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The true story of early radical settlers; “The Pilgrims” on AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, Thursday, Nov. 16 at 10 pm
Posted on: Friday, November 10, 2023
RIC BURNS’ “THE PILGRIMS” TO AIR ON AMERICAN EXPERIENCE ON WOUB
November 16 at 10 pm.
Stunning Recreations Bring to Life the Stark, True Story of America’s Early Radical Settlers
Features Final Film Performance of the Late Actor Roger Rees
“The Pilgrims,”a film by Ric Burns narrated by celebrated actor Oliver Platt, will air on AMERICAN EXPERIENCE on Thursday, November 16 at 10:00 PM. Produced by WETA Washington, D.C., and Steeplechase Films, in association with the BBC and CTVC, this two-hour documentary endeavors to tell the true story of the Pilgrims, a small group of religious radicals whose determination to establish a separatist religious community planted the seeds for America’s founding.
Arguably one of the most fateful and resonant events of the last half millennium, the Pilgrims’ journey west across the Atlantic in the early 17th century is a seminal, if often misunderstood episode of American and world history. “The Pilgrims” will explore the forces, circumstances, personalities and events that converged to exile the English group in Holland and eventually propel their crossing to the New World; a story universally familiar in broad outline, but almost entirely unfamiliar to a general audience in its rich and compelling historical actuality.
“From childhood on Americans are taught to think of the voyage of the Mayflower and the coming of the Pilgrims as the true founding moment of America,” said Burns, “and we honor them as such every year on Thanksgiving –even though they came thirteen years after the founding of Jamestown in 1607. The real story of the Pilgrims –who they were, what drove them on, what happened to them in the new world, how they succeeded and how they failed and why we remember them as we do –is far more gripping, poignant, harrowing and strange –and far more revealing –than the Thanksgiving myth we think we know.”
“When it comes to the Pilgrims, many people either believe in the mythologized Thanksgiving story, or they know that story isn’t really true so they cynically dismiss it entirely,” said Jeff Bieber, Executive Producer for WETA. “What gets lost, however, is the true, unvarnished history of the Pilgrims—one that is dark and deeply unsettling. It is about the transformation of a small band of English men and women into Colonists, with everything that this means for themselves and the Native population they encounter.”
“The Pilgrims”features spectacular recreations of the Mayflower’s harrowing voyage across the Atlantic using the Mayflower II, the only full-scale replica of the Pilgrims’ vessel in existence. Shot in only 90 minutes with three cameras, the scenes capture one of the rare times that the 60-year-old ship has been out on the open water. Recreations of the Pilgrims’ village were shot at “Plimoth Plantation,” a living history museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts, which served as a consultant throughout the production.
“As a museum with an educational mission to bring to life the history of the Pilgrims and the Native people of New England, Plimoth Plantation is thrilled to have collaborated in this production which will share this story with a wider audience,” said Ellie Donovan, Executive Director of Plimoth Plantation.
“The Pilgrims” also features a gripping performance by the late actor Roger Rees as William Bradford, the governor of Plymouth Plantation for more than 30 years and who wrote the definitive history of the early colony. Drawn from Bradford’s written account, Rees’s monologue provides the spine of the Pilgrims’ narrative, from the early formation of a separatist Protestant sect in England to a colony in the New World whose hard-fought success after a decade would trigger a massive influx of colonists throughout New England. Rees’s performance was his last on film before he passed away on July 10, 2015.
While Bradford’s account, written over 20 years, is a source of much of the narrative for “The Pilgrims,” his incomplete telling of their story is filled in by other Pilgrims’ writings and by court testimony that include some of the more harrowing and morbid details of their journey and settlement.Beginning in Scrooby, England in the early 17th century, the film traces the story of a small group of Protestants—led by minister John Robinson—as they decided to separate themselves spiritually, philosophically and physically from the Church of England and, by extension, the British monarchy.
As the film details, in the months following the Pilgrims’ arrival in the New World in 1620, they would face rampant starvation, disease and death. With people dying faster than they could be buried, they would prop up their sick and dead in the forests to appear as sentries to ward off potential attacks from native peoples—a transgression left out of most Pilgrims’ written accounts.
The Pilgrims’ relationship with the indigenous population was complex. They built Plymouth Plantation on a site littered with the human remains of the Wampanoags who had been wiped out by a plague that originated with European fishermen. They believed that God had cleared the ground for them to settle. Their first months were marked by a skirmish with the native people. But in their first spring, out of mutual desperation, the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags—who were also vulnerable to attacks from other tribes—agreed to support each other. Tisquantum, the sole survivor of the former village the Pilgrims now inhabited, lived with them to act as an interpreter and help them plant their crops.
In the fall of 1621, under Tisquantum’s supervision, the Pilgrims’ crops yielded a considerable harvest. To celebrate the bounty and an end to the hardships that had nearly killed them off, they held a three-day celebration of games and food. Massasoit, the Wampanoag’s leader, and 90 of his men joined them, contributing five deer they had killed. The event was not recorded by Bradford, and only a few paragraphs describe it in another account, which never uses the words “thanks” or “giving.” But more than two centuries later it would be imbued with new meaning and inspire a national holiday.
Despite their peace pact with the Wampanoags, the Pilgrims’ relationship with other tribes remained tense. Much to the dismay of John Robinson, for years they kept a decapitated head of a native person—a trophy from a bloody sneak attack the Pilgrims plotted—on a pike outside their village to instill fear in those who might attack them.
After years of struggle, the Pilgrims would eventually turn a profit for their investor, Thomas Weston, encouraging more and more colonists—Puritans, but not separatists—to venture to New England, where, in 1630, a trading port called New Boston was established. Within 15 years of Bradford’s death in 1657, approximately 70,000 English settlers arrived in New England, overwhelming the Native population of between 11,600 and 20,000, and the Wampanoag population of only 1,000. In 1675, Metacom, the son of Massasoit, who took the name “King Philip” in honor of the positive relationship his father forged with the Pilgrims, led an armed effort to drive out the colonists from Wampanoag land. In the end more than 600 colonists and at least 3,000 Native Americans died. Metacom was killed and the colonists placed his head on a pike over the Plymouth meeting house. They declared a “day of thanksgiving” to celebrate his defeat.
The film concludes with the trans-Atlantic hunt for Bradford’s manuscript, which was lost during the Revolutionary War and eventually turned up in England nearly a century later. Eventually it would be returned to Massachusetts and implant the Pilgrims’ story firmly into America’s origin narrative.
Plymouth Colony: The First Year
This Coronet educational film dramatizes the Pilgrims' journey from England to Holland, and to New England in 1620, and ends with a depictio… read more
This Coronet educational film dramatizes the Pilgrims' journey from England to Holland, and to New England in 1620, and ends with a depiction of the first Thanksgiving in Massachusetts. Much of the narration is taken from the book “Of Plymouth Plantation” written by Pilgrim William Bradford. close
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Chapter 1 | The Pilgrims | American Experience | PBS
Watch a preview of THE PILGRIMS.
The converging forces, circumstances, personalities and events that propelled a group of English men and women west across the Atlantic in 1620.
Learn more about THE PILGRIMS, including where to watch the documentary: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/pilgrims/
Arguably one of the most fateful and resonant events of the last half millennium, the Pilgrims journey west across the Atlantic in the early 17th century is a seminal, if often misunderstood episode of American and world history. The Pilgrims explores the forces, circumstances, personalities and events that converged to exile the English group in Holland and eventually propel their crossing to the New World; a story universally familiar in broad outline, but almost entirely unfamiliar to a general audience in its rich and compelling historical actuality.
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Home » Episodes » Focus on the Family Broadcast » Remembering the Pilgrims’ Journey
Focus on the Family Broadcast
- About the Show
Remembering the Pilgrims’ Journey
- November 25, 2021
Radio Theatre Actor as Governor Bradford: Almighty God, we thank You for the sustaining grace of Your love and provision through our Savior Jesus Christ. We thank You for the bounty of fellowship, which allows us to share in the food You have given to us. May we receive it with grateful hearts.
End of Preview
John Fuller: That prayer is an excerpt from Focus on the Family’s Radio Theatre episode, “The Legend of Squanto,” which really captures the spirit and thankful heart of the Pilgrims who traveled to North America. Their purpose was to begin a new colony and to escape religious persecution. And we’re gonna talk a little bit more about that today on our broadcast. Happy Thanksgiving, and welcome to Focus on the Family. Your host is Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, you know, it’s so easy in culture to forget kind of the origins of these holidays that we celebrate. And you know, we get busy. I’m sure many moms and dads right now are busy. Dads got his to-do list: clean up stuff before the family gets over and you know, the cooking the turkey and doing all those things. And we can forget. We think Thanksgiving is about football and family and pumpkin pie. And that’s all-good stuff. But what is the true origin of Thanksgiving? And it’s going to be quite a discussion we have today, when we peel back the history – the actual history – of Thanksgiving and remind all of us what it was about.
