Having just celebrated Thanksgiving, I think I’ll share a few thoughts on the holiday from my perspective as a Baptist and as a Southerner.
Concerning the veneration often heaped upon the Pilgrims and Puritans, I remind my Baptist brethren that these folks were hardly true friends of Christian liberty and they thought very little of our Baptist forefathers.
The following taken from D. B. Ray’s book, Baptist Secession, will illustrate that point:
Poets and statesmen have united to swell the sounding praises of the May Flower and its cargo of Pilgrims, who only fled from persecution to become themselves the bitter persecutors of the hated Baptists . . . but, what bard, historian, or statesman, is kind enough to give the name, mark the course, and record the incidents of the voyage of that favored vessel, which conveyed the Welsh Tract church from the shores of Europe across the briny deep, to find a home in the deep, tangled forests of America, where they might unfurl the banner of religious liberty, which should never be stained by the foul blot of persecution? Or, who can furnish the history of that ship which bore the heroic John Clarke from London to the American shores? Must it be left to ocean winds and waves to sing the praises of these pioneers of the Baptist denomination in America? Perchance these favored vessels were guarded in their perilous voyages by angelic legions, who have treasured up in the archives of heaven the details of the adventures and sufferings of the members of the “sect” which is every-where spoken against.
Ray was writing concerning John Clarke, who established the first Baptist church in America in 1638, and of the Welsh Tract Baptist Church which left Wales and came to America as a group in 1701.
You can read more of how Baptists were treated by the established Protestant churches in America here: Protestant Persecution of Baptists in Early America
As a Southerner, I am also aware that it was not the yankees, but my Southern forebears who first celebrated a Thanksgiving in America. Christopher M. Sullivan, Former Commander-in-Chief, Sons of Confederate Veterans reminds us:
Modern pundits often credit U.S. President Abraham Lincoln with proclaiming the first Thanksgiving Day. Or, even more prominently, we see the first Thanksgiving Day associated with the Pilgrims who settled at Plymouth Rock, in what is now Massachusetts.
Like so much of what we hear about American history this is simply wrong.
The first Thanksgiving in this country was, in fact, celebrated at Jamestown, Virginia in December 1607. The Berkley Plantation’s charter required that the day of the colonist’s safe arrival, “…shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving….” The sour-faced Pilgrims were still thirteen years into the future.
Of course, the politically correct love to point to the happy scene of the Pilgrims in their black garb, white collars and stiff hats, sitting at a grand banquet with the ruddy savages, all in all a scene of peace and ethnic tranquility. This joint celebration took place because the Pilgrims’ socialistic economic practices (i.e., a common storehouse) had driven them to the brink of starvation, before the Indians took pity and rescued them. If those Indians had only known . . .
But, despite all the credit incorrectly given to the Pilgrims of New England, it is President Lincoln who is oft credited with the first Thanksgiving proclamation because it began an unbroken string of such acts occurring in late November.
But Lincoln was not even the first president to do so since George Washington had issued such a proclamation in 1789. More to the point for us, Confederate President Jefferson Davis declared Friday, November 15, 1861 as, “…a day of national humiliation and prayer…,” — a full two years before Lincoln’s more famous declaration.
Now, Thanksgiving Day is little more than the opening day of shopping season. In 1861, however, it was a different story.
At the time he issued his proclamation, Pres. Davis understood the enormity of the danger the South was facing and his decision to call upon the, “. . . clergy and the people of these Confederate States to repair on that day to their homes and usual places of public worship, and to implore blessing of Almighty God upon our people, that he may give us victory over our enemies, preserve our homes and altars from pollution, and secure to us the restoration of peace and prosperity” was more than just a platitude.
I pray that y’all had a blessed Thanksgiving and that you were able to do so without venerating our yankee puritan oppressors and persecutors.
You might also be interested in listening to our Thanksgiving day service that includes a brief message covering some of these same topics:
Free Florida First advocates for a Free, Independent, Godly, Prosperous, and Traditionally Southern Florida.