The Pilgrims’ pastor lays the foundation for thanksgiving.

“I shall make them conform or I shall harry them out of the land, or else do worse.”

—James I of England

King James had been harassing the Puritans. One group, called Separatists, left the Church of England entirely, fleeing to Holland in 1607, where they lived in Leyden for 12 years. A leader among them, William Brewster, was to write, “They knew they were pilgrims,” and the name stuck.

In time, these supposed deviants would celebrate a kind of harvest home thanksgiving for God’s goodness in watching over them as they crossed the Atlantic to Plymouth, and in bringing them through that first harsh winter to the abundance of autumn, 1621.

About 40 of the Leyden congregation had gone to England with Brewster and William Bradford in order to set out for the Americas in 1620. Accompanying the 40 Pilgrims were 62 other colonists, whom they called “strangers,” an assortment of people aiming to make their fortunes in the New World.

As they prepared to leave England, they received a pastoral letter from John Robinson, the minister they had left in Leyden to look after the larger group. He was concerned about their relationships as they were jammed aboard ship for a long voyage, and as they faced the stress of life in the “hideous and desolate wilderness” of northeast North America.

The encouragement and warning set forth in Robinson’s letter (here paraphrased and condensed) are as relevant and insightful for us today as they were for the Pilgrims in the summer of 1620.

Leyden, Holland

July 27, 1620

Loving Christian friends,

I heartily salute you in the Lord. I am present with you in my heartfelt desire, though I am constrained for a while to be absent in body.…

Though I do not doubt ...

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