I've been thinking a lot about a distant ancestor of mine lately. Her name is Elizabeth, and she's one of my heroes. (Heroines?) When she was in her teens, her parents decided to journey to a new country, seeking religious freedom.So they boarded a ship along with others who shared similar beliefs and braved sailing across the ocean. Along the way, there were a few adventures--like the time a nasty storm threatened all of their lives, and Elizabeth's future husband was swept off the ship. Luckily, John managed to grab hold of a lanyard rope that were hanging off the back of the ship, and eventually someone noticed and pulled him to safety. We often refer to Grandpa John as the first water skier of the family, but I digress.
Finally, after weeks at sea, this little band of courageous men and women arrived in the harbor of what would become the famed Plymouth colony. They left the ship (The Mayflower) in December of the year 1620. It was a difficult time. They began this arduous journey with 102 fellow passengers. One died during the voyage, four more died while exploring a harbor (Provincetown), and one was born in that same harbor. Ninety-nine people settled the Plymouth Colony in 1620. It was a severe winter and supplies were limited. Nearly half of the residents perished due to disease and lack of food and medicine, not to mention the meager shelters that were shared during those first months. Among those who died were Elizabeth's parents, John and Joan Tilley. By the time another ship (The Fortune) arrived during December of 1621, only 52 residents had managed to survive.
A nearby tribe of Wampanoags saved the day. Taking pity on the surviving settlers, these friendly Native Americans taught the Pilgrims how to plant crops in the area. They planted corn, barley, and peas using fish (herring) to fertilize the tender plants. They became expert hunters and fishers, eating a majority of their meals from the sea, learning newfound skills from their native brothers. To celebrate their survival and to thank their God, and the Wampanoags who had helped them, they decided to hold a feast. This first Thanksgiving took place in the fall of 1621 and the following paragraph, written by Edward Winslow, one of the surviving Pilgrims, captures the excitement of this event:
"Our harvest being gotten in, our Governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labors . . . many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest King Massasoyt, with some nintie men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed upon our Governour . . . And although it be not alwayes so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodnesse of God, we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plentie."
("Plymouth Colony; Its History & People 1620-1691," Eugene Aubrey Stratton, pp. 24-25)
Though the hardships weren't over for this tiny colony, they still appreciated the great blessings that had been bestowed upon them, and they were quick to express gratitude. Their example is one we need during this current time of challenges. Sometimes we get so caught up in our busy lives and the trials we're enduring, that we forget the tremendous blessings that are also taking place. And it makes me very sad to venture into stores and notice that Halloween tends to merge into Christmas. Thanksgiving is often overlooked. To me, Thanksgiving is a holiday that needs more of the limelight. I think it's important to remember what it signifies and to reflect on those who paved the way for us to enjoy precious freedoms.
Elizabeth Tilley was one of those brave Pilgrims who managed to survive. She was in attendance at the first Thanksgiving, along with her future spouse, John Howland. They eventually married and had a massive posterity. Our family line descends through their daughter, Hope. I find that name inspiring and appropriate. It's a reminder to me that despite darkened times, there is always hope. Always!!!