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Monday, November 22, 2010

390 years ago... LOST & FOUND

It was 390 years ago that a disheveled, starving group of adventurers came ashore and began a treacherous ordeal at "Plimouth Plantation" that killed half their number in just several months. You know them as the "Pilgrims." I know them as my ancestors. As you celebrate Thanksgiving, an observance that was not officially recognized until hundreds of years later, you might enjoy learning some stuff, from a real Mayflower descendant, what your history teacher never told you.

Robert Cushman, my ancestor, was a church leader at an assembly of Separatists, English "Brownists" in exile, who met and worshipped at a church called the Green Gate in Holland. They were not a happy bunch. Cushman explained the conditions in Europe at the time... "The rent-taker lives on sweet morsels; but the rent-payer eats a dry crust often with watery eyes… many there are who get their living with bearing burdens; but more are fain to burden the land with their whole bodies. Multitudes get their means of life by prating; and so do numbers more by begging. Neither come these straits upon men always through intemperancy, ill husbandry and indiscretion, as some think, but even the most wise, sober and discreet of men go often to the wall, when they have done their best… Each man is fain to pluck his means, as it were, out of his neighbor’s throat. There is such pressing and oppressing, in town and country, about farms, trades, traffic & co; so as a man can hardly anywhere set up a trade, but he pull down two of his neighbors. Let us not thus oppress, straighten, and afflict one another! But seeing there is a spacious land, the way to which is the sea, we will end this difference in a day!"

(Robert Cushman, Reasons And Considerations Touching The Lawfulness of Removing Out Of England Into the Parts Of America.)

He was selected with another man named John Carver to go to King James and arrange passage to the New World, so they might enjoy freedom of religion and avoid persecution in England by the Anglican Church.

It took three frustrating years and lots of compromises and concessions to arrange the passage, and in the end, most of the members of Cushman's church chose to stay home rather than suffer the indignities of the contract Cushman and Carver ended up with. The settlers would be under a bond to work off their passage for seven years, and in the end, the homes and gardens they built would not belong to them. It was the best deal the Pilgrim negotiators could get, but it was not popular with the folks at Green Gate. Non-believers, known to the "Saints" as "strangers," were taken aboard to fill the ships, and gather the workforce necessary, which finally took off in late August. There were seventy-six adventurers, (not to mention the 26 children of the passengers) including as Skipper Jones counted… “Thirty-four men, nineteen women, five hired hands and sailors, eleven men going under bond… one woman servant... six orphans. WHAT are these orphans?”

In a great act of charity, homeless waifs from the streets of London, between seven and twelve years of age, were now apportioned amongst the settler’s families. They could not have been left behind. In fact their services were needed. But few would survive the first year.

One of the two ships turned out to be faulty or sabotaged, and Cushman wrote: “I pray you… prepare for evill tidings of us, every day… I see not in reason how we shall escape even ye gasping of hunger starved persons: but God can do much, & His will be done… Poore William King & myself doe strive who shall be meate for ye fishes, but we looke for a glorious resurrection.”

Eventually the questionable, leaky ship was was left behind, and twenty or so would-be Pilgrims, including Robert Cushman never made the first voyage. I am a Mayflower descendant because Cushman's son married Mary Allerton, who was the youngest passenger on the Mayflower, when just 2 years old. Robert Cushman came the next year with his son Thomas, and after preaching a sermon, left his son in the care of Governor Bradford. They never saw each other again.

Robert Cushman left many precious quotes behind, as he wrote his church often as he labored for their cause, which in the end, was not what anyone had originally intended. He warned the voyagers of the continued delays, prophetically warning they had “already delayed overlong in regard to the season of the year…” and as he feared, “They would find to their cost.”

On Sept 6, after several attempts, the pilgrims left England, way too late to avoid a difficult voyage and with scant time to establish shelters in New England before winter set in. On board, the 102 pilgrims survived on hard tack, “salt horse,” dried fish, cheese and BEER. The first item of thanksgiving, besides the schnopske, was the Mayflower itself. The cargo ship proved to be the best acquisition that Deacon Cushman had made, large and sound, and more than seaworthy. Never-the-less, at least three people died before they arrived in their new home, which was only settled on because they were lost. After searching for the mouth of the St. Lawrence, they gave up and took what they could find...

Pastor John Robinson had said “All great & honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and must be both enterprised and overcome with answerable courages.” Of course, he had never boarded any of the ships, and stayed back in Holland.

Unbelievably, at least two Indians showed up who could speak and understand English, and they made the first year possible for those who survived. It is doubtful that any English friendly natives would have been around where they had intended to land. One of them, named Squanto, was killed trying to protect them from other Indians. To me, that's what Thanksgiving is all about. When God calls us into action, to do hard things, He has already prepared our way, and provided miracles to make our mission possible. And those of us who do some of what he tells us, and cross bridges or great waters or difficult walls, give thanks for His Providential sufficiency.

Paul said "I can do all things through Christ..." but we rarely ever discuss the price of that supernatural partnership. Jesus explained it this way: He who seeks his life shall lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake... shall find it.

That was the kind of spirit, the brand of obendience that characterized the Pilgrims. Most of them never made it. They were lost in an infinite wilderness, but thay had found IT. They were largely used up, living sacrifices. Even a Native American who had been to Europe and learned English and then found his way back home to find his whole village destroyed by a white man's disease... and graciously showed these pitiful people how to survive in the new land... was willingly sacrificed. Lost... and found. And then lost into His service. Meanwhile the Pilgrims starved, and struggled and many perished.

About half of the Pilgrims lived through the first year and celebrated their first harvest, and roofs over their heads, and enough food to eat and life itself. They, after all that suffering, were THANKFUL.

And today, we take so much for granted and are perfunctorily, somewhat thankful. For thirteen generations my family has told this story and enjoyed our heritage and been proud of these courageous folk who planted our name on this Continent. These people were RADICAL! The miracle of that little fiesty group who forsook everything for freedom and their Faith so long ago still stands as a monument... to them, and to the God that preserved them.

We should wither in the light of this story, and wonder what miracles we might find, if we would only do like them.

1 comment:

Robert Cushman said...

Hi Russell: I have a google alert set up to find "all things Cushman" and here, lo and behold, I find this wonderful piece you have written. Thank you, distant cousin. Well done.
Robert Cushman Cushmandna@aol.com