristine, unexplored, sparsely populated, resource-rich continent. We have come a long way in 400 years.

I am looking forward to the quadricentennial celebration. I am looking forward to Americans reflecting to a greater degree on their Christian heritage, on the remarkable story of the Pilgrims and their coming to this land. Perhaps some of the amazing faith and courage they modeled will penetrate the consciousness of so many mainstream-media-manipulated, and pop-culture-distracted, Americans. Yes, I hope and pray that many more Moderns will take an interest in such godly people and their example.

I am in awe of these Separatists who refused to conform to the dictates of government-endorsed religious tyranny,  who endured extreme persecution for their beliefs, who lost so much of their material wealth, and who fled the comfort of their their homes and families… all because they wanted to worship God and raise their families according to biblical truth.

As you may already know, the English Pilgrims fled to Holland for religious freedom. But you may not realize that, after a number of years in Holland, they then fled to America for another reason. It wasn't for religious freedom that they came to America. It was to escape the ungodly culture of Holland that was drawing the children away from the Christian faith.

I wrote an essay about this back in 2005. It is, in my opinion, one of the better essays I've ever written. Here is the link: Pilgrims and the Christian-Agrarian Exodus of 1620


This 1897 oil on canvass by Henry Mosler is titled, "Pilgrims' Grace." Click the picture for a close-up look.

A couple moths ago I was feeling like I had to start thinking more seriously (again) about getting out of New York State. The political situation in New York is something akin to a socialist dictatorship. Tyranny is on the rise here. This is getting to be a worse and worse place for God-fearing people to live and raise their families.

So I did some internet research (again) on states where people still have a degree of freedom (more so than in New York). Specifically, I looked at homeschooling laws and gun laws. The less of both, the better. I didn't want to live where there was any chance of natural gas hydrofracking. And I wanted a place where there is good agricultural land with lots of good water. I also wanted to be a distance from any large cities. Some Amish neighbors would be nice.

I decided that somewhere in south central Kentucky looked pretty good. I checked out property prices online. I talked to my family about it. They were surprisingly receptive—more receptive than they were about south central Missouri, which I had my eyes on a couple years ago. I was ready to drive down there and check it out.

Then I started thinking about how comfortable I am right here in the rural community I live in. I have land and my family has put down roots here. We have a lot of long-time friends—people we have known for decades. It would be very difficult, especially at my age, with somewhat limited financial resources, to just up and leave and start all over again somewhere else. 

As I was mulling all of this over in my mind, I thought of the Pilgrims of 1620—of what they gave up and endured. Driving to another state and buying a house and making new friends would be ridiculously easy compared to what they did. They truly were remarkable people.


This 1846 lithograph is titled, "Pilgrims Landing at Plymouth."
They were alone in a cold and harsh environment.


Back in my January 2010 monthly blogazine (remember those?) I gave a little report about the book, Mayflower, which I had finished reading. I have reposted it below…

In my teen years I spent a good portion of two summer vacations at a rustic little camp (no electricity or running water) on a small pond not far from Plymouth, Massachusetts. During that time I became acquainted with the story of the Mayflower Pilgrims who landed and settled in Plymouth in the winter of 1620.

As a result, I developed a special regard for these brave and devoted Christian separatists. Later on, back home in New York, I attended a series of lectures by Peter Marshall, co-author of The Light and the Glory: 1492-1793 (God's Plan for America). Then I found out from my Grandmother Kimball, keeper of the family history, that I am a Mayflower descendent.

Many Americans claim such lineage and it is not an outlandish thing because it has been calculated that more than 35 million Americans are, indeed, Mayflower descendants. It should be noted that not all the passengers on the Mayflower were Pilgrims, so it is possible to be a Mayflower descendant and not a Pilgrim descendant. Whatever the case, there is a good chance that your kin and mine shared in the adventure and tragedy of that amazing time in America’s history.

And so it was with great anticipation and interest that I read the book, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, by Nathaniel Philbrick this last month. The book drew me, not only for its subject matter, but for its author. My mother was a Philbrick of New England ancestry.

“Mayflower” turned out to be an exceptionally fine historical narrative. In fact, I found it riveting. If you have an interest in Pilgrim history, you must read this book. You’ll learn many things you did not know about the Pilgrim story. But I must warn you—some of it will disappoint.

The historical account begins with who the Pilgrims were and why they fled to America. Philbrick aptly presents the incredible hardship and providential events (though he does not attribute them to Providence) that the dedicated Believers encountered on their way to Plymouth, and in the beginning years of the colony. Then the book goes into the story of the Pilgrim/indian relations and culminates with a fascinating chronicle of King Philip’s War, which, hitherto, I knew almost nothing about.

You may already know that the original Pilgrim settlers made a peace treaty with the indian sachem, Massasoit, of the Pokanoket tribe (later known as the Wampanog), and that this peace treaty lasted for more than 50 years. But you may not realize that the Pokanokets were only one tribe among many in the Cape Cod area, and Pilgrim relations with these other tribes was not always rosy.

In one particularly fascinating part of the book the story is told of the Pilgrims, led by their military leader, Miles Standish, making a preemptive military move against an unfriendly tribe to the north. They had heard that this tribe intended to attack another English (not Pilgrim) settlement, then sweep down to Plymouth.

Standish and his small band of Pilgrims lured two indian warrior leaders (with the invitation of a meal) into a building in the English settlement. Once the indians sat down to the meal, Standish grabbed a knife that was around the neck of one warrior (the leader) and proceeded to stab him. While Standish and the indian fought it out, the other Pilgrim men fell on the other indian. Both indians were killed.

The story goes that the indian Standish killed had boasted to him the day before that he would one day kill Standish with the knife around his neck. The indian had taken it from a French sailor who he had killed. Though the indian was much bigger than Standish (a noticeably short man) Standish was a stocky bulldog of a man who wasn’t afraid of a fight.

The Pilgrims brought the severed heads of the two indians back to Plymouth and mounted them on poles for all other indians to see. This image doesn’t seem to fit with the usual image of the Pilgrims, and the event was a matter of great concern to their spiritual leader back in Holland, Pastor John Robinson.

As for King Philip’s War (which occurred many years after the preceding incident), it turns out that King Philip was an indian sachem, the son of Massasoit. He led an indian uprising against the sons and grandsons of the original Pilgrim settlers in June of 1675. For the next 14 months all of southern New England was involved in the brutal, bloody war (with lots of head severing).

Philbrick says it was one of the most horrendous wars ever fought in North America, and that comes across pretty clear in the book. Large numbers of English settlers (8% of the population) and indians died. Captured indians were kept as “servants” or sold as slaves and shipped off to sugar plantations.

Out of the drama of the conflict emerged a remarkable historical figure named Benjamin Church, who is described by Philbrick as “part Pilgrim, part mariner, part indian, and altogether his own.” Single-handedly, Church made allies with various indians (an option the Pilgrim and Puritan forces refused to consider—until Church proved it could work), and led them in an unconventional but successful campaign against King Philip.

Mayflower is certainly not a mythologizing eulogy to the Pilgrim era of American history. It is a gritty and human account of gritty and enigmatically human people struggling with circumstances like you and I will never know. It’s worth noting that the historical account is one man’s historical interpretation of events that took place some 350 years ago. So some of the story, like all such stories, is undoubtedly inaccurate and incomplete. Nevertheless, it is clear that the book was very well researched and, though Philbrick is a secular author, his account is probably as honest and fair-minded as you’ll find. I recommend this book to you.


"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" by jennie A, Brownscomb, 1914.


There is, of course, no better history of the Pilgrims than that of William Bradford, who was a Mayflower Pilgrim and governor of the Plymouth colony for 30 years. His History of Plymouth Plantation is well worth reading. It is Available Online For Free, or you can buy a paper copy from a number of online booksellers.


And finally… 

If you are still reading this, may I recommend my 2006 Thanksgiving blog post… Giving Thanks & Thanksgiving… for a Christian perspective on the Thanksgiving holiday.

Here's wishing all of you who read this blog a blessed Thanksgiving day!


Sunnybrook Farm said...

I am a pilgrim descendent but I really don't know much about them so I will have to check out your links. All I remember is that their last name was White and the father died and the mother married one of the leaders. The family gradually moved south ending up in Virginia. You may want to consider some areas of SW VA as a place to move. We do need to form our own state though as much of our state acts like a DC suburb.

Ann from KY said...

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

Let me say, you might want to reconsider the move to KY. Especially if some of the family comes along--like the grand children. You might also find the cost of living lower here in KY thank New York. We'd be honored to have you !

Unknown said...

In 2004 at the age of 58 I moved from California to South Carolina so my sick wife could be near her sons and sister. I had lived in California for 53 years so it was a major change in culture, and had to be done much to quickly. She passed away last year, but is still near me. I had Thanksgivings dinner with her sister yesterday. But no matter how long I live here I will never be considered one of them, I'm just another Damn Yankee.

Herrick Kimball said...


I never realized that people from the West were considered Yankees. I'm sure I would be considered one in the South. But I'm not a Yankee. I'm a Northerner. There is a difference. I wish the South had won the war. We would have been better off today if individual States had prevailed in exercising their rights. Thank you for your insight. I'm truly sorry for your loss.

Everett said...

Well Herrick, here I am at another post and find that we share a somewhat common ancestry! My ancestor, was a sailor on the Mayflower and "elected" to stay behind. He, and others that followed moved on up to Maine and lived in and around the Wells area for some years. Then because of some sort of religious reasons they decided it was prudent to strike out for RI where a man by the name of Roger Williams was forming a place where there would be NO hassles because of your religious preference. From there we, my branch of the Littlefield's, migrated to Block Island in 1665 and have been ever since. The first 16 original settlers came here in 1661 so I can't be considered an original settler, Just another carpetbagger from "America" as we still call it. I'm going to have to locate those books and read up on my ancient history!!! Best Regards Everett

Bluegrass Endurance said...

South Central KY has been good to us in our move from California. We have been here now a little over 1 1/2 years and love it here.

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