John: And Jay Milbrandt is our guest today. He’s a professor at Bethel University in Minnesota. And he really has researched the story. He’s got a personal interest in it. We’ll hear more about that. He’s written a great book called, They Came for Freedom: The Forgotten, Epic Adventure of the Pilgrims .
Jim: Jay, welcome to Focus.
Jay Milbrandt: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Jim: Yeah, what a great day to spend a little time together, remembering and giving thanks for the founding, really, the beginning of the nation and what happened in that – in that sense.
Jay: Absolutely. It’s – it’s the story of where we came from.
Jim: Now let’s start there. You have a background in law, which is great, but you also have that connection of family members. What is that connection?
Jay: Well part of our family lore was that we were the descendant of two of the Mayflower Pilgrims. And so, I was pretty interested in this, and you know, kind of what does that mean for me, personally. And so, I took an interest, one, to find out who – who are they now. It was sort of a – sort of a discouraging discovery after I went a little deeper because they weren’t actually the Pilgrims that came for religious purposes. One was an indentured servant. The other was the hired mercenary, if you will, to protect them. And so unfortunately, they weren’t the ones who came on account of their religious persecution.
Jim: Hey, they’re still on the ship.
Jay: But they were still on the boat.
John: They made it, yeah.
Jay: They were still on the boat. But it was still an interesting discovery, and what was that about? And really, what I wanted to explore was that religious persecution question. And as a lawyer, I wanted to explore, you know, what’s the evidence that that – that that took place, and what did that mean for them?
Jim: And that’s what prompted you to write the book, is that it?
Jay: That’s right.
Jim: Just that curiosity?
Jay: That’s right. And finding that, you know, as I went and wanted to learn more about my story, reading books on the history of the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving that they mention this nugget of there was some religious freedom component to it, but everyone sort of glossed over it and never really gave it – gave it any time to explore.
Jim: Let’s describe the Pilgrims. I mean, some of us, again, that’s a distant memory, that’s distant history. We may have learned about it in fourth or fifth grade. Who knows when? Who were the Pilgrims? What was it about?
Jay: Yeah, well, they were really more, probably, separatists. They were a group of people that wanted to worship in the way that they – they read the Bible – and they saw fit, and they didn’t want to worship in the way that it was prescribed by the Anglican church. So, they were this group of people, mostly lived in the rural English setting. And, um…
Jim: What would that prescription be just to, again, to set that out? What was – it was King James. He was the one in authority – the King James Bible King James. So, what was he doing and decreeing that made them so uncomfortable?
Jay: Well, they were really using the church at that time as a – as a way to control people and to – to tax people. You know, church services were in Latin, so you couldn’t really understand them. They had a prescribed order of service. They had prescribers. Everything was prescribed and mandated. And if you didn’t follow what they mandated, you know, there was jail time, fines…
Jay: …and potentially even death, if you didn’t comply. And so, you had a group of people who said, “We actually – we’re reading the Bible” – they got hold of the Geneva Bible – “And it doesn’t say what we’re being told, you know. We think that there’s more to this and that there’s a personal relationship here.”
Jim: Yeah, and in that context – think about that – in that prescription that they were following, that the leadership of England at the time, King James, it was mandated that they go to Sunday services, it was mandated that they do certain things during the week, all with this kind of a Christian overtone, but coming from the government. That’s key to understanding what the Founding Fathers were later going to do. That’s the separation of church and state they’re talking about.
Jay: And there was no separation, you’re absolutely right…
Jay: …I mean, it was very heavy-handed.
Jim: Right. And that’s what they were getting at when they later created the Constitution. It was that the state would not tell you how to worship. That’s what they were going after. But getting back to the Pilgrims – one of the things that I found fascinating that I didn’t know, and we’re using today as a little history lesson for all of us – both the Pilgrims and the Puritans were on the Mayflower, almost in even numbers. I can’t remember exactly – 35 Pilgrims and 40 or 45 Puritans.
Jay: Yeah, approximately.
Jim: What is the difference in those sects? I mean, we talk about Baptists today, and others. But what – what was their differences?
Jay: Well, the – the separatists, the Pilgrims, wanted to separate themselves out – to be different. The Puritans wanted to purify the church of England. So, they said, “Let’s work within it and let’s try to get the bad stuff out of this.” So, the separatists were really more about separating the church and state. Puritans were really more about, they can work together, but let’s – let’s purify it now. In the end I think there was more of a majority of the separatists and the Pilgrims and they all kind of blended together. But we definitely have these two groups. And at times, they were at odds, because they ultimately had the same goal of worshipping in the way that they believed the Bible taught them to worship…
Jay: …But they had different approaches to how to…
Jim: Yeah, and that’s good to know. I mean, it’s nothing new under the sun, huh? I mean, it sounds very similar to what separates some Christians today. So, going back to the Pilgrims, they’re uncomfortable. They’re getting persecuted for their practices – their religious practices. They don’t immediately say, “Let’s go to the New World.” They have a different plan. What was their plan?
Jay: Yeah, yeah. And it’s interesting, because I think we picture them just sort of taking off, right? And so, they tried to work within this for a while. They tried to see if they could have secret meetings and things. And those all got broken – they were watched. And the government took a really close interest in them. So, their first objective was, “Hey, let’s actually – let’s leave for mainland Europe.” And Holland was a place that was more religiously tolerant. And this is one of the interesting parts of the story that’s overlooked is that this was a really dangerous escape from England to Holland. They were captured several times by the English government trying to escape. They were separated. They were on a boat that almost sank in a storm. And they barely made it out…
Jim: Just to Holland.
Jay: …to mainland Europe, yeah, yeah.
Jim: And in that context, what were they hoping to find in Holland? I know a bit more ease. But in fact, it didn’t go the direction they thought it would go. What took place in Holland?
Jay: Well, they came from a rural English setting. It was very peaceful. And they came to Holland, and they found this industrial center. They were working in the factories…
Jim: Shipping – it was a shipping center.
Jay: …Yeah, and it was hard labor, backbreaking. So, they really didn’t find – it was a cultural change for them. And it was difficult. So, they started to worry after a while that the religious intolerance that happened in England was going to – going to happen there. And you know, the English government was trying to extradite some of them and putting pressure on Holland. So, you had two things happening. You had this religious pressure that they saw taking place in England might happen here. And then also, you know, the cultural issues, that they weren’t able to really worship and practice in the way they wanted to, without that peaceful setting. They really wanted to create their own world. Now part of this is that their kids were starting to actually take off and become sailors themselves and some of the things…
Jim: Now, I found this really interesting. I want to punch this point because in reading the book, the idea that they were concerned their kids were assimilating into the Holland culture. I mean, that is a direct parallel today, you know, where we are maybe living in a city, or they go to a university, and they start to move into more secular thinking. Speak to that. I mean, again, those parents of that time were experiencing similar angst that we are today.
Jay: They were. And yeah, it’s interesting, because they were really concerned. And I think in a lot of ways that was more the motivation to go to North America than anything else.
Jim: Let’s get our kids out of this mess?
Jay: That’s right, right. And there was a lot happening in Europe at that time, and they didn’t quite know where it was gonna go. And so, you know, there was an opportunity to go to a completely new place where they could create a distinct culture and practice in the way that they wanted to. And so that’s what they decided to do.
Jim: Well as a historian, help paint the picture for me in terms of the numbers. What are we looking at here? I have no concept. Is it thousands of people, hundreds of people, dozens of people that go to Holland and now are thinking let’s go to the New World?
Jay: Yeah, yeah. Well, it’s not as many as you’d think. I mean, you started with just a couple dozen that made that trip to England. They picked up a few people in Holland, a few people that came in over time, you know, just – they were there 10 years in Holland. So, there were more people that came over from England. And so, then you have about a hundred that want to make this journey. So, you’re really starting with a small group…
Jim: I mean, that to me – we’re talking about a hundred people. And then they decide we’re gonna do this. How did they, in fact – in historical fact – how did they go about planning the trip? What did they have to buy? How did they do it?
Jay: Yeah. Well, this was really interesting to me is that they looked around the world. I mean, they didn’t just say, “North America is our spot.” They actually looked to go into South America, down by the Amazon, because they thought, “Hey, warmer climate, we could plant crops all year.”
Jim: I’m telling you; people think exactly the same, don’t they? Nothing is new.
