On Nov. 10, 1620 — just a day after sighting land — Master of the Mayflower Christopher Jones had to be frazzled. He had contracted to deliver his cargo of settlers to the Hudson River country, but without a reliable map he was adrift in uncharted waters. In fact, he had just barely extricated his ship from one of the nastiest shoals on the North American coast — the Pollock Rip between Nantucket and Cape Cod.
The Mayflower held 101 passengers, and they were restless. Illness had struck; two had died. The journey was long, and now winter was coming. Even worse, the settlers were divided between the Strangers and the Saints. The Strangers (so named by the self-described "Saints") were Londoners looking for a fresh start — a species of early entrepreneurs. The Saints were separatists from the Church of England who had been living in exile in Holland and wanted to establish a home outside the reach of King James. In his book Mayflower, Nathaniel Philbrick described the Saints as having "more in common with a cult than a democratic society." The two camps had almost nothing in common.
Mutiny was in the air. Master Jones must have been thinking how much he missed his regular run between England and France, hauling wine and wool. And his heart must have been still beating fast from his near-sinking when he announced that, sorry, but they would not be going to the Hudson River; they were turning back to the shore they first sighted — Cape Cod.
That day, with tempers high and the whole scheme seeming crazier than ever, the passengers did something amazing. They hammered out the Mayflower Compact — to "...covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation..." Perhaps the new world's dark curtain of forest drove home the fact that, suddenly, they had everything in common.
Once the Mayflower Compact was signed for "the general good for the colony," there were no more Strangers and Saints — there were only Pilgrims.
On Nov. 11, Jones sailed into Cape Cod Bay, and from that day on, the new lands became home to Strangers, Saints and every kind of individual in between — all, however, Americans first.
So this Thanksgiving, as the steam rises from your pile of turkey, surrounded by family and friends, and as you test the heft of your fork, think for a moment on the lessons of the Pilgrims. They put aside their differences when they had to. And that was the only way — together — that they survived and planted the seeds for all that we have to be thankful for today. ♦