Pilgrims and pioneers; what’s the difference?

Stock images, composite by St. George News

FEATURE — With Thanksgiving, the story of the Pilgrims will be told to the children. In July, Pioneer Day was celebrated in Utah with stories of the Mormon pioneers told to the children. Will they know the difference and how alike or different are these Pilgrims and pioneers?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “pioneer” as “someone who is one of the first people to move to and live in a new area.”

And “pilgrim” is defined as “someone who travels to a holy place,” or by extension, someone who travels to seek religious freedom.

The Pilgrims

The Pilgrims who founded Plymouth Colony in 1620 were a group of people who left their homes in England in search of a place where they could practice their religion freely. In 17th century England, not attending Church of England services on Sunday was punishable by a fine of one shilling per person. Conducting services of any other type of religion was cause for imprisonment, large fines or even death.

The separatists – as they were called at that time – went to Holland to practice their chosen religion, which was called Puritanism. Difficulties ensued, and the separatists started looking for passage to the New World.

Their first ship was called the “Speedwell,” but two attempts at leaving were thwarted by the ship taking on water. The Speedwell was sold, and the Mayflower was procured to take its place.

In September 1620, the Mayflower left, arriving in November at what is now Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Difficult currents caused the Pilgrims to be unable to land, so they finally weighed anchor in what is today known as Provincetown Harbor and celebrated with a “prayer of thanksgiving.”

David H. Cannon, ca. 1870 | Photo courtesy of David H. Cannon family website, St. George News
David H. Cannon, circa 1870 | Photo courtesy of David H. Cannon family website, St. George News

The pioneers

A pioneer was a person who left his or her home and pushed the boundaries of their country, looking for new places to live. Some were motivated by thoughts of riches, some were escaping debts and others just wanted a new home.

There were many pioneers in the early days of the United States. The boundaries of the continent were pushed by these early adopters that went in search of something better. Whether seeking riches or escaping debt – or in one case, a wife – the American pioneers opened up the land to colonization and opportunity.

One notable group currently referred to as “pioneers” included members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1847, Brigham Young sent the first company of travelers to the Salt Lake Valley. Young had been researching various areas in the West, and after consulting with mountain men and trappers that knew the area, Young settled on the Salt Lake Valley.

Over the next year, approximately 56,000 Mormons under the leadership of Young migrated to the West.

The Mormons settled into the Salt Lake Valley, which at the time was a no-man’s land between the Shoshone and the Ute, two Native American tribes that were at war. The group set about planning their new city and enjoying a new freedom to practice their religion.

But were they pioneers? In a way they were, seeing as they broke ground on a new area. But they could also be described as pilgrims, as they were looking for a home to practice their religion freely, having been driven out of the areas they had previously occupied and even having an “extermination order” issued against them in Missouri.

A story of a local pioneer

While the first wave of Mormon settlers came to the Salt Lake Valley, other pioneers eventually came to St. George. Two of these settlers were David H. Cannon and his wife, Wilhelmina.

Maurine Smith, international president of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, told St. George News about the couple and their reason to be thankful.

After the Cannons came into the Salt Lake Valley, they were invited to come down to (St. George) to start the settlement. Wilhelmina was not happy. She hated the hot dry desert, and she cried most of the time. She pleaded with her husband to take her back east, where the plants and trees grew easily and the weather was more moderate.

Finally she said, ‘Everything is so ugly here! If you can show me just one beautiful thing in this place, I’ll make myself content and I’ll stop complaining.’

David went out into the mountains that day, and he returned that evening with a beautiful three petal blossom in delicate colors.

Willie – as Wilhelmina was called – honestly had to admit to herself as well as to David, that it was indeed a thing of beauty.

He had brought her a sego lily blossom.

She never again complained but went to work to make a very productive life and lovely home in St. George where they lived for many years.

A sego lily grows in the desert near the Bear Claw Poppy trail in St. George, Utah, Apr. 13, 2013 | Photo by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George News
A sego lily grows in the desert near the Bear Claw Poppy trail in St. George, Utah, Apr. 13, 2013 | Photo by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George News

Pioneers and pilgrims both played a part in making this country what it is today. Thanksgiving day is a day to stop and remember the people that brought about changes that provided an atmosphere today where we can enjoy our traditional turkey dinner. From the pilgrims to the pioneers, the stories will be told for generations to come.

About the series “Thanksgiving 2016”

This story is part of the St. George News / Cedar City News “Thanksgiving 2016” series.

Whether you are looking for fun ideas for entertaining friends and family, alternatives to the traditional turkey dinner, history of the holiday and those who practice it or simply stories of gratitude, continue to check back over the course of the holiday for more “Thanksgiving 2016” stories.

Other stories in the series:

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • .... November 24, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    well Bob should be by with his Mormon hating version of what a pioneer was and is. LOL !

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