Welcome to the American Christian Heritage Group blog where we give you glimpses of our country's early Christian foundations. We hope you enjoy these, learn more about our Christian heritage and undertake reading of the many cited sources and end notes. Please feel free to register and leave comments.

FIRST NEW ENGLAND HISTORY

October 5th, 2011

We have read about the signing of the Mayflower Compact. One can imagine that it was crowded in that small ship when they gathered with wives and children to watch the 41 men sign the Mayflower Compact. It was a profound moment and a model of self-government and was the beginning of our country as a Christian nation. God and his law were guiding the basic and simple principles in the Compact.

The New England's Memorial_1669 Edition

To get a first-hand history, we are going to rely on a book written by Nathaniel Morton. The book, The New England’s Memorial, along with William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation comprise of a comprehensive history of the Plymouth Colony.

From December 1645 until his death, Morton was annually elected Secretary of Plymouth Colony, and most of the colony records are in his handwriting. His careful maintenance of the records enabled him [to] compile New England’s Memorial, considered the first comprehensive history of the colony, published at Cambridge in 1669 – and widely considered the first book of history published in the United States. Much of Memorial was based on the history of the colony written by Morton’s uncle, Gov. Bradford, a manuscript that was lost for many years following the American Revolutionary War, when it was likely appropriated by an English soldier. It later turned up in the library of the Bishop of London in 1855, and was returned to Massachusetts.

Morton also wrote First Beginnings and After Progress of the Church of Christ at Plymouth, in New England. Annually since 1961, The Wall Street Journal publishes an excerpt from Morton’s history of Plymouth Colony as an op-ed the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day.

Morton was also the first to record the list of signers of the Mayflower Compact in his work of 1669. The document itself was lost.

Nathaniel Morton was born in England in 1613 and immigrated to Plymouth with his father on the ship Ann in 1623. After his father’s premature death, Nathaniel was taken into the household of his Uncle William Bradford, then governor of Plymouth.

Morton married Lydia Cooper (1615-23 Sep 1673) on 25 Dec 1635. They had nine children: Remember, Mercy, Hannah, Eleazer, Lydia, Nathaniel, a stillborn daughter, Elizabeth and Joanna. After the death of Lydia, Nathaniel married Anne Pritchard (ca. 1624-26 Dec 1691). Remember Morton, daughter of Nathaniel Morton, married Abraham Jackson of Plymouth, another initial proprietor of the colony. Their descendant Lydia Jackson became the second wife of philosopher, poet and Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson.1

Many scholars consider the Bradford history the better-written volume of the two, and some even classify Morton’s book as an abridgment of his uncle’s work.2

For the early years he drew directly on his uncle’s book, transcribing large portions of it. Until the discovery of the Fulham manuscript, Morton’s book was the best source for Bradford’s text. The part which was concerned with the years following Bradford was written by Morton himself, and is meagre and disappointing, but Johnson and he were long the standard historians for the average New Englander. They may be considered the last of the early group, and in their manner and purposes they looked forward to the second group, men who were either born in America or who arrived after the American ideals were well enough formed to master the newcomers.3

Nathaniel Morton, in his Dedication to the Right Worshipful, Thomas Prince, Esq., Governor of the Jurisdiction of New Plymouth; with The Worshipful, The Magistrates, his assistants in the said government; wrote “N.M. wisheth Peace and Prosperity in this life, and Eternal Happiness in that which to come.” He stated the reason of writing was “…to commemorize to future generations the memorable passages of God’s providence to us and our predecessors in the beginning of this plantation …”4

Morton states the Plymouth colony came about by God’s will; “I have made bold to present your Worships with, and to publish to the world, something of the very first beginnings of the great actions of God in New England, begun at New Plimoth”5 He ties God’s will with the founding of Plymouth and New England; “I should gladly have spoken more particularly of the neighboring united colonies, whose ends and aims in their transplanting of themselves and families, were the same with ours, viz.., the glory of God, the propagation of the gospel, and enlargement of his Majesty’s dominions;” Morton closes his dedication statement by sealing that he not only sees God’s will directing them, but the foundation of Plymouth and other colonies is a ‘City on the Hill’, a divine manifest destiny of our new country; “Your good acceptance whereof, shall ever oblige me to answerable returning of gratitude, and administer to me further cause of thankfulness, that God hath given me an habitation under your just and prudent administrations; and wish for a succession of such as may be skillful to lead our Israel in this their peregrination; and when God shall take you hence, to receive the crown of your labors and travels.”5

