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)

CONNECTICUT FOUNDED ON WORD OF GOD

January 25th, 2010

Part 2

Connecticut became the third established colony to have a constitution and receive a Charter. Prior to the Charter, several Connecticut communities had established constitutions based on the word of God.

Thomas Hooker (1586–1647) founded the Colony of Connecticut after dissenting with Puritan leaders in Massachusetts. He was a prominent Puritan religious and colonial leader, an ordained minister and was a great speaker and a leader of universal Christian suffrage. [1]

Connecticut calls itself the ‘Constitution State’ and there is a good reason for this. The founders of Connecticut created a significant charter for self-government entitled The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut. This document became the first complete constitution in the New World. Moreover, it was based on a sermon by their founder, the Reverend Thomas Hooker. [2] In fact, it has also been called, “the first written constitution …in the history of nations.” [3]

Hooker’s sermon on May 31st, 1638 emphasized “the choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by Gods own allowance,” and that “they who have the power to appoint officers and magistrates, it is in their power, also, to set bounds and limitations of the power and place unto which they call them,” because “the foundation of authority is laid, firstly, in the free consent of the people.” [4] His advocacy was to establish a government of law and order by and subject to the will of the people and base it on the word of God. The final constitution was signed on January 14, 1639 and it was the beginning of our Republic and democracy. Thomas Hooker, for this reason, is a founding father to our United States Constitution that was written 150 years later.

Fundamental Orders of 1639

For as much as it hath pleased Almighty God by the wise disposition of his divine providence so to order and dispose of things that we the Inhabitants and Residents of Windsor, Hartford and Wethersfield are now cohabiting and dwelling in and upon the River of Connectecotte and the lands thereunto adjoining; and well knowing where a people are gathered together the word of God requires that to maintain the peace and union of such a people there should be an orderly and decent Government established according to God, to order and dispose of the affairs of the people at all seasons as occasion shall require; do therefore associate and conjoin ourselves to be as one Public State or Commonwealth; and do for ourselves and our successors and such as shall be adjoined to us at any time hereafter, enter into Combination and Confederation together, to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus which we now profess, as also, the discipline of the Churches, which according to the truth of the said Gospel is now practiced amongst us; as also in our civil affairs to be guided and governed according to such Laws, Rules, Orders and Decrees as shall be made, ordered, and decreed as followeth: [5]

This great constitution declares Divine Providence at its core, calls all settlers to be in a covenant “to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” and to be guided and governed according to the constitution based on God’s word.

[1] History of the United States of America, Henry William Elson, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1904
[2] The Book That Made America, How the Bible Formed Our Nation, Jerry Newcombe, D.Min., Nordskog Publishing, 2009
[3] History of the first Church in Hartford, George Leon Walker, Brown & Gross, 1894; as quoted in The Christian History of the Constitution: Christian Self-Government, Verna Hall, Page 249
[4] The Founding of New England, James Truslow Adams, The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1921; End Note: The text of the sermon has not survived and notes taken by some hearer are published in G.L. Walker, Thomas Hooker (New York, 1891), Page 125.
[5] Fundamental Orders of 1639, The Avalon Project, Yale Law School, Lillian Goldman Law Library online at: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/17th_century/order.asp

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

CHARTER OF VIRGINIA ESTABLISHED CHRISTIAN PURPOSE

January 18th, 2010

The beginning of our nation came through 13 independent colonies that had their own constitutions prior to the Declaration of Independence. The original Charters that established the colonies will demonstrate how we came to be a Christian nation.

The first settlement was the Jamestown Colony in Virginia (1607) followed by the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts (1620). These Charters are the very foundation of America and the Christian religion was the underlying foundation of Charters. Essentially our ancestors firmly believed in and practiced total reliance on God’s providence. It was this faith that strengthened them to continue even in the face of more than half of the population that died.

The Charter from The London Company that financed this settlement clearly emphasizes the Christian character of their mission. The first Charter of Virginia set forth its purpose [1]:

“We, greatly commending, and graciously accepting of, their Desires for the Furtherance of so noble a Work, which may, by the Providence of Almighty God, hereafter tend to the Glory of his Divine Majesty, in propagating of Christian Religion to such People, as yet live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God,” [2]

The strong faith of these settlers began immediately after landing in May of 1607 with worship services led by the Reverend Robert Hunt. He was the Chaplain of the Colony and immediately had set up a place outside to work, study and write his sermons. Once settled in the fort, the whole company, except those who were on guard, attended regular prayer and services led by the Reverend Hunt. Charles Lemuel Thompson, when writing about this, said, “There the first seed for English Christianity on the American continent was sown.” [3]

Even more extraordinary is the fact that those that landed at Jamestown were not prepared for the hardships they encountered. Many were gentlemen, unaccustomed to hard labor. There were periods of depressing times, crushed hopes and difficult days. More than half of the original founders died! They reached a point when food was all but gone, yet they prayed in faith and God heard their prayers delivering the needed provisions through the Indians.

A few years later a new Governor of Jamestown, Lord de La Warr, arrived in 1610 and found the colony on the verge of collapse. Reverend Robert Hunt had died earlier in 1607, so his very first action was to organize a worship service and issue a biblical call for sacrifice and enterprise. [4]

From the very first, it is more than evident that the very foundation to our society was based on the Pilgrim’s firm belief in Jesus Christ and that God was sovereign over all things. B.F. Morris in his momentous work was able to conclude, “The Christian religion was the underlying basis and pervading element of all the social and civil institutions of the Virginia colony.” [4]

[1] America’s Christian Heritage, Gary DeMar, Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2003, Pages 14 and 15, Compiled
[2] The First Charter of Virginia; April 10, 1606 (Hening’s Statutes of Virginia, I, 57-66), The Avalon Project, Yale Law School, Lillian Goldman Law Library; Source: The Federal and State Constitutions Colonial Charters, and Other Organic Laws of the States, Territories, and Colonies Now or Heretofore Forming the United States of America; Compiled and Edited Under the Act of Congress of June 30, 1906 by Francis Newton Thorpe, Washington, DC : Government Printing Office, 1909.
[3] The Religious Foundations of America, Charles Lemuel Thompson, Page 83, 1917
[4] The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, B.F. Morris, George W. Childs, Philadelphia, PA., 1864, Page 94