On this Thanksgiving, let us discuss the Pilgrims, the people who began this tradition. Who were the Pilgrims? The Pilgrims, in fact, were religious extremists, in the sense they were willing to die for their religious beliefs, or at least suffer greatly for them. More so than your average man or woman, i.e. moderate Christians. They were outcasts in England. They were a group of about 100 people, who lived communally, a society segregated from the rest. And were thus dismissed, despised or even threatened by the English government to worship and live in and among ordinary society. This threat was enough to push the Pilgrims to immigrate to Holland.
Once there they settled into their “society within society.” They worked in the factories, and got adjusted to their new home, which was no easy task. They did not know the language, nor the culture. But what they did have was the freedom to live together and worship freely. Again, they went against the norm. They lived in Holland 10 years as a segregated group of citizens. Their project was clearly sustainable in Holland. But as is usually the case with immigration, it was the children that the parents worried about. The adults felt the next generation would be absorbed into larger society and the segregated community with its religious ideals would die out.
The Pilgrims felt they needed total detachment from encroaching society, whether it be Dutch or otherwise. This kind of freedom could only be found in a place that was thought empty: America. They arrived in Cape Cod, losing many members along the journey. But they were aided by their sailors… their colony made it, though they were plagued by illness, hunger and violent clashes with Native American tribes.
Let us conclude by asking this question: Why the Pilgrims? What made them able to become the first successful English colony of settlers in America? Let us remember others had tried but failed. At least one colony before them was lost.
The reason for their success is unique to them: practice. The Pilgrims started colonial life in England, when they separated themselves from ordinary society. They lived this way for several years. When they immigrated to Holland, they gained ten more years of practice living as a colony, under more challenging circumstances. It was this practice that gave them the confidence and intuition for success in an “empty land”. Without prior separate communal life in England and Holland, the Pilgrims would likely have never survived in America.
Within ten years a flood of settlers began to arrive in New England. The Pilgrims were soon absorbed… This time, however, they welcomed integration, for they viewed all newcomers as separatists.