FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Pilgrim Families, Part 2

with Jack Cavanaugh, Ruth Tucker | November 3, 2006
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Today on the broadcast, authors Jack Cavanaugh and Ruth Tucker share their knowledge of the Puritans with FamilyLife President, Dennis Rainey.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Today on the broadcast, authors Jack Cavanaugh and Ruth Tucker share their knowledge of the Puritans with FamilyLife President, Dennis Rainey.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Jack Cavanaugh and Ruth Tucker share their knowledge of the Puritans.

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Pilgrim Families, Part 2

With Jack Cavanaugh, Ruth Tucker
November 03, 2006
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Bob: The Thanksgiving holiday ought to provoke us to be people who are thankful as we think about the courage and the faith of those who first settled in this country. 

Narrator: 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 the weather turned dry.  As the weeks of drought went by, the pilgrims watched their precious summer crops wither and slowly die.  The Indians said they'd never seen a dry spell like it.  After 12 weeks the pilgrims realized they would face certain starvation in the coming winter if it did not rain soon.  The colonists were losing hope.

 They wondered if God, who had always gone before them, was against them.  They began to pray.  William Bradford asked everyone to participate in a day of fasting and prayer to ask the Lord for rain.  All the pilgrims felt a deep sense of humility before God, and they sincerely sought his mercy.  Edward Winslow described what happened.

Edward: But, oh, the mercy of our God, who was as ready to hear as we were to ask, for there were, in the morning, when we assembled together, the heavens were as clear and the drought as like to continue as it ever was, yet before our departure from the day of prayer and fasting, the weather was overcast, the clouds gathered on all sides.  On the next morning, distilled such soft, sweet, and moderate showers of rain continuing some 14 days.  Such was the bounty and goodness of our God.

Narrator: The crops were saved.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, November 3rd.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We do have a lot for which we can be thankful, don't we?

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Friday edition.  You know, rain – we had kind of a dry summer here in Little Rock, and rain is one of those things that you kind of – you don't think about the way they must have thought about it back in pilgrim America, because I've got a sprinkler system, you know, so if it doesn't rain, I just set the sprinkler system, and it takes care of the grass, and we don't really have to worry.

 Rain was a life and death issue.  If it didn't rain, there was no food, there's no food, somebody might not survive the winter, right?

Dennis: Right, you know, Barbara and I had the privilege of going to Plymouth a number of years ago and standing on that hillside, and I want to tell you something, it isn't like the paintings picture it.  I mean, it was just a hillside of rock and earth, and there was nothing welcoming the pilgrims when they arrived, I mean, the crops weren't planted.  They were on the edge of starvation from the very beginning, and that's why the whole issue of rain was so important.

 I'm thrilled that my wife, Barbara, is back in the studio again with us.  She's written a book called "Thanksgiving, A Time to Remember," and this really is her favorite holiday for our family.  Welcome back, honey.

Barbara: Thank you, glad to be here.

Bob: This is also one of your favorite subjects – not just because of the holiday but the founding of our country, for some reason, is resonant in your heart, isn't it?

Barbara: Well, I think it's because when I was in college, I was a history major, and I was also a new believer, and I was trying to understand, even though I was in a secular campus, how – what God was up to in the history of our country, and I couldn't find anybody who could give me those answers because, again, my professors were not believers.

 And so after Dennis and I married, and we had children, and I was doing some homeschooling in those years, I wanted my children to understand not just the fact, which I had grown up knowing the fact, but I wanted them to know the God behind the facts.  I wanted them to know how God was moving and orchestrating and using circumstances for His purposes in our history as a nation.

 And so that sort of set me on a quest for information on several different fronts, but one of them was Thanksgiving.

Bob: Right.  What you shared with your family on those Thanksgiving days became the book, "Thanksgiving, a Time to Remember," a few years ago, and you have now shared it with tens of thousands of folks all around the world, and it's become a part of their Thanksgiving celebration as well.

 And, Dennis, you and I, more than a decade ago, had an opportunity to sit down with a history professor, Dr. Ruth Tucker, and a writer of historical fiction, Jack Cavanaugh, and to talk with them about what life was like during those first Thanksgivings back when the settlers were new to America.

Dennis: Bob, as we interviewed them, I remember just thinking how they brought the story alive, how they brought so much Technicolor and depth to the story.

Bob: And one of the interesting things they talked about in these interviews was the whole approach to marriage and family during those early years in America, and they even talked about how the Puritans approached marital intimacy, and I mention that just because I think some of our listeners will be surprised.  This is going to be discreet, but it's going to be an accurate reflection of what marital intimacy was like among the Puritans.

