American Heritage: God’s hand of protection and guidance is experiencedPublished 11:13pm Wednesday, February 29, 2012
The Pilgrims were soon to learn the meaning of the words found in Hebrews 13:5. Their Bibles clearly stated a promise that would become a very clear reality to them. The promise? “…I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”
As we had seen in our last article, the Pilgrims had left their port. They were now on their way to the New World — or so they thought.
Last minute changes in the contract for the trip was the first hitch in their trip. Thomas Weston decided to make the time of the Pilgrims contract with the company 14 years instead of the original seven years. He knew that he had them over a barrel. The Pilgrims agreed, in a separate letter to the following. “…If large profits should not arise within seven years, we will continue together longer with you, if the Lord give a blessing.” With this new agreement, they were now ready, again, to sail.
On Aug. 5, 1620, another problem came up. The Speedwell ship was having a problem. Problems with the seams of the masts caused them to turn back to Dartmouth. After a week of repairs they set sail again.
They ran into winds of 50 to 80 knots, which are near hurricane standards. Again, they were told that they were having problems with the masts. Again, they were forced to turn to Plymouth, England, where there were some of the best shipwrights. After finding no problems, they decided to sell the Speedwell and everyone would cram onto the Mayflower. No explanation was ever given for why the captain of the ship would turn back, except that maybe he just didn’t want to make the trip.
William Stoughton later stated, “God sifted a whole nation, that he might send choice grain into this wilderness.” What did he mean? Why did he say this? Because several of the people decided they no longer had the heart to make the trip. It is thought that at least 20 of the original group decided to drop out.
Since they didn’t have the heart to continue the trip, Stoughton felt that it was God’s way of leaving the weak behind so that the strong would go and make the venture more of a success when the hardships that would hit along their voyage and in the new land. God, he felt, had not forsaken the people. He had not left them. He had not cancelled the journey. He was helping them by sending only the strong and those willing to endure the hardships.
On this same subject William Bradford wrote, “Like Gideon’s army, this small number was divided, as if the Lord, by his work of His Providence, thought these few were still too many for this great work He had to do.”
When in Dartmouth, a man by the name of Cushman wrote in his letter to a friend, “For besides the eminent dangers of this voyage, which are not less than deadly … Our victuals will be half eaten up, I think, before we go from the coast of England.” He also stated that if the voyage took too long, they would run out of food before they arrived at their destination.
When they finally got on their way, only 102 pilgrims were on board. The conditions on the Mayflower were extremely cramped. It was hot in the lantern-lit area of low ceilings that made up the cramped area between the decks of the ship. They could not open any of the hatches to allow fresh air to enter because of the continuous storms they had to face since they left their port. If a person was not essential to the deck area, they were required to stay below.
The misery of the stench, which came from those who were seasick, the inability to bathe and the sweat that resulted from the unbearable heat, lasted for seven long weeks. The result was anger, bitterness, jealousy and despair, not to leave out the self-pity that so many probably felt at this point.
But, even after these times of weakness and human passions passed, the people still trusted in the God that they felt had led them to make this journey. They confessed their sins to their God and received His forgiveness.
Not only did they have to face these problems, but they also had to deal with the mistreatment and harassment that came from the crew of the ship who mocked them without mercy. A keen dislike for the Pilgrims was seen in some of the crew. The leader of this group told the Pilgrims often how he looked forward to feeding their dead bodies to the fish after they died on board. It is recorded that this crew leader died himself before the voyage was over, from a mysterious disease. It was his body that was thrown over the side, as was necessary with all that died on board the ship. After this mysterious death, the mocking from the crew members stopped.
Halfway through the voyage, the storms were continuing. When one violent storm hit, the Mayflower “was rolling so far over on her sides that the sole lantern seemed almost parallel with the crossbeams. Children were screaming, and more than a few Pilgrims feared she might shift her cargo and go all the way over. Suddenly, a tremendous boom resounded through the ship. The main crossbeam supporting the mainmast had cracked and was sagging alarmingly.” (“The Light and Glory,” Peter Marshell and David Manuel)
As the crew members tried to repair the problem, they found themselves in a difficult predicament.
The crossbeam was too heavy for them to move.
Seeing the problem, the Pilgrims began to pray. After all, that was all they could do. As they prayed,“Yet Lord, Thou canst save,” Brewster remembered that there was a great iron screw on his printing press. After frantically searching the ship, he found what he was looking for. It was taken up to the deck and was used to raise the beam into its original position. The crew now joined the Pilgrims in “praising God.”
On Nov. 9, the words that the Pilgrims were longing to hear were sounded — “Land ho!” When they rushed up to the deck, what they saw was Cape Cod. They had been blown nearly one hundred miles off course. They were north of their destination.
The ship now turned south for another, possible, three days at sea. But the adventure wasn’t over yet. They ran into terrific riptides and fierce shoals. They had heavy headwinds. Things were becoming more dangerous. They battled for two days. The master of the ship decided they would have to turn back out to sea.
After some deliberation, Brewster, Carver, Winslow, Bradford and several other of the Pilgrims decided maybe this was God’s way of telling them that this was the area that they were supposed to settle. They prayed about the situation and instructed the ship’s master to turn the ship around and head for the northern tip of the Cape (Princetown). On Nov. 11, they finally were able to drop their anchor in the harbor inside the cape.