Thanksgiving's Miraculous Beginning

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PLYMOUTH, Mass. - You've heard the story of the Pilgrims.

But what you may not know is just how many miracles led to that first Thanksgiving.

The pilgrims never should have survived their first winter in the new world. They had no room aboard the Mayflower to bring plows or farm animals to work the stony soil.

But they had a stubborn, all-consuming faith.

"They looked at everything as a gift from God, even the sorrowful things they saw as God allowing that to perfect their character. So they were amazing Christians and great examples for us today," Rev. Paul Jehle said.

Jehle gives historic talks about the Pilgrims. He met CBN News at the foot of a grand statue in Plymouth that commemorates these founding fathers. He said the pilgrims definitely needed faith in God. The tribulation they faced was harsh.

"Half of them died the first winter: 51 out 102," he said.

But what they didn't realize right away was that in being blown off-course to Plymouth they'd come exactly to the one place in thousands of miles of coastland where an Indian tribe had cleared the ground, planted corn crops, and then been wiped out by a horrible disease. The one place.

Still, the Pilgrims didn't know what to do with this unknown crop.

Then came another miracle: nearby, staying with Chief Massasoit -- who's statue now overlooks Plymouth Rock -- was the only survivor of his tribe -- Squanto, who'd been captured by slavers and been learning English and the Christian faith in Europe while his people perished.

Returning to his tribal grounds, he found the desperate Pilgrims.

"They've lost half their number that first winter," historian Peter Marshall explained. "They don't know how to exist in this howling New England wilderness."

Marshall is one of the foremost Christian authorities on American history. He talks about the Pilgrims' miraculous survival and how Squanto played such a key role in a new DVD series, "Pilgrims, Puritans and Patriots."

"Here comes this American Indian suddenly who speaks perfect English, who offers them his services. So they plant all this corn under his tutelage," Marshall explains. "In October the corn is ripe finally, and they want to have a celebration, a Thanksgiving celebration. So they invite Chief Massasoit, who had taken Squanto in when he had no family, no relatives. So Massasoit and 90 braves show up for this celebration festival, and they had a three-day celebration of feasting, bow-and-arrow shooting contests, foot races and relay races and games: white people and Indians together, the first time here in Massachusetts.three full days."

"Thanksgiving for us is afternoon at Grandma's.that kind of thing," he added. "Not back then."

But while surviving was a great accomplishment, it's not even close to what these hardy souls and their Puritan brothers went on to contribute to America and to the world.

Marshall said this was the first time since the Israelites in the Sinai that God's children had the opportunity to create a society based on His Word.

"They literally planted the Gospel in the rocky soil of New England and literally created the basis for American society as we know it today," he said. "The Pilgrims never amounted to great numbers. They never brought fame to themselves. They kind of absorbed into the colony. But their ideas were so potent."

Even before landing, the covenant they drew up together was a huge leap forward for man's freedom.

"Certainly the Mayflower Compact was a central cornerstone to self-government," Rev. Jehle said.

Marshall points out the key concepts for our Declaration of Independence and Constitution were all rooted in the Pilgrims' and Puritans' first documents. Those who downplay that America is a Christian nation forget how central their faith was to the Pilgrims.

"They came as families and they came as a church from Leyden Holland," Jehle said. "So to have a church actually be the foundation of America, in concert with the first legislative assembly in Virginia -- you have a great combination there: because you have both of them dedicating this nation to God, both of them looking at this from the context of a Christian commonwealth. So certainly it's significant that both parent colonies in Plymouth and Virginia began with Christian purposes."

But as America wandered from its Christian roots, New England led the way. It became infamous for its aloofness to the Gospel.

Still, Marshall said he and many other believers see the pot's beginning to bubble and a real boiling revival may be coming soon.

"If God is going to bring America back to Himself in explosive nationwide revival, which we so desperately need.if He's going to do that, it's been my deep conviction for years that the leadership.the beginning of it.is going to come out of New England," Marshall said.

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.