Pilgrims: Then and Now

In 1990 the State Society sponsored its own publication about the Pilgrims and how their covenant concept "played a major role in the formation of the church to which they pledged mutual aid in the care of one another." Their similar pledge with the native Americans promoted peace for fifty-five years. Thousands of copies have been distributed to schools, scout groups, etc. as well as each new State Society member.

The Pilgrim story is one of the best known stories and, paradoxically, one of the least known stories concerning our American beginnings. Many are familiar with the Mayflower, Plymouth Rock, and the first Thanksgiving. Few know much about the great ideas and personalities which gave rise to and sustained the Pilgrims' heroic and persistent struggle to realize their dreams of living as a self-determining people.

The Pilgrim enterprise has not enjoyed the kind of understanding it deserves with regard to its primitive contributions to a fledgling democracy. The fame and popularity of major events in our early history ironically stand in the way of an appreciation for the basic impetus which guided their fervent and dogged quest to live free from the tyranny of both the King and the established Church of England. Following repeated attempts and profound searchings of soul to "purify" the church from within, the small group of stubborn people whom we now know a Pilgrims separated themselves from the Church and effectively, therefore, form their own nation. This severance from the English establishment earned for them the scornful name of "Independents" or "Separatists" by their detractors. This extreme act of separation pushed the Pilgrims beyond those who were known as Puritans, those who sought to change the church while remaining in it. Plymouth Colony, therefore, is not to be confused with the Massachusetts Bay Colony which was settled by so-called non-separating Puritans in places like Salem and Boston. Though the relationship between Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth was for the most part cordial, Plymouth was never looked upon with as much favor by England as was its larger and richer neighbor to the north.

The Pilgrim experience made a very significant contribution to ideas of freedom then and it can be an inspiration to those who seek liberation from tyranny and oppression anywhere in the world now. The world in which we live is vastly different from the one known to the Pilgrims, but the issues of liberty, freedom and self-governance remain remarkably similar today.

In this time of explosive, dizzying and exhilarating change, one can feel the earth moving as freedom and independence erupt with volcanic force from the tip of South Africa to the northern Baltics, from the remote reaches of Mongolia to the rarefied heights of Napal.

Plymouth Rock would be nothing more than an undistinguished boulder buried in the shifting sands of Plymouth Bay, the Mayflower would be recalled only in ancient and obscure logs for those interested in ships which carried cargoes of wine, the first Thanksgiving would not have taken place, there would not have been need for that nobel document of freedom known as that Mayflower Compact, there would have been no Pilgrims—were it not for a small group of English people who were possessed by the desire to live in freedom. Pilgrims: Then and Now intends to tell the story, but as a story which has no end. The story would end only if people suffer a failure of nerve in the quest for basic human principles and succumb in servility to oppression. The Pilgrims made progress toward self-determination then; all become Pilgrims who share their passion for freedom now.

— Rev. Gary L. Marks
August 1990

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