Part #3 – European Roots
It is common, or perhaps convenient, to view the Pilgrims through an American world-view grid. But more accurately the lens would be of a European construction. It is more helpful to colour their nomadic quest – Scrooby in England to Amsterdam and then to Leiden in Holland, and finally to New England – with hues closer to the European palette than some ‘American Dream’ mixture.
Pressure and persecution of ‘Separatist Puritans’ in England drove our thanksgiving heroes to the more open culture of the Low countries. Bradford described life in Leiden as a place where they “lived together in peace and love and holiness, enjoying much sweet and delightfully society and spiritual comfort together in the ways of God.” Winslow spoke in glowing terms as well: “never people upon earth lived more lovingly together than we the church at Leiden did.”
Had they found their freedom? Were they content? To some extent the evidence suggests yes. Yet there is still an urge to look across the ocean to America? One explanation that appeals to the zealous religious mind is a missionary motive. McKenzie notes that Bradford, Winslow and Morton all mention this, but not with any degree of prominence. He writes about the trio of sources “there is no evangelistic activity reporting once in New England”, plus, “ever since they had first begun meeting in secret back in Scroody, the Leider separatists had focused more on purifying Christ’s church than enlarging it. They sought to imitate the primitive New Testament church in its form of worship, not in its missionary impulse.” It seems that we will need to look further into the roots of the reasons for coming to America.
No one can argue that American Thanksgiving is a complex weave of spiritual, historical and cultural elements resulting in a national identity with profound significance.
I have developed my insights based on information in the book THE FIRST THANKSGIVING by Robert Tracy McKenzie, Inter Varsity Press Academic, 2013.