Jay: Yeah. They looked at opportunities to stay in Europe. You know, they thought about whether they could go back to England. They looked at everything. And you know, eventually they got together and voted. This is what is sort of mind-blowing to me is that, you know, they knew that a lot of them were going to perish. I mean, they just knew that that was the reality of the day, that this journey – that they would not all survive the journey and the process. And yet, they made that decision to go. It’s sort of mind-boggling that they were willing to take that risk that I don’t know if we’d be as eager to do that today.
Jim: Now some of the A students listening will remember that fourth grade class and William Brewster. And some others that may have been, you know, distracting one another may not remember him. Talk about William Brewster. Who was he? What type of man was he? Why was he the leader? Who appointed him? How did he gain kind of control over the Pilgrims to give that leadership?
Jay: Yeah. Well, you had several leaders who really stepped forward. And Brewster was one of them. And, you had a lot of people – it was a group of people that came from a rural setting. And so, there were…
Jay: …There were few people like Brewster who were really well-read. And this is one of the things that also surprised me. These people studied philosophy. They studied political science. And they spent a lot of time thinking about, “How do we govern a – a group of people and how do we – how do we transition them too somewhere else?” So, Brewster was among the several handful of leaders who had some background in leading the church and wanted to find a way to lead the government there as well. And so, a handful of people that stepped up and took the reins and moved them on this journey.
Jim: And so, they’re – they’re in Holland. They come back to England to pick up the ships. Speak to the, again, the logistics. I don’t feel like I got the answer I wanted there. But the logistics – they bought two ships. And just purchasing two ships, I mean, I didn’t know that. I thought – I was under the impression that they simply paid their, you know, their fare to use the ships to get across. But they actually kind of rented the ships.
Jay: They actually bought it. And then they didn’t buy the Mayflower. They bought the Speedwell. And so, they bought a different ship. And that ship had a lot of problems. So, they…
Jim: Mainly holes?
Jim: Right? It was leaking.
Jay: Yeah, it leaked, and to the point where they couldn’t – they couldn’t take it. They got out halfway into the ocean and had to turn back. But so…
Jim: Think of that. I mean, that would be discouraging. I don’t know how they – how they got their money back on that one, but…
Jay: Well, they didn’t. They didn’t.
Jim: So, they were taken for a ride?
Jay: Essentially. They were sold a boat that was improperly equipped and…
Jim: Not sea-worthy?
Jay: …No, no.
Jim: So, they come back to England, then what happens?
Jay: So, they – they had bought – they bought the Speedwell. And then they – they also took the – the Mayflower. And so, they ended up – they sailed both of them out into the ocean, came back to mainland England when the Speedwell was leaking, and they transitioned everyone to the Mayflower. Now you had some people who decided, “Hey, we’re not going to, we don’t – we don’t want to join anymore.” They’ve been out, they’ve gone out, and they’ve come back…
Jim: Well, and they probably were fearful. I mean, that’s a big ocean. And they probably – some may have even said, you know, “I think this is a sign from the Lord that we shouldn’t do this.”
Jay: That’s right. That’s right.
Jim: “Our ship is leaking.” So, they stayed back?
Jay: They decided to stay back.
Jim: How many stayed back? Is there a record of that?
Jay: You had about 40 or 50 that ended up staying back or peeling off in different ways. And you know, some just decided they wanted to go back to Holland, they wanted to stay in England. They had other reasons. And so – then they crammed everyone into the Mayflower, which was now, you know, over full. And that was part of your problem is you had way too many people.
Jim: And how many people would that be?
Jay: You know, about a hundred, and then a few sailors, so just 110 or so. It was packed. And if you get out to the East Coast, you can actually board a replica of the Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor. And it’s – I can’t believe that they can…
John: It’s not that big.
Jay: …fit a hundred people. It’s not big at all.
Jim: Oh, yeah.
John: This is Focus on the Family” and Happy Thanksgiving. We’re talking today to Jay Milbrandt about his book and all the research that went into this: They Came for Freedom . We’ve got the book and a CD or download of our conversation at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: So, Jay, they’ve done this. They start their journey now on the Mayflower. Describe what that journey is like from England to the New World. And what were some of the things they encountered on the journey?
Jay: Well, we talked about logistics and, you know, they tried to gather what they thought they needed for what was intended to be a relatively short journey.
Jim: What would that be?
Jay: You could probably make it in six to eight weeks. But then – they brought what they thought they needed, you know, some dried meat and some butter and things. Ended up having to sell a lot of it just to pay port fees before they left England. So, they started off with less than they – than they thought they needed for a regular length journey. They sailed into winds that were in the wrong direction. You have no control of this, because it’s all, you know, tack and work with the wind – right? And zigzag it back-and-forth across the ocean. So, it was a long journey. It was a – stormy. It was tumultuous. And – but thankfully it was not, you know, they didn’t capsize. They didn’t – it was kind of amazing that they actually survived the voyage.
John: How many did survive, Jay?
Jay: I’d have to look up the numbers to give you the exact total. But they didn’t lose anyone from their group. There was a sailor that passed away that fell overboard. But the – the Pilgrims all made it. And they actually gained. They had some – some children born at sea.
Jim: Oh, is that right?
Jim: So, they arrive, you know, in that shape, not tip-top shape, but they’re struggling. Describe even the idea of the compact. Where was that created? Were they still at sea when they drafted the Mayflower Compact? What is it? Why is it revered? What are the elements of it?
Jay: So, you can imagine, you’ve spent four months on the ocean, you want to get off this boat. And everyone wanted to go on land. First thing they do is they decide, “We need to – before we step off this boat and we step onto land, we’ve got to decide how we’re going to govern ourselves,” which I think is a great insight here is that they had the forethought to do this. And you know, how are we going to structure this? Who’s going to lead the group? And so, they created this document called the Mayflower Compact, while they were on board. And it was, really, our first example of self-government by the people. And they said, “Okay, here’s how we’re going to do this. Here’s how we’re going to make decisions and govern ourselves, once we’re on land.” And so, it was – it was a document that laid out what they were going to do before they stepped foot.
Jim: I think in your book, you mention this, John Quincy Adams, the quote by him about the compact. He said, “It was the first example in modern times of social compact or system of government instituted by voluntary agreement conformably to the laws of nature, by men of equal rights and about to establish their community in a new country.” So, the point of that is, that had a profound impact on the Founding Fathers, again, who used elements of that for the Constitution.
Jay: Absolutely. Now, several people have cited it throughout history as a precursor to our Constitution. And while we don’t see it directly said in the Constitution, it certainly set up the ethos of that document, of the Constitution. And you know, would we have had the Constitution without the Mayflower Compact? Hard to say.
Jim: Now speak to the difficulty that they encountered. I mean, they’re low on food supplies – Squanto, the Native American Indians engage. Describe what that was like for them. They’re out there on the frontier.
Jay: Yeah, yeah. Well, they come off the boat in – as winter’s setting in, and it’s cold and it’s icy. They’re sick. I mean, they have not had nutritious food for months. And so, the biggest challenge before them is trying to find – what do you eat? Because it’s – it’s all new. Even though they picked an area that was in the same latitude as where they lived in England and Europe, it was very different. It’s colder. It’s not as mild. It’s a harsher climate. And so, they had a really difficult time. And you know, also, there was a lot of stories about the Native Americans, and that they should be fearful of people, and that people weren’t to be trusted in North America. And they’d had this fear instilled in them and falsely. And so, they were very afraid of what they were going to find. It was a long time before they even encountered some of the Native American groups. But eventually, they did. And Squanto was one of them who – who found them and befriended him. And he is an interesting character in and of himself.
Jim: And what was that interaction like? Did the Native Americans actually save them, as history suggests? Did they teach them things that they needed to know to survive? And not all the tribes were their friends. They had their enemies.
Jay: They did. If the native peoples wouldn’t have found them and befriended them, I don’t think they would have survived. So…
Jim: Think of that.
Jay: …You had Squanto, who’s just a fascinating character in this. He had probably made four transatlantic trips by the time he met the Pilgrims. So, he spoke English. And that was the reason he – he went and met them, is that he was the only – the only native person who had English fluency.
Jim: Think of that meeting the first time, though. I mean, how shocking that had to be to the Pilgrims…
Jay: Right, right.
Jim: …that Squanto comes through the forest and says, “Hello.” I mean, that right there is amazing.
Jay: Right. And it completely changed, you know, the preconceived notions they had of the people there, because here’s someone who wanted to show them how to survive. But Squanto’s interesting, because he had been captured on at least two occasions and taken as a slave, sold in a Spanish slave market. I mean, just a really interesting person, but this is how he learned English. And so, he took them under their wing and showed them how the native peoples planted corn, how they caught fish, things the Pilgrims probably would not have figured out on their own. And I think it’s – it would have been a hard – hard survival without him.
Jim: So, they make it through. Speak to the feast. Let’s get to it.
Jim: The whole idea of Thanksgiving…
Jim: …is a – is a much later tradition.