Nathaniel Morton addresses the readers as “Christian Reader” and states “Grace and Peace be multiplied; with profit by this following narration.”  The spirit of this world absolutely rejects God. To say that we are a Christian nation nearly stirs up hatred. Yet, we see Nathaniel Morton clearly declaring in his history [for future generations] it was God’s Will.  His letter to the Christian Reader clarifies the godly foundation of our country. This is from the original 1669 book:

Gentle Reader,

I have for some length of time looked upon it as a duty incumbent, especially on the immediate successors of those that have had so large experience of those many memorable and signal demonstrations of God’s goodness, viz. The first beginners of this plantation in New-England, to commit to writing his gracious dispensations on that behalf; having so many inducements thereunto, not only otherwise, but so plentifully in the sacred Scriptures, that so, what we have seen, and what our fathers have told us, we may not hide from our children, shewing to the generations to come the praises of the Lord. Psal. 78. 3, 4. That especially the seed of Abraham his servant, and the children of Jacob his chosen, may remember his marvellous works (Psal. 105. 5, 6.) in the beginning and progress of the planting of New-England, his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth; how that God brought a vine into this w^ilderness; that he cast out the heathen and planted it; and he also made room for it, and he caused it to take deep root, and it filled the land; so that it hath sent forth it’s boughs to the sea, and it’s branches to the river. Psal. 80. 8, 9. And not only 30, but also that He hath guided his people by his strength to his holy habitation, and planted them in the mountain of his inheritance, (Exod. 15. 13.) in respect of precious gospel-enjoyments. So that we may not only look back to former experiences of God’s goodness to our predecessors,”* (though many years before) and so have our faith strengthened in the mercies of God for our times; that so the Church being one numerical body, might not only even for the time he spake with us in our forefathers, (Hos. 12. 4.) by many gracious manifestations of his glorious attributes, Wisdom, Goodness, and Truth, improved for their good, but also rejoyce in present enjoyments of both outward and spirituall mercies, as fruits of their prayers, tears, travels and labours; that as especially God may have the glory of all, unto whom it is most due; so also some rays of glory may reach the names of those blessed saints that were the main instruments of the beginning of this happy enterprize.

So then, gentle Reader, thou mayest take notice, that the main ends of publishing this small history, IS, that God may have his due praise, his servants the mstrumcnts have their names embalmed, and the present and future ages may have the fruit and benefit of God’s great work in the relation of the first planting of New-England. Which ends, if attained, will be great cause of rcjoycing to the publisher thereof, if Psal. G6. C. God give him life and opportunity to take notice thereof.

The method I have observed, is (as I could) in some measure answerable to the ends aforenamed, in inserting some acknowledgement of God’s goodness, faithfulness, and truth upon special occasions, with allusion to the Scriptures; and also taking notice of some special instruments, and such main and special particulars as were pej’spicuouslj remarkable, in way of commendation in them, so far as my intelligence would reach; and especially in a faithful commemorizing, and declaration of God’s wonderful works for, by, and to his people, in preparing a place for them by driving out the heathen before them; bringing them through a sea of troubles; preserving and protecting them from, and in those dangers that attended them in their low estate, when they were strangers in the land; and making this howling wilderness a chamber of rest, safety, and pleasantness, whiles the storms of his displeasure have not only tossed, but endangered the overwhelming of great states and kingdoms, and hath now made it to us a fruitful land, sowed it with the seed of man and beast; but especially in giving us so long a peace, together with the Gospel of peace, and so great a freedom in our civil and religious enjoyments; and also in giving us hopes that we may be instruments in his hands, not only of enlarging of our prince’s dominions, but to enlarge the kingdom of the Lord Jesus, in the conversion of the poor blind natives.

