William Brewster's voice filled the cool October air as he said a benediction of thanksgiving to God Almighty. Around him, the other Pilgrims nodded their heads in heartfelt agreement; chief Massasoit and the 90 Wampanogs Indians with him sat quietly in respect for the white man's God. With the prayer completed, the feasting began. The tables were heavily laden with delicious dressed deer, wild turkey, nutritious vegetables, scrumptious pies, and various breads made from corn. Joyously the celebrations continued for three days. There were foot races, wrestling matches, contests with guns, bows and arrows, and even a military drill led by Captain Standish. The Pilgrims' first Thanksgiving was truly a momentous celebration.

Who were these brave souls who had settled in a harsh wilderness and what caused them to leave their homes in Europe? The Pilgrims belonged to a group of devoted Christians called Separatists. In England, during the reign of King James I, there were two leading factions that opposed the Church of England. The Puritans were one group thus called because they wanted to purify the Church from within. The other group were the Separatists who completely broke away from the Church of England. The party of Separatists who later became the Pilgrims lived in the Midlands town of Scrooby, but because of religious persecution they fled to Leyden, Holland. Although they enjoyed religious freedom in Holland, they found life very hard. They worked long hours and they saw that it would be easy for their children to be lured into the sinful pleasures of the world. Prayerfully they sought the will of God. God confirmed to them that they should begin a settlement in the New World. Lacking the financial means to attempt such an adventure, they borrowed money from a group of London Adventurers. The Adventurers were very corrupt and in the end the Pilgrims paid an exorbitant amount.

Finally, in 1620, their journey began. Sailing first to England aboard their ship the Speedwell, they were joined by the larger vessel, the Mayflower. At Southampton, the "saints," as the Separatists called themselves, met the other settlers who were also traveling to the New World. Many of the "strangers," as the Separatists named them, proved sympathetic to the religious beliefs of the Separatists. Others were just looking for excitement. On August 5, 1620, they set sail, only to have to turn back twice because the Speedwell proved leaky. Eventually they continued with only the Mayflower. For 66 days they endured the tempest and fury of the Atlantic Ocean. They praised God when land was sighted. Before leaving the Mayflower, the Pilgrims, "saints," and "strangers" drew up a document that was a binding agreement between them. The Mayflower Compact--which began with the words "In the name of God, Amen"--was the first document of self-government in North America. Bravely they faced the unknown with the knowledge that they and their children would be free to worship God as He was leading them.

The first winter in Plymouth Plantation was filled with many hardships, but the Pilgrims were always grateful for every blessing whether small or great. Faithfully God provided an ideal location for their town. Their charter was for land in Virginia, but heavy storms had prevented them from going south. When they arrived in New England, they found an abandoned piece of land they named Plymouth in honor of the last English town they had sailed from. The ground had been cleared and was ready for planting. Before the Pilgrims arrived, this land had belonged to the Patuxet Indians. They had ferociously killed every white man who ventured into their territory. Then, oddly, a strange plague began among them and eventually destroyed the entire tribe. Since the other tribes in the area saw how peculiarly the Patuxet had died, they avoided the region. Therefore this piece of earth was uninhabited and belonged to no one. The Pilgrims gave thanks to God.