Wednesday was not only Veterans Day, but also a special anniversary in the history of America.
Nov. 11 marked the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims coming ashore at Plymouth Rock in what is now Massachusetts.
It took 10 weeks to sail from Europe.
The Pilgrims, who were called Puritans because they wished to purify the Church of England, went first to Holland and then on to North America “in search of a better life,” to use the modern phrase.
We read William Bradshaw’s “Of Plymouth Plantation” in my American Literature class.
Bradford wrote his account of the journey of the Mayflower a couple of decades after he and his fellow Pilgrims settled in New England, and he wrote with a certain purpose in mind.
I always ask the 11th graders if they have ever heard their parents or grandparents say, “You kids today don’t know how good you have it. Why, back in my day …”
Inevitably a student will say something like, “My grandfather says that all the time!”
Well, that is what William Bradford was doing.
The first generation of Pilgrims believed the younger generation was getting soft, and less devout in their worship of God.
Bradford wanted to remind them how good they had it, thanks to God and to the sacrifices of the generation that went before them.
The students always enjoy learning that — even four centuries ago — the older folk were saying, “These kids today!”
Some people think the first Thanksgiving was that first year. But no, it was 1621, after the Pilgrims had survived (barely) that first Massachusetts winter and had a plentiful harvest, thanks to the hunting, fishing and farming advice of the local Native Americans.
The 10-week voyage in cramped quarters on the Mayflower over the rough Atlantic Ocean would be daunting enough, but only one of the Pilgrims died on the way.
Bradford recounts, however, how a loose bolt on the ship was discovered when they were almost halfway across the ocean.
They needed to make repairs and decide whether to forge ahead or give up their dream and go back.
They prayed on it and forged ahead.
They originally plotted a course to the south — Jamestown Colony was established in Virginia in 1607, you will recall — but a storm hit, and they decided to make for the Massachusetts coast.
Arriving, Bradford wrote, the Pilgrims “fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element …”
But the perils and miseries were only just begun. That first winter was fierce — and deadly. Disease and/or malnourishment took a terrible toll.
As Bradford wrote (using third person plural “they” rather than “we” in his narrative):
“But that which was most sad and lamentable was, that in two or three months’ time half of their company died, especially in January and February, being the depth of winter, and wanting (lacking) houses and other comforts; being infected with the scurvy and other diseases which this long voyage and their inaccommodate condition had brought upon them.”
Four centuries later, we are well established across North America but nonetheless challenged by a plague.
May we remain as resolute in our faith as William Bradford and make it through together just as the Pilgrims did.
William P. Warford’s column appears every Friday and Sunday.