FamilyLife This Week®

The Thanksgiving Story, Part 2

with Michelle Hill | November 30, 2019
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This Thanksgiving weekend, hear part two of a dramatic presentation of the story of the first Thanksgiving.

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This Thanksgiving weekend, hear part two of a dramatic presentation of the story of the first Thanksgiving.

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The Thanksgiving Story, Part 2

With Michelle Hill
November 30, 2019
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Michelle: Since we were school children, we heard the story of the Pilgrims—a group of Christians living in Europe, who desired to live freely and worship God as they saw fit. In 1620, these Pilgrims boarded a ship called the Mayflower and made a dangerous crossing for the New World.


Narrator: It was nearly halfway across the Atlantic when it met a ferocious storm. The wind wailed at 50 miles per hour, and waves towered 50 feet or higher. Without warning, one of the huge crossbeams supporting the main deck suddenly cracked due to the constant stress of the high winds. Now the sailors were as worried as the passengers. But as always, the Pilgrims took their concerns and fears to God, asking Him to deliver them and provide a way of escape.

Male voice: “Let us pray! Oh, Lord, deliver us! Provide a way of escape!

Narrator: And He did.

Male voice: “And protect our little ones.”

Narrator: Their spiritual leader, William Brewster, remembered the large iron jack screw the Pilgrims had brought for lifting heavy beams when they would begin their building construction. Similar to the screw on his printing press, the jack screw was located in the cargo hold and carried to the ‘tween deck, where the sailors used it to crank up the beam to its original position. The Pilgrims gave God the praise.


Michelle: Wow! What a great story. And it’s a story that we grew up hearing and probably acting out—the story of the Pilgrims. You remember who they were! They wore those big hats with the buckles on top—weird clothes—but there was more to them.

Today, we’re going to continue on with Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember by Barbara Rainey. FamilyLife® produced a dramatization a few years back; and last week, we heard Part 1, which was the Pilgrims getting ready and preparing to leave. Now,

Part 2: after more than two months at sea, finally, on November 9th, they caught a glimpse of their destination, the New Land, where, in time, freedom would flourish. They shouted for joy.

Now, stop! Can you imagine two months at sea? Of course, you would shout for joy! You would fall to your knees, and you would pray; it was a time of celebration. The Pilgrim story is one that inspires. With the memory of their sacrifice, it helps us remember why Thanksgiving, the day that we celebrated just a couple of days ago, is truly a time to remember. Today, we’re going to explore this history of these brave Pilgrims in the story of the first Thanksgiving. Here’s Barbara Rainey’s Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember:


Narrator: With land clearly in sight—brownish bluffs and treetops on the horizon—the Mayflower sailed slowly up the coastline, staying out to sea far enough to avoid the treacherous shoals and rocks nearer shore. The passengers eagerly eyed what they could see of what is now the northern tip of Cape Cod.

Because of the difficult seas they had encountered, the Pilgrims had made their landfall about 60 miles north of their intended destination at the mouth of the Hudson River. The leaders onboard wondered what to do. Should they sail back to the south, where their charter with the Virginia Company would be in effect, or should they find a suitable harbor and settle here? Had God, in His providence, led them to this spot?

After much debate and prayer, they decided to stay and build their settlement in “New England.” When all of the passengers heard of this decision, confusion and some dissension broke out. The bonded servants on board argued that this plan changed the terms of their work agreement. Fear arose that these men would declare their independence and leave the Pilgrims with a depleted labor supply. Something needed to be done to bring about unity.

For an entire day, November 10, 1620, a discussion went on in the main cabin of the Mayflower.


Mr. Trevore: “Mr. Bradford, sir. This land we have come upon, ship’s Master Jones saith not to be in the Virginias at all!”

Mr. Bradford: “True enough, Mr. Trevore. We knoweth not with certainty what land God hath set us upon, though we believe it to be a good land, called Plymouth by the Cape of Cod.”

Male voice: “Best for us if it is a fat land, for our stores are well-nigh eaten through already.”

Male voice: “And if our stores be depleted, we who must do the work are better served in the Virginias. We know but little of this land, nor the people thereof, nor whether our labors will be blessed here.”

Mr. Bradford: “Methinks you will do the labor for which you have been indentured, as you have so signed in troth.”

Male voice: “We’ll do no labor outside the king’s protection, which we have not here in Plymouth!” [Shouting voices]

Mr. Bradford: “Good men! Good men! Peace be among us all! Quarrels must not divide us!”

Male voice: “Master Bradford, we have no quarrel with you, but that contract which united us is of no good effect without the king’s warrant.”

Mr. Bradford: “Thou hast given thy pledge for one year’s service.”

