Thursday, November 23, 2017
Thanksgiving History by the Pilgrims Who Lived It
THERE IS A LOT OF FAKE HISTORY WRITTEN ABOUT EVERY THANKSGIIVING. But there are 2 -- and only 2 -- primary sources for the events of autumn 1621 in Plymouth -- Edward Winslow writing in Mourt's Relation and William Bradford writing in Of Plymouth Plantation. • • • EDWARD WINSLOW, A FORGOTTEN LEADER OF PLYMOUTH PLANTATION. Edward Winslow was born in Droitwich, County Worcester in 1595. He was traveling in the Low Countries and became acquainted with the Pilgrims' church in Leiden. He was married in Leiden in 1618 to Elizabeth Barker, and was called a printer of London at the time. It is quite possible he was assisting William Brewster and Thomas Brewer in their publishing of religious books that were illegal in England. Edward Winslow and wife Elizabeth traveled on the Mayflower to Plymouth in 1620. Elizabeth died the first winter, and Edward remarried to the widowed Mrs. Susanna White, on 12 May 1621 -- the first marriage in the Plymouth Colony. • Winslow quickly became one of the more prominent men in the colony. He was on many of the early explorations of Cape Cod, and led a number of expeditions to meet and trade with the Indians. He wrote several first-hand accounts of these early years, including portions of A Relation or Journal of the Proceedings of the Plantation Settled at Plymouth (London, 1622) and the entirety of Good News from New England (London, 1624). • Edward Winslow became involved in defending the Plymouth and later Massachusetts Bay Colonies from their opponents and adversaries in England, and made several trips back and forth between England and Massachusetts, including trips in 1623/4, 1630, and 1634. On one of these vowages he was arrested and thrown into the Fleet Prison in London by his adversaries, on grounds that he had performed marriage ceremonies without being ordained -- the Pilgrims viewed marriage as an event to be handled by the civil magistrates, not by the Church. • In Plymouth, he held a number of political offices, and was routinely elected an assistant to Governor William Bradford. Winslow himself was elected governor of Plymouth on three occasions: 1632/3, 1635/6, and 1644. • Winslow later returned to England shortly after the English Civil War, and published several pamphlets in defense of the New England colonies, including Hypocrisy Unmasked (1646) and New England's Salamander Discovered (1647). He also wrote the introduction to the Glorious Progress of the Gospel Amongst the Indians in New England (1649). After Winslow returned to England, he was on several Parliamentary committees. He died in 1655 at sea between Hispaniola and Jamaica, while serving as a commissioner for Oliver Cromwell on a military expedition to retake the island of Hispaniola. • • • MOURT'S RELATION, THE RECORD OF THE FIRST THANKSGIVING. What makes Edward Winslow particularly important on Thanksgiving is that his account of the 1621 Thanksgiving is one of only two eye-witness accounts of the Feast. Winslow's account is usually called Mourt's Relation because of the signature of G. Mourt, found at the end of the address to the reader, although historians are in agreement that he did no more than commend the work to the public. There is general agreement that G. Mourt was George Morton, and that the Relation was the work of William Bradford and Edward Winslow. Mourt's Relation was written between November 1620 and November 1621 and describes in detail what happened from the landing of the Mayflower Pilgrims on Cape Cod in Provincetown Harbor through their exploring and eventual settling of Plymouth Colony. The book describes their relations with the surrounding Native Americans, up to what is commonly called the first Thanksgiving and the arrival of the ship Fortune in November 1621. Mourt's Relation was first published and sold by John Bellamy in London in 1622. • In Mourt's Relation, Winslow wrote an account of the first Thanksgiving of 1621 : "Our harvest being gotten in, our governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours ; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine and others. And although it be not always so plentifull, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plentie." • • • GOVERNOR BRADFORD's ACCOUNT OF THE FIRST 1621 THANKSGIVING. William Bradford wrote his version thus : "They begane now to gather in ye small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health & strenght, and had all things in good plenty; for as some were thus imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersised in fishing, aboute codd, & bass, & other fish, of which yey tooke good store, of which every family had their portion. All ye somer ther was no want. And now begane to come in store of foule, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besids water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they