This weekend represents an anniversary of sorts for America. After setting sail twice in July of 1620, but turning back due to ship leaks, the Mayflower finally left the Old World for the New on Sept. 6, 1620.
The Pilgrims on the Mayflower faced a two-month-long journey that would cast them off-course, away from their planned landing to the place we know as Plymouth Rock.
There were, of course, other settlers in America at the time. But 400 years ago this weekend, our spiritual ancestors set sail for American shores, a new life, and freedom from the Church of England.
And 400 years ago, they established the mythos, the origin story of America that continues to guide us.
As the Pilgrims neared land, deciding to settle outside of where their contract allowed, they formed the Mayflower Compact. Part of it reads:
Having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, covenant, and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic […]
They bound themselves together as one and memorialized that covenant, along with the goals they intended to achieve. The many became one.
You can hear similar notes a couple of centuries later, from the Founding generation, in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Those documents, just as the Mayflower Compact, brought everyone together as equals in the new cause.
And while philosophers have made these same points in words, America has it built into its very foundation, from culture through key documents. It’s why the Declaration of Independence says plainly: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
And it’s why the Constitution leads off by saying: “We the People of the United States…do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The Pilgrims were the political and spiritual forbearers of the Founding generation in so many ways. The first governor of the Plymouth colony, William Bradford, once wrote:
May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: “Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness but they cried unto the Lord, and He heard their voice, and looked on their adversity, [etc.]. Let them therefore praise the Lord, because He is good, and His mercies endure forever. Yea, let them which have been redeemed of the Lord, shew how He hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor. When they wandered in the; desert wilderness out of the way, and found no city to dwell in, both hungry, and thirsty, their soul was overwhelmed in them. Let them confess before the Lord His loving kindness, and His wonderful works before the sons of men.”
They carried that religious spirit into celebrating the first Thanksgiving the following year. The 400th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving marked by the Pilgrims is next year, 2021.
The dates for the first Thanksgiving are a little harder to nail down, but according to the Chicago Tribune, historians say “[t]he event occurred between September 21 and November 11, 1621…with the most likely time being around Michaelmas (September 29), the traditional time.”
Michaelmas, or the Feast of the Archangels, is named after the archangels of Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. That celebration is also close to the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles. In fact, in 1621, the two holidays overlapped, with Michaelmas falling on the same day as Erev Sukkot.
It’s possible that, knowingly or unknowingly, the first Thanksgiving could be linked with both Jewish and Christian holidays, which helps cement that Judeo-Christian heritage permanently.
Between celebrating the 400th anniversary of the passage of the Mayflower and next year, the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving, it’s an era of milestones for America. It’s fitting that Thanksgiving is the holiday associated with these anniversaries. We should give thanks to all our forbearers, from the Pilgrims to the Founders.
Those generations developed off of each other to create the world we see today. And we should build on their shoulders, not tear it down as the mob would say today, or as the ahistorical 1619 Project would do at The New York Times.
As you enter this weekend, think about the Pilgrims who were setting sail at this point, 400 years ago. They wouldn’t arrive for another 66 days. But foundations of what they built still stand today, 400 years later. And hopefully, it stands for 400 more.