Male voice: “Not outside the Virginias!”

Mr. Bradford: “Good men! Thee must see that these issues which divide us will undo us! The land of the Hudson River hath eluded our grasp by the Providence of God; is it not?! The Lord has driven us by His power to this land of Plymouth. Therefore, being here, we must remain here at present for the winter is upon us. Whether we be of the Saints or the Strangers, we must make a new agreement.”

Male voice: “Under whose authority?”

Mr. Bradford: “Under the authority we carry as Christian Englishmen, and with a clear conscience for God, the King.”

Narrator: As the ship worked its way around the tip of the Cape, searching for a coastal inlet to enter and drop anchor, the debate continued. Finally, several of the leaders drafted an agreement, the Mayflower Compact, which was to become one of the more important documents in American history. The major points of the agreement were explained to the passengers, and all adult males were asked to sign the compact before the ship dropped anchor.

Male voice: “It is settled then?! [Cheering and affirmation] We covenant together, one and all? [Affirmation from crowd] Therefore, in the name of God, we whose names are underwritten…”

Narrator: According to the book, The Light and the Glory, by Peter Marshall and David Manuel: “It marked the first time in recorded history that free and equal men had voluntarily covenanted together to create their own new civil government. The key clauses contained these words: ‘…having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honour of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northerne parts of Virginia, we do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and of one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civill body politick, for our better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid…’” With the compact signed, a hedge against revolt was in place. Next, the last bit of business was conducted—the election of John Carver as governor of the colony for a one-year term.

By this time, the Mayflower had sailed beyond the end of the cape and turned into a bay. The Pilgrims saw more clearly the landscape of sand hills and thickets of short piney woods. At ten am, Captain Jones ordered the anchor dropped. It was Saturday morning, November 11, 1620. William Bradford wrote later of this moment: “I cannot but stand half-amazed at this poor people's present condition. Being thus past the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles, they had now no friends to welcome them, nor inns to entertain or refresh their weather-beaten bodies. What could now sustain them but the Spirit of God and His grace?”

In the days that followed, several expeditions were made to explore the area to seek the best location for a settlement. The men were successful, having slowly made their way by land and by sea around the interior of the Cape. They eventually found an ideal spot on the mainland that had fertile soil, four spring-fed creeks, and a large section of ground already cleared and ready for planting. The men rejoiced at their discovery.

During these explorations, many colonists back on board the Mayflower became gravely ill; and a few died, including William Bradford’s young wife, Dorothy May. There was little time for mourning and sadness. Their desperate condition demanded that they all work, especially the men, to establish the colony.

It wasn’t until December 11, a month after they’d first dropped anchor, that a landing was made at what was to become the permanent settlement. By the end of January, several family dwellings were partially built, but most of the Pilgrims were still living in temporary quarters in the meetinghouse and on the Mayflower. Captain Jones had graciously agreed to delay his return with the Mayflower to England. He knew that the settlers needed its protection.

Perhaps the Pilgrims had felt that the worst was over when they finally set foot on solid ground again, but their relief was only momentary. Though they were hard workers, they could not build their dwellings quickly enough. They could only endure the harsh winter weather without ill effect for so long. As the weeks went by, the weather grew worse.

In the coldest stretch of winter, after many had suffered long with head colds, a flu-like illness swept through the colony. This disease, called the “general sickness,” had made much of the community desperately ill. Coughing and gasping for breath, most of the settlers were unable to leave their beds. Few were spared. William Bradford, Governor Carver, and other leaders fell sick, too. During the worst of the epidemic, on any given day, only six or seven out of the hundred colonists might be strong enough to help tend the sick.

The Pilgrims began to die in alarming numbers—often two or three each day. The men strong enough to work carried the bodies out for burial at night. This was a tactic to hide the worsening situation in the colony from any Indians, who might be spying from the nearby woods.


Michelle: We’re listening to Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember by Barbara Rainey, and produced by our friend, Rob Jorgensen. We’re going to take a break; but when we come back, we’re going to hear the conclusion of our story today.


[Radio Station Spot Break]

Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. Today, we are listening to the story of the first Thanksgiving, as written by Barbara Rainey in Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember.

What we have heard today was just that the Pilgrims—it’s not just a beautiful story of God’s faithfulness; it is a beautiful story about God’s faithfulness—but there was tremendous suffering and lots of loss. After all, half of the Pilgrims died during that first long, hard winter. But the ones who lived—they started making preparations that first spring. Here, we’ll pick up the story of Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember by Barbara Rainey.


Narrator: Hope began to grow again as temperatures rose slightly in early March. A few families began preparations for planting their crops. But the most memorable event in March, perhaps of the whole winter, was the arrival, on March 16, of a single nearly naked Indian brave. Unlike other Indians, who ran away when confronted, this man strode boldly to the door of the meetinghouse and, to the surprise of all, cried out, “Welcome!” in English.

