Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Pilgrims in 1621, Part 5: Thanksgiving

And finally we get to the great event of 1621, “the First Thanksgiving”. Now I should mention that Thanksgiving was not this time of year. It was somewhere between September 18th and November 10th as those are the dates of the events described by Bradford and Winslow before and after Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was most likely in October, which makes sense as it was as the harvest was all gotten in. If you are in Massachusetts in late November it isn’t going to seem like harvest season. I bring this up because it is important to remember what this celebration was for. This was a harvest festival. In the words of Edward Winslow, “our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after...a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors”.

The Pilgrims were a hard-working people, but that did not mean that they didn’t rejoice. In the 1800s, many of the descendants of the Pilgrims and Puritans forgot God, but continued the emphasis on work and became the industrialists that did produce a lot, but also tore apart the relational community that the Pilgrims represented so well. The Pilgrims were hard workers, but were not workaholic. Because of their hard work, their rejoicing meant all the more. The less effort we put into our work, the less enjoyment we will get from our celebrating, and the less special it will be. Because the Pilgrims worked hard, they played hard. They feasted for a week, entertaining their 90 Indian guests for three of those days! They feasted like Christians. The Bible gives guidelines for this kind of rejoicing in several places. In Deuteronomy 14:22-29 it gives directions to the Israelites to give a entire tithe of their produce to a feast of celebration, and to buy with it “whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household”. In Deuteronomy 16:13-15 it commands the Israelites to “keep the Feast of Booths seven days, when you have gathered in the produce from your threshing floor and your winepress. You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns. For seven days you shall keep the feast to the LORD your God at the place that the LORD will choose, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.” The Pilgrims reflect this much in their celebration, in the feasting for seven days, in inviting the sojourner (i.e. the Indians), in doing it in praise to God’s goodness, and in being altogether joyful.

We are told that the Pilgrims participated in a couple activities to celebrate, and I can say those that are mentioned are all things that I would enjoy. The first thing was going hunting. The main thing that is mentioned is hunting for waterfowl like ducks and geese, although Bradford adds that they hunted other things as well, like turkeys and deer. The Indians also brought five deer to the celebration that they had hunted. Another activity mentioned is the shooting of guns, most likely in competitions of marksmanship. And besides hunting and shooting, Winslow says that there were other recreations as well, which we can but speculate on. Perhaps they had races, games, singing, and dancing. And then of course there was the feasting. In the several days that they feasted they ate the wild game they had shot like the ducks, geese, deer, and turkeys; the fish, clams and eels they got from the sea; many vegetables such as squash, beans, onions, Indian corn; and native fruits such as cranberries and grapes. As Winslow wrote to those back in England, “And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

And so we find the Pilgrims near the close of 1621, and although there would be many other trials, the Pilgrims had laid down a foundation of a godly society that would be built upon for many years afterwards that would later help form the United States of America. They laid a foundation of diligent work, of honorable foreign relations, of joyful thankfulness, and over all, a foundation of Christianity that worked itself out in its actions. Because of their Biblical policies and God’s sovereign Providence they enjoyed a peace with those around them. As Winslow said, “We have found the Indians very faithful in their covenant of peace with us...yea, it has pleased God so to possess the Indians with a fear of us, and love unto that there is now great peace amongst the Indians themselves, which was not formerly, neither would have been but for us; and we for our parts walk as peaceably and safely in the wood as in the highways in England.” Because of sin we cannot have a utopia here on earth, and the Pilgrims fell into sin time and again. But God was merciful and blessed the Pilgrims and the rest of America for their early faithfulness. Since then we have taken the blessing while forgetting the reason for it. We have become a people that sees work as merely a necessary means for feeding our materialistic cravings. We have become a welfare and warfare state. We have become a individualized and commercialized society devoid of relationships, hospitality, and community. May we learn from their efforts, may we return to God and lead our society back to Him. May we remember that “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Ps. 33:12).

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Pilgrims in 1621, Part 4: Justice and Warfare

