Do you know the real history of the Thanksgiving holiday? if not enjoy this paper.
|This year,2020, has been especially difficult for many people. With the coronavirus (Covid19), the nationwide lockdowns, and a major election with all the fighting and politicking that goes along with it has become a hotbed of stress for many people, me included.
I believe that since it is now November and the holiday of Thanksgiving is fast approaching, I thought I would look into the history of this holiday, and maybe find somethings you didn’t know about the holiday and why we celebrate it as we do.
First off, did you know that we are not the only country that celebrates Thanksgiving? I will admit, I didn’t. Australia, brazil, Canada, Grenada, Liberia, Netherlands, and Philippines also celebrate a holiday named Thanksgiving, although it may not be on the same calendar date, nor for the same reasons.
In all reality prayers of thanksgiving, and special ceremonies for thanksgiving are common amongst all religions, in some form or another, usually they occur after harvests and special times like that usually after a harvest.
Traditionally, and in support of what most kids are taught in school the first Thanksgiving feast actually happened on November 26, 1621, between the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians.
How did that happen? Well as you were most probably taught in school, that in 1620 a small sailing ship left Plymouth, England with some religious separatists on board. There were about 100 of them on board looking for a place to practice faith away from the common place of England.
This was specifically in response to the English reformation during the reign of King Henry VIII, as well as in reaction to the catholic religious holidays on the calendar. In reality before the reformation there were 95 church holidays as well as 52 Sundays on the calendar. And people of that time were required to attend church and sometimes pay huge fees for the celebration.
The Puritans, or we call them Pilgrims, wanted to remove all of the from the calendars, even Christmas and Easter to be replaced with what they called ