Miracles of Plymouth


by Pastor Don Elmore

November 17, 2013

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 41:8-10

It was over twenty years ago while I was teaching high school math; when one of my math students asked me a question.  It was during lunch time and we were both in my math room munching on the lunch they we brought from home.  She asked:  “Have you read Peter Marshall’s book, “The Light and the Glory.” I knew a Peter and Catherine Marshall; Peter was the Senate Chaplain and his wife was a best-selling author.  But this was co-authored by their son.  I answered, “No.  I was not aware of the book.  What is it about?”  She answered:  “Well, we are using this book in Sunday School class.  It tells about the Pilgrims and how God performed all the miracles for them.”

That piqued my interest.  I hadn’t heard of “all these miracles” that God performed for the Pilgrims in the early days of our nation.  So, after I went home I bought the book.  I read it and was fascinated. 

That fall we had our Thanksgiving meal at our house.  I mean the church’s first Thanksgiving meal; which is, of course, around two weeks before the real Thanksgiving Day celebrated by our nation.  We started celebrating it because why noted a lack of the correct motives in celebrating it with family and friends.  It wasn’t supposed to be a social event and a sports day, but a religious service.  God was to be thanked for His kindness and goodness towards us in giving us a good harvest.

The women fixed the turkeys and all the food that went with it.  We must have had around 40+ people at the meal.  We had tables and chairs all throughout our house.  Before the meal, I gave the sermon which told of the miracles that God performed for this small group of His people—the Pilgrims, less than several hundred!  And I began the practice of putting “5 kernels of corn on the empty plate” of each person before we feasted on our meal.  I did this for ten years.  I know that I talked too long, as it was difficult to keep all of the food warm; but I think my audience was just as intrigued with the message as I was.

Every year the congregation eagerly awaited the sermon that would tell how God provided His great miracles to the Pilgrims so they could survive.  It is the realization of how much God’s hand had played a part not only in America’s founding, but, indeed, in its very discovery. 

It has been quite a few years since I brought my sermon about this Day, but today I will bring you an update message of the miracles shown to the Pilgrims almost 400 years ago.

The Miracles

The Pilgrims saw themselves as called into their new Promised Land in order to found a new Israel, which would be a light to the whole world. They were actually the inheritors of Joseph’s birthright.  They received the most beautiful land that was full of all the natural resources necessary to provide for a wonderful life:  coal, oil, gas, petroleum, natural gas, fertile soil, numerous waterways, forests, gold, silver, copper, venison, fish, bison, wild turkeys, iron-ore, etc.

There were only about 1,000 Pilgrims in the entire world when the majority of them had escaped to Holland from England.  Only a thousand, but they changed the world.  They had been hounded, bullied, forced to pay assessments to the Church of England, put into prison on trumped-up charges, and driven underground.  They met in private homes, to which they came at staggered intervals and by different routes, because they were constantly being spied upon.  In the little town of Scooby, persecution finally reached the point where the congregation to which William Bradford belonged elected to follow those other Separatists (Pilgrims) who had already sought religious asylum in Holland. 

After being in Leyden, Holland for about 12 years, these Separatists were ready to move again.  The hard 11–15 hour working days in low paying jobs had aged them more than normal.  They had to get the large sum of money for the trip and many of them were ready to go.  They believed that they would be a “city set on a hill.”  Here are a few of God’s miracles that were showered on the Pilgrims:

    1. The Separatists came to believe that America was the place to which God intended them to go, despite the horrors of Virginia’s “starving time.”  They needed a lot of cash to go on this trans-Atlantic voyage.  All the families that were going on this trans-Atlantic journey sold their homes and all their immovable possessions, in order to give their agent cash with which to purchase shares in the plantation venture.

      Their first application was with the Virginia Company.  They were the main corporate enterprise in the business of backing such ventures to America. But at this time the Virginia Company was on the brink of bankruptcy and the Pilgrims were spared from all those entanglements. 

      They were then paid an unexpected visit by a London merchant by the name of Thomas Weston.  He promised them he had a group of investors who could help them.  The Pilgrims decided with some misgivings to enter into an agreement with Weston to be their agent.  It was an agreement that proved to later be a huge mistake that would eventually violate some of God’s Laws.

      The agreement started out that each adult, sixteen years and older, would have one share (worth about fourteen hundred modern dollars), and another, if he outfitted and equipped himself.  Those with extra funds could buy more shares. 