The first of these two events happened in August, right before the Massachusets expedition. There had been one of the Indian tribes, by the name of the Narigansets that had not been affected by the sickness that had affected many of the other tribes around them. They saw that this was their chance to increase their land and power. But then the English came around, making friends with these weak tribes. As Bradford says of the ambitious Narigansets, “who, (since the death of so many of the Indians,) thought to domineer and lord it over the rest, and conceived the English would be a bar in their way, and saw that Massasoit took shelter already under their wings.” Thus the Narigansets saw that they had to make their move. They proceeded to drive King Massasoit out of his home, and the Pilgrims lost track of where he was. At the same time a lower chieftain under Massasoit, named Corbitant, seemed to become allied with the Narigansets and started to speak against Massasoit and the Pilgrims, and aiming to draw Massasoit’s people away from him. Corbitant started to have a following, which grew as Massasoit disappeared and the Narigansets grew stronger. The Pilgrims and Massasoit’s loyal followers began to get concerned. So Squanto and an other Indian named Hobomak, who was said to be a very strong and loyal man, went out to seek their lost king, but had to go undercover, pretending some other reason to go out. Nevertheless, they were betrayed, and one morning as they were staying in a village, they were surrounded by Corbitant and his followers. Hobomak, being a strong man, slipped away, but the last he saw was that Squanto was surrounded by many hostile Indians, being threatened by Corbitant with a knife. Hobomak ran and told the Pilgrims, but despaired for Squanto’s life.

The Pilgrims quickly decided on a plan of action. “Whereupon it was resolved to send the Captain and 14 men well armed, and to go and fall upon them in the night; and if they found that Squanto was killed, to cut of Corbitant’s head, but not to hurt any but those that had a hand in it.” (Of Plymouth Plantation) Now, when most people picture the Pilgrims, they don’t see them as cutting people’s heads off. Some, not all, but some portrayals (especially some of the Victorian portrayals) of the Pilgrims can get at times effeminate or at least somewhat soft and fluffy. The Pilgrims followed God’s word and although they only used it when necessary, they were not afraid of battle and criminal justice. The Pilgrims wanted justice, and were definite with the judgments, but careful to administer it to who it was due, by proper civil authority. As Proverbs 21:15 says, “When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.”

So the Pilgrims went off to the Indian village where the commotion had been, and although they got a little lost on the way, they arrived by the pre-dawn darkness of the next day. They surrounded the village and demanded for Corbitant. There was a bit of confusion and three Indians darted out in fear and were wounded by the Pilgrims (they were later nursed to health by the Pilgrims in Plymouth). Then Squanto walked out to them, safe and sound, and told them that Corbitant had fled. The Indians in the village feared the English, and the boys, seeing the gentle way the Pilgrims treated the women, cried out “I am a women”. After making known their loyalty to Massasoit and their determination to see justice done to Corbitant, the Pilgrims went back to Plymouth. This swift and definite action by the English caused Corbitant’s followers to be discouraged and to desert Corbitant, and when Massasoit showed up he helped reconcile Corbitant to the English (which the English graciously did). It also caused the Indian tribes to respect the English and seek peace with them; even islands far to the south sent messengers to make peace with them.

Things seemed peaceful again, but the Narigansets were not defeated yet. They made their next move in late November. This was actually after the “First Thanksgiving”, but for the sake of this talk I will continue the Nariganset story, and come back to Thanksgiving. The danger of the Narigansets and the strength of the Pilgrims had strengthened the relationship between the Pilgrims and their allies and the Narigansets knew that had to act soon. (That the Pilgrims were regarded as formidable is remarkable when you consider that they consisted at this point of only about 50-60 men, women, and children) The Narigansets finally sent a messenger to the Pilgrims with a bundle of arrows tied with a snakeskin as a threat and challenge of warfare if the Pilgrims did not leave. The English boldly replied with filling the snakeskin with bullets and gunpowder with message that “if they had rather have war then peace, they might begin when they would; they had done them no wrong, neither did they fear them, or should they find them unprovided.” This caused the Narigansets to fear, and they sent the snakeskin from village to village, none wanting to have it, it eventually came back to the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims built a wall around Plymouth and started to train for combat, but the Narigansets did not carry through with their threat. Thus, due to both respecting the tribes around them and seeking peace, and being fully prepared for war and defense when needed, they won peace and respect from the peoples around them. I might add that America is almost in the opposite position, where we don’t much respect the sovereignty of other nations and don’t seek much peace, while we seem to be pretty indefinite in waging our wars. And so it should not be a surprise that we get little respect from the peoples around us.

To be continued...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Pilgrims in 1621, Part 3: Trade

Continuing in 1621 there are two events that show the Pilgrims’ policies when it came to trading and exploration. Shortly after the expedition to Massasoit came back, a boy named John Billington lost himself in the woods. John Billington had already been a trouble maker, as he and his brother had almost blown up the Mayflower on the trip over. This time he simply lost his way. The English sent word to Massasoit to find out where he was, and learned that he had survived on wild berries for five days until some Indians found him, and he had been taken to a village called Nawsett over 20 miles away. This was a precarious position as some earlier English explorers had kidnapped some of these Indians and it was these Indians that had shot arrows at the Pilgrims during the winter. It was also found out that it was these Indians that the Pilgrims had taken corn from. So the Pilgrims sent an expedition down to Nawsett to try to retrieve the boy and to appease the natives. When they got there, they were greatly relived to find a relatively warm reception. There was some that were angry at the Englishmen, but the Pilgrims apologized for the wicked deeds of their countrymen and promised good will between them. They gave gifts and offered to pay for the corn they had taken. The Indians then peace with the English, promises to come and trade with them, and gave them the boy. This was a providential blessing for the Pilgrims and could have been much worse. It brings to mind Proverbs 16:7, “When a man's ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” In fact, this verse is applicable to many of the Pilgrims’ encounters.

