On Sept. 6, 1620, the Pilgrims embarked on a trans-Atlantic journey from Europe, seeking respite from religious persecution. So strong was their desire to worship freely according to the dictates of their conscience that they were willing to undertake a two-month journey across the ocean to reach the shores of America, with its promise of religious freedom. Few today can contemplate the challenge that such a journey entailed. This was not a cruise ship with running water and room service. Fresh food was scarce after the first few weeks; the temperatures of the Atlantic were brutally cold. So cold, in fact, that many would not survive the journey. Disease was rampant, and suffering was intense, but the sacrifice was willingly made in order to live in a land where they could worship God as they saw fit.
The Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in the dead of winter and as quickly as possible shelters were constructed to provide protection from a harsh New England cold spell. These valiant efforts were not nearly enough though, and almost half those that stepped on the ship in early September would not live to see spring in America.
In answer to endless supplication to the Almighty, the Pilgrims received hope in the form of the Indians, who came to their aid. The Indians brought food and taught them techniques that would help them survive the harsh climate in which they found themselves. The following year, in December of 1621, the American colonists would hold a three-day feast of thanksgiving, offering prayers and praise to the God that had blessed their efforts despite the struggles that they endured. This became an annual tradition in the New England colonies, one that would spread over time to the other colonies.
Observations of a Day of Thanksgiving were numerous throughout the American colonies. Among those were proclamations (in winter 1621 and summer 1623) by William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth colony, the town council of Charleston, Massachusetts (June 1676), by Connecticut's Gov. Gurdon Saltonstall (1721), and the proclamation of the Continental Congress of the United States, signed by John Hanson (president of the Continental Congress) and Charles Thomson (secretary) encouraging the fledgling American states to observe a day of thanksgiving.
Though this tradition was undertaken and reverenced throughout the colonies, it would be more than a century and a half before it would become an official part of America's tradition. The modern tradition was begun when Elias Boudinot (a delegate to the Continental Congress, member of the committee to design the Great Seal of the United States, and eventually President of the Continental Congress from 1782-83), proposed a Congressional Resolution (entered into the Congressional Record on Sept. 25, 1789) that would implore the president of the United States, George Washington, to "request that he would recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer."
The resolution, being approved by the Congress, was delivered to President Washington, who approved the resolution without reservation. Fulfilling the request of the Congress, Washington therefore issued the following proclamation:
"Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor -- and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
"Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be -- That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks -- for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation -- for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed -- for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted -- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
"And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions -- to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually -- to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed -- to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness onto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord -- To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us -- and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to best."
In a day when religion is often compartmentalized and separated from secular or civic matters, it is interesting, to say the least, to note the openness with which the Founding Fathers embraced God, from whom all blessings flow. They understood that it was only through a benevolent God, one who has put His hand to their cause, aiding them in the fight for freedom against the greatest economic and military power in the world at that time, that they enjoyed the blessings which they had been granted. They understood that their suffering had in a way purified them, humbled them and made them more reliant upon and cognizant of the Almighty.
As for myself, I am all too aware of the blessings with which God has blessed me. I am thankful to live in a nation where we have heated disagreements on matters of policy and the direction of this country, yet we resolve them through elections and the peaceful transfer of power, instead of with bloodshed as has been the historical norm. I am grateful for the tempering influence of God and religion in my life. I am grateful for the opportunity and means to provide for the needs of my family. I am grateful for my four sons and four daughters, who are the source of great joy (and occasionally anxiety) in my life, but who are the motivation for all I do. For all of the blessings of this world, however, I am grateful for my beautiful wife of nearly nineteen years, who is my rock, my rudder and my conscience. Truly, I have been blessed far beyond all that I deserve. May you and your family be blessed as richly as I have been is my humble petition to the Lord, from who all blessings flow. Happy Thanksgiving.
Louis DeBroux is a Taylorsville resident, married, with eight children. He is vice chair of communications of the Bartow County Republican Party. He owns Gatekeeper data backup and recovery. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.