Blessed on the Fourth of July
Updated: June 28, 2012 10:22AM
Like many Americans of a certain age, I’ve been researching my family history.
Unlike previous generations before me, I’ve found out quite a lot about the family that many relatives never knew before.
It is a typically American story, and that’s what thrills me. It gives me special meaning this Fourth of July, the 236th in our nation’s history.
My family’s story in America goes back to 1621, when one William Hilton left England over a dispute over the inheritance of the family estate. He sailed on a ship called “The Fortune,” which landed at Plymouth in November 1621.
In a letter he wrote to his cousin, William described his new country as “very pleasant and temperate, yielding naturally, of itself, great store of fruits, as vines of divers sorts in great abundance. There is likewise walnuts, chestnuts, small nuts and plums, with much variety of flowers, roots and herbs, no less pleasant than wholesome and profitable. No place hath more gooseberrries and strawberries, nor better. Timber of all sorts you have in England doth cover the land.”
The only thing lacking, William wrote, was the rent day, because everyone here were free-holders. “Our company are, for most part, very religious, honest people; the word of God sincerely taught us every Sabbath; so that I know not any thing a contented mind can here want.”
William eventually left Plymouth for New Hampshire and then Maine. Descendants eventually went to Wisconsin and northern Illinois.
I find William’s story, as the first immigrant in my family, to be very inspiring. To risk all comfort and safety to come to a new land was daunting. And to find all the abundance and create a new life is inspiring.
William’s spirit and attitude displayed in his letter to a cousin led directly to Independence Day some 150 years later. It led to a nation that has stood as a beacon to all who desire freedom and opportunity. Other immigrants in my family history followed William, from Switzerland in the 1870s, from Germany in 1905 and from Poland in 1913.
To be part of that American story is a great and blessed thing.
As their lucky descendant, I can’t help but feel we all have a duty and obligation to not only preserve this blessed and special place called America, but to share it with all the others who come here from somewhere else to find freedom and opportunity.
A few weeks ago, I was helping another immigrant family, for people who want freedom and opportunity are still coming here, gain their share of the American dream.
They were purchasing their first home. As they nervously signed the contract, the husband asked me if I thought everything would be OK.
I thought of William’s story and realized we are all immigrants and all bound together by the idea that is America.
I smiled and nodded. “This is what America is all about,” I said, meaning their personal story coming from another country, working hard, saving what they could and buying their first home.
So celebrate the Fourth of July with the pride it deserves for all we have accomplished, and with anticipation of all the great things to come.