Jim: But they did celebrate that first bounty. How did they celebrate it?
Jay: Yeah. Yeah.
Jim: What did they call it, and who was there?
Jay: Yeah. So, what’s really interesting about Thanksgiving is we have, as our – our holiday looks today, we sort of mixed up several different events that took place at that time. And when they survived their first year and they had a crop, they had a harvest festival. Now a harvest festival was – it was a secular event. There wasn’t a purely religious event. It was, “Hey, we have food, finally. Let’s eat it.”
Jim: Let’s celebrate.
Jay: It was a great event. They invited the native peoples who helped them survive. But they – they ate too much of their food and actually put themselves back into – into near starvation.
Jim: Yeah. I’m sure the – the Native Americans are saying, “Why are they eating everything they’ve grown?” But they were celebrating.
Jim: Let me make sure something’s clear, though. These are – are the Pilgrims. I’m sure that…
Jim: …All the – the thanks was given to God ahead of time.
Jim: But what you’re saying in it not being a religious expression…
Jim: …It wasn’t Thanksgiving as we know it today?
Jay: Right. Right.
Jim: But they would have been grateful to God. God would’ve been the centerpiece of all of they were celebrating, I would think.
Jim: But it was still called a harvest celebration.
Jim: I just want to make sure that’s clear.
Jay: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.
Jim: Because they were very religious people, very God-fearing people. So that would’ve been an element.
Jay: Absolutely. It just – it wasn’t a church-sponsored event, per se.
Jay: So, it was a – they absolutely would have been thankful, and it was – they gave all credit to God for getting them through and surviving. But it was a – it was a non-religious event in and of itself.
Jim: Now, William Bradford…
Jay: Mm hmm.
Jim: …is a key character in this. Who is he? What’s his role? And what did he do?
Jay: Bradford was a young man at the start of this. And – and he was well-read. He was one of the people who helped chart the course in their government structure. And he became the governor, again, as a young man. He was appointed governor of this colony and ran it for decades.
Jim: Do we have an age of that?
Jay: Yeah. He was – he was in his early 20s at that point.
Jim: Yeah. Think of that.
Jay: Which, at the time, you know, was – was kind of middle age, given the survival. But he was one of the – one of our heroes of this story, because he really brought the Pilgrims through so many times and led them faithfully. And he was a man of great faith.
Jim: So now, in the last few minutes, and this has been very educational. As Jean and I were reading the book and looking through the material…
Jim: …there are some great nuggets in here that…
Jim: …we don’t understand…
Jim: …that we don’t appreciate the history of. Talk about the declaration of Thanksgiving – what it has become in the modern world, who started it, what’s the history of the actual Thanksgiving celebration?
Jay: Yeah. So, we had that harvest festival that we talked about. Now the following year, we have the – they try to – they plant crops again, and the crops almost fail because of a drought. And so, about the point where they said, you know, “If we get any more drought, we are probably going to – going to starve. The crop’s going to fail,” they held a day of thanksgiving. So, they brought everyone in the colony together. This was a religious expression. So, they brought everyone in the colony together for a day of prayer and petition to God for their survival.
Jim: Mm hmm.
Jay: And as they’re having this day…
Jim: And praying for rain?
Jay: Praying for rain. And they’re having this day of – of thanksgiving. And as the evening sets in, these clouds come in, and it starts raining. It’s a rain that saves the crops. And they have perfect weather. This is mid-July. They have perfect weather for the rest of the season. And so, this was where we get the idea of Thanksgiving. Now what happens is the – the harvest festival about food and eating food gets combined with the day of thanksgiving over time. And about 200 years later, Sarah Josepha Hale, who wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb” – she was the one who wrote that poem – that song. And she wrote a book about – where she talked about this event, Thanksgiving, that had happened in the colonies.
Jim: And she lived around the time of the Civil War?
Jay: She did. She did. This is about the time of the Civil War. And she – this is a fictionalized event in her book, but it becomes this – this greater idea. And so, Sarah Josepha Hale starts petitioning states to make it a holiday. And she eventually gets the ear of Abraham Lincoln, who says, “Okay, the Civil War has just ended. We need a holiday that is unifying, that brings people together and focuses us on God and being thankful for this nation.” And he loves this idea of Thanksgiving. And so, we get the – the food. We get the thanks, the prayers to God. And they all sort of coalesce, and Abraham Lincoln creates this national holiday in November.
Jay: And so, it’s kind of an interesting story about how, you know, all these things came together, and Thanksgiving gets created some 200 years later after the Pilgrims.
Jim: Yeah. And I like the fact – I mean, if you look at the inflection points…
Jim: …of our nation, it’s a good thing.
Jay: Yeah. Absolutely.
Jim: I mean, President Lincoln was trying to save the union…
Jim: …way back then. They’re simply trying to survive…
Jim: …so the union can actually be saved later, right?
Jim: So, these are two big inflection points. So, the idea of combining these things…
Jim: …creating a day of thanks…
Jim: …giving – it’s so appropriate. Now you – the other part of this, Jay, as we’re ending – right at the end here – the Pilgrims, they went through an economic upturn. They were able to sell their goods. But then they moved along. They went to a different part of…
Jim: …The area to Cape Cod. And then – this is what I didn’t realize – it didn’t work well, and they simply disbanded.
Jay: Well, yeah. Plymouth ended up kind of failing, which is really surprising to me. And the history sort of – sort of fades off.
Jim: How many years was that, from the times that we were talking about – the harvest celebration, the first crops…
Jim: …All the good news, and then kind of an uptick? What was that – the number of years?
Jay: Well, the uptick started happening in – in the first 20 years, as more of the – the Puritans, then, started coming in from England, and they established Boston. And – and there was a lot of economic growth in Plymouth. And then after that, the kids in Plymouth started moving away to Boston and these bigger cities. And they slowly started shrinking away. And they sort of pushed out some of the new ideas and weren’t willing to adopt. And so, Plymouth, as a colony, faded away. And that’s why we don’t have a 14th colony of Plymouth. We’ve got the 13 Colonies. Plymouth wasn’t one of them because it just sort of disappeared and got absorbed into some of the others. And so, they took that colony and moved out further away, so they could further isolate themselves and – and their – their small group from what was happening in the rest of New England.
Jim: Well, Jay, this has been really informative. Man, I’m telling you…
Jim: …I so appreciate the depth that you’ve been able to collect here in your book, They Came for Freedom .
Jay: Thank you.
Jim: Just the depth of information – new things that I never understood.
Jim: And I’m – I feel I’m pretty well-versed in it, so wonderful, wonderful research.
Jay: Thank you. Appreciate it.
Jim: Thank you for being with us. I hope everyone will pick up a copy of this, so we really do know that Thanksgiving is not about football and pumpkin pie.
Jim: It’s about so much more. And get a copy by writing us or calling us here at Focus on the Family. And if you can make a gift of any amount, we will say, “Thank you,” by sending you a copy of Jay Milbrandt’s book, They Came for Freedom .
John: Donate and get a copy of that book at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And we’ll say thanks in advance for your generosity. Right now, through a special matching opportunity, when you make a gift to Focus on the Family, your gift will be doubled dollar for dollar. God will use your donation to help bring healing and redemption to twice as many families. So, as I said thanks in advance from all of us at Focus. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I’m John Fuller inviting you back next time as we discuss the importance of remembering the gospel at Christmas. And once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.
Jay Milbrandt is a lawyer and a professor at Bethel University in Minnesota. He formerly directed the Global Justice Program and served as Senior Fellow in Global Justice with the Nootbaar Institute at Pepperdine University School of Law. J ay has traveled throughout the world, managing global initiatives in Africa and Southeast Asia, and consulting with organizations engaged in human rights and legal development efforts. He is the author of They Came for Freedom: The Forgotten , Epic Adventure of the Pilgrims , and The Daring Heart of David Livingstone . Learn more about Jay at his website, jaymilbrandt.com .
They Came for Freedom: The Forgotten, Epic Adventure of the Pilgrims
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Giclee: Family Traditions
Award-winning artist Morgan Weistling beautifully captures the magic of family this holiday season in a 16" x 20" special edition giclée print called "Family Traditions."
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George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation
Historically we have been taught that “Thanksgiving” has its roots in the Pilgrims’ survival of their first winter in the New World and successful harvest in 1621. Yet, Thanksgiving is more than harvests, family dinners, and celebrations of the Pilgrims’ triumph over hardship.
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Whether your family has a long history of traditions or your new family is approaching the holidays for the first time, these Thanksgiving traditions can bless your family.
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We’re told time and again that America was founded as a secular society, and that our Founding Fathers were deists. Yet, the history of Thanksgiving Day shows precisely the opposite.
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The truth is, neither freedom or democracy is inherently good. They’re only as good or as bad as the people themselves. And even the best people are still sinful.
