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Of Plymouth Plantation

by William Bradford

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To appreciate the pilgrims, you need to have spent some hard nights outdoors. In America today, people speak half-seriously of “roughing it” at the Holiday Inn—but this affords no perspective on what the passengers of the Mayflower encountered in the New World.

Setting aside the hazards of crossing the Atlantic—something, as a land-lubber, I can barely imagine—the pilgrims’ search for their new home was a shivering, heart-wrenching ordeal. When a small party set out in a smaller boat to find a permanent location for their community, it was storming hard, blowing a mixture of rain and snow. The ocean became so violent that it broke the rudder; the boat was then steered by two men using oars. As they hurried to make harbor before nightfall, the storm increased to the point that the mast broke in three pieces, and the sail fluttered away into the sea!

Could it get any worse? It did. After facing all the disheartening fury of the sea, the pilgrims were further disheartened by the admission of the ship’s navigator: he had never seen this place before. They were lost somewhere around Cape Cod in December, in the grip of a raging storm.

Thanks to some hard rowing, the pilgrims were able to safely anchor on the leeward side of a small island, where they bobbed aimlessly in a drenching rain. Some of the pilgrims feared stories of Indians too much to go ashore in the dark, but others were so desperate for a fire that they risked it. It was a good thing that they did: after midnight the wind shifted and there came a hard freeze. At that point everyone was willing to face Indian attacks to be near a campfire.

The worst night of camping of my life—alone at timberline on Pikes Peak in late March—cannot begin to compare with that one night for the pilgrims. And even if I could claim to have suffered as much, it would still be with the knowledge that all of civilization—hot coffee, a warm bath, a Wal-mart filled with food—was only about 10 miles away. The pilgrims were as alone as you can be.

Except they didn’t see it that way. This is what Bradford wrote about the morning after the brutal storm: “But though this had been a day and night of much trouble and danger unto them, yet God gave them a morning of comfort and refreshing (as usually He does to His children), for the next day was a fair and sunshining day, and they found themselves to be on an island secure from the Indians, where they might dry their stuff, fix their [muskets], and rest themselves, and gave God thanks for His mercies in their manifold deliverances.”

Be content in all things? It sounds impossible—but the pilgrims, by the power of the Holy Spirit, were able to do more. They were able to live the incredibly difficult command of James 1:2: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds . . .”

by Jeff Baldwin