tooke many, besids venison, &c. Besids, they had about a peck a meale a weeke to a person, or now since harvest, Indean corn to yt proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largly of their plenty hear to their freinds in England, which were not fained, but true reports." • • • THE SECOND SHIP TO ARRIVE AT PLYMOUTH. The Mayflower arrived in Plymouth in December, 1620. No further ships arrived in Plymouth until immediately after that "First Thanksgiving" -- when the Fortune arrived in November, 1621. One of the passengers on the Fortune, William Hilton, wrote a letter home that November. Although he was not present at that "First Thanksgiving," he mentions turkeys. • Here is the letter of William Hilton, passenger on the Fortune, written in November, 1621, as published in "From Alexander Young's Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers." Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1841 : "Loving Cousin, At our arrival in New Plymouth, in New England, we found all our friends and planters in good health, though they were left sick and weak, with very small means; the Indians round about us peaceable and friendly; the country 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, that affords beasts of divers sorts, and great flocks of turkey, quails, pigeons and partridges; many great lakes abounding with fish, fowl, beavers, and otters. The sea affords us great plenty of all excellent sorts of sea-fish, as the rivers and isles doth variety of wild fowl of most useful sorts. Mines we find, to our thinking; but neither the goodness nor quality we know. Better grain cannot be than the Indian corn, if we will plant it upon as good ground as a man need desire. We are all freeholders; the rent-day doth not trouble us; and all those good blessings we have, of which and what we list in their seasons for taking. 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. I desire your friendly care to send my wife and children to me, where I wish all the friends I have in England; and so I rest. Your loving kinsman, William Hilton." • • • THE 53 PILGRIMS PRESENT AT THE FIRST THANKSGIVING. In "Of Plymouth Plantation," William Bradford lists the 102 Mayflower passengers and also tells us who died during the first winter of 1620/1621 and spring of 1621. The Pilgrims at the "First Thanksgiving" are all the Mayflower survivors. We don't often name the Pilgrims who actually attended the First Thanksgiving. There were 53 of them -- 4 Married Women : Eleanor Billington, Mary Brewster, Elizabeth Hopkins, Susanna White Winslow. -- 5 Adolescent Girls : Mary Chilton (14), Constance Hopkins (13 or 14), Priscilla Mullins (19), Elizabeth Tilley (14 or 15) and Dorothy, the Carver's unnamed maidservant, perhaps 18 or 19. -- 9 Adolescent Boys : Francis & John Billington, John Cooke, John Crackston, Samuel Fuller (2d), Giles Hopkins, William Latham, Joseph Rogers, Henry Samson. -- 13 Young Children : Bartholomew, Mary & Remember Allerton, Love & Wrestling Brewster, Humility Cooper, Samuel Eaton, Damaris & Oceanus Hopkins, Desire Minter, Richard More, Resolved & Peregrine White. -- 22 Men : John Alden, Isaac Allerton, John Billington, William Bradford, William Brewster, Peter Brown, Francis Cooke, Edward Doty, Francis Eaton, [first name unknown] Ely, Samuel Fuller, Richard Gardiner, John Goodman, Stephen Hopkins, John Howland, Edward Lester, George Soule, Myles Standish, William Trevor, Richard Warren, Edward Winslow, Gilbert Winslow. • • • THE PILGRIMS REJECTED A "COMMUNIST" SOCIETY -- BECAUSE IT DIDN'T WORK. In "Of Plymouth Plantation," Governor William Bradford wrote the history of the Pilgrim Plymouth colony. In hsi history, Bradford relates how the Pilgrims set up a communist system in which they owned the land in common and would also share the harvests in common. By 1623, it became clear this system was not working out well. The men were not eager to work in the fields, since if they worked hard, they would have to share their produce with everyone else. The colonists faced another year of poor harvests. They held a meeting to decide what to do. As Governor Bradford describes it, "At last after much debate of things, the governor gave way that they should set corn everyman for his own particular...That had very good success for it made all hands very industrious, so much [more] corn was planted than otherwise would have been." The Pilgrims changed their economic system from communism to individual enterprise; the land was still owned in common and could not be sold or inherited, but each family was allotted a portion, and they could keep whatever they grew. The governor "assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number for that end." Bradford wrote that their experience taught them that for society as a whole, communism, or sharing all the production, was vain and