Deeds Of God Title Banner

Main Menu


Articles View Hits

1620 A.D.: The Pilgrims Land On A Ravaged And Harsh North American Coast For Their First Winter





  In North America some hundreds of years ago there were a great many native tribes and peoples living their lives.  Sometimes a number of 400 tribes is used. They varied widely in habits, and truthfully still seemed to be in flux in many areas of the continent.  Tribes were still moving from one location to another, and displacing each other in parts of the future nation of the United States.  A reading of the Lewis and Clark diaries as they travelled across the little known western U.S. towards the Pacific in the opening years of the 1800's reveals that it was fairly common for them to be approached by tribes asking protection from stronger or more aggressive tribes. Surrounding their winter-overs with the Mandan tribe were several instances of such requests for protection.

  In other areas of the nation some stability had been obtained, as with the Iroquois confederation. And we all know that some of the world's greatest civilizations developed in the Americas - Inca, Aztec, Maya, Toltec, Olmec. So there was a broad spectrum of societal types and methods of living to be found in the Americas. But there were definately some power struggles going on.

  As a Christian that sometimes reads histories of Christianity's spread I have come to believe that God meant it when He directed Jesus to sit down while He (the Father) made Jesus's enemies into a foot stool for His feet. It's just a little verse, but Jesus is so gentle and loving and forgiving. He never advocated war or killing. Yet there has been much war and conflict as Christianity has spread and both Christian and non-Christian have noted the paradox. How can Jesus want such violence to be done in His name?  I don't believe He does, but He knows that the Holy Father is righteous in all that He does. 

   I see it as the Father directing human events towards the fulfillment of His intentions for His Son, Jesus.  I know that in Europe,  for instance, there were those countries that became Christian the easy way, and those others that became Christian the hard way when they wouldn't do it the easy way. It seems like Christianity is introduced to nations when they are in a position of strength and able to reject it. But if they do reject it, it seems that natural and political events conspire to have them subdued by a nation where Jesus is recognized as God.

  When I read about Europeans coming to America, I'm often ashamed at how we acted towards the Native Americans. I wonder if I would have been the same. But now, one side of me just accepts all of the bigger things of the world as being God's will or else allowance for the furtherance of His great plan.  Still, we must all work at keeping our conscience clear.   We can't say "I will join with this bad group because there is gain in it for me.  And besides, they won't succeed unless God allows it, so I am really guilty of nothing."  If we believe a cause is bad, can we join it in innocence?" 

  It wasn't noble intentions or goodness on the European's part to 'subdue' the 'savage heathen natives'. And they did use such words for them.  It's part of our hypocrisy that we do bad things for gain and try to ascribe noble motives to them.  And we label our victims such as to cast them in the most villainous light when we do.  But history makes it clear that most European colonies to the Americas relied pretty heavily on Native American hospitality and know-how to even survive their initial years.

  It's not entirely unfair to characterize the European colonists as greedy or selfish uninvited invaders that came to the American shores too ignorant to even survive here, who accepted Native American assistance and hospitality as they learned what they could eat, how to grow it, how to make native style houses, which plants were useful, medicinal, edible, etc. Then once they were peddling without training wheels, it seems they would use most any pretext to war against the tribes and help themselves to the land, etc., of their former mentors. And treaties....good gracious did we break a lot of treaties with Native Americans. It's shameless.

  But, the question is still a valid one: was it God's will that Native Americans, who obviously did not worship Yahweh or Jesus, should be defeated and driven from their old and idolatrous ways into new ways, Christian ways, which might lead to the salvation of many Native American souls? In Europe that certainly seems to have been God's pattern. Those who spurned knowledge of Jesus, the son of God, were driven into the arms they would not be called into. God made all men, and does with them as He wishes.

  As for justifying this, God of course doesn't need to, but even I can see that you can't choose Jesus if you don't know of His existence. And existing 'false religions' have their own power structures intent on keeping out other religions. Sometimes destruction of a false religion's power structure might be the only way to make knowledge of Jesus available to the common man in that particular culture.  God has frequently faced a situation where Jesus is being presented to a nation that worships false gods and has no intention of quitting.  So, does He destroy their power and society for the sake of their unborn children, or does He wait, while newly born generations of that heathen people are allowed to live and die not knowing of Jesus?  We are all God's creations to do with as He wishes.  We have free will, but we cannot use it without consequences.

  In the case of north eastern North America in the early 1600's, the Native Americans were living happily enough lives in many respects. They liked European objects and manufacturing, but as for the Europeans themselves, they seem to have had a pretty dismal opinion of our character, morals, odor (most Europeans bathed little if at all, while America's native peoples often enjoyed bathing) and they often weren't impressed by the European physical appearance. Most visitors to early America encountered a native population that was taller and fitter than the European, and quite well adjusted to their lives. Many early European writers mentioning traits of the American tribes remarked upon what a fine looking people they were - clean limbed and self controlled, often with quite handsome or beautiful features.