[being audiotape]

Dennis: One of the things you write about, Dr. Tucker, in your book, "The Family Album," was that Puritan marriages occurred early, and that they had kids fast and furiously because the life expectancy was 33 years of age.  That had to have an impact on the family structure that these people were experiencing during that time.

Ruth: Well, it certainly did, because it was just assumed that the father might have a second wife, a third wife, as in many instances, and there would be another woman raising the children that this young wife had given birth to.  So that happens time and time again.

Dennis: You know, I can't help but think that the temporal side of life and the harshness of life, because many of them did die during those early months after their arrival that because they were confronted with that, many times on a daily basis, the eternal and the promises of the Scripture and the clinging together around the Word of God, really did make them people of value.  Can you comment about that, practically speaking?

Ruth: Well, they were people of value, and husbands and wives loved each other very deeply and exuberant love.  You know, we often think of the Puritans as being puritanical, and sex was something that they didn't participate in too often except to have children.  That wasn't so.  They loved exuberantly.  Now, it was something that was very private.  The kind of bawdy jokes that you might have heard Martin Luther telling would not have been true of the Puritans.  They were private about their sex life and their love, but it was something that was very important to them, and you see that in their poetry and their letters to each other – incredible devotion between husband and wife and between parents and children.

Dennis: You know, I've got to wonder how they ever found a place to be able to express physical love to each other.

Ruth: Well, as far as I can tell, from the reading I have done, and the research, they found it in their little one-room cabins with two or three other children in the bed at the same time.  So this all went on, and it was a natural part of life, and they loved exuberantly, so figure that one out.

Bob: Well, help us – I'm still trying to figure that one out.  Jack …

Dennis: It's hard enough with six kids in the house.

Bob: Is that right?  With kids right there in the room?

Jack: No closed doors, and that shared experience.  That's how close family was.  And I think one of the things that brought them so close was the fact that survival was not taken for granted.  And so whenever anybody shares a life-and-death kind of situation, it pulls them together, and this was the experience for the families – every single day they were fighting for their lives.  There were absolutely no conveniences, and there was no assurance they'd have food for the next year if the crops failed.  And so it was literally a daily fight for survival.

 And, of course, that's going to pull people together, especially the families.

Ruth: It's out of this closeness that the practice of bundling developed, too.  That is one of the unique practices of colonial New England.  The courtship, when a young man was finished with his chores late in the evening, he would go a-courting to the young woman's home, and they didn't want to waste firewood.  If they had to sit by the fire all night, they'd be wasting firewood, so they'd crawl in bed together with their clothes on, and this was their form of courtship, talking through the night, and they would sleep, and then he would get up in the early dawn hours and head back home to do the morning chores.

Dennis: Hold it, hold it, hold it.

Bob: Don't mention this to my children.

Dennis: That's exactly right.  Did they have a problem with premarital sex?

Ruth: They did on occasion, but most of the time they were with their clothes on and separated in this bed and simply talking together.  And, of course, there were ministers such as Jonathan Edwards, who strongly opposed the practice of bundling, but nevertheless this was the common means of courtship in colonial New England.

Jack: And oftentimes it was arranged through the mother, and the mothers and sisters sort of helped bundle them into the bed to get them situated.  And so this was not only approved, but it was overseen as well.  It was assumed that should an accident happen, and the pair not be able to control themselves that they would get married.

Dennis: You know, I've got to believe Josh McDowell would have had a severe ministry in those days.

Ruth: It was assumed they would get married but often after they'd received a whipping in the public square.

Jack: Certainly.

Dennis: Oh, really?

Ruth: Oh, yes, immorality was taken very, very seriously, and sins were punished publicly.  If a husband abused a wife or spoke harshly to her, he could be punished in the public square – any sin like this was put out in public and, you know, we could learn something today …

Dennis: Oh, we sure could.

Ruth: … from that.

Jack: They realized that when somebody sinned it not only affected them individually, but it affected the community as well, and the family, and that's why the punishment was public as well.

Dennis: Was there a practice of church discipline as we read in the Scripture?

Ruth: Well, church discipline and town discipline would have been essentially the same, because the town meetings …

Jack: … one and the same …

Ruth: … and the church – the church was part of the town, and so it was different than today when the churches so separated from the local government.

Jack: You know, one other instance in the courting situation, how do you go to a girl's house and court when there are 13 or 14 other children running around, and Mom and Pop are sitting right there also.

Dennis: That's probably why they bundled and hid under the covers.

