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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Remembering to Thank God

Sir Walter Raleigh’s first attempts at settling the New World were disastrous. Much of this was the result of refusing to put God and His will first. The English, who were at that time trying to gain a foothold on the New World, were succumbing to the same greed that had earlier blinded the Spaniards. Starvation, disease, hostile Indians, and other hardships, including a whole colony lost (the Lost Colony of Roanoke), led to dampened enthusiasm for New World expeditions.

It would be nearly 20 years after Raleigh’s initial ventures before enough English interest could again be sparked for more New World adventure. In 1602, one of Raleigh’s captains, Bartholomew Gosnold, sailed to what is now Maine with 32 men. Fearing the natives, disease, and the coming winter, they returned to England less than four months after leaving.

Undeterred, Gosnold obtained an exclusive charter from King James I to form The Virginia Company with the purpose of establishing permanent settlements in North America. He and his fellow adventurers on December 16, 1606 again sailed for North America.

Despite recruiting “sermons” that contained messages of evangelical outreach, and the preamble of the Company’s charter, written by King James I, which contained the words, “…propagating of Christian religion to such people as yet live in darkness and miserable ignorance of the true knowledge and worship of God, and may in time bring the infidels and savages, living in these parts, to human civility and to a settled and quiet government,” the lust for gold was, again, what drove the men of this expedition.

Evidence of this fact was that this first expedition sent by The Virginia Company contained exclusively men, 144 of them. Among them were no women or families, nor were these men heads of households going to prepare a homestead. Also, among these 144 was only one minister. In the words of David Marshall and Peter Manuel, these 144 men “were interested in one thing: getting their gold chamber pots and returning to England as soon as possible.”

On May 14, 1607, headed by a seven-man council, which included John Smith, these 144 men settled Jamestown. Because of their misguided efforts it was a disaster from the beginning. These men battled the elements, disease (including malaria), Indians, starvation, and one another. The lone minister on the adventure, Robert Hunt, did his best to keep the others focused on God. His sermons went mostly unheeded; however, he persevered. By February of 1608 only 38 of the 144 remained alive.

News of what was really happening in Virginia began to get back to England. To counteract this news The Virginia Company increased its propaganda campaign. They were successful for a while, and therefore investors continued to invest and settlers continued to settle. According to Marshall and Manuel, “The death rate in Virginia that second year was—incredibly—even higher than the first: out of every ten people that embarked for theNew World, nine would die!”

The death rate did not abate with time. Marshall and Manuel add, “For example, of the 1,200 people who went out to Virginia in 1619, only 200 were left alive by 1620. Why this horrible continuing death rate? There is no logical explanation, except one: year after year they steadfastly refused to trust God—or indeed to include Him in any of their deliberations.”

The next settlers to cross the Atlantic were not coming seeking wealth and prosperity, but were seeking a new home. They believed that America was their destiny. The Pilgrims, and the Puritans who followed them, are the people most responsible for the foundation of America as a Christian nation, and they knew better than to undertake anything without God.

On November 11, 1620, after dropping anchor in Cape Cod, the Pilgrims drafted a compact that would embody the same principles of government upon which American Democracy would rest. It read, “In the name of God, amen. We whose names are under-written…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…constitute and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony…the 11th of November…Anno Domini 1620.”

On November 29, 1623, two years after the first Thanksgiving, Governor William Bradford made an official proclamation for a day of Thanksgiving. In it Governor Bradford thanked God for their abundant harvest, bountiful game, protection from “the ravages of savages…and disease,” and for the “freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.”

The Pilgrims had the proper perspective. As Bradford would so discernibly note, “As one small candle may light a thousand, so the light kindled here has shown unto many, yea in some sort to our whole nation…We have noted these things so that you might see their worth and not negligently lose what your fathers have obtained with so much hardship.”

May we never forget the harsh lessons that many who attempted to settle this precious land had to learn due to turning away from their Creator and Provider. May we never forget all the struggles and hardships that those who founded our great nation had to endure. Last, may we never forget those godly principles and truths upon which our great nation was founded and thank Him who is the giver of all good things.

Copyright 2008, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World
tthomas@trevorgrantthomas.com

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