And now, courteous Reader, that I may not hold thee too long in the porch, I only crave of thee to read this following discourse with a single eye, and with the same ends as I had in penning it. Let not the smallness of our beginnings, nor weakness of instruments, make the thing seem little, or the work despicable, but on the contrary, let the greater praise be rendered unto God, who hath effected great things by small means. Let not the harshness of my style, prejudice thy taste or appetite to the dish I present thee with. Accept it as freely as I give it. Carp not at what thou dost not approve, but use it as a remembrance of the Lord’s goodness, to engage to true thankfulness and obedience; so it may be a help to thee in thy journey through the wilderness of this world, to that eternal rest which is only to be found in the heavenly Canaan, which is the earnest desire of

Thy Christian friend,

Nathaniel Morton.6

1  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathaniel_Morton

2 IBID, footnote

3 The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I; II. The Historians, 1607-1783, 9. Nathaniel Morton; http://www.bartleby.com/225/0209.html

4 Nathaniel Morton, Epistle Dedicatory, The New England’s Memorial, p1 (Cambridge: Printed by S.G. and M.J. for John Usher of Boston, 1669)

5 IBID, p2, 3

6 Nathaniel Morton, Christian Reader, The New England’s Memorial, p1 (Cambridge: Printed by S.G. and M.J. for John Usher of Boston, 1669)

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND THE FOUNDING OF OUR COUNTRY

September 15th, 2011

Before we continue the history of the Mayflower and the Puritans, let us consider the term “Christian nation.” It originates in the fact that our country was founded by those who believed in God and His sovereign rule over the universe, nations, and humanity.

God’s sovereignty determined our country as a Christian nation. As Creator of the universe, nations and humanity, He administers His grace and mercy over all, believers and non-believers; He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). The Old and New Testaments state that He created the nations; “I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.” (Genesis 17:6) and “From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live” (Acts 17:26).

God’s promise to Abram, “In you all families of the earth will be blessed,” (Genesis 12:1-2; 17:6), was a promise to the world. The promise embraced land, family, social order, government and blessing. The specific reference to “all nations will be blessed” is a pronouncement of future destiny and goodness. More specifically, God’s blessing brings freedom, peace, joy, and prosperity (both spiritually and materially) to people and a nation. A great example of how God blesses a nation was during the reign of the Pharaohs (Genesis 41) in Egypt. A young Israelite, Joseph (read Genesis 39:3, 5), ends up in Egypt and rises to power as Administrator over the entire country. An interpretation of a dream predicted a seven-year famine. He set his hand to prepare for it and as a result saved Egypt and its people. “You have saved our lives,” they said (Genesis 47:25). What is amazing about God’s blessings on this nation was the Egyptian people did not worship or follow God, but were believers in false gods! 1

How did God’s sovereignty lead to America? Norseman reached Iceland in 874 and Greenland a century later. Leif Erickson, around the year 1,000, established a short-lived colony in Vinland (Newfoundland). There is speculation he may have reached the coast of Maine and Massachusetts, but there is no documentation or proof of this. During a stay in Norway, Leif converted to Christianity.2 Interestingly, his visit or visits had no influence on North America other than possibly being the first to discover it.

Christopher Columbus

The next and more important event was Christopher Columbus.  He made four voyages between 1492 and 1504. Columbus was “earnestly desirous of taking Christianity to heathen lands.”3   He declared his purpose was to be led by the Holy Spirit and The Word of God was his foundation, he said. God sent him as a forerunner to prepare the way for those who were to possess the land. He wrote; “No one should be afraid to take on any enterprise in the name of our Savior if it is right and the purpose is purely for His holy service.” (Fols. 4-6 of Book of Prophecies by Christopher Columbus).4   He landed in the Bahamas and then Cuba. Over the course of three more voyages, Columbus visited the Greater and Lesser Antilles, as well as the Caribbean coast of Venezuela and Central America, claiming them for the Spanish Empire.

Columbus’ voyages led to the first lasting European contact with America and inaugurated a period of European exploration and colonization of foreign lands that lasted for several centuries and had, therefore, an enormous impact in the historical development of the modern Western world.5 Columbus himself saw his accomplishments primarily in the light of the spreading of the Christian religion.

What is evident is how God led the discovery of our country. Columbus had opened up the trail for others to follow and Christianity came throughout the settled areas and eventually in the western and southern regions of the United States. Spain, France and England moved to establish their presence from South America to North America and from Canada to Mexico. Even though Christianity came to parts of what was to be our country, it was the English and Puritans that led to establishing our government as a Christian nation. This brings us back to the Mayflower.

Pastor John Robinson’s letter7 to the passengers of the Mayflower spoke clearly about living in peace with all men, living godly lives, and work for the good of all and to establish a civil government promoting the common good based on God’s ordinance for your good. These are Christian principles as taught by God and recorded in the Old and New Testaments of the bible. His instructions reflected their belief in God’s sovereignty and determination of the nations. In other words, he was encouraging those coming to America to obey God, and apply God’s principles in their lives and in establishing a government. He wrote in the conviction that “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD” (Psalm 33:12). His letter was prophetic.

