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The 400-year love affair between America and Moses began this week in 1620. On August 15, the Mayflower set sail set from Southampton with 102 passengers on board. Their leader, John Robinson, described them as the chosen people, casting off the yoke of their pharaoh, King James. William Bradford, their first governor, proclaimed their mission to be as vital as that of “Moses and the Israelites when they went out of Egypt.”
“The leader of a people in a wilderness had need be a Moses,” Cotton Mather said. “And if a Moses had not led the people of Plymouth Colony,” he wrote of Bradford, then the colony would not have survived.
Yet these leaders did have a choice. For centuries, European explorers had set out for new lands without using expressions like pharaoh and promised land, Exodus and Moses. By choosing these evocative lyrics, the founders of America introduced the themes of oppression and redemption, freedom and law, that would carry through the next four centuries. Because of them, the story of Moses became the story of America.