Celebrating the Miracle of Thanksgiving
Best-selling author Eric Metaxas tells the incredible story of the history of Thanksgiving, focusing on Squanto, a Native American man of faith who was called by God to help the Pilgrims in their hardships.
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Pastor Kevin Thompson explores three primary roles in marriage – friend, partner, and lover – and explains how spouses can live out those roles optimally by investing in their relationship mentally, emotionally, and physically.
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Speaking to an enthusiastic crowd of two-thousand women, J.John uses his trademark humor and compelling stories to convey four traits that God sees in each of us: We are lovable, we are valuable, we are forgiven, and we are capable.
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The Pilgrims streaming: where to watch online?
You can buy "The Pilgrims" on Apple TV, Amazon Video as download or rent it on Apple TV, Amazon Video online.
Arguably one of the most fateful and resonant events of the last half millennium, the Pilgrims journey west across the Atlantic in the early 17th century is a seminal, if often misunderstood episode of American and world history. The Pilgrims explores the forces, circumstances, personalities and events that converged to exile the English group in Holland and eventually propel their crossing to the New World; a story universally familiar in broad outline, but almost entirely unfamiliar to a general audience in its rich and compelling historical actuality. Includes the real history of the "first thanksgiving".
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The Pilgrims’ Miserable Journey Aboard the Mayflower
By: Dave Roos
Updated: September 6, 2023 | Original: November 18, 2020
Sailing for more than two months across 3,000 miles of open ocean, the 102 passengers of the Mayflower—including three pregnant women and more than a dozen children—were squeezed below decks in crowded, cold and damp conditions, suffering crippling bouts of seasickness, and surviving on meager rations of hardtack biscuits, dried meat and beer.
“The boat would have been rolling like a pig,” says Conrad Humphreys , a professional sailor and skipper for a recreated sea journey of Captain William Bligh. “The smell and stench of illness and sickness down below, and the freezing cold on deck in the elements, it would have been pretty miserable.”
The Mayflower , like other 17th-century merchant ships, was a cargo vessel designed to haul lumber, fish and casks of French wine—not passengers. The 41 Pilgrims and 61 “strangers” (non-Separatists brought along as skilled craftsmen and indentured servants) who boarded the Mayflower in 1620 made for unusual cargo, and their destination was no less foreign. The ship’s square rigging and high, castle-like compartments were suited for short hops along the European coastline, but the Mayflower’s bulky design was a handicap for sailing against the strong Westerly winds of the North Atlantic.
“The journey would have been painfully slow with many days of being blown backward rather than forward,” says Humphreys.
Incredibly, though, all but one of the Mayflower’s passengers survived the grueling, 66-day ordeal, and the Pilgrims even welcomed the arrival of a newborn baby halfway through the journey, a boy aptly named Oceanus. The Pilgrims’ joy and relief on catching sight of Cape Cod on the morning of November 9, 1620 was recorded by their leader William Bradford in Of Plymouth Plantation .
“Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven, who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof," wrote Bradford.
From Two Ships to One
The Pilgrim’s arduous journey to the New World technically began on July 22, 1620, when a large group of colonists boarded a ship called the Speedwell in the Dutch port city of Delfshaven. From there, they sailed to Southampton, UK, where they met the rest of the passengers as well as a second ship, the Mayflower. The two ships disembarked from Southampton on August 6 with hopes of speedy crossing to northern Virginia.
But just hours into the journey, the Speedwell began to leak badly, and the two ships were forced to pull in at Dartmouth. The Speedwell was finally ready to sail again on August 24, but this time only made it 300 miles before springing another leak. The frustrated and exhausted Pilgrims docked at Plymouth and made the difficult decision to ditch the Speedwell. Some of the Pilgrims also called it quits in Plymouth, but the rest of the passengers and cargo from the Speedwell were transferred to the already overcrowded Mayflower.
The traditional account of the Mayflower journey begins on September 6, 1620, the day it sailed from Plymouth, but it’s worth noting that by that point the Pilgrims had already been living aboard ships for nearly a month and a half.
Life on the Gun Deck
The Mayflower was about 100 feet long from stem to stern and just 24 feet wide. In addition to its 102 passengers, the Mayflower carried a crew of 37 men—sailors, cooks, carpenters, surgeons and officers. The crew was housed in small cabins above the main deck, while the Pilgrims were consigned to the “gun deck” or “between decks,” a suffocating, windowless space between the main deck and the cargo hold below.
“These lower decks were very cramped, cold and wet, with low ceilings no more than five feet tall,” says Humphreys. “And all around you, people are getting seasick. It’s really not a very nice place to be.”
The passengers shared the gun deck with a 30-foot sailboat called a “shallop” that was stored below decks until their arrival in the New World. Between the masts, storage rooms and the shallop, the total available living space for 102 people measured only 58 feet by 24 feet. The passengers practically slept on top of each other, with families erecting small wooden dividers and hanging curtains for a semblance of privacy.
“The crew would occasionally let some of the passengers up on deck to get some fresh air, but on the whole, the Pilgrims were treated like cargo,” says Humphreys. “The crew were worried about people being swept overboard. The journey was difficult enough for seasoned sailors, nevermind novices like the Pilgrims.”
Biscuits and Beer
Mealtime on the Mayflower brought little to celebrate. The cooks would have run out of fresh food just days into the journey and instead relied on salted pork, dried fish and other preserved meats. Since regular bread would spoil too quickly, they served hardtack biscuits, jaw-breaking bricks made from flour, water and salt.
“The beverage of choice for many of these old voyages was beer,” says Humphreys, explaining that casks of fresh water tended to go “off” during long storage. “Even young children were given beer to drink.”
Subsisting on small rations of salted meats and beer, the Pilgrims would have been malnourished, dehydrated, weak and susceptible to scurvy. When Humphreys recreated Bligh’s 60-day crossing of the South Pacific, he and his crew ate only 18th-century rations—about 400 calories per person per day—and each man lost 25 percent of their body weight.
Stormy Weather and the 'Great Iron Screw'
Bradford’s short description in Of Plymouth Plantation of life aboard the Mayflower is the only surviving account of the crossing, but it includes enough harrowing details to understand how close the journey came to disaster.
After a month of relatively calm seas and smooth sailing, the Mayflower encountered the first of an unrelenting series of North Atlantic storms that buffeted and battered the ship for weeks. The crew was forced on several occasions to lower the sails and let the Mayflower bob helplessly in the towering waves.
“They were encountered many times with cross winds and met with many fierce storms with which the ship was shroudly shaken, and her upper works made very leaky,” wrote Bradford, “and one of the beams in the midships was bowed and cracked, which put them in some fear that the ship could not be able to perform the voyage.”
Whether Bradford was talking about a cracked mast or another type of wooden beam is unclear, but the damage was serious enough for the Pilgrims to call a meeting with the captain to discuss turning back. But then something remarkable happened.
“…There was a great iron screw the passengers brought out of Holland, which would raise the beam into his place,” wrote Bradford, describing an object that was either the screw of a printing press or a large jack to raise the roof of a house. Either way, it worked, and the Pilgrims “committed themselves to the will of God and resolved to proceed.”
An Unexpected Swim
During one of those brutal storms, when the Mayflower was forced to draw its sails and “hull for divers days,” one of the passengers apparently became desperate for a breath of fresh air. Bradford wrote that a “lusty young man” named John Howland wandered onto the main deck and “with a seele [or pitch] of the ship [was] thrown into the sea.”
By some miracle, Howland was able to grab hold of the halyards hanging overboard and hold on for dear life, “though he was sundry fathoms under water,” wrote Bradford. Working quickly, the crew pulled Howland close enough to the ship to snag him with a hook and haul the foolhardy young man back onto the deck. Bradford proudly reported that after a short sickness, Howland not only recovered, but “lived many years after, and became a profitable member both in church and commonwealth.”
The Death of William Butten, the First of Many
Bradford makes only passing mention of the one death on the Mayflower. A young boy named William Butten, an indentured servant to one of the Pilgrims, fell ill during the journey and died just a few days shy of reaching the New World.
Given the dangers of the journey and the rough conditions aboard the Mayflower, it was a miracle that only one person out of 102 perished on the 66-day voyage. Sadly, the Pilgrims’ fortunes changed for the worse once they landed at Cape Cod in early November. The passengers and crew continued to live on the Mayflower for months as permanent dwellings were constructed on the shore.
With each passing week, more and more Pilgrims and their “stranger” companions succumbed to bitter cold and disease. By spring 1621, roughly half of the Mayflower’s original passengers had died in their new home. Among them was little Oceanus. In one piece of good news, another baby named Peregrine, the first Pilgrim baby born in the Plymouth Colony , not only survived the brutal winter, but lived on for more than 80 years.