  Some tribes only allowed sailors to get off their ships for short trading periods, and they had their women remain mostly out of sight because the Europeans didn't seem to be able to conduct themselves in a civil fashion around their women. They fed the sailors, traded with the sailors, and then it was time for the sailors to go back to the ship. Prior to 1620 when the Pilgrims landed, this had frequently been the way things were done between N/E coastal tribes and visiting European vessals for about 30 years, I've read.

  Sometimes the sailors would catch a Native American alone somewhere and abduct them. They would just steal them and make them a slave. Nice, huh? It would be sort of a novelty back in Europe to show off your American Indian slave. There weren't many such. People were curious about them.

  In 1614, for instance, an Indian named Squanto was taken captive in this manner from the Massachusetts area. He was Pawtuxet tribe. He was taken captive and slave by a visiting English sea captain named George Waymouth in 1607 it says in the 'Book of the Indians', actually arriving with 4 other captives (Manida, Skettwarroes, Dehamda, and Assacumet) originating from near to his own Cape Cod area, at the harbor of Plymouth in England.  He was highly resourceful and soon learned some English.  In fact he even made friends with his owner and arranged to have himself shipped back home to America in 1619.

  But, when he arrived back on the East coast of America, he found that his tribe, as with a number of the coastal North Eastern tribes, had been decimated by a terrible European disease to which they had little resistance. A stretch of American shoreline once heavily peopled by strong tribes had become destroyed by this disease. Some say it was hepatitus, others small pox. I don't think it's yet definatively proven which disease did the job, but it wrecked havoc on tens of thousands, sometimes taking nearly a whole village.

  Squanto went to dwell with the nearby Wampanoag tribes. It was a large confederation of about 30 villages, but it too had been hit by the sickness. In fact, it had been in a pretty evenly matched 'cold war', to borrow a modern term, with the sea coast dwelling Pequot's to the North. The Wampanoags had been hit by the sickness, but the Pequots really hadn't. So the Wampanoags were in a vulnerable position. They had lost around 90% of their people. If the Pequots knew just how weak they had become.....who knows??

  Into this troubled situation a small ship sailed. The Mayflower was a vessal which carried around 102 'Saints' in the year 1620 from Plymouth to Plymouth. They were supposed to sail from Plymouth, England to a spot in Virginia which they had negotiated to have as their colony, but there had been bad weather, and they had landed in the wrong spot, far to the north.  Had they landed in the intended spot, so many things would have turned out differently!  But as it turned out, they left Plymouth England, and arrived to a stretch of American coast which was already marked on the nautical maps of the time as 'Plymouth'. The 'Saints' comprised only part of the immigrant population aboard the ship. That's what the Pilgrims first called themselves...Saints...and it was not until decades later that the name 'Pilgrim' was applied to them. The others on board they called 'the strangers'. The strangers wanted to colonize as well, but did not belong to their particular Christian denomination.

  Two people died during the 65 or 66 day voyage from Plymouth (England) to Plymouth (North America). And George Bush had a relative that was washed overboard but managed to grasp a rope trailing in the water. Though it was noted that he was pulled along underwater for some time, he was successfully fished back out alive. To the eventual delight of the Republican party two U.S. Presidents were to spring from his loins. 

  These Pilgrims were Separatists, and Separatists were Protestants who basically felt that the Protestant movement had failed to rid itself of enough of the Catholic trappings that they had originally objected against to truly please God. The Pilgrims wanted a more scripturally based faith. And so they broke with the Church of England to have this, and set themselves up in an English town called Scrooby, in Nottinghamshire, England. But the 125 or so of them who went to Scrooby were pretty sharply persecuted by their brother Protestants in that area.

  With so much resistance against them in the Scrooby, England area, they decided to move to an area of the Netherlands then called the 'United States' to enjoy the greater religious freedom, but after a dozen years in Holland they had found themselves doing poorly economically, and weren't liking the Dutch habits their children were picking up (I don't know what habits those were, as the Dutch are pretty frugal and practical people, but that was their view). So, they used some contacts that they had and obtained a land patent in the Americas. Some boarded the Mayflower. Some stayed behind in Leiden, Holland.  A second ship they meant to also cross over in, the Speedwell, had too many leaks, so its passengers were transferred.  They got a late start across the sea.  It was becoming winter.  And they landed in North America in a particularly cold period of years.