a failure : "The experience that has had in this common course and condition, tried sundrie years, and that amongst Godly and sober men, may well evince the Vanities of the conceit of Plato's and other ancients, applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of propertie, and bringing into commone wealth, would make them happy and flourishing, as if they were wiser than God." • The first vitally important American economic lesson had been learned. • • • GOVERNOR BRADFORD'S 1623 THANKSGIVING PROCLAMATION. The new incentive-based economic system was great success. It looked like they would have an abundant harvest this time. But then, during the summer, the rains stopped, threatening the crops. The Pilgrims held a "Day of Humiliation" and prayer. The rains came and the harvest was saved. It is logical to surmise that the Pilgrims saw this as a was a sign that God blessed their new economic system, because Governor Bradford proclaimed November 29, 1623, as a Day of Thanksgiving. This is the first proclamation of "Thanksgiving" found in Bradford's chronicles or any other historical record. The first Thanksgiving Day was therefore in November 1623. Much later, this first Thanksgiving Day became confused and mixed up with the Three-day feast with the Indians of 1621, about which Edward Winslow had written of their blessing : "yet by the goodness of God, we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plentie." • Here is Governor Bradford's 1623 First Thanksgiving Proclamation three years after the Pilgrims settled at Plymouth : "Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience. Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the daytime, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings. William Bradford, Ye Governor of Ye Colony." • • • BUT, THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT THE PILGRIMS CELEBRATED THEIR FIRST THANKSGIVING IN NOVEMBER 1621. In September 1620, a small ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers -- an assortment of religious separatists seeking a new home where they could freely practice their faith and other individuals lured by the promise of prosperity and land ownership in the New World. After a treacherous and uncomfortable crossing that lasted 66 days, they dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, far north of their intended destination at the mouth of the Hudson River. One month later, the Mayflower crossed Massachusetts Bay, where the Pilgrims, as they are now commonly known, began the work of establishing a village at Plymouth. • Throughout that first brutal winter, most of the colonists remained on board the ship, where they suffered from exposure, scurvy and outbreaks of contagious disease. Only half of the Mayflower’s original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England spring. In March, the remaining settlers moved ashore, where they received an astonishing visit from an Abenaki Indian who greeted them in English. Several days later, he returned with another Native American, Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland on an exploratory expedition. Squanto taught the Pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe, which would endure for more than 50 years. • In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful, Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast and invited a group of the fledgling colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Now remembered as American’s “first Thanksgiving” -- although the Pilgrims themselves may not have used the term at the time -- the festival lasted for three days. While no record exists of the historic banquet’s exact menu, we have Edward Winslow's account of the "fowling” mission in preparation for the event, and of the Wampanoag guests arriving with five deer. Historians have suggested that many of the dishes were likely prepared using traditional Native American spices and cooking methods. Because the Pilgrims had no oven and the Mayflower’s sugar supply had dwindled by the fall of 1621, the meal did not feature pies, cakes or other desserts, which have become a hallmark of contemporary celebrations. • The Pilgrims held their second Thanksgiving celebration in 1623 to mark the end of a long drought that had threatened the year’s harvest and prompted Governor Bradford to call for a religious fast. Days of fasting and thanksgiving on an annual or occasional basis became common practice in other New England settlements as well. During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress designated one or more days of thanksgiving a year, and in 1789 George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government of the United States, calling upon Americans to express their gratitude for the happy conclusion to the country’s war of independence and the successful ratification of the US Constitution.