      They would all continue in joint partnership for seven years (the standard period of Biblical indenture service), at the end of which time, all land and profits would be divided up according to the number of shares.  Personal property, such as houses, home lots and gardens, would remain wholly the property of the planters and would not be divided up.  The planters were also to be given two days a week of their own.  It struck them as an eminently fair agreement.   

      The Separatists sent two of their number to London, to represent them:  John Carver and Robert Cushman. Carver was a proven man with stability and maturity about him.  Cushman, on the other hand, had a quick mind and a gift for eloquence, but was immature and had difficulty accepting correction.  While Carver was out of London gathering supplies for the upcoming voyage, pressure was applied to Cushman to agree to certain changes in their contract.  He agreed to the changes.

      This agreement to changes in the contact that was made by Robert Cushman was shown to the Pilgrims to sign right before they were to set sail on the Mayflower.  But they didn’t sign.  They owed sixty pounds which was paid off by selling their only food surplus—butter.  They then wrote a letter to London that if large profits didn’t arise with seven years, that they would continue with them for a longer period.

      When the Speedwell failed to make the journey, Robert Cushman decided not to go with the Pilgrims on the initial journey.  He joined them over a year later, traveling on the Fortune.  After arriving in the new land, Cushman convinced the Pilgrims that it was in their best interests to sign the contract…so they signed the agreement—thereby entering into bondage to the Adventurers which would see them struggle for more than twenty years to get out from under the debt that they amassed.

      The Pilgrims were mercilessly taken advantage of, at times having to borrow money at interest rates of 30 and 50 percent.  Some of the unscrupulous Adventurers added on bogus claims that the Pilgrims paid at a fearful cost.  It took twenty-five years and 20,000 pounds to retire a debt of 1800!  And to accomplish this, Bradford had to sell a large farm, Alden and Standish, three hundred acres a piece, and Winslow and Prence, their homes.  Sound familiar?Map of Plymouth Colony 1620-1691

      And what of the man who pressured Cushman to make changes in the agreement?  Thomas Weston.  Weston acting independently of the other Adventures set up his own fishing enterprise, just a few miles up the coast from Plymouth at Wessagusset (now Weymouth).  When the other Adventurers found out what he was doing, they expelled him from their group.   

      Things were going so poorly for Weston, that in order to escape his creditors he disguised himself as a fisherman and sailed for his fishing station at Wessagusset.  But when he arrived there, he found that it no longer existed. 

      He had sent a bunch of roughnecks who had consumed a year’s supply of food in four months and had sold their equipment to the Indians for food and were mainly interested in getting and staying drunk all day long.  In addition, they had provoked the Indians that the Indians were considering a general attack on the settlers; a war was about to break out if these men were not gotten under control. 

      Finally, Standish and a few men had been forced to give Weston’s rowdies an ultimatum:  They were to go home on the next boat.  They sailed within the hour and peace was restored.

      When Weston arrived at Charlestown, he could not believe what he had been told about his fishing station, and with another man he hired a ship to go see his station.  But on the way there, the ship sunk and he lost all of his belongings.  Knowing nowhere else to go, he made for Plymouth on foot.  When he finally arrived, he presented a very sorry sight!

      He begged for their mercy and for a loan of beaver skins, to get him back on his feet.  He promised them that he would repay them in supplies as soon as the transaction was completed.  The Pilgrims gave Weston the beaver skins and Weston did eventually repay them—with scorn and vicious slander; not a penny in recompense!  What a fake Christian! 

    2. The plan was to leave Delftshaven (Holland) to go to Southampton (England) on the Speedwell.  There they would join a larger merchant ship, the Mayflower.  But only 200 out of 600 Pilgrims would go.  They left on July 22, 1620.  On the dock their pastor, John Robinson, slowly knelt, and all the others followed his lead.  As he solemnly invoked God’s blessing on their undertaking, tears came to all of their eyes, and even the young men wept unabashedly.  Quickly they boarded the ship and the crew cast off.

      They arrived at Southampton where the two men who were representing the Pilgrims--Carver and Cushman--rejoined the Pilgrims. It was at Southampton, when the two ships were just about ready to sail, then Weston chose to present his revived contract for the Pilgrims to sign.  He thought that they would knuckle under, but they didn’t. 

      When they refused to sign, Weston stormed off to London.  And the two boats left for the New World on August 5, 1620.  But after just three days on the Atlantic, it became obvious that the Speedwell was in trouble.  Her seams were letting in the Ocean water, so that it had to turn back to the nearby port of Dartmouth.  One week later, they tried it again, only to encounter the same problem.  This time they sailed to Plymouth. While there they made the difficult decision to sell the Speedwell and combine her passengers and cargo with those on board the Mayflower. 

      The MayflowerBut like what happened to Gideon’s army, although not as drastic, the number of Pilgrims had been almost cut in half.  There were only 102 Pilgrims who made the journey to America.  They had to stay under the deck of the Mayflower, with the exception of the women with small children who stayed in the Captain’s quarters.  The Mayflower was a small ship, as Randa and I saw when we went to Boston over 20 years ago.  We drove down to Plymouth where there is a replica of the Mayflower stationed in the Bay and we even saw Plymouth Rock. 

      There were almost as many “strangers” as Pilgrims.  Among the strangers were a boot smith, his wife and two children; a cooper that each ship was required to have, and the crew and captain.  Robert Cushman was also a casualty of the Speedwell’s demise.  He decided to delay his trip to the New World for over a year. 

    3. Now we come to one of the most miraculous stories in the book, in my opinion.   It tells of the seven-week ship ride full of many difficulties.  In addition to the many hardships, there was the harassment from the sailors.  Several of the crew had taken to mocking them unmercifully, and their self-appointed leader had taken such a dislike to the Pilgrims that he would gloat at their seasickness and in telling them how much he looked forward to casting their dead body over the boat when they died.  He favorite cry was calling them “psalm-singing puke-stockings.”  We would say that he was a   great bully; one of the greatest bullies of all time.

      Shortly after passing the half-way point to America, the Mayflower ran into a violent storm.  The huge cross-beam supporting the main mast had cracked and was sagging alarmingly.  The crew couldn’t budge it.  But the Pilgrims did what the crew didn’t do:  they prayed to their God!

      After saying their prayers, they then remembered the great iron screw of the printing press that they had brought. And why did they bring a printing press?   They printed the books that they found worthy of their beliefs.  Remember it was 1620 and the printing press was a relatively new invention.

      They found the giant screw and cranked it up till the beam was back into its original position.  The Mayflower was saved from destruction.  For once, the sailors joined the Pilgrims in praising God.  The ship could have sunk and everyone drown in the Atlantic Ocean.  What a joyous occasion that was!

    4. The area where the Pilgrims landed was the land where the Patuxets, a large white-man murderous tribe of Indians lived.  In 1616, a mysterious plague broke out killing every man, woman and child—it completely wiped out this Indian tribe.  So complete was the destruction that the neighboring tribes had shunned the area ever since, convinced that some great super-natural spirit had destroyed the Patuxets.

      But one of these Patuxets, Squanto, had been captured by an English sailor in 1605 and taken to England.  It was there that he and the other prisoners were taught English.  He returned to America in 1614 by helping an English sailor with the translations with the Indian tribes along the Northeastern coast of the future United States. 

      But while he was living in the land where the Pilgrims would come in six years, he was recaptured.  He was taken and sold as a slave in Spain.  Squanto was purchased by a Roman Catholic Spanish monastery.  Later he left the monastery and went to England.  After a short stay, he returned to his homeland, the present Massachusetts, in 1619, by being a guide and translator to an English fisherman. 

      But when he returned to where he was born, he discovered that all of his tribe were dead; mother, father, grandfather, grandmother, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, friends, enemies--all.  As a result he was staying with another tribe 50 miles away from where the Pilgrims were dwelling.  When he heard of their arrival, he was anxious to see them.  He heard of them from another Indian from another tribe who also spoke English.  His name was Samoset who was from an Indian tribe in Maine. 

      His, Samoset’s, first words to the settlers were, “Welcome!” 

      And after he heard the same response from the Pilgrims, he added:  “Have you got any beer?”

      The Pilgrims brought him some brandy, and a biscuit with butter and cheese, and then some pudding and a piece of roast duck.  He cleaned his plate.  Where did an Indian learn to like English food and where did he learn to speak English?  Samoset explained and it was from him that they learned of what happened to the land that they now dwelt; the former territory of the Patauxets.  He told them that the corn that they had found hidden under the brush was corn that was grown and harvested by the Patauxets before they died.  He explained and the Pilgrims knew it was God’s providence in giving them a vacant land, instead of a land of the most white-man hating Indians in North America.