  Arrived in Plymouth Harbor, and having written up the Mayflower Compact with the 'Strangers' so that they felt they would have a common understanding of how they would govern themselves, they disembarked and began to try to survive the winter, though they continued to make use of the ship. They made plans for survival, and their plans were not good ones.

  About 1/2 of God's little flock did not live through the first winter. Roughly a 50% mortality rate in just one winter!!! About 1/2 the fathers died. About 3/4 of the mothers died.  The children did slightly better. 

  Talk about a tough first winter! That left a lot of shattered families. This was in their very first winter, and it was only part of a winter, as they landed in December.

  Seldom do batallions of soldiers ever suffer those sorts of casualties in wartime. If you were to ask a lot of Americans to name a bloody battle from World War II, a good number would probably say 'Omaha Beach'.  At Omaha Beach the US troop strength was around 43,000.  There were about 3,000 American casualties there according to some sources.  That's an 8% death rate.  The odds of surviving at Omaha Beach might have seemed pretty attractive to a Pilgrim. Their morale was not good.

  Their first governor, John Carver, was one who died that first year. But the next governor chosen was one of their original number from way back in their Scrooby days. His name was William Bradford, and he would be their governor for 30 years - re-elected each year - a rock of stability badly needed in those dangerous times.

  But their immediate problem was this: How can we make the 2nd winter better than the first. The basic problem was that they knew nothing about living and farming in cold rocky New England. Little did they know that had they landed 3 years earlier, they probably wouldn't have had this problem. The local Indian tribes probably would have seen the wisdom in either preventing them from colonizing, or in wiping them out when they tried. But God had prepared the ground, so to speak. He had brought a broken, persecuted, and now greatly reduced and disheartened faithful little church to the territory of a broken, war threatened, and plague decimated New England Indian tribe called the Wampanoags. The Pilgrims needed the Indians badly right now, and strangely enough the Wampanoags needed something just like the Pilgrims.

  The first break came for the Pilgrims in the spring of 1621. They had only about 10 able bodied farmers to try to make a crop. And they desperately needed to figure out how to make a crop. But one morning a tall straight Indian man named Samoset, from the Abenaki tribe in southern Maine, a man who was a sub-chief among his people and a man of status, had come to visit Massasoit of the Wampanoags.  He then made the trip over to meet these Pilgrims that he heard about from the Wampanoags (the tribes were quite aware of their presence.) He was the Pilgrim's first Native American visitor. He spoke some English that he had learned from European fishermen fishing the American coast. Massasoit greeted them, and he talked with them, and his eyes would not have failed to see their sad condition.

  A couple of days after he left he came back bringing another Indian man, from a different tribe. He was named Squanto. And Squanto was a perfect gift from God. He knew the land. He knew the weather and the crops. He knew the fish and the animals and the plants. He knew the survival tricks and techniques that would make survival possible for this miscast group of Christian pioneers. He was willing to share what he knew, and amazingly, from his days as a slave in England, he knew English!!


 A Statuary Depiction of Squanto


  He turned their entire situation around, and he later introduced them to influential Chief Massasoit, who made a treaty with them a bit later which lasted for about 50 years. Good relations with Massasoit were an absolute must for that fragile little colony. Even in their weakened state, the Wampanoags would have effortlessly destroyed the Pilgrims in a war - and the Pilgrims were in fact no less than uninvited invaders. It's a miracle for the Pilgrims that things went as they did.

  And consider the strange fate of Squanto: he was harming no one and was captured as a slave by Europeans. He goes through these adventures in Spain and England, for years, a stranger in a foreign land, and he learns English. He manages to come back on a ship and everyone he knew and loved is dead and gone from European diseases that ravaged his home coast. He has to go live with a related people in order to have some society. Contact with Europeans has cost him so much in his life!  And yet, a year after that he has it in his heart to help this little colony from Europe survive. And he accomplishes that almost singlehandedly. Then, only another year later, while leading William Bradford and some men across Cape Cod, he becomes ill and dies, in 1622.  It's as if his life was made a very hard struggle, yet was choreographed to prepare him to be a perfectly equipped agent of Jesus's salvation to His little flock, and also an example of compassion and forgiveness to them.

  Old writings reveal that the American Natives quite often didn't think too much of the Europeans as a people, but they admired and coveted their trade goods, and respected the military power afforded by their guns. Guns changed the equation considerably, as bows and arrows had a pretty limited range in comparison. The Pequot (and related Naragansett) were a large tribe (maybe 15,000) and the Wampanoag were a small tribe now that 90% had died. They were now a greatly reduced people hoping to hold on to a long stretch of good Massachusetts coast which their traditional enemies, the Connecticut area Pequots would probably be glad to own. A friendly Wampanoag coalition with a struggling little European colony might be just enough to give the Pequots second thoughts about any war plans they might have.  The Pequots would have to calculate the number of guns that the Europeans might bring to bear if there was war.