HISTORY Vault: Lost Colony Of Roanoke
In 1590, the settlers of Roanoke—the first English colony in the New World—were discovered to be missing. The only clues: five buried chests and the word "Croatoan," a Native American village nearby, carved on a post. Archaeologists search for answers.
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Arguably one of the most fateful and resonant events of the last half millennium, the Pilgrims’ journey west across the Atlantic in the early 17 th century is a seminal, if often misunderstood episode of American and world history. The Pilgrims explores the forces, circumstances, personalities and events that converged to propel their crossing, a story universally familiar in broad outline, but almost entirely unfamiliar to a general audience in its rich and compelling historical actuality, and rarely presented in the broad global context required. Produced by Steeplechase Films and WETA, in association with the BBC and CTVC, this feature length documentary broadcast as part of PBS’ renowned American Experience series on November 24th, 2015.
The Pilgrims brings to life the story of the men and women of the Mayflower: both the ardently evangelical English Protestants who led the mission, as well as the less fervently evangelical “Strangers” who went with them. With distinct and often riveting personal histories, passionate religious beliefs, and the will to survive even through violent means, this Pilgrims narrative reveals the real history of our nation’s beginnings. Embedded in the deep social, political, cultural, economic and religious currents of their own world, from the first decade of the reign of Elizabeth I through the first decade of the Thirty Years’ War, the film uncovers the challenges the Pilgrims faced in making new lives for themselves, challenges concerning the tension of faith and freedom in American society, the separation of Church and State, and cultural encounters resulting from immigration that even today, remain relevant and vital.
The film features unique performances, including late actor Roger Rees as William Bradford, performing eloquent monologues culled from Bradford’s own seminal history of the colony: Of Plimoth Plantation . Rees’ performance was his last on film before he passed away in July 2015.
- The Pilgrims airing on PBS on November 24th!
- Review: In ‘The Pilgrims,’ Ric Burns Looks at Mythmaking – NY Times
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AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: The Pilgrims
Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022 at 8 p.m. on KPBS 2 / On Demand
“The Pilgrims” — a film by Ric Burns narrated by celebrated actor Oliver Platt — endeavors to tell the true story of the Pilgrims, a small group of religious radicals whose determination to establish a separatist religious community planted the seeds for America’s founding.
Arguably one of the most fateful and resonant events of the last half millennium, the Pilgrims’ journey west across the Atlantic in the early 17th century is a seminal, if often misunderstood episode of American and world history.
“The Pilgrims” explores the forces, circumstances, personalities and events that converged to exile the English group in Holland and eventually propel their crossing to the New World; a story universally familiar in broad outline, but almost entirely unfamiliar to a general audience in its rich and compelling historical actuality.
It features spectacular recreations of the Mayflower’s harrowing voyage across the Atlantic using the Mayflower II, the only full-scale replica of the Pilgrims’ vessel in existence .
Shot in only 90 minutes with three cameras, the scenes capture one of the rare times that the 60-year-old ship has been out on the open water. Recreations of the Pilgrims’ village were shot at “Plimoth Plantation,” a living history museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts, which served as a consultant throughout the production.
The film also features a gripping performance by the late actor Roger Rees as William Bradford, the governor of Plymouth Plantation for more than 30 years and who wrote the definitive history of the early colony.
Drawn from Bradford’s written account, Rees’s monologue provides the spine of the Pilgrims’ narrative, from the early formation of a separatist Protestant sect in England to a colony in the New World whose hard-fought success after a decade would trigger a massive influx of colonists throughout New England.
Rees’s performance was his last on film before he passed away on July 10, 2015.
While Bradford’s account, written over 20 years, is a source of much of the narrative for “The Pilgrims,” his incomplete telling of their story is filled in by other Pilgrims’ writings and by court testimony that include some of the more harrowing and morbid details of their journey and settlement.
Beginning in Scrooby, England in the early 17th century, the film traces the story of a small group of Protestants — led by minister John Robinson — as they decided to separate themselves spiritually, philosophically and physically from the Church of England and, by extension, the British monarchy. As the film details, in the months following the Pilgrims’ arrival in the New World in 1620, they would face rampant starvation, disease and death.
With people dying faster than they could be buried, they would prop up their sick and dead in the forests to appear as sentries to ward off potential attacks from native peoples — a transgression left out of most Pilgrims’ written accounts.
The Pilgrims’ relationship with the indigenous population was complex. They built Plymouth Plantation on a site littered with the human remains of the Wampanoags who had been wiped out by a plague that originated with European fishermen.
They believed that God had cleared the ground for them to settle. Their first months were marked by a skirmish with the native people. But in their first spring, out of mutual desperation, the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags — who were also vulnerable to attacks from other tribes — agreed to support each other.
Tisquantum, the sole survivor of the former village the Pilgrims now inhabited, lived with them to act as an interpreter and help them plant their crops.
In the fall of 1621, under Tisquantum’s supervision, the Pilgrims’ crops yielded a considerable harvest. To celebrate the bounty and an end to the hardships that had nearly killed them off, they held a three-day celebration of games and food.
Massasoit, the Wampanoag’s leader, and 90 of his men joined them, contributing five deer they had killed. The event was not recorded by Bradford, and only a few paragraphs describe it in another account, which never uses the words “thanks” or “giving.”
But more than two centuries later it would be imbued with new meaning and inspire a national holiday.
Despite their peace pact with the Wampanoags, the Pilgrims’ relationship with other tribes remained tense. Much to the dismay of John Robinson, for years they kept a decapitated head of a native person — a trophy from a bloody sneak attack the Pilgrims plotted — on a pike outside their village to instill fear in those who might attack them.
After years of struggle, the Pilgrims would eventually turn a profit for their investor, Thomas Weston, encouraging more and more colonists — Puritans, but not separatists — to venture to New England, where, in 1630, a trading port called New Boston was established.
Within 15 years of Bradford’s death in 1657, approximately 70,000 English settlers arrived in New England, overwhelming the Native population of between 11,600 and 20,000, and the Wampanoag population of only 1,000.
In 1675, Metacom, the son of Massasoit, who took the name “King Philip” in honor of the positive relationship his father forged with the Pilgrims, led an armed effort to drive out the colonists from Wampanoag land.
In the end more than 600 colonists and at least 3,000 Native Americans died. Metacom was killed and the colonists placed his head on a pike over the Plymouth meeting house. They declared a “day of thanksgiving” to celebrate his defeat.
The film concludes with the trans-Atlantic hunt for Bradford’s manuscript, which was lost during the Revolutionary War and eventually turned up in England nearly a century later. Eventually it would be returned to Massachusetts and implant the Pilgrims’ story firmly into America’s origin narrative.
Among the consultants who also appear in “The Pilgrims” are Sue Allan (author; official historian of Scrooby Manor), Michael Braddick (Sheffield University), Nick Bunker (author, "Making Haste from Babylon") , Pauline Croft (Royal Holloway University of London) and John Demos (Yale University).
“From childhood on Americans are taught to think of the voyage of the Mayflower and the coming of the Pilgrims as the true founding moment of America,” said Ric Burns , “and we honor them as such every year on Thanksgiving – even though they came 13 years after the founding of Jamestown in 1607. The real story of the Pilgrims—who they were, what drove them on, what happened to them in the new world, how they succeeded and how they failed and why we remember them as we do—is far more gripping, poignant, harrowing and strange—and far more revealing—than the Thanksgiving myth we think we know.”
“When it comes to the Pilgrims, many people either believe in the mythologized Thanksgiving story, or they know that story isn’t really true so they cynically dismiss it entirely,” said Jeff Bieber, Executive Producer for WETA . “What gets lost, however, is the true, unvarnished history of the Pilgrims — one that is dark and deeply unsettling. It is about the transformation of a small band of English men and women into Colonists, with everything that this means for themselves and the Native population they encounter.”
“As a museum with an educational mission to bring to life the history of the Pilgrims and the Native people of New England, Plimoth Plantation is thrilled to have collaborated in this production which will share this story with a wider audience,” said Ellie Donovan, Executive Director of Plimoth Plantation
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Produced by WETA Washington, D.C. and Steeplechase Films , in association with the BBC and CTVC . Written/ directed by Ric Burns, edited by Li-Shin Yu , and produced by Leigh Howell , Robin Espinola , Bonnie Lafave and Ric Burns. Cinematography by Buddy Squires , ASC , Tim Cragg , Michael Chin , Brian Heller , Stephen McCarthy , Allen Moore, and Anthony Savini . Music is by Brian Keane . Senior Historical Advisor on the project is Nick Bunker. Executive Producers for WETA are Jeff Bieber and Dalton Delan .