      Samoset left the next morning and returned a few days later with another Indian.  He too spoke English!  It was an Indian from the tribe where they now livedSquanto took that it was his job to help the English settlers succeed.  And help them he did.  Without Squanto’s help in farming and fishing and trading with the other Indian tribes, Plymouth would have failed.

      One thing that Squanto showed his Pilgrim friends was to eventually save every one of their lives:  he showed them how to plant corn the Indian way.  Hoeing six-foot squares in toward the center, putting down four or five kernels, and then fertilizing the corn with fish.  At that, the Pilgrims just shook their heads; in four months they had caught exactly one cod.  No problem, for in four days Squanto said the creeks would be overflowing with fish.

      Squanto instructed the young men in how they would make the nets to catch the soon arriving fish.  The men obeyed what Squanto told them and in four days the Pilgrims would catch an enormous amount of fish as the fish were making their spring run.   

      But there was another problem that had to be considered—the wolves; for they would attempt to steal the fish that was buried in the ground as fertilizer.  The Pilgrims would have to guard the corn for two weeks until the fish had a chance to decompose.  The Pilgrims followed Squanto’s words and as a result they had a wonderful harvest.

      God granted them a helper from a tribe of the Indians that would have slaughtered the Pilgrims as soon as they sent their foot on the land, if they would not have been killed by the mysterious plague.  Their helper had been captured as a prisoner twice; and had lived in England and the second time lived in both Spain and England.  I wonder if Squanto had heard about the bad treatment that the Pilgrims had received in England while he was living there

    5. The second crop of 1623 experienced a great drought of 12 consecutive weeks; almost 3 months of no rain.  No rain for 3 months, have you ever experienced such a time?  The crops were within one day of dying; and if they died, Plymouth would die of starvation. 

But the Pilgrims turned to their God.  They went to the church building and began their prayer session.  They prayed all morning and all afternoon.  In the late afternoon, they heard the pitter-patter of a light rain fall.  It was the beginning of the greatest turn-around in weather; from one of the worst droughts to a time of intermittent rain and sunshine.  It provided for a great harvest.  The Indians had never seen anything like what happened.  They too were in awe of the marvelous weather that occurred after the major drought.  The God of the Pilgrims had given them mercy to keep them alive

William BradfordThey had gone from almost starving to death to a time of a great surplus as a result of their wonderful harvest. In the fall of 1623, they celebrated Thanksgiving along with the wedding service of William Bradford.  The Governor, Bradford, placed 5 kernels of corn on each empty plate of the receptionists.  He did this before they received any of their soon festive amounts of food.  He did this, so that they might not forget the recent history of rationing their food during the severe draught that had suffered through.

This occurred after another ship, Fortune, arrived that brought more settlers to Plymouth. It came one year after the first Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth; but they brought no food supplies for the colony, as well as no clothing, no tools, and no bedding.  They entered their own starving time that winter and were ultimately reduced to a daily ration of five kernels of corn per person.

It is almost inconceivable how life could be supported on this small amount of food; but they had a choice:  either to give in to bitterness or to go into a deeper relationship with their God.  They chose the latter and they survived in a most marvelous way. 

Unexpectedly, a ship put into their harbor on its way back to England from Virginia.  While the captain had no extra food, he did have beads, knives, trinkets, etc., which the Pilgrims could trade for corn.  The captain would buy pelts from the Pilgrims; thus they thanked their God for seeing them through that winter.  Their God saved their lives from starvation again.

    1. The first winter there was a time of “General Sickness.”  The Pilgrims started dying.  They lost 47 people, nearly half their original number.  The children fared the best; none of the seven daughters died and only three of the thirteen sons.  And the colony, which was young to begin with, was even younger now. 

      And through it all, their hearts remained soft towards God.  Whether they knew that they were being tested, as Bradford later suspected, the high point of their week remained Sunday worship; when the beat of a field drum would summon them to the morning and afternoon service. 

      The service was held in the blockhouse at the top of the hill.  Inside, on rough-hewn log benches, the men would sit on the left, the women on the right.  William Brewster would preach, and he had a gift for teaching “both powerfully and profitably, to the great contentment of the hearers, and their comfortable edification, yea, many were brought to God by his ministry.”   