Stunned by his boldness and use of English, yet still wary of his intentions, the Pilgrims hesitantly invited him in and offered him a plate of food and some brandy. The Indian ate and drank enthusiastically. After his meal, the Indian informed his hosts that he knew English food and customs through contacts with English fishermen.

The settlers learned that his name was Samoset. He was a chief of the Algonquins, and his home tribe was further up the coast to the north in what is now Maine. He said that the Indians, who had inhabited this area, were called the Patuxets. They were a large Indian tribe, who had murdered every white man who’d ever landed in their territory; but four years before the Pilgrims arrived, the tribe suffered a mysterious plague, and everyone had died. Neighboring tribes were so surprised by the tribe’s misfortune and total demise that they avoided the area, fearing they, too, would be killed by the plague. As a result, no one lived on the land, and no one owned it. It was another example of God’s remarkable provision for the Pilgrims.

Samoset went on to explain about the other Indian tribes in the surrounding area. The nearest Indians lived about 50 miles south of Plymouth. They were the Wampanoags, which means “People of the Dawn.” They were a friendly tribe headed by their chief, or sachem, Massasoit. With Samoset’s help, the Pilgrims planned to make contact with braves from the Wampanoags to trade for animal skins.

With the days lengthening and the temperatures warming, the Pilgrims turned their attention to planting the crops desperately needed if they were to survive a second winter in America. But they were interrupted by the reappearance of their new friend, Samoset, who arrived at the settlement with five Indians. Though the Pilgrims didn’t know it at the time, one of these Indians would play perhaps the largest role in the survival of “New England.”

Bradford wrote of him that he was “a special instrument sent of God for their good, beyond their expectation.” His name was Tisquantum, or Squanto for short. Squanto also spoke English because, years earlier, he had been captured by a treacherous sea captain and taken to Europe as a slave. Since Squanto had been away when the plague wiped out his tribe, he was the lone surviving Patuxet.

Because Squanto’s English was quite good, he was asked to take the role of lead translator when the Pilgrims met Massasoit. Within a week, a meeting was arranged, where gifts were exchanged, a pipe smoked, and an agreement reached that guaranteed peace between the Pilgrims and this Indian tribe. This peace pact would last for 50 years. As the days passed, both Indians and Pilgrims met frequently in the nearby woods without incident. The Pilgrims rested more easily.

By October 1621, the corn planted that spring was ready for harvest. The fields yielded a large crop that would keep the colony from starvation in the coming winter. Their hearts were full of gratitude for their renewed health, for the abundant harvest, and for the peace they enjoyed with the Indians.

William Bradford who, at only 30 years of age, had been elected leader of the colony after the death of John Carver that summer, was thankful for the harvest. As the new governor, he declared that Plymouth should hold a thanksgiving festival and invite the settlement’s Indian friends as special guests. A date was set, and an invitation delivered to Chief Massasoit.

To make sure there was adequate food, the Pilgrim men went hunting and fishing. In just a day, enough wild turkeys, eels, geese, lobster, partridge, and shellfish were gathered to guarantee a great feast. But when Massasoit arrived with 90 hungry braves—all smeared with ceremonial bear grease—the Pilgrims became worried. How could they feed that many people? And if they used too much of their precious stockpiled corn, would they have an adequate food supply to survive the winter?

Fortunately, the Indians along the Atlantic coast also were accustomed to celebrating the harvest with what they called the Green Corn Dance. They thought the Pilgrim festival must be the white man’s version of this observance; so when Massasoit and his men arrived at Plymouth, they too went to the woods and seashore to gather food. Soon five deer and more fish and seafood were presented for roasting. The Pilgrims breathed a sigh of relief and began preparing the meal.

But before they began to eat, their spiritual leader offered a prayer to the God who had so clearly and miraculously led them to this place. Though they had suffered much, their experience was remarkably better than others, who had attempted to colonize on the American shores. Plymouth had lost 50 percent of its numbers, but Jamestown in Virginia had lost 90 percent. The Plymouth settlers had successfully built a little community and grown crops to provide for themselves, while other colonies were totally dependent for supplies on the arrival of ships from England. Yes, God had blessed them abundantly; and they sincerely offered Him their thanks and praise.

Mr. Bradford: “May we live by Thee, live for Thee; never be satisfied with Christian progress, but only insomuch as we resemble Christ. And may conformity to His principles, temper, and conduct grow hourly in our lives. Amen.” [“Amen” from settlers]

Narrator: The feasting continued over a three-day period, during which both Indians and Pilgrims participated in games and exhibitions of shooting skill with bows and arrows and guns. The Pilgrim boys joined the races and wrestling matches of the Indians; and in turn, the Indians learned how to play stool ball—a game resembling croquet, played with a ball and wickets.