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Pilgrims, The 1x114
The Pilgrims’ narrative has been shrouded in myth. Who were the people who constituted this multifarious band of English Protestants whom we call “the Pilgrims”? Why did their religious beliefs make the old world so intolerable to them? How did they plant the seeds of American democracy? The Pilgrims chronicles the deep history, origins and critical first decade of the first permanent English colony in New England. A primetime two-hour documentary film by award-winning director Ric Burns, The Pilgrims embraces an extraordinary 70-year arc in the history of Renaissance England and colonial New England, from 1560 to 1630.
Inflight rights also available.
- Download Fact Sheet
Baby animals: the top 10, season two.
For God and Country
Get Updates on My New Film—“The Pilgrims”
See Providence Forum.org for more information…..
***You can stream the film at Salemnow.com.***
Just in time for Thanksgiving 2021, which was first celebrated exactly 400 years ago in 1621, here’s a new documentary telling the true story of the Pilgrims. In their own words, they came “for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.”
This documentary, THE PILGRIMS, celebrates the journey of a small group of outcasts in their quest for religious freedom. Guests in this particular episode include: Dennis Prager, Alveda King, Paul Jehle, Leo Martin, Rod Gragg, Bill Federer, and William Wrestling Brewster, the great-grandson (by 9x) of the defacto Pilgrim Pastor, Elder Brewster. This special was produced by Dr. Jerry Newcombe and is Providence Forum presentation.
What Others Are Saying About “The Pilgrims”:
- “Excellent video” – Pat Robertson, (Former) Host of the 700 Club
- “Brilliant…absolutely wonderful.” –Paul Strand, CBN News-TV Producer/Reporter
- “timely…riveting…I believe Dr. Newcombe’s film is a must see for Americans today.” -Alex McFarland, Christian apologist/author
- “awesome…terrific…inspiring”- MOVIEGUIDE ®
- “A must watch for all Americans, especially young people! It is a quick, yet thorough, real education on the Pilgrims, and the back story, for such a time as this!” -Tracy Pons, Florida Parent Educators Association ( FPEA.COM ) (Home school leader)
- “Awesome” –Christian publisher, Jerry Nordskog
- “Sets the record straight about the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock.” Thomas Mann-Librarian, Broward County
- “Masterpiece.” –Rod Gragg, historian, author of “The Pilgrim Chronicles”
- “Jerry, thanks for sending the first installment in what will surely become an important and popular series — congratulations to you, and may you enjoy strength and providential power as you continue to progress through our amazing history.” –Michael Medved, Bestselling author/Talk Radio Host
- “Taught me the history I never learned” –Joe Huggins, Former executive producer of “The Coral Ridge Hour” (which he named)
***Watch this program through streaming (for a fee) on salemnow.com***
Please keep checking for further updates on this program.
CBN did a REPORT on the film on Thanksgiving 2020.
“The Pilgrims” has now been translated into Chinese (subtitles only)
Watch a trailer for “The Pilgrims.”
On November 14 and 21, 2021, around the 400th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Truths That Transform (TTT), the flagship program of D. James Kennedy Ministries, hosted by Dr. Frank Wright, showed portions of Dr. Jerry Newcombe’s documentary, “The Pilgrims.” This documentary is a production of Providence Forum (founded by Dr. Peter Lillback). Providence Forum is now a part of D. James Kennedy Ministries, and Jerry Newcombe is the executive director.
The first PORTION (Nov. 14 of TTT) explains who the Pilgrims were.
The second PORTION (Nov. 21) explains some of what they dealt with once the Mayflower landed in America.
To learn how to get a copy of the DVD and other resources on this subject, please see this PAGE on djkm.org.
For those who wish to purchase just the DVD, one avenue is through the Jenney Center of Plymouth.
Note: This documentary, The Pilgrims, whichcelebrates the journey of a small group of outcasts in their quest for religious freedom, is the first episode of The Foundation of American Liberty series by award-winning TV-producer and author Dr. Jerry Newcombe (on behalf of Providence Forum), highlighting the critical role that the Judeo-Christian tradition played in the shaping of America. Guests in the series include Os Guinness, Eric Metaxas, John Eidsmoe, Cal Beisner, David Gibbs, Peter Lillback (the founder of Providence Forum), Jenna Ellis, Father Leon Hutton, Rev. Billy Falling, the late Walter Williams, Marshall Foster, Daniel Dreisbach, Judge (Ret.) Darrell White, and Joyce Burgess, etc. Voice work in different parts of the series include Mike Huckabee, Richard Land, Michael Medved, Allen West, Nick Mancuso, Jim Angle, etc.
My latest COLUMN mentions “The Pilgrims” special. This column deals with the Pilgrims and the Indians.
Some media outlets have interviewed Jerry Newcombe about “The Pilgrims” special…such as
- Alex McFarland on AFA Radio: available HERE
- Adam McManus: available HERE
- Virginia Prodan’s PODCAST (audio); video podcast HERE
- The Power Hour: HERE
- WRMB radio, Mornings with Brigitte and Eric: HERE
- CBN News: HERE
- Kerby Anderson of “Point of View” who called “The Pilgrims” special “very well done”: HERE
- Ken and Deb Mornings (Moody affiliate): HERE
More from Jerry
See our TV interview with the author of “The Patriot’s Field Manual”
Watch Portions of the New DJKM-TV Special on “What If the Bible Had Never Been Written?”
Watch a foretaste of the djkm tv special- “what if the bible had never been written”.
In ‘A Long Way From Heaven,’ two Utah filmmakers capture the experiences of LGBTQ students at BYU
‘a long way from heaven’ has been in the works for more than three years..
(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former BYU student David Sant, left, and former UVU student Tayler Pace pose for a photograph at the trailhead for the "Y," on Feb. 10, 2024, as they reflect on their work-in-progress documentary about the experience of LGBTQ students at BYU and of the 2021 lighting of the "Y" on the hillside above campus.
For more than three years, David Sant has been directing a documentary that his family doesn’t know about — and when they find out, he said, it most likely will be “very disruptive.”
Even so, Sant said, “I am personally making this film, yes, because I want to — but more so because I feel like I have to.”
The film that he and producer Tayler Pace are making, ”A Long Way From Heaven,” aims to capture the experience over the last few years of LGBTQ+ students at Brigham Young University — the higher education institution owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Sant is a BYU alumnus and member of the LGBTQ+ community; Pace went to nearby Utah Valley University.
Sant said they’re making the hourlong documentary — which they hope to enter into film festivals over the next year — because they have been involved intimately in the story they’re telling. They believe, he said, they are the only people who can make the movie.
“There is literally nobody else in a position that has had the experiences we’ve had, has the skill set that the two of us have put together, and has the life position in which they even take this project on, without destroying their lives,” Sant said.
It’s been a long journey, Pace said.
“There’s been moments where we weren’t sure if it was going to happen, moments when we weren’t sure if we were going to get to do what we wanted to do,” Pace said. “And then there were moments where we thought we were done and then we focus-grouped it and we’re like ‘Dude, we’ve got more work. This isn’t done.’”
A message in light
On March 4, 2021, Sant said, he walked out of his apartment and saw what most of Provo saw: The “Y” on the mountain overlooking the BYU campus was lit up in rainbow colors.
“I’m, like, freaking out because, at this time, I am still a closeted queer person, so I originally thought that that was BYU doing a show of solidarity towards the queer students,” Sant said.
BYU was doing no such thing. Some 40 students did it , to mark one year since Latter-day Saint leadership sent out a letter clarifying its stance on same-sex romantic behavior, saying such relationships were “not compatible” with BYU’s rules.
The letter came a month after the school quietly removed a section of its Honor Code that banned “all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings” — a move LGBTQ+ students at BYU celebrated as an apparent sign of acceptance, before the church’s letter closed the door to that possibility.
A couple weeks after he saw the “Y” lit up, Sant ran into Pace, a longtime friend — and learned that Pace had been one of the students involved in that first lighting.
“[Pace] was like, ‘We’re going to do another lighting in September of 2021. Why don’t you come and film it, since you’re a film major?’” Sant did, and after editing some of the footage and showing it to Pace, Sant said, they agreed they had a bigger story to tell.
(Isaac Hale | Special to The Tribune) The Y on Y Mountain east of Provo is lit in rainbow-flag colors to show support for the LGBTQ+ community on Thursday, March 4, 2021.
From there, the two said, the film kept snowballing. Their first idea was to make a short, about 15 to 20 minutes, about the history of LGBTQ+ BYU students.
But as Pace puts it, “then BYU just kept doing things that were not cool.”
Sant said he felt some hesitancy about making the movie — and contemplated publishing it under a pseudonym, or just editing the project and handing it off to Pace.
