By Amy McCollom
It’s that time again. Turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, football on the TV, somebody snoring in the recliner from a food coma. The great American Thanksgiving Day celebration. Oh, and don’t forget the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade! I always love the parades. I hope this pandemic doesn’t mess that up for everyone.
So what about the pilgrims? You can’t forget about the pilgrims. I’m not referring to those cute little pilgrim shaped salt and pepper shakers Aunt Violet sets out every Thanksgiving, or those construction paper hats and collars that the kids made at school and insist on wearing to the dinner table. Real pilgrims. Did you know that the word pilgrim means traveler who is on a journey to a holy place? Since that’s the case, I am definitely a pilgrim! This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.
William Brewster was a pilgrim on the Mayflower. He was, in fact, the head pilgrim, if I may. He not only started a separtist congregation in his own home in Scrooby England, he also led that group to Holland to escape persecution and prosecution in England, and then led them on a journey to the New World. He was a very smart man, gentle and kind, hardworking, a good writer and publisher, had a knack for teaching, and knew three languages. He was also my 12th great grandfather. (Verified through familysearch.org) I think that is really cool.
Thanksgiving Day is going to mean a lot more to me this year because of that. I have done some research and found out a few things about this great man, William Brewster, and what I found was pretty fascinating. His life before boarding the Mayflower could be made into a movie.
William Brewster began working as an assistant for William Davison, Secretary of State to Queen Elizabeth I of England, and made several trips to Holland in his job duties with Davison. Queen Elizabeth I had a rival, (Mary, Queen of Scots) and managed to pull Davison into her plans to have her rival executed. After the death of Mary, Queen of Scots, Queen Elizabeth I blamed Davison and had him stripped of his title and imprisoned to take the responsibility off of herself. She later pardoned and released Davison, but never gave him back his title.
After these things occurred, William Brewster went back to his hometown of Scrooby, Nottinghamshire England (yes, near Sherwood Forest), and took over as Post (or Postmaster) in his father’s stead after he passed away.
It was at his home, the Manor House in Scrooby, where he began to set up secret church services for the separatists. Eventually, word got out and several of the members of this secret Separtist congregation were arrested and fined. The heat was on. It was decided by the members that to worship freely, they must leave England, and William Brewster suggested the Netherlands. Once it was agreed upon, Brewster made the arrangements.
Leaving wasn’t easy, though. The members of the group were being watched constantly. The first two attempts failed, as the travelers were betrayed by Angelican “do-gooders’ and more of the pilgrims were arrested and fined. But the third try was successful and they landed in Amsterdam. After about a year, they moved to Leiden, where they stayed for about ten years, but they had a horrible time making ends meet, as wages were low, work was hard, and they were strangers in a foreign land. They longed to start their own community and church, and keep their own language and culture.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was when William Brewster printed a scathing paper demeaning the King’s religious practices, and he was outed. Soon the church was on the run, literally, to a waiting ship. In the midnight hour, as a prison wagon was on the way for them, the small congregation and the Webster family (including a two-day old daughter), hurried through thick, dark forest, wet marshland, crossed crooked riverbeds, and made it to the waiting ship.
It’s not exactly the send-off I imagined the pilgrims had on their way to the new world. I never imagined they were running for their lives. I can’t fathom the fear and anxiety in the hearts of the mothers with the children, or the bravery of the fathers, or the hope and faith that must have taken to do that.
The Mayflower was not a cruise ship. The pilgrims were packed in a small cabin like sardines. Storms raged, and they could not see daylight except on very good days. They stayed in the belly of that ship for 65 days. And we complain about being quarantined for 14 days in our luxurious warm homes with food and running water. My, my, my.
That first year was the hardest they had ever endured. 102 people made the journey. Over half were dead by the end of the first year. They started with nothing, but hope, faith, and each other. Is that enough? A year later they celebrated with a feast that lasted for days. Music and dancing and food galore. How thankful are you, pilgrim?
Let’s stop and think about that today, shall we. May our hearts be filled with gratitude for all we have.