The Second Thanksgiving
The Second Thanksgiving
by R. Maurice Smith, Safe Houses of Hope and Prayer
Plymouth Plantation, the first Pilgrim settlement in America, was founded in 1620. After surviving a brutal winter and reaping a successful harvest they celebrated a feast of thanksgiving in the autumn of 1621. It was this thanksgiving feast that forms the historical basis for our national observance of “Thanksgiving Day.” But few historians or Christians are familiar with the subsequent trials experienced by the Pilgrims which culminated in the summer of 1623.
Shortly after the thanksgiving feast of 1621 other colonists arrived on the ship “Fortune” which brought colonists, but no supplies. By the spring of 1622 their supply-stores of food were exhausted. Supplies promised by their investor-sponsors in England failed to arrive. In the summer of 1622 another company of settlers arrived aboard the ships “Charity” and “Swan.” Their crops were depleted and damaged by the new colonists, and Indian threats prevented the colonists from expanding their fields. They suspended their autumn thanksgiving festival due to lack of provisions. By the spring of 1623 their situation bordered on desperation. William Bradford observed that “They had need to pray that God would give them their dayly brade, above all people in the world.” [i]
As the spring of 1623 turned to summer, the situation went from desperate to impossible. The colonists planted corn in April, but by the third week of May a drought had set in. For six excruciating weeks there was excessive heat and no rain. Crops withered and died. Then, when they thought that the situation could get no worse they received word that a fishing boat carrying several colonists had gone down in a storm and all had perished. The news (which would later prove to have been wrong) was a devastating final blow. “The most courageous were now discouraged, because God, which hitherto had been our only shield and supporter, now seemed in his anger to arm himself against us.” [ii]
But these Christians were made of sterner stuff than most believers today. They understood the need of the hour. Their response to this crisis of faith and soul, and God’s gracious answer, is best told in their own words:
"These and the like considerations moved not only every good man privately to enter into examination with his own estate between God and his conscience, and so to humiliation before him, but also more solemnly 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; hoping that the same God, which had stirred us up hereunto, would be moved hereby in mercy to look down upon us and grant the request of our dejected souls, if our continuance there might any way stand with his glory and our good. But O the mercy of our God! Who was as ready to hear as we to ask: for though in the morning, when we assembled together, the heavens were as clear, and the drought as like to continue as ever it was, yet (our exercise continuing some eight or nine hours) before our departure, the weather was overcast, the clouds gathered together on all sides, and 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." [iii]
It is difficult, even today, to read this account without tears. God answered the prayers and fastings of His little flock. The rains began the day following their fast-day and lasted for two weeks. In a few days Captain Miles Standish, who had been on a voyage to find fresh supplies, returned not only with supplies, but with the good news that the ship and crew that they thought lost was actually safe and would return soon. The turn of events even had a profound effect upon the local Indian friends who had observed the entire affair. Their leader, an Indian named Hobomok, confessed afterwards to a colonist friend, “Now I see that the Englishman’s God is a good God.”[iv]
The story of this great deliverance through prayer and fasting ends with the Plymouth Colony setting aside a day for the giving of thanks to God for His great mercy:
“Having these many signs of God’s favor and acceptation, we thought it would be great ingratitude, if secretly we should smother up the same, or content ourselves with private thanksgiving for that which by private prayer could not be obtained. And therefore another solemn day was set apart and appointed for that end; wherein we returned glory, honor, and praise, with all thankfulness, to our good God, which dealt so graciously with us; whose name for these and all other mercies towards his church and chosen ones, by them be blessed and praised, now and evermore. Amen.”
As we today prepare to celebrate a national day of Thanksgiving, may we as Christians remember the spiritual metal from which we have been forged. In the midst of great plenty and celebration, may we find an opportunity to set aside a time for personal fasting and repentance for our personal sins as well as those of our nation, imploring The Throne of Grace for fresh mercy for ourselves and our nation. And may we, like our forebearers, mindful of all of God's mercies and blessings toward us, remember to return "glory, honor, and praise, with all thankfulness, to our good God, which dealt so graciously with us; whose name for these and all other mercies towards his church and chosen ones, by them be blessed and praised, now and evermore. Amen.”
[i] Love, The Fast and Thanksgiving Days of New England, p. 80.
[ii] Ibid., p. 81.
[iii] Ibid., p. 81-82.
[iv] Nathaniel Morton’s New England’s Memorial, quoted in Love, The Fast and Thanksgiving Days of New England, p. 82, ft. nt.
© Copyright 2012, Rising River Media, appearing in Faith Issues courtesy of R. Maurice Smith
Search by Keyword