Then, in August 2021, Latter-day Saint apostle Jeffrey R. Holland gave a speech at BYU criticizing those who challenge the church’s teachings on same-sex marriage. Holland urged BYU faculty and staff to take up intellectual “muskets,” and called internal criticism of the church “friendly fire.”
That talk, Sant said, “fundamentally changed everything about the way I felt about the project and about me as a person. … That represented a 180[-degree] shift in literally who I was.”
Since then, Sant said, he’s been like a steam engine, moving forward because he “realized not only will the people with the top never help us, they will try to hurt us.”
In 2022, one year after the first rainbow lighting, BYU limited access to the “Y” mountain, with fencing and with signs that said demonstrations were prohibited.
(Cortney Huber) Pictured is the entrance to Y Mountain blocked off by orange fencing, with signs posted prohibiting protests, on Thursday, March 3, 2022.
How to tell the story
Sant’s footage of the September lighting of the “Y” provides a raw on-the-ground look at the event — and captures a lot of unfiltered joy, in the smiles and laughter exchanged among those involved.
The documentary features Bradley Talbot, founder of the Color the Campus campaign and “Rainbow Day,” talking about the planning and execution of the March 2021 lighting. Talbot tells the filmmakers that the lighting was planned through a Google document, and people were encouraged to only write their initials – so, in case someone was caught, no one would be able to disclose anyone else’s name.
One interview subject was John Valdez, executive director of The Out Foundation , an nonprofit that advocates for LGBTQ alumni and current students at BYU. He talked about the importance of finding other LGBTQ+ members of the Latter-day Saint faith — particularly when facing such common refrains as “if you don’t like it, then leave.”
Another person interviewed was Dr. Kimberly Applewhite, a former BYU Counseling and Psychological Services therapist. Applewhite, Sant said, was a participant in what he calls a “queer underground” at BYU, because anything said during CAPS sessions doesn’t need to be reported to the Honor Code.
( Editor’s note: Salt Lake Tribune photographer Trent Nelson, who covered the May 2021 lighting, is also interviewed in the film.)
There’s also collected footage of LGBTQ BYU alumni who have made headlines, such as Matt Easton , who came out during his 2019 valedictorian speech, and Jillian Orr, who sewed a rainbow flag into her gown for her 2022 graduation ceremony.
(Jillian Orr) Jillian Orr poses in her graduation gown for Brigham Young University before the ceremony on Friday, April 22, 2022. Her sister, Rachel Orr, sewed a Pride flag inside of it for Jillian to express her identity on stage after years of feeling like she had to hide being bisexual at the church-run school.
Sant and Pace estimate they went through six rounds of interviews, because they kept finding more people — mostly through grassroot connections they had formed in the community — who wanted to talk.
“One of the things that we wanted to do was, basically, make sure that we collect the voices that haven’t been heard yet,” Pace said. “We were being very conscious about who hasn’t been able to share their story, whose perspective we haven’t heard.”
The film also features animation done by volunteer queer artists — and, as the trailer shows, montages of news articles, Discord chats, tweets and other media. Sant estimated there are some 1,100 pieces of media in the film, most of it Sant has been collecting for years.
“We figured that was the only way to tell the story because it’s so decentralized,” he said.
Sant and Pace also try to put the lighting events, and the Honor Code decisions that prompted them, into the context of the long history of queer students at BYU. The timeline includes conversations sparked by the TikTok group The Black Menaces and a 2022 anti-LGBTQ protest obscured by queer defenders wearing angel wings .
The timeline also includes incidents in the 1970s of electroshock therapy of queer students — which Sant said was the hardest thing in the film for him to stomach.
“We didn’t want to end with the rainbow ‘Y,’” Pace said, “Like, it is invigorating, electrifying. How cool to just be with these kids trying to do something really special? But it would be remiss of us if we left it at that, just because there’s been things that have happened.”
Pace continued: “It’s a constant back and forth. To say ‘This was this big win that queer students now have at this place at BYU,’ it would just be inaccurate and dishonest, [because] it’s still ongoing.”
The emotional toll
Making the movie has taken an emotional toll on Sant and Pace, they said — particularly with a section of the film that focuses on student suicides at BYU.
The film mentions 15 students who, Sant said, took their own lives because they were queer or because of queer-related issues. One such student was Harry Fisher, in 2016. Easton spoke about Fisher in his valedictorian speech, and Fisher’s father wrote an open letter to the church’s First Presidency that was published in The Tribune in 2018.
Pace said that while it’s exciting to be a part of this documentary, “it’s also really hard to be with each person for about an hour, hour and a half, and understand the depths of what this is and how it’s affected them.”
Pace is a social worker, and deals with the topic of suicide frequently. He also said he grew up conservative, but became involved in queer activism in 2017, after he moved from St. George.
“I was LDS at the time, and I was wanting to be a therapist, … I was, like, ‘Well, if I want to be a therapist, I need to understand different people,’” he said.
Pace was in one of the first rounds of volunteers at the Provo location of Encircle, the LGBTQ youth support organization. As he continued to interact with the queer community, he said, “it just became apparent that there’s something that definitely needs to be done.”
Even in the roughest moments in the making of the film, they said, they found ways to keep going.
(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former BYU student David Sant, left, and former UVU student Tayler Pace, visit the statue of Brigham Young on campus as they reflect on their recently finished documentary about the experience of LGBTQ students at BYU and of the lighting of the Y on the hillside above campus on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024.
Pace said that every time something happened related to BYU and the LGBTQ community, a group of friends — including one who is a notary public — would get together at Pace’s apartment, do a few shots, and help people get taken off the church’s membership rolls.
“We helped like 16 people leave the church,” he said.
Keeping it a secret
The one entity Sant and Pace haven’t reached out for comment yet: BYU itself.
Sant said he’s “terrified” to contact the university, which he compares to a “sleeping bear.”
While he was attending BYU and a student of the film program, Sant worked on a documentary about furries within the Latter-day Saint faith. Sant said he wanted a statement from BYU’s Honor Code office, “and that is when they took away my funding, that is when they threatened me with the Honor Code office.”
The filmmakers, Sant said, “have done everything we could to keep this film secret from BYU. We’ve never touched campus.” Any footage of the campus, he said, was purchased online. “We’ve covered all of our legal bases, [so] that BYU wouldn’t find out about this project too soon.”
In a statement from BYU for this story, a spokesperson for the school said: “At BYU we want all our students, including our LGBTQ students, to feel both the love of the Savior and the joy associated with living His commandments as part of a covenant-keeping community. We believe that we have a shared primary identity as sons and daughters of God. We welcome LGBTQ students and are grateful for all those who choose BYU because of its environment of covenant belonging.”
The spokesperson said they had not heard of the incident with Sant’s previous documentary.
In early January, the filmmakers announced a Kickstarter campaign , which set a $6,000 goal and, as of Tuesday, had surpassed $10,000. However, after the announcement, someone dropped out of the project, Sant said, because they were “too scared of what BYU was going to do to them.”
Both Sant and Pace say they want their intentions with the film to be clear. Sant said, “this is far, far from an anti-Mormon, anti-BYU film. It’s actually seeking to help.”
Sant continued, “The main thing we want people on the ground level to take away from this film is that you can love something and recognize that it is massively flawed and needs change. Those things can exist in the same place. I am still a person who loves BYU as much as I hate BYU.”
The viewing experience, Pace said, doesn’t end on a happy note — and that’s deliberate.
“The last frame of our film is an article that came out last August about how BYU quietly replaced that language, so many years later, and there wasn’t any national news about it,” Pace said. “There wasn’t anything that happened about it. It was just a newsroom church press release and that was it.”
The movie’s title comes from a quote from Applewhite, the therapist, who says, “There is more to come, there is more to go… we’re a long way from heaven.”
When Sant heard that, he said, “I thought, ‘What a fantastic way to flip the expectations on our audience — members of the church primarily, and the rest of the world as well?’”
People within the Latter-day Saint faith, Sant said, “inherently view queer people as a long way from heaven — that it’s a trial, a barrier that is something they must overcome. But what we are saying is, ‘How could we possibly judge another person’s position in relation to heaven when none of us have ever been there?’”
How to see the film
At the moment, the filmmakers are only releasing “A Long Way From Heaven” to friends and Kickstarter backers on Monday — the third anniversary of the first rainbow lighting of the “Y.”
A full release to the public will wait, Sant said, until they try to get the film onto the festival circuit.
A work-in-progress screening is planned for Friday, March 15, at 8:30 p.m., at the Megaplex Theatres at Thanksgiving Point, Lehi. “Anyone who donates $1 or more to the finishing of the film can receive a ticket, as long as tickets last,” Sant said. Donations can be made via Venmo @rainbowyfilm, at the door, or by contacting [email protected] .
Editor’s note • If you or people you know are at risk of self-harm, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for 24-hour support.
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