Sunday 29th November 2020

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Giving Thanks To The Pilgrims

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By DONALD DeMARCO

I grew up in eastern Massachusetts, close enough to Plymouth Rock so that our family could travel to that historic spot, pay our respect, and get back home in time for supper. The legacy of the voyage of those stout-hearted pilgrims takes on special importance this year as we recall and celebrate that momentous event which took place exactly four hundred years ago.
The crossing of the Atlantic did not go according to plans. Originally, the pilgrims hoped to reach America in early October of 1620 using two ships. Delays and various complications, however, meant that they could use but one ship, The Mayflower. Their intended destination was the Colony of Virginia. Storms blew them off course, north to the hook of Cape Cod. The food supply was running low and it was not prudent to sail southward to arrive at their original destination.
Some of the non-Puritans on board threatened a rebellion since their newly discovered territory had no laws to hold society in place. They “would use their own liberty; for none had power to command them.” The situation was critical. In order to avoid mayhem, the pilgrims decided to establish their own government. Thus, they drew up the “Mayflower Compact” which was duly signed by 41 of the male members aboard ship. It served as a social contract binding the settlers to follow community rules and regulations for the good of all.
The pilgrims, therefore, pledged to “combine ourselves together into a civill body politick, for our better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enacte, constitute, and frame such just and equall laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meete and convenient for the generall good of the Colonie unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.”
Although conceived and executed under unexpected and impromptu circumstances, the “Mayflower Compact” is of great historical importance. In 1920, the tercentenary of the landing at Plymouth, Calvin Coolidge put the signing of the Compact in historical perspective:
“The compact which they signed was an event of the greatest importance. It was the foundation of liberty based on law and order, and that tradition has been steadily upheld. They drew up a form of government which has been designated as the first real constitution of modern times. It was democratic, an acknowledgment of liberty under law and order and the giving to each person the right to participate in the government, while they promised to be obedient to the laws.”
There were 102 pilgrims who set sail for America on the Mayflower. A certain William Butten died in a storm just three days before land was sighted. A boy was born during the ten-week sojourn and was appropriately named Oceanus (surname, Hopkins). Statisticians reckon that about ten million Americans should be able to trace their ancestry back to the Mayflower. The count was not as significant as the strong Christian faith and respect for law and order that the pilgrims brought to the new land.
Piety is a lost virtue. One might even say, in the light of recent events, that it is now regarded as a vice. Piety is the respect that is owed to our ancestors, to tradition, to all the things for which we should offer thanks. G.K. Chesterton reminds us: “Tradition does not mean that the living are dead but that the dead are alive.”
In February of this year, a 17-year-old high schooler was charged with 11 felony accounts of vandalism to property. The charges stem from a February 17 vandalism spree that targeted Plymouth Rock, Forefathers Monument, and several other landmarks and attractions along the downtown Plymouth waterfront. Plymouth Rock has been a consistent target over the years, for people who have a political agenda. Now visitors to Plymouth Rock may see it spray-painted with graffiti and be dismayed.
The Mayflower Compact was signed by 41 men and no women. To the contemporary mind that is infected with extreme self-righteousness; this is intolerable and should negate whatever value or virtues may be associated with our pilgrim fathers. 1620 was four hundred years ago. At that time there was a clear distinction between men and women, one that should be a model for today’s world that has blurred the distinction and abuses anyone who believes that God made them male and female. It was a distinction that did not alienate the sexes, but complemented them so that they could work together and remain married together.
Our thanks should go to the pilgrims to whom we are deeply indebted and certainly not to those irreverent iconoclasts who seem incapable of offering thanks to anyone.
In response to the vandalism, Lea Filson, executive director of the tourism group See Plymouth announced that she was “heartsick.” “This is the first place families arrived in the New World to begin a colony’,” she said. “This is the only example of Native peoples and English colonists to agree to a peace alliance and keep it for over half a century.” Lea Filson, herself, is a descendent of pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower.
William Fahey is the president of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire. I like the way he has placed today’s Thanksgiving in the proper perspective focusing on what is essential to the feast day: “The day is richer than drumsticks and drink and a paid holiday off. Let those things remain, but let them become prompts for our recollection and our gratitude. For another has paid for the feast.”

  • + + (Dr. Donald DeMarco is a professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College & Seminary. He is a regular columnist for the St. Austin Review. His latest five books are How to Navigate through Life; Apostles of the Culture of Life; Reflections on the Covid-10 Pandemic: A Search for Understanding; The War Against Civility [all posted on amazon.com], and A Moral Compass for a World in Confusion.)
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