By Karen Wills
For many years, when our extended family gathered for Thanksgiving dinner, I elicited groans, especially from the younger crowd, by insisting no one eat until I read a section of William Bradford’s account of the Pilgrims’ first winter in what he called, “the desert wilderness.” I did so because I felt, and still do, that we should acknowledge not just the Puritans’ capacity to give thanks, but their character and endurance.
William Bradford, who sailed on the Mayflower and became the second governor of Plymouth Plantation, began a journal in 1620. He did much more than merely document events; he showed the fiber of his companions. Here, in part, is his account of the misery of their first winter in America.
“So as there died sometimes two or three a day in the foresaid time, that of one hundred and odd persons, scarce fifty remained. And of these, in times of most distress, there was but six or seven sound persons who to their great commendations, be it spoken, spared no pains night nor day, but with abundance of toil and hazard to their own health, fetched them wood, made them fires, dressed them meat, made their beds, washed their loathsome clothes, clothed and unclothed them…all this willingly and cheerfully, without any grudging in the least, a rare example and worthy to be remembered. Two of these were Mister William Brewster…and Miles Standish, their captain and military commander… And what I have said of these I may say of many others who died in this general visitation, and others yet living, that whilst they had health, yea, or any strength continuing, they were not wanting to any that had need of them. And I doubt not but their recompense is with the Lord.”
Thank you, William Bradford.
What historical figure or figures are you thankful for?