|Anno Domini: The remarkable journey of a remarkable book|
|November 24, 2011 Jerry Purvis|
It was late November 2008 – just a couple of weeks after more than half of America lost its collective mind. I really can’t blame them, though. The history of our nation as envisioned by our Founders, the one John Winthrop called a “shining city upon a hill,” is no longer being taught in most schools.
I can see how Mark Alexander of the Patriot Post would become despondent, because I was also one of them. On that day three years ago, he wrote: “In the aftermath of a momentous election, an election sure to change the course of our nation, it is tempting to despair. On this Thanksgiving, though, let us resist that powerful temptation and instead take stock of the blessings of liberty.”
Alexander’s words weren’t really prophetic. Many of us already knew the 2008 election would change the course of our nation to one that would be unrecognizable to our Founders.
But on this day, I’m taking Alexander’s advice. I’ll take stock of the blessings of liberty that were given to us as a sacred trust, in a time long before some of our leaders chose to squander our inheritance to the false idol of progressivism.
It really wasn’t that long ago when school children actually learned about a hardy group of people called Separatists who fled England to escape religious persecution. But their sojourn in Holland was far from ideal. Dutch society was corrupt and their children were turning away from the faith.
So for the sake of their children, these people devised an incredible plan – to sail west to a new land where they could find religious and civil liberty.
It took almost three months to arrive. And even before this group of Pilgrims, as they called themselves, disembarked into a new land, they signed America’s original document of civil government in 1620 – a document predicated upon self-rule. It was called the Mayflower Compact. From that root eventually grew our founding documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
But by the time America was founded as a nation, the story of the Pilgrims and their voyage to the new world was thought to be lost.
In 1620, William Bradford was elected the first governor of the Plimouth Colony, serving in that capacity for the next 31 years. He was noted for both his knowledge of theology and government. And he wrote of the colony’s early years in his book, “Of Plimouth Plantation.”
It was Bradford’s book that detailed the colony’s suffering through their first harsh winter. The manuscript told of the group’s friendship with Squanto and the peace treaty signed with Chief Massasoit. The book told us of the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving celebration. It also warned future generations not to follow their disastrous experience with “common kettle” collective economics, forced on them by their English sponsors.
When Governor Bradford died in 1657, his manuscript was passed on to his son, Major William Bradford. By 1728, the grandson turned the book over to the Rev. Thomas Prince, who kept it in his library in the tower of Boston’s Old South Church. And several colonial historians came there to study the text and quote from its pages.
Then came 1775, when the forerunners of the Continental Army surrounded the British garrison in Boston in a siege that lasted 11 months before the British withdrew. Part of what was left behind was a “transformed” Old South Church. Gen. Burgoyne knew the rebels had used the church as a meeting place, so he ordered it gutted and turned into a riding stable for his officers.
When the Revolutionary War came to an end, caretakers of the Old South Church discovered Bradford’s manuscript was missing from the library. Except for what other historians had quoted, the original text was presumed lost to antiquity.
Fast forward to1855, when an American historian was doing some research. One of the texts he consulted was by Oxford Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, an 1844 book titled “The History of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America.” Contained therein were numerous quotations from the Bradford manuscript, many of which hadn’t appeared in any American history.
The annotation in the back of the book said the Bradford manuscript was housed in the Fulham
Library in London.
American scholars visited the library and authenticated the manuscript as Bradford’s “Of Plimouth Plantation.” And thus began several decades of unsuccessful requests to have the manuscript returned to America.
In 1896, Sen. George Hoar from Massachusetts, a Harvard graduate, was in Yorkshire to visit Bradford’s birthplace. He also tried to arrange a meeting with the Bishop of London concerning the manuscript, without success.
One night at the senator’s hotel, an Englishman heard the story. As it turned out, he knew the bishop through family ties and arranged a meeting.
The new Bishop of London, the senator discovered, was a fellow Harvard graduate and also a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society. And he agreed the Bradford manuscript belonged where it was written.
On May 26, 1897, Massachusetts Gov. Roger Wolcott was presented with the original “Of Plimouth Plantation,” in Bradford’s own handwriting. It has since been published around the world for people to read.
Is it likely such an incredible chain of events happened by accident? I don’t think so. The worldview held by Bradford and his fellow Pilgrims would say it was the Hand of Providence that brought the book home. For in its pages were preserved the Pilgrims’ devotion to God and their dedication to live by the godly principles of republican self-government. It was part of the
root system by which a mighty nation arose, and can arise again.
In a real sense, Bradford saw our future as it should be. His words are inscribed on the Forefathers’ Monument in Plymouth: “Thus out of small beginnings, greater things have grown by His hand Who made all things out of nothing, and gives being to all things that are; and as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light enkindled here has shown to many, yea, in a sense our whole nation; let the glorious name of Jehovah have all the praise.”
Good words for a special day. Thank you for reading, and have a blessed Thanksgiving.