The second event that shows the Pilgrims’ policy of trade and exploration happened in September. The Pilgrims, never ones to be lazy, determined to send out another expedition, this time to the north, to the Massachusets tribe, near what is now Boston. Again they wanted to explore the area around them, to make peace with this tribe (there had been rumors that this tribe had threatened them), and to trade with them. As they traveled they remarked at the beauty and potential of the land, but remembered as Bradford put it, “it seems the Lord, who assigns to all men the bounds of their habitations, had appointed it for an other use.” Instead of the being land grabbers like many later Americans, particularly in the west were known as, they both admired the land, and respected the Indians’ claim to it. When they first arrived to where the Massachusets lived, they found that they had fled in fear. They finally found some of the women and children huddled in some huts. Squanto showed his Indian view of ethics when he suggested that the Pilgrims steal anything they needed from the women and children, because the Massachusets were a bad people and had threatened the Pilgrims behind their back. The Pilgrims answered that even if the Massachusets were as bad as Squanto said the Pilgrims would not wrong them, for they little weighed their words, but if they once attempted any aggression against them, they would do much more than merely take some trinkets. The Pilgrims then traded with the Massachusets, and slowly won their confidence, and invited them to come and trade at Plymouth. The Pilgrims were not preemptive in there actions, merely attacking because of who they were or what they could have said, but sought peace as far as possible, overlooking offenses, and reserved war for when it was really needed in defense. And when they meant war, they did not want to mess around with minor things, but when they fought it was a serious and definite thing. We can see this seriousness in two more events in 1621 that showed the Pilgrims’ way of justice and warfare.

To be continued...

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Pilgrims in 1621, Part 2: Agriculture

Let us first start in the Spring of 1621 as the Pilgrims (or more properly the English) and the Indian tribes planted and worked in the fields of agriculture. We can see that both the English and the native tribes had skills and abilities the other lacked and their working together helped both of them survive. We read in William Bradford’s book Of Plymouth Plantation “Afterwards they...began to plant their corn, in which service Squanto stood them in great stead, showing them both the manner how to set it, and after how to dress and tend it.” Squanto and the Indian tribes had great experience with the land that the English lacked. They had a history of learning from mistakes and finding what worked. Squanto taught the English to fertilize their corn with the fish that would spawn in the river nearby at just the right time. If they didn’t, the nutrients in the land would get used up. Here we can recognize that God provided the Indians with fish that would spawn at just the right time to fertilize the land so they could eat and live. As Matthew 5:45 says, God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45) as an example for us to love even our enemies and those that are ungodly. Here the Pilgrims reap the benefits of working with the pagan tribes by learning the good things God had given them. This was a very providential blessing as their own seed did not do well, but thanks to this help they had enough food.

But despite God’s blessing on the native tribes, they were not exactly prosperous and thriving. The help was not all one sided, as we can see from an event that happened two months later. It had been a little time since the English had seen Massasoit and so they sent two men along with Squanto to meet with him. This expedition had several objectives. First, to reaffirm peace with Massasoit and to keep a good relationship with him. Second, to exchange for seed for experimentation. Our family can relate to this objective. This last Spring in Colorado we planted a large variety of things to see what grows and what doesn’t. Some things like the okra and green beans did not do well, while the lettuce and turnips did great. The Pilgrims wanted to make sure that had a variety of things planted in case some failed. Third, to find out which tribe it was that they had taken corn from in the winter, so they could pay them back for it. We will come back to this later. Fourth, to explore the area around them. And fifth, to limit hungry visitors. It is this last objective that shows something about the Indians’ work ethic and food production. What was happening was there were many Indians that were taking advantage of the Pilgrim’s hospitality and staying there eating up their food. The Pilgrims wanted to be hospitable, but did not want to run out of food and so asked Massasoit to limit visitors to the amount they could handle. They were generous with gifts and hospitality, but did not want to become welfare providers, especially when they couldn’t afford it. :)