      Many who lost a spouse, remarried at Plymouth Plantation.  The Governor lost his wife when she fell over the side of the Mayflower and drowned.  In May, 1621 they had their first wedding at the Plantation:  Edward Winslow and Susanna White had both lost their spouses.  They were married by Governor Bradford. 

      In the fall of that year, 1623, they held their first Thanksgiving Service.  It lasted three days and the Indians were invited to be with them. The Pilgrims and Indians competed in shooting contests with gun and bow.  There was also competition in foot races and wrestling. 

      But the highlight of the Thanksgiving Day was at its beginning.  It was William Brewster’s prayer that the Pilgrim’s remembered the most.  He said that they had so much for which to thank God; for providing all their needs, even when their faith had not been up to believing that He would do so; for the lives of the departed and for taking them home to be with Him; for their friendship with the Indians; so extraordinary when settlers to the south of them had experienced the opposite; for all His remarkable providences in bringing them to this place and sustaining them. 

    2. What did the Pilgrims believe?  They disagreed with the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church and said that they had strayed beyond Christ’s teachings, and had established religious rituals and church hierarchies, that went against the teachings of the Bible.  This put them is difficulty with church officials who tried to have them arrested and thrown in jail for refusing to participate in church rituals. 

      While in Holland, the Pilgrims strictly honored the Sabbath Day by not performing any labor on Sunday.  They studied the writings of earlier Protestants and Separatists, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin.

      The Pilgrims believed that before the foundation of the world, God predestined to make the world, man, and all things.  He also predestined, at that time, who would be saved, and who would be damned.  Only those God elected would receive God’s grace, and would have faith.  There was nothing an individual could do during their life that would cause them to be saved or damned, since God had already decided who was going to be saved before the creation of the world.  However, God would not have chosen a blatant sinner to be His elect; and therefore those who were godly were likely to be ones that God had elected to be saved.

      This is what is known as Calvinism.  This is what John Calvin and Martin Luther taught.  It is wrong.  But God looks on the hearts of His elect people.  They had come, and at a great price, away from the anti-Christian Roman Catholic (universal) Church and the Church of England but they failed to go far enough. 

      They missed the jump to Covenant Theology.  They were the people who inherited the covenant that was made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They were their descendants.  That is one reason we are told in the New Testament to “look to Abraham.” 

      We have had the advantage of seeing all of the mistakes and false doctrines that have been put out by Protestants and Catholics alike.  It is the covenant doctrine that will hold to be the truth and faithful doctrine that will unite our people.  We are living 400 years closer to the end.

What do you think happened?  What would you do if you were a Pilgrim, hearing these vicious, verbal, torturous outbursts?  At the peak of this tormenting, this same crewman suddenly took gravely ill of an unknown fever and died within a single day!  No one else caught this mysterious disease, and he was the first to go over the side of the boat.  No more mocking from the crew!  What a great deliverance from an unnecessary nuisance.  And no Pilgrim died on the voyage to the New World.

There are many more “miracles” to look at:

    • The Pilgrims were suppose to land in Virginia, but were prevented from going there by a vicious storm.
    • The Pilgrims decided to live in Plymouth, which is located in Massachusetts.  They were free from any Charter, so they had to establish their own government.  At this time of year, 393 years ago, they wrote and signed the “Mayflower Compact.”
    • The Pilgrims did not wear the dark clothes that are worn in plays in schools, but wore clothes of modest, but different colors.  It was their religious cousins, the Puritans, who were to shortly follow the Pilgrims to America who had these restrictions on dress.
    • Squanto, when he was about to die, asked Governor Bradford if he would pray for him so that he could go to the Englishman’s God in Heaven when he died.  He also asked Bradford to give various things as gifts to his English friends back at Plymouth. Within a few days, Squanto was dead.  I can guess what the Governor answered Squanto, for he was a Calvinist; but this was their big error. If Bradford was of the Christian Identity belief I know what he would have told Squanto!  
    • The Pilgrims were a people who read their Geneva Bibles and discovered that the Church in their nation was wrong.  What should they do?  They separated and came out of the antichristian church and started their own churches.  What a good thought…may we learn from their lesson!

Blessed be the LORD God of Israel.