During the first winter, the Pilgrims faced a devastating blow when nearly half their number died from sickness. The long months at sea with rotten food had weakened them. While scurvy claimed some lives, others died of pneumonia and consumption. Throughout the long winter the healthy cared for the sick. There were days when only five men were well enough to care for the others. In the end, 47 of the original 102 Pilgrims died. When spring began to appear, the Pilgrims prayed and hoped for a bright future.

The first spring began with a surprise. Walking boldly into Plymouth one day was an Indian. To their amazement he spoke English. His name was Samoset, and he helped them make a treaty with Massasoit, their nearest neighbor. He also introduced them to Squanto, who proved to be a "special instrument" sent by God to help them.

Several years before, Squanto of the Patuxet tribe had been captured by a slave trader and taken to Europe where he learned English. He eventually escaped, but when he returned to his homeland he discovered that his tribe and family had died of the plague. Strangely, Plymouth was built on the piece of land that had been his home. At once Squanto found himself drawn to the white men and deeply desired to help them. If it had not been for Squanto, the Pilgrims may not have survived. Squanto taught them how to fish, plant corn, and fertilize the ground with fish. He interpreted for them with the Indians and helped them trade with various tribes. Indeed, he assisted the Pilgrims in learning the ways of their new home. When fall emerged, the Pilgrims gathered a good harvest. Cheerfully the Pilgrims celebrated a day of Thanksgiving to God and invited the Indians to join in their merrymaking. The Pilgrims observed their first Thanksgiving!

Resourcefully, the Pilgrims prepared for the coming frost. They felt prepared for the winter until one day in November, 1621, the Fortune arrived with 35 colonists and only a few provisions. Before long everyone was put on half rations. Starvation began to set in and it appeared that this winter would be as bad as the first. Each person received only five kernels of corn a day, but by the miraculous hand of God everyone survived the second winter.

The following summer they built houses and improved their living conditions. By the third summer, Governor William Bradford and the leaders began praying about how to produce a more abundant crop. Private property was the answer. Since first landing, the Pilgrims tried living in a communal setting, but it never provided enough food. Remarking on the venture of private property Bradford said, "This was very successful." Never again were the Pilgrims in danger of starvation. In 1623, they gathered a bountiful harvest.

With so many blessings, the Pilgrims had a second Thanksgiving. Wishing to share their joy with others, the Indians were again invited. Massassoit arrived with his head wife, three other chiefs, and 120 braves. Before the feast began everyone was served a dish with only five small kernels of corn, a reminder of how God had faithfully preserved them.

The Pilgrims were a group of righteous individuals who followed whole-heartedly after God. When confronted with persecution they persevered with Christian virtue. Constantly they sought the Lord's will and tried to faithfully follow it. Above all they knew how to praise the Lord. When they experienced abundant blessings they were thankful, and when suffering came they knew God would provide. May we find encouragement from their rich Christian legacy.

Study Questions & Follow up Research:

  • What religious group were the Pilgrims associated with?
  • List some of the reasons for the Pilgrims settling in America.
  • On a map find England and locate these towns: Southampton and Plymouth also find Leyden, Holland, and Plymouth, Massachusetts.
  • At your Thanksgiving dinner place five kernels of corn by each place to remember the Pilgrims and the things they sacrificed for religious freedom.
  • Read Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford. This is an excellent book about the Pilgrims, their depth of character and Christian virtue. A wonderful book for children about the Pilgrims is Three Young Pilgrims by Cheryl Harness. This beautifully illustrated book lets you see the Mayflower, first winter, and Thanksgiving through the eyes of three historical Pilgrim children.
  • To learn more about Squanto's fascinating life, listen to The Legend of Squanto by Focus on the Family Radio Theatre.
  • Make a Pilgrim meal. Eating the Plates, a Pilgrim Book of Food and Manners by Lucille Recht Penner and Food and Recipes of the Pilgrims by George Erdosh are both excellent resources with Pilgrim recipes.

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Amy Puetz, a homeschool graduate, loves history, sewing, and working as a computer graphic artist for her company A to Z Designs. She is also the author of the exciting book Costumes with Character.  Visit her website at http://a2zdesigns.vcn.com. She makes her home in Wright, Wyoming.

This article was originally published in the Nov/Dec '05 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information, visit http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com. To request a free sample copy, visit  http://homeschoolenrichment.com/magazine/request-sample-issue.html