Jack: That might be.  I came across a piece of research that I hadn't known before – they had a courting stick.  It was a long, hollow tube, and this was one way that they could speak to one another privately.  He'd put it up to his lips and talk to her, almost like we'd have these long cardboard tubes, and that was one way that they could have privacy even in a crowded situation.  It was through the courting stick – so you'd hear those sweet nothings being whispered with this hollow echo down through the tube.

Bob: Well, how did the courtship develop for Puritan young men and young women, and I assume we're talking about 14 and 15-year-olds who are getting married?

Ruth: That's true, and it was often, to some extent, arranged or at least families knew each other, and so there would be assumed approval of the parents of the boyfriend, the girlfriend.

Bob: There was an interesting idea that I read about in "The Family Album," Dr. Tucker, that the day on which you were born was also the day on which you were conceived – this idea that if you were born on a Thursday, you were conceived on a Thursday.  So if a child was born on the Sabbath, that was a reflection of what his parents had presumably been doing nine months previous, right?

Ruth: That was widely believed.  A lot of Puritans held to that, and Jonathan Edwards, a great Puritan divine, six of his 11 children were conspicuously born on the Sabbath – a lot of joking and rumors and talking behind the scenes among his parishioners.

Bob: Was it considered less than holy for a husband and wife to …

Ruth: Oh, absolutely.  A husband and wife should not be coming together in that means on the Sabbath.  The Sabbath was for studying the Word of God, for going to church and talking about things of the Lord, and Puritans loved exuberantly, and that was for every day of the week but the Sabbath.

Bob: Jack, what about the Sabbath practices?  What would a typical Sabbath day be like for a Puritan family?

Jack: It would begin by a call to the church.  Oftentimes by the blowing of a conch – from a conch shell or the ringing of a bell or sometimes the beating of a drum, and according to some of the practices, the parson then would go down the street, and as he passed your house, then you would come out and follow him.  And inevitably they put the churches on top of hills, as well, and one of the ministers, as he was growing quite elderly, was saying "Getting to heaven is going to be a lot easier than just climbing up to this church."

 And once they got up there, again, they had a lot of singing, and they even had hymn practices at times, so that – during the week so that their singing on the Sabbath would be exuberant.

Bob: Choir rehearsal, huh?

Jack: Exactly, but this is for the congregation and not for the choir.  Oftentimes, their churches looked like what we would picture as cattle stalls because they had private pews that had walls about four feet high, and they would purchase those pews and then oftentimes be assigned pews on an annual basis in many cases.  They would go in there, the seats would be hinged, and they'd go up and down.  Whenever they prayed, they stood up, and part of the joking of that day was also people within miles knew when the praying ended because all of these seats then slammed down simultaneously – bam, bam, bam – all the way through the worship service, and they thought with ways with how they could quiet the service down from the banging seats.

Bob: Were there folks who were not in church on Sunday morning in the Puritan community?

Jack: Not if they were accepted within the community.  It was something that everybody was required to do.  They needed to be there.

Ruth: The minister was very important to the community.  Solomon Stoddard, I believe, remained 59 years in his parish.  His grandson, Jonathan Edwards, was kicked out after 23 years of ministry.  But can you imagine that today in our churches?  Keeping a minister for 50, 60 years.

[audiotape ends]

Bob: Well, again, that is Dr. Ruth Tucker.  We've been listening to a conversation we had with her and with author Jack Cavanaugh about life during the first few years for settlers in America back in the early 1600s.  And, Barbara, I think sometimes when we think about the Puritans, because we read their words in Elizabethan English, we think that they must have been kind of stiff and proper, and they weren't real.  But they were real people, weren't they?

Barbara: They were very real people, and I think we – because we're so far removed, and we don't have any audio of their voices, and we don't have photographs, and we don't have the things that we're used to, to kind of help people who are not living anymore come to life.  All we have is a few paintings, and then we have their words in the journal.

 And the paintings are very proper, again, and it's a painting of the first Thanksgiving, and they're dressed in decent-looking clothing, and it's all in one piece.  They didn't – the painter did not paint an image of them in tatters and rags, and that was really more what they looked like.  And so we have this picture of them being very proper and very – having everything together, so to speak.

 But they were very real people who had very difficult hardships, and yet the thing that is so amazing about their story is that their faith never wavered, or if it did, they came back to it, and they continued to express faith in God as being sovereign and as having led them to the New World, and they gave thanks in all circumstances, and that is what's so inspiring about their story.

Dennis: To me, that's the message for today's family.

Barbara: It is.

