Americn culture…Thanksgiving origins

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.

As we have stated so many times – history does not live in a vacuum and should be recorded as correctly as possible. We happen to believe that portions of the “Thanksgiving Story” may have been embellished by the original settlers to reflect how pious they were; whereas, in reality it certainly could have been the Native-Americans or indigenous people of the area that actually made an attempt to eat with the settlers this one time per year.

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. And we are lucky enough to have a descendant of one of the survivors working with us here at The Thinker.

In March, the remaining settlers moved ashore, into the splendid Massachusetts spring, 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 and tragically remains one of the sole examples of harmony between European colonists and Native Americans.

This is a portion of history we don’t often hear about. Knowing that the Pilgrims stayed on the Mayflower from its arrival until that first spring certainly would not have allowed the Pilgrims much time to learn of the New England cuisine. All the more reason that history be told and recorded with absolute diligence.

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, the Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow wrote in his journal that Governor Bradford sent four men on a “fowling” mission in preparation for the event, and that the Wampanoag guests arrived bearing 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.

However this much we do know about the menu: Being a small port town one could surely agree that fish of several sorts, lobster, seal, swans, and it is almost a certainty that ducks and geese was served and venison from the deer, as well as berries, dried fruit, clams, and plums were recorded as being on the menu…and of course corn.

It is also interesting to note that the Pilgrims referred to their Indian benefactors as “guests” which may have been in the original writings; however, knowing a bit about Native American culture with the condition of the settlers many members of the tribe either elected not to attend or for fear of contacting diseases from Europeans who’ve been out at sea for a few months and were seen burying their dead.

In retrospect, moreover using meditation or reflection how much of this feast could have been caught and made ready for eating?

Happy Thanksgiving to Everyone!

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