The Mayflower voyage was to settle in Virginia: Before the Pilgrims sailed, they were granted a charter that authorized them to start a settlement in the northern part of the Virginia Colony.”7The

Mayflower

Mayflower never got to Virginia: “However, since they were in Massachusetts instead of Virginia, the charter was no longer considered valid, and leaders worried about a possible mutiny. The Mayflower Document was originally drawn up to be an interim governing document between charters. The Pilgrims eventually requested a new charter, and in 1621, they were granted the Second Peirce Patent. However, the Mayflower Compact remained in effect until 1691.”8

It was clearly an Act of God that the Mayflower never reached the intended destination. Instead, they reached Massachusetts where they settled.  Prior to departing from the Mayflower, the original Charter no longer applied and another Charter (Mayflower Compact)was formed. 9 It was this simple Compact and the lives of the Puritans that led to the foundation of our country as a Christian nation. What is even more interesting is that earlier Christian settlements by the Spanish and French that came out of Christopher Columbus’ voyages did not play a role in the formation of our nation. Most of that land remained under foreign control until the Louisiana Purchase, which took place in 1803.10  What did occur was the Christian influence through all these settlements that added to the transformation of our nation.

1 Sarita D. Gallagher and Steven C. Hawthorne, Blessings as Transformation, Mission Frontiers magazine, September-October 2011, p 10-14

2 Leif Eriksson, Encarta Encyclopedia, Archived 2009-10-31

3 Esmond Wright, The Search for Liberty: From Origins to Independence (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995) 5

4 http://acheritagegroup.org/blog/?p=196

5 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Columbus

6Scholastic Teacher – Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) Teaching Resources, Children’s Book Recommendations, and Student Activities. Milton Meltzer. Author, Columbus and the World Around Him

7 The Mayflower Farewell Letter, ACHG Blog, http://acheritagegroup.org/blog/?p=632 (September 8, 2011)

8 The Mayflower Compact, ACHG Blog, http://acheritagegroup.org/blog/?p=91 (January 19, 2010)

9 IBID.

10 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louisiana_Purchase

THE PLYMOUTH PLANTATION

January 19th, 2010

[Reading THE MAYFLOWER COMPACT (January 19th, 2010) blog before this story will help understand the events leading to the foundation of the Plymouth Colony]

A new era in history began on December 22, 1620 at Plymouth, Massachusetts. The pilgrims landed and their very first act was to kneel down and offer their thanksgiving to God, and by a solemn act of prayer, and in the name and for the sake of Christ, to take possession of the continent. By doing this, they repeated the Christian consecration which Columbus, more than a century before, had given to the New World, and so twice in the most formal and solemn manner it was devoted to Christ and Christian civilization. [1]

The Plymouth Plantation was to influence the direction of this nation in ways that many today do not realize. The day the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock has been canonized in American history. The Christian seed planted that day has birthed great fruit, blessed this nation and enriched the world. It speaks of the greatness of God and body of believers that were faithful in living according to God’s word.

A popular woman poet wrote a poem on the Pilgrims that ended with these words:

Turn ye to Plymouth’s beach, – and on that rock
Kneel in their foot-prints, and renew the vow
They breathed to God.
[2]

The Plymouth Plantation was first a religious society, secondly an economic enterprise, and, last, a political commonwealth governed by biblical standards. The religious convictions of the Pilgrims were clearly expressed in the drafting of the Mayflower Compact, “. . . for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian Faith.” [3].

John Carver was the first Governor of Plymouth. He was key in the foundation of the settlement. In 1617 he became an agent representing the pilgrims in securing a charter and funding to establish a New World colony. He chartered the Mayflower and joined colonists that set sail from Plymouth, England in September, 1620. He in fact personally helped finance the expedition.

Unfortunately, although Carver survived the first winter where half the colony died, he only lived another year before his death. He was eulogized as being a pious, humble man who cared for the sick, labored to feed the hungry and “being one alsoe of a Considerable estate spent the Maine prte of it in this enterprise.” [4]

William Bradford became Governor after Carvers death in 1621 and became the Colony’s historian. He chronicles the history as they related up to the landing and completes the history of the settlement up to 1650. Bradford demonstrated the Pilgrims were motivated by evangelism:

“Last and not least, they cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least of making some ways towards it, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great work.” [5]

By the Pilgrim’s own words and the Governor’s historical record, the foundation of our nation, first and foremost, is as a Christian society.