Dennis: Families today face hardships, struggles.  We may not necessarily have tattered clothing, but our lives may be tattered from perhaps some of the choices we've made, and we're looking backwards, and we see the results of those decisions or the results of decisions like that in the lives of our children, and we've got a choice.  Are we going to trust God?  Are we going to be men and women of faith?  Are we going to lead our families toward giving thanks in all things?  Are we going to gripe and complain about what we don't have and what's gone wrong?  Are we going to pull back and say, "God, You've been incredibly good to our family.  You've supplied friends, you've supplied food, shelter.  You've supplied a good church or a community for us to relate to, other friends."

 And it's at those moments, Bob, I think today's family needs to pull back, get off the merry-go-round, stop all activity, and just take a meal and exhale, first of all, just relax, take a chill pill, and then begin to contemplate the price the pilgrims paid for our freedom and how this country was founded to be a nation under God – a people whose hope was in Jesus Christ.

 I have to believe there are some listeners right now who need to establish a new world.  They may be looking at their lives saying, "You know what?  I need a new world."  Well, you know what?  What better holiday to formalize the new world than Thanksgiving.  Leading your families toward a new day of saying, "God, I want to be thankful.  I don't want to be full of griping and complaining and bitterness and resentment, but I want you to be my Lord and our family's Lord."

Bob: You know, one of the first Bible verses that I learned when I became a Christian was 2 Corinthians 5:17 – "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature, a new creation.  Old things have passed away, behold all things have become new." 

 You talk about a new world for a family, that begins as we turn over the control of our lives to God as we release our own control and say, "God, I'm going to put myself in your hands.  I'm going to be obedient to what you called me to.  I want to follow You." 

And for listeners who don't have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we have a resource we'd like to send you.  It's a book called "Pursuing God," that will help explain how all things can be new for you and for your family, how you can turn from bitterness and resentment, the things you were talking about, to a new way of life in Christ. 

You can call or write to request a copy of that book.  You can go online to request a copy.  We want to send it to you at no cost.  Again, it's a book called "Pursuing God," and it's specifically for those who might be listening who would say, "I want to know what it means to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.  I want to be made new."

Just go to our website,  Click a red button you'll see in the middle of the screen that says "Go," and that will take you to a page where you'll find information on how to get a copy of the book, "Pursuing God."  You can also call 1-800-FLTODAY to request a copy of this book.  We're happy to send it out to those of you who want to begin a relationship with Jesus Christ at no cost, no obligation.  Again, the website is, and the toll-free number is 1-800-FLTODAY.

Now, on the website, you'll also find information about the book that Barbara Rainey has written called "Thanksgiving, a Time to Remember."  It's available both as a hardback book and as an audio book.  It's been dramatized and is available on CD, and you can order that from our website if you'd like to.  Again, our website,, our toll-free number, 1-800-358-6329.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.

I don't know how many of our listeners do what the Raineys do at Thanksgiving – how many of you pass around cards or pull out a book and record the things you're thankful for.  I don't know if you have a blessing book, but that's one of the things that is recommended for parents in the prayer guide that we have put together called "While They Were Sleeping."  It's a hardback book for moms and dads so that we can be more focused and more intentional as we pray for our children.

And in the chapter where you pray for your child to be contented; to have a heart of contentment, one of the suggestions is to begin a new family tradition and create a blessing book that you use regularly on special occasions, like birthdays or Thanksgiving, to remember all the ways that God has blessed you; has met your needs as a family, to give thanks to Him for those things.

In addition to those suggestions on ways that you can cultivate a heart of contentment in your child, there is a week's worth of guided prayer for you as a mom or as a dad, to be praying that God would bring about contentment and humility and kindness and obedience and discernment – all of these things in your child's life.

We're sending this prayer guide out this month to any of our listeners who request it when you make a donation of any amount to the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  We are thankful for those of you who are able to partner with us financially in the work of this ministry.  We're listener-supported, and your donations are critical for the ongoing work of FamilyLife Today, and so this month we want to say thanks for your support by sending out a copy of this book when you request it.

If you're making a donation on our website online at, as you fill out the form for the donation, you'll come to a keycode box.  Just type in the word "pray," p-r-a-y, and we'll know to send you copy of this book or call 1-800-FLTODAY to make a donation and mention that you'd like a copy of the prayer guide for parents.  When you make your donation, we'll be happy to send it along to you.  Again, it's our way of saying thanks to you for standing with us in the ministry of FamilyLife Today.

Well, I hope you have a great weekend.  I hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can join us on Monday.  Donald Miller is going to be our guest.  We're going to hear from him about what it was like to grow up without a dad and how that marked him as a man.  I hope you can be with us for that conversation.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.


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