The Pilgrims and America's First Thanksgiving

The Pilgrims, who celebrated the first thanksgiving in America, were fleeing religious prosecution in their native England. In 1609 a group of Pilgrims left England for the religious freedom in Holland where they lived and prospered. After a few years their children were speaking Dutch and had become attached to the dutch way of life. This worried the Pilgrims. They considered the Dutch frivolous and their ideas a threat to their children's education and morality. So they decided to leave Holland and travel to the New World. Their trip was financed by a group of English investors, the Merchant Adventurers. It was agreed that the Pilgrims would be given passage and supplies in exchange for their working for their backers for 7 years.

On Sept. 6, 1620 the Pilgrims set sail for the New World on a ship called the Mayflower. They sailed from Plymouth, England and aboard were 44 Pilgrims, who called themselves the "Saints", and 66 others ,whom the Pilgrims called the "Strangers." The trip was cold and damp and took 65 days. Since there was the danger of fire on the wooden ship, the food had to be eaten cold. Many passengers became sick and one person died by the time land was sighted on November 10th.
The long trip led to many disagreements between the "Saints" and the "Strangers". After land was sighted a meeting was held and an agreement was worked out, called the Mayflower Compact, which guaranteed equality and unified the two groups. They joined together and named themselves the "Pilgrims."

Although they had first sighted land off Cape Cod they did not settle until they arrived at Plymouth, which had been named by Captain John Smith in 1614. It was there that the Pilgrims decide to settle. Plymouth offered an excellent harbor. A large brook offered a resource for fish. The Pilgrims biggest concern was attack by the local Native American Indians. But the Patuxets were a peaceful group and did not prove to be a threat. The first winter was devastating to the Pilgrims. The cold, snow and sleet was exceptionally heavy, interfering with the workers as they tried to construct their settlement. March brought warmer weather and the health of the Pilgrims improved, but many had died during the long winter. Of the 110 Pilgrims and crew who left England, less that 50 survived the first winter.

On March 16, 1621 , what was to become an important event took place, an Indian brave walked into the Plymouth settlement. The Pilgrims were frightened until the Indian called out "Welcome" (in English!). His name was Samoset and he was an Abnaki Indian. He had learned English from the captains of fishing boats that had sailed off the coast. After staying the night Samoset left the next day. He soon returned with another Indian named Squanto who spoke better English than Samoset. Squanto told the Pilgrims of his voyages across the ocean and his visits to England and Spain. It was in England where he had learned English.

Squanto's importance to the Pilgrims was enormous and it can be said that they would not have survived without his help. It was Squanto who taught the Pilgrims how to tap the maple trees for sap. He taught them which plants were poisonous and which had medicinal powers. He taught them how to plant the Indian corn by heaping the earth into low mounds with several seeds and fish in each mound. The decaying fish fertilized the corn. He also taught them to plant other crops with the corn. The harvest in October was very successful and the Pilgrims found themselves with enough food to put away for the winter. There was corn, fruits and vegetables, fish to be packed in salt, and meat to be cured over smoky fires.

The Pilgrims had much to celebrate, they had built homes in the wilderness, they had raised enough crops to keep them alive during the long coming winter, they were at peace with their Indian neighbors. They had beaten the odds and it was time to celebrate. The Pilgrim Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving to be shared by all the colonists and the neighboring Native Americans. They invited Squanto and the other Indians to join them in their celebration. Their chief, Massasoit, and 90 braves came to the celebration which lasted for 3 days. They played games, ran races, marched and played drums. The Indians demonstrated their skills with the bow and arrow and the Pilgrims demonstrated their musket skills. Exactly when the festival took place is uncertain, but it is believed the celebration took place in mid-October.

The following year the Pilgrims harvest was not as bountiful, as they were still unused to growing the corn. During the year they had also shared their stored food with newcomers and the Pilgrims ran short of food. The 3rd year brought a spring and summer that was hot and dry with the crops dying in the fields. Governor Bradford ordered a day of fasting and prayer, and it was soon thereafter that the rain came. To celebrate - November 29th of that year was proclaimed a day of thanksgiving. This date is believed to be the real true beginning of the present day Thanksgiving Day.The custom of an annually celebrated thanksgiving, held after the harvest, continued through the years. During the American Revolution (late 1770's) a day of national thanksgiving was suggested by the Continental Congress.