[1] The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, Benjamin F. Morris, American Vision, Inc., 2007, Page 66
[2] The Pilgrims, Lydia Howard Huntley Sigourney (1791-1865); The American Commonplace Book of Poetry, George B. Cheever, Hooker & Agnew, 1841, Page 48-51
[3] America’s Christian History, Gary DeMar, American Vision, Inc., 1993, 1995
[4] Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647, by William Bradford, edited by Samuel Eliot Morison (New York: 1991); Mourt’s Relation (Journal of the Plantation at Plymouth), from journals of pilgrims William Bradford and Edward Winslow, edited by Jordan D. Fiore (1985: Plymouth)
[5] Bradford’s History of the Plymouth Settlement, 1608-1650, rendered in Modern English by Harold Paget, E. P. Dutton & Company, 1909, 1920

THE MAYFLOWER COMPACT

January 19th, 2010

There were 104 people that boarded the ship Mayflower to head for the New World. The Mayflower journey is historically very important. It was the beginning of the second Colony, the Plymouth Plantation, and our country’s foundation as a Christian Nation. We will see our form of government taking place here, albeit a seed in the form of a signed agreement called the Mayflower Compact.

The people, known as the Pilgrims (English Separatist) [1], had escaped religious persecution in England. They fled to Holland for religious freedom, but after a while (about 12 years) decided to leave due to ungodly influences on their children. They charted the Mayflower, a cargo ship that sailed between the ports of Europe, to be transported to the Hudson River, what is now New York City. The ship was under the command of Christopher Jones. It was approximately 100 feet in length, and 25 feet in breadth and was a typical vessel of the time. There were about 30 crew members. Another important fact is that not all the 104 passengers were Pilgrims. Some were ‘strangers’ [1], simply meaning they were not English Separatists. What is important about this voyage is the fact the passengers had received permission to set up a colony in Virginia by the London Company. They spent 66 days sailing to reach the New World from the English port. Two people died while on the voyage, one passenger and one crew member, leaving 102 passengers arriving in the New World.

Land was sighted on November 9, 1620. On November 11, 1620, while in the cabin of the Mayflower, in what is now Provincetown Harbor near Cape Cod, The Mayflower Compact was written and signed. Some of the passengers had begun to question the authority of the group’s leaders now that they had arrived in the New World. Before the Pilgrims sailed, they were granted a charter that authorized them to start a settlement in the northern part of the Virginia Colony. However, since they were in Massachusetts instead of Virginia, the charter was no longer considered valid, and leaders worried about a possible mutiny. The Mayflower Document was originally drawn up to be an interim governing document between charters. The Pilgrims eventually requested a new charter, and in 1621 they were granted the Second Peirce Patent. However, the Mayflower Compact remained in effect until 1691. [2]

Governor William Bradford said this about The Mayflower Compact,

“This day, before we came to harbour, observing some not well affected to unity and concord, but gave some appearance of faction, it was thought good there should be an association and agreement, that we should combine together in one body and to submit to such government and governors as we should by common consent agree to make and choose, and set our hands to this that follows, word for word.” [2]

The original Mayflower Compact document has been lost. Governor William Bradford, however, wrote a history of Plymouth Colony, and we have his version of the document. Originally written in King’s English, the version below is from the National Constitution Center website at: http://constitutioncenter.org/ncc_edu_Mayflower_Compact.aspx

Composed by William Bradford
Adopted November 11, 1620

[This Compact, drawn up in the cabin of the Mayflower, was not a constitution, a document defining and limiting the functions of government. It was, however, the germ of popular government in America.

“In the name of God, Amen.
We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland king, defender of the faith, etc., having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the 11 of November, in the year of the reign of our sovereign lord, King James, of England, France, and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini 1620.” [3]

We’ll follow this accounting with the foundation of the Plymouth Plantation in our next blog.

[1] Bradford, William (1898) [1651]. Hildebrandt, Ted. ed (PDF). Bradford’s History “Of Plimoth Plantation”. Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Co.; Publication is online at:
http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/Ted_Hildebrandt/NEReligiousHistory/Bradford-Plimoth/Bradford-PlymouthPlantation.pdf
[2] Various compiled history accounts
[3] Journal of the Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford, as reprinted in 1864 (The Old English is translated into modern English for this article).