The recent celebration of the national holiday of Thanksgiving prompts me to make two comments about the Williamsburg Charter. The first is that the concept of a charter document providing cohesion for a community has its roots in Puritan theology. One can make light of this connection, as a cartoonist in the New Yorker did, depicting two of the Pilgrims standing on the deck of the Arabella, one telling the other: “Religious freedom is my main reason for coming here, but when we get that settled, I'm going into real estate.” As humorous as this spoof on the hidden economic agenda of the Pilgrims might be, the commonplace image of the Pilgrims as rugged individualists overlooks the role of the covenant or communal bonding that was so central to their thought.
One of the most famous sermons of the seventeenth century, entitled “A Model of Christian Charity,” was delivered not in a church but on the deck of the ship depicted in the New Yorker cartoon. The preacher was not an ordained member of the clergy, but the civil leader of the new colony, Governor John Winthrop, who encouraged his weary fellow travelers with the words: “We must delight in each other, make other's conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body.”