As the small expedition went out they could start to see why many Indians preferred to get the food from the English, because the Indians, despite having a great abundance of natural resources, still struggled in having a stable food supply and clean habitations. As Edward Winslow (one of the two men on the expedition) says in his book Mourt’s Relation, describing a meager meal they had with Massasoit, “this meal only we had in two nights and a day, and had not one of us bought a partridge we had taken our journey fasting:...he was to have us stay with them longer: but we desired to keep the Sabbath at home: and feared we should either be light-headed for want of sleep, for...with bad lodging, the savages' barbarous singing (for they use to sing themselves asleep), lice and fleas within doors, and mosquitoes without, we could hardly sleep all the time of our being there; we much fearing that if we should stay any longer, we should not be able to recover home for want of strength.” Also Bradford remarks concerning this lack of prosperity among the Indians, “For the Indians used then to have nothing so much corn as they have since the English have stored them with their hows, and seen [the Englishmen’s] industry in breaking up new grounds therewith.” Also, on their trip some Indians desired that the Englishmen kill some crows, because they had been ruining the corn. There the two Englishmen with their superior weapons killed 80 crows in an afternoon.

We can see that the Indians benefited both from observing the English work ethic, and the technology it produced (such as guns and hows). This work ethic had come from the long history of Christendom where it had been taught that work is worship to God, that work is a blessing, and that we are created to work and produce to the glory of God. That our first command from God is to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion”. (Gen. 1:28) Even the monks in the Middle Ages were taught this and spent much of their time in working and agriculture. The Protestant Reformation continued this and expanded it with its teaching of vocation, that the farmer and the pastor are both doing God’s work. The Pilgrims understood the importance of work and produced great things. When we were in Plymouth in 2009 we saw a mill built only 15 years after the Pilgrims first landed. It was amazingly intricately designed with all sorts of wheels, gears, stones, and levers, and it is still working! We see that the Christianity of the Pilgrims made them hard-working, productive, and a relatively prosperous society.

To be continued...

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Pilgrims in 1621, Part 1: Introduction

Yes, its Thanksgiving again and its time to hear the story of the Pilgrims. We often hear something about the Pilgrims every year and it usually goes like this: “The Pilgrims were forced from England, had to leave Holland, they went in the Mayflower to Plymouth where they almost all died from the winter, but they survived and met the Indians and celebrated Thanksgiving with them, thankful for surviving the winter". This is an important story and it is much like the one I told last year. But it leaves a lot out. This year I am going to post a series, covering some of the events of 1621. There are many years after 1621 that I won’t be able to get to, but even in 1621, the year of the first Thanksgiving, there are many events that are only briefly remembered or totally forgotten. These events tell us much about the Pilgrims as a people and society. They did not merely lay on there backs from surviving the winter to Thanksgiving, but were active and interactive with the land and peoples around them. They did not just aim to survive, but to thrive and produce. As we will see, the Pilgrims are a great example of a hard-working, just, and joyful society, built primarily on the Word of God.

To be continued...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dabney on Corporations vs. Family Economy

An excerpt from The Philosophy Regulating Private Corporations by R. L. Dabney:

"I urge, third, that the forms of industry promoted by the powerful corporations tend to to undermine the domestic and personal independence of the yeomanry. The associated means of production supplant the individual, the products of the older and more independent forms of industry retreat before those of the corporations. The time was when manufactures were literally “domestic,” the occupations of people in their homes. The producing yeoman was a “free-holder,” a person whose vital significance to British liberty our times have almost forgotten. He dwelt and labored under his own roof-tree. He was his own man, the free-holder of the homestead where his productions were created by the skill and labor of himself and his family and servants. Now all this is changed. The wheel and the loom are no longer heard in the home. Vast factories, owned by corporations, for whose governors the cant of the age has already found their appropriate name as “kings of industry,” now undersell the home products everywhere. The axe and hoe which the husbandman wields, once made at the country forge, the shoe upon his mule’s feet, the plough with which he turns the soil, the very helve of his implement, all come from the factory. The housewife’s industry in brewing her own yeast can hardly survive, but is supplanted by some “incorporated” “baking powder,” in which chemical adulteration may have full play. Thus the centralization of capital leads at once to the centralization and degradation of the population. The free-holding yeoman citizen is sunk into the multitudinous mass of the proletariat, dependent upon the corporation for his work, his wages, his cottage, his kitchen garden, and privilege of buying the provisions for his family. In place of the freeman’s domestic independence, he now has the corrupting and doubtful resource of the “labor union” and the “strike.” His wife and children are dragged from the retirement of a true home into the foul and degrading publicity of the festering manufacturing village...Thus conditions of social organization are again produced more incompatible than feudalism with republican institutions."

The family economy has been decimated by our modern social systems, leading to economic and political slavery, and the disintegration of the family in life and culture. Come to the Family Economics Conference as we learn how to restore the family in today's society.