At night, the Indians slept in nearby fields. The relationship between the settlers and Indians was now so solid and peaceful that the Pilgrims no longer posted guards. When the fun and feasting ended, both Indians and colonists agreed they wanted to have a similar feast the following year.

In November, a ship from England, the Fortune, arrived unexpected and delivered

35 new colonists, which nearly doubled their numbers. Though they were delighted to see these fresh faces, some of which belonged to family members, the existing residents were sobered to realize that the new recruits had come without extra food, clothing, or other provisions. Soon after the newcomers were assigned to families in the colony, the leaders met to plan for their survival. Governor Bradford and William Brewster reached the difficult decision—everyone would go on half-rations through the winter.

Once again, at the height of their need, God provided deliverance. Another ship sailed into their harbor, and though it did not have food, the captain did have trading goods that he offered in exchange for beaver pelts.

When the spring of 1622 finally arrived, the colony was much-weakened by hunger and sickness, and the famine was not over. The weary Pilgrims went to the fields to plant their common crops, but their enthusiasm was greatly reduced. However, they continued on with the life that God had given them. Again, God saw them through the winter of 1622-23 by means of another ship, which brought trading goods they could use to barter for corn with the Indians.

Planting time was soon upon them in April of 1623. Their needs were desperate! The Pilgrims realized they had to plant double the previous year’s crop to sustain them in the winter to come. This year, it was decided they would seed a common cornfield for the whole colony, and then each family would be given a parcel of land to plant for its own use. Everyone was enthusiastic, for they were eager to grow as much as possible to avoid another “starving time.”

That harvest season was an abundant one. There was even a surplus to trade with the Indians for what they needed that winter. They had much to celebrate! Another day of Thanksgiving was planned this year, probably in August or September. The Indians were again invited with their chief, Massasoit. It was a season of gratitude. They were grateful for the rain and the harvest. They were grateful for the safe arrival of their family members and friends. They were grateful for the marriage of their wise Governor Bradford to Alice Southworth, who had also arrived on the Anne.

Lastly, and most importantly, they celebrated with grateful hearts God’s goodness to them. Edward Winslow wrote that: “Having these many signs of God’s favor and acceptance, we thought it would be a great ingratitude if, secretly, we should 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 God who dealt so graciously with us.”

As they expressed their gratitude and thanksgiving to God, they remembered the famine they had so recently experienced. No one would soon forget the meager rations they had lived on for nearly two years.


Michelle: We’ve been listening to Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember as written by Barbara Rainey. As Barbara shared some of the Pilgrims’ experiences in her book, she wanted us to understand God’s sovereignty at work in the lives of our forefathers and God’s providential direction for their circumstances. She didn’t want us to lose the fact that God was in charge, and these people sacrificed because they wanted to serve Him in their own way. It was a great sacrifice.

As we conclude the Thanksgiving holiday, and as you’re starting to think of Christmas and what you missed or what you got yesterday at the Black Friday sales that keep getting bigger every year, also remember that, in some churches, this weekend is the weekend that Advent season begins. It’s a season where we anticipate the coming of Christ.

Some of you might already be familiar with Advent; and you already use an Advent calendar, or an Advent wreath, or daily devotionals leading up to Christmas. I pray that, as you change seasons here—from Thanksgiving to Advent to Christmas—that you remember just the awe, faith, thankfulness, and hope of the Pilgrims, who sacrificed much because of what they believed. And also remember the One who sacrificed all so that we would have glorious hope in Him. That is who we celebrate this Advent season. Let us be thankful people.

Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember was written by Barbara Rainey, produced by Rob Jorgensen, narrated by Tom Fleming, and music was produced by John Campbell.

Next week, we are going to put this idea of Thanksgiving in place. We’re going to look at how we can help our children become thankful, and to put aside grumbling and complaining. Tricia Goyer is going to join me and share about her grumble-free year with her children. I hope you can join us for that.

Thanks for listening. I want to thank the president of FamilyLife, David Robbins, along with our station partners around the country. And a big “Thank you!” to our engineer today, Keith Lynch, who is still overloaded with turkey and mashed potatoes. Thanks to our producer, Marques Holt. Justin Adams is our mastering engineer, and Megan Martin is our production coordinator.

FamilyLife This Week is a production of FamilyLife Today®, and our mission is to effectively develop godly families who change the world one home at a time.

I'm Michelle Hill, inviting you to join us again next time for another edition of FamilyLife This Week.


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