  Massasoit was the great Sachem, or chief, of the Wampanoags when the Pilgrims landed (he was actually of the Pokanaket tribe, part of the Wampanoag confederation. His people came from near present day Bristol, Rhode Island). He was a successful Sachem for a long time. He died in 1660 or 1661, and the Pilgrims landed in 1620. So he provided a stable, relatively 'Pilgrim friendly' environment for 40 years after the Pilgrims landed.

  He knew people, economics, strengths and weaknesses, politics, and war. And as things sat in 1621 he saw it as an advantage to have a European ally. It was a novel concept. None of the other tribes had a European colony dwelling among them yet. Not in New England. It would put his tribe in a unique position. It would give pause to his enemies, add strength to his own people's position, and allow for good trading relations with the Europeans. Considering their situation it must have sounded like a win-win situation for the most part. Massasoit decided to make friends with the Pilgrims, and through that friendship, the Pilgrims survived. And they eventually learned to live in New England successfully.

  For the Wampanoag it turned out good in the short term, but probably bad in the medium term as the Indian nations were treated deceitfully and badly time after time as the decades rolled by. One of Massasoit's sons was the Phillip from the famous and bloody King Phillip's war (percentage-wise the bloodiest war in US history.)  But in the long term, the Wampanoag confederacy became one of the first to learn of Jesus. (Massasoit would not, however, allow Christianization of his own tribe, the Pakanoket, during his lifetime)

   But when Jesus made His first scripturally based beachhead in North America it was the Pilgrims' honor to bring His word so that it could settle and spread in this new world, and the Wampanoag's great honor to receive Jesus's followers, save their lives, and become a first-fruits part of the hard and painful birth of Jesus into the lives of God's Native American people.  Europeans may have been, all things considered, the lesser people. But they brought knowledge of the one true God.

  I understand that this is a story of mixed blessings for Native Americans, but as a believer in Jesus as the one Son of the only God, and the one and only path to heaven, I see it as a very beautiful Deed of God to prepare the political climate and the involved key players as He did.  He arranged things such that it all could work to the good of God's intention that knowledge of Jesus should fill the Earth. 

  Consider the flow of events:  there was a flock of the Lord that had no pasture.  A continent had basically no knowledge of Jesus.  A disease made a place - a free and unused pasture.  From Plymouth England to Plymouth America they tavelled.  From the United States in Holland, they would come to form the United States of America.  Metaphorical wandering Israel, with it's 13 tribes (Joseph was replaced by his 2 sons, Ephraim and Manasseh) found a place to worship their God in what would be the 13 colonies of the United States. Disease made the flock smaller yet, and desperately dependent upon the Lord.  The Lord sent a man (Squanto) whose previous years of life had prepared him almost perfectly to rescue this imperiled flock.  A long term treaty was made between a long term Governor and a long term Sachem.  And that could all be chance, but the more you read about the story of those who follow God, around the world, the more you know it is not.  

  God was not easy on his Pilgrims any more than on the idolatrous or nature worshipping Indian tribes of America. But it is commanded since Adam's ejection from the garden that life on this Earth would be hard, men would work the Earth in the sweat of their brow, and that woman (also a symbol of the church) would bring forth new children in pain. But as for those children, they have never the less been brought forth successfully, and that is the power and majesty of God, who's word does not come back to Him empty.  From such a Father as this all men were conceived of and created, and all of our lives long we look at other humans who were purposely and carefully designed to our common Father's satisfaction. 

  So, knowing this, we can all consider how we ought to, and must, treat our neighbor.  As Jesus pointed out emphatically, we must love God with all of our heart, our strength, our mind, our soul.  And we must love our neighbor as ourself.  We MUST love our neighbor as ourself.  It was not given to us as an option - but as a command.  Look how Squanto treated a people who were from among those Europeans that had been, on the whole, so savagely bad to him:  he gave them training and love anyway, and with his help, through God's will they lived!




    I personally believe that realizing how many great deeds of God have actually occurred through out history will lead some people to be saved, giving their life to Christ.  If you agree, then please, take the time to be a 'missionary', to love your neighbor enough to care about their soul.  Please mention and recommend visiting the Deeds of God website on any social media sites that you belong to.  Tell a favorite account to your friends or family, and tell them where you read it.  To know God is to stand in awe of Him, but too few people know Him today.  Accounts like these are yet another way to come to know Jesus and the Holy Father, and the Spirit of Truth that helps us understand.  Thank you.  Dan Curry

©2017 Daniel Curry & 'Deeds of God' Website