In 1817 New York State had adopted Thanksgiving Day as an annual custom. By the middle of the 19th century many other states also celebrated a Thanksgiving Day. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln appointed a national day of thanksgiving. Since then each president has issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation, usually designating the fourth Thursday of each November as the holiday.

(original source unknown)



The Way It Was - an "alternative" view, By Christina Waters
NB: Ms Waters is not affiliated with us nor any particular religious grouping.

If you're convinced that Thanksgiving is just one giant Hallmark moment, it's about time for a good old All-American paradigm adjustment

THE WAY WHITE AMERICA envisions that first Thanksgiving, through a filter of sentimental hogwash, goes something like this: Plucky white pilgrims--mostly guys--set out across the Atlantic Ocean, and were rewarded with an entire continent of untold wealth that seemed predestined by the Almighty for their use. Oh, sure, there were a few unclothed savages already there--but that wasn't a problem. Journals and letters written by those first settlers contain shameless accounts of plundering native stores of food, tools and furs. If the Pilgrims found it, they took it.

After working, praying and surviving a bitter winter, the Pilgrim Fathers brought in a bountiful harvest produced by careful tending of seeds that they had brought from home. Inviting their heathen neighbors to join them, the Pilgrims gave thanks for their New World and its riches at a meal consisting of turkey, squash, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Afterwards, the men sat around smoking and watching football while the women cleaned up.

What really happened was more like this: After two months and two deaths on the Mayflower crossing in 1620, the Pilgrims landed on the coast of Massachusetts, where an Algonquin-speaking group, the Wampanoags, lived. Clad in leather garments--augmented by furs during the winter--these native peoples skillfully cultivated corn, beans, squashes and pumpkins; hunted the woods for deer, elk and bear; and fished for salmon and herring. Like other members of what anthropologists now call the Woodland Culture, the Wampanoags looked upon deer, fish and turtle as totemic siblings, and had deep respect for every natural creature. When they hunted, they left offerings for other forest inhabitants, and they would never think of planting or harvesting without giving ritual thanks for the fertility of Mother Earth.

From where the natives sat--especially one named Squanto, who'd learned English after having been sold into slavery a few years earlier by another friendly white man--these Pilgrims were in deep buffalo chips. The wheat brought from Europe was completely unsuited to the New England soil and failed to germinate. Half the settlers died during the first winter. Many of the English refused to dirty their hands with planting. Most of them were incapable of successful hunting.

Squanto and his friends took pity on this sorry situation and brought venison and furs to the luckless Anglos. He taught them how to plant corn using fish as fertilizer, how to dig clams, how to tap maple trees for syrup. The Algonquin tribes already had the custom of celebrating six different thanksgiving festivals during the year, and one of those happened to coincide with a dinner party thrown by Miles Standish and company. Standish invited Squanto and a few of his friends and their families to come on down and share a meal. More than 90 Indians--we're talking extended family here--showed up. The Pilgrim menu wasn't going to cover that many guests. So a few of the Algonquin guys went out for an hour and came back with five deer, enough for three solid days of cross-cultural feasting.

Here's what was actually on that menu: venison, wild duck, wild geese, eels, clams, squash, corn bread, berries and nuts. That meal was one of the last untroubled moments the whites and natives spent together. Within 50 years, most of the Woodland peoples had been killed, claimed by European diseases or--if lucky--disappeared into the woods.

Today, there are still 500 Wampanoags living in New England. They do not celebrate Thanksgiving.
 
Source: International Revival Network: www.openheaven.com
May be freely copied provided source and/or copyrights are included with the text.
Copyright: Christina Waters, cwaters@sjmetro.com Used with permission.
Originally published by Metro Newspapers
http://www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/11.14.96/native-food3-9646.html

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