Synopsis: Any journey worth taking will have its challenges and the Pilgrims who established colonies in America withstood an awful lot to get here. But they endured, even when "awful lot" became a perfect description of their fellow passengers.
"Can they not hurry this along? I'm damnably tired of waiting and this bloody old tub is going to sink before we get ashore!" John Billington had left England for adventure and to make a bit of money. Instead, he'd been occasionally bored, often scared and hungry nearly all of the two-month ordeal in crossing to the New World. Rations were as short as his temper and passengers, men and women alike, were growing frail and sickly. Some had breath that smelled like bilge water and had begun to lose teeth, signs that scurvy was taking hold.
"Aye, me too. Wait for them to sail from Holland, wait for them to meet us in Southampton, wait for them to fix their ship, wait below until the storms pass. Damn all this waiting three times to hell." Stephen Hopkins was equally agitated, and though his friend Billington was known as the most profane man onboard, he was willing to match him oath for oath. Especially now, crammed into a dank passageway with less than five feet of clearance "'tween decks" leading toward the main cabin of the old ship. She was a three-mast merchantman about one hundred feet long, crowded with over one hundred and thirty men, women and children. It was hell on earth, though the two tradesmen were surrounded by men who called themselves Saints. And it had the decidedly non-floral smell of sweat and vomit, though she was named the May flower .
"I've had it." Billington wedged himself around and started to move away from the men huddled near the hatch.
Hopkins put a hand on his shoulder. "Where are you going John?"
Billington turned with a strange look on his face. "I'm so tired of waiting around that I am going to strangle someone. Weston ain't here, damn his soul. So, maybe I should kill Jones? He's the one that anchored five hundred miles from where we were supposed to." He snapped his finger and grinned. "Or I'll kill Carver. Yes, that's it. John Carver is the damn fool that started this mess." With that he shook off his friend's arm and disappeared down the dark passageway.
"Kill him? Have you gone daft?" But he was gone, reappearing after a few tense moments. Red faced, he fell in line again without a word.
"Well?" whispered Hopkins. Sneaking a peek toward the great cabin to see if they would be overheard.
"Did you kill him? Holy God man, is it the hangman's noose for you?"
"No brother, I didn't. The line waiting to kill him was even longer than this one." Billington waited a beat and then let loose a great chortling fit of laughter. He slapped a knee, wiped his eyes and doubled over at the waist, shaking with mirth. "Honestly, you really thought I was going to do it? I just had to visit the head, that's all. This slop they serve does the worst things to my insides."
"Gentlemen, if you are quite done? Step into the cabin," said a man beckoning them. It was John Carver, alive and, for the time being, quite well. Billington dug an elbow into his friend's side and stifled a giggle.
They proceed inside the cabin where early morning light streamed in from the two windows over the stern that looked out on the giant sand dunes towering before them on the cape. Carver, seated at a squat table proceeded to ramble on for a few moments about a legal compact they were all signing since their original charter for Virginia was null and void this far north in Massachusetts. They shrugged, neither one particularly moved, stepped forward and placed an X to mark their consent to the Mayflower Compact. It was November 11 th , 1620 and going ashore had to be better than what they had already endured.
Wrong. During the ensuing winter, forty-five of the one hundred and two original immigrants died of scurvy, exposure, disease and hunger. Hopkins and Billington survived. Hopkins became a tavern keeper who occasionally ran afoul of the Saints in later years, though it was often overlooked due to his adroit handling of relations with local tribes, including those who attended the first Thanksgiving. Billington became the first person hanged for murder in Plymouth Colony in 1630 after he argued with a neighbor and then shot him when he encountered him hunting in the same field. Governor Carver would die in the Spring after their arrival and be replaced by William Bradford, who viewed the misplaced landing, the ensuing winter or any other setback as nothing more than "a correction bestowed by God."
It is no coincidence that severe tests of fortitude in investment markets, major drops in value over ten percent in value, are also called correction s (though their divinity is questionable). Today we give thanks for over a year, now nearly two, without a major market correction. But let's not overdo it making merry. It really is only a matter of time before we have to endure a new challenge. And no one knows when it will happen. When it does, here is a compact lesson from the voyage of the Mayflower: be hardy. Most of the Pilgrims responded to setbacks, even major ones, with what the English would later refer to as a "stiff upper lip." Put your X next to a long-term investment plan and enjoy this, and every, Holiday season.
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