It’s been almost 400 years now since the Mayflower first arrived in Massachusetts, and the lives of those first pilgrims can feel so removed from us now. More than a dozen generations have come to pass, and with that, countless cultural and technological advancements.
But for those sitting down for Thanksgiving to enjoy a much-anticipated feast, it’s possible you have a connection to the first settlers who braved the voyage to America.
Issaquah resident Bill Cushman, who currently lives at Spiritwood at Pine Lake’s Village Concepts retirement center, and his brother, Phil, can tie their lineage 13 generations back to the man who gave the first documented sermon in America.
Their ancestor, Robert Cushman, was a business agent for the Plymouth colony, essentially serving as a financial liaison between investors who funded the trip to the New World and the first settlers. Cushman had intended on traveling with the Mayflower in 1620, but when the crew discovered the smaller ship was leaky, Cushman was forced to stay an additional year in England. He instead arrived at the colony in late 1621, according to the Cushman family, who have retold the story of life with the help of historical texts.
Once he arrived, he realized how dire the conditions were. Many of the pilgrims died on the voyage, and many more perished during the first winter. Cushman was only in America for a short time, but he delivered an impactful sermon entitled, The Sin and Danger of Self-Love, that’s been preserved through history and is thought to have lifted the spirits of the first settlers, encouraging them to dash their selfishness and work together.
Near the end of his lengthy sermon, he said: “Lay away all thought of former things and forget them, and think upon the things that are; look not gapingly one upon other, pleading your goodness, your birth, your life you lived, your means you had and might have had; here you are by God’s providence under difficulties; be thankful to God, it is no worse, and take it in good part that which is, and lift not up yourself because of former privileges…”
It’s believed that prior to his departure back to England, the group enjoyed a feast known as the Harvest Celebration, an English tradition that prefaced Thanksgiving.
Unfortunately for Cushman, he never returned to America. He died in England in 1625, likely from disease. His sermon was printed in England in 1622 and was reprinted in Boston in 1724.
According to a biographical sketch penned in 1846 by John Davis, late judge of the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, Cushman “was one of the most distinguished characters among that collection of worthies, who quitted England on account of their religious difficulties…”
Cushman continues to be celebrated for his work with religious freedom. Cushman’s son eventually sailed to New England and, subsequently, some of the Cushmans built a life in modern Issaquah.
Sometimes the world feels so big, but we’re often reminded of how small it can be. Cushman’s sermon and biography can be found here.