400 Years Since Plymouth Rock
1620 – 2020
Remembering the Pilgrims
This year Plymouth, Massachusetts will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims fled persecution in England and settled in Holland, they determined their destiny and religious freedom was to be found in the American Colonies and consequently sailed across the Atlantic Ocean on the ship Mayflower. We revere these men and women because of what they endured, what they sacrificed, what they would not compromise as they lived their lives to achieve religious freedom. Each Thanksgiving we remember them and give thanks to God for the blessings we may have received within our own lives. Did you know many of the patriots of the American Revolution were descendants of the Pilgrims?
Library of Congress Exhibition
Back in 1998 the Library of Congress opened a major exhibition: “Religion and the Founding of the American Republic”. The exhibition explored the role of religion and its relation to the nation during its formative years. Attending visitor’s learned that, “Many of the British North American Colonies that joined in 1776 to form the United States of America were settled in the 17th century for religious purposes by men and women who, in the face of European persecution, refused to compromise passionately held religious convictions and risked the perilous crossing of the Atlantic to practice their religion as they believed the Scriptures commanded.”
The people we think of as the Pilgrims were Separatists. They believed the Church of England to be corrupted beyond repair and the only thing they could do was “separate” themselves from the church. Theirs was a different belief from the Puritans, “English Protestants who wished to reform — to purify — the Church of England…. In the 1620s leaders of the English state and church [who had always been tyrannically opposed to the Separatists] grew increasingly unsympathetic to Puritan demands and insisted that they conform to religious practices that they abhorred, removing their ministers from office and threatening them with “extirpation from the earth” if they did not fall in line. Zealous Puritan laymen received savage punishments; one, for example, in 1630 was sentenced to life imprisonment, had his property confiscated, his nose slit, an ear cut off and his forehead branded “S.S.” (sower of sedition).”
Success and Additional Migrations
After their arrival to “New England”, the Pilgrims struggled to succeed. At first, they practiced a communal form of planting and sharing the profits of their labors. This unsuccessful method was substituted with each family receiving their own parcel of land, and the family keeping the profits from their labors. Governor William Bradford in his diary records that this had a most desirable effect – production and the welfare of the community dramatically increased. Ten years after the settlement of the Plymouth Pilgrims, “beginning in 1630, as many as 20,000 Puritans emigrated to America from England to gain religious freedom. Most settled in New England, but some went as far as the West Indies. Theologically, the Puritans were “non-separating Congregationalists…. Every New England Congregational church was considered an independent entity, beholden to no hierarchy.”
A Lasting Influence for American Principles
The men and women of America’s 17th century congregations were “self-governing” having a religious freedom not available in England. They had a higher degree of freedom of speech, they could assemble without fear of arrest, they could publish their beliefs, and petition their leaders for change. They were not without their problems, but their influence was felt by the Founding Fathers of 1776. What the Pilgrims endured to attain, the patriots of the American Revolution fought to preserve, and that is Liberty!
Would you like to read more about the Library of Congress Exhibition: “Religion and the Founding of the American Republic”? You can access the complete story through this web link:
Clipart of “Minutemen Revolutionary War” – http://cliparts.co/clipart/1307537
Painting: Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert W. Weir, 1844