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The Mayflower: Ship That Launched an Empire

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God’s hand in history is evident—if you know where to look! At a time when “progressive” thinkers seem determined to erase history, it is more important than ever to understand the events that helped build Western civilization.

It was July 1620, and 65 passengers watched as their captain ordered the moorings to be released and their ship drifted into the running tidal current of the Thames River. Their tiny little wooden merchant ship, the Mayflower, was setting sail for the New World, its passengers fleeing persecution from England’s established church. These adventurers, whom we today call the Pilgrims, sailed with the hope of planting a new colony, free from religious oppression, where they could worship God according to their understanding of Scripture. They were a tight-knit group, calling one another “saints” and others “strangers.”

Their first port of call was Southampton, on the south coast of England, where they had planned to rendezvous with a ship carrying another 40 passengers from Leiden, in Holland. Problems with that ship, however, forced those 40 travellers to board the Mayflower, which set out alone across the Atlantic. Together, 102 passengers and 30 crew members spent 66 days confined on a ship barely 90 feet long, battered by westerly winds and strong ocean currents. Though they aimed for Virginia, the ship reached land much farther north, at what became Plymouth, Massachusetts.

The story of the Mayflower, which began 400 years ago this July, has become an iconic tale of American history. But might it have a greater underlying significance than meets the eye? Why have Britain and America dominated world history so powerfully in the modern era? Did God intend it to be so? Many see the rise of Britain and America as a mystery. How can that mystery be explained? What part does the Bible and Bible prophecy play in providing the answers?

Celebration or Condemnation?

Plans for an anniversary celebration of this event have been prepared involving four principal participants: The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Wampanoag Nation of Native Americans. The latter two have made materials available at their Plymouth400inc.org website, and the Netherlands’ commemoration is online at Mayflower400Leiden.com. In the UK, however, the Mayflower400uk.org website has stirred opposition from the National Educational Union, alleging that the Mayflower 400 organization is glorifying colonial land-grabs and slavery. Educators have called for a boycott of the anniversary and the removal of web-based learning materials.

Given this controversy, we should not be surprised if the UK sees little if any substantive coverage of this anniversary of the Pilgrims’ voyage. Interestingly, though, if we dig a little deeper, we can see that the fundamental discomfort with this event comes down to a failure to understand a vital mystery regarding the English-speaking world.

Not First, Perhaps Foremost

Plymouth was not the first permanent European colony in the Americas. Jamestown, to the south, had been established 13 years earlier in 1607. The Pilgrims’ colony, however, became a touchstone because of the reasons behind their migration, which went far deeper than mere commerce. Their Mayflower Compact established a provisional form of government based on their understanding of the Bible. These ideals would help shape a nation yet to be born.

The Pilgrims’ success had far-reaching impact. Other settlements followed the one at Plymouth, eventually leading to the establishment of the 13 colonies that would become the United States of America. But this was not the end of British colonial expansion, which saw another burst of activity nearly two centuries later. Australia was settled by Britain in 1788. The Cape Colony, part of today’s South Africa, was taken over from the Dutch in 1795 to protect the route to India from Napoleonic predation. Subsequently, New Zealand was added to British colonial territory in 1840.

Australia, the Cape Colony, and New Zealand have been called “settler colonies” much as was seen in the “Westward Ho!” exploration and expansion of Canada and the United States. The same can be said of the Plymouth colony settled from the UK. But was this just colonial land-grabbing? History and Scripture reveal something else entirely.

In 2009, historian James Belich, of Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, published a fascinating book, Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of Anglo World, 1783–1939. He sought to understand the remarkable growth and prosperity of the English-speaking nations, including the westward development of the United States.

Belich wrote that he sought to understand this development as history—not as the mystery so many present (p. 5). He challenges Marxist theories of colonialism and debunks ideas that warfare and disease epidemics were chief causes of expansion. Not simply exploiters or oppressors, the settlers of “Anglo World” unlocked the inherent wealth of the earth and provided abundance for humanity. He points out, for instance, that the settlers at Plymouth had very friendly relationships with indigenous people for many years. Their help and cooperation enabled the success of the colonial experiment.

Interestingly, Belich notes that the English were slow starters in the colonial sphere. The Spanish had their first colony more than a century before the English tried to settle in Jamestown. But he notes that by 1900, some 300 years later, English-speakers were the winners of the colonial adventure (p. 27). To Belich, the American and French Revolutions—together with the rapid industrialization of Britain to sustain its opposition to the Napoleonic regime in Europe—were the major catalysts of settler growth (p. 555). Food was needed for an industrialized workforce and raw materials for industry itself. Belich also dutifully acknowledges the role of stable legal institutions as aiding that economic growth (p. 554).

Mystery of the Descendants of Abraham—Lifted!

Yet there is a mystery that Belich does not fully understand or address. He notes the time gap between the emergence of the Anglo-Saxon peoples in Europe in the fifth century and the dominance of those peoples in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (p. 5). These dates are too far removed to really interest him. In fact, he might be surprised to learn what Tomorrow’s World readers already know, that a longer time period is involved—some 2,520 years, in fact. This same history should dispel the mystery that prevents opponents from appreciating the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower.

Awareness of the meaning of biblical prophecies dispels the mystery. Details of the reason for this time span and the basis of the mystery that has surrounded the impact of the English-speaking peoples are laid out in our free booklet The United States and Great Britain in Prophecy. Read it online at TomorrowsWorld.org, or request a free printed copy from the Regional Office nearest you, listed on page 4 of this magazine. There is an all-powerful and surprising factor we should be aware of, and it centers around what God promised in the Old Testament regarding the “children of Abraham” so long ago. The Puritans who sailed to Plymouth four centuries ago because of their desire for religious freedom would be amazed to learn how influential their pilgrimage was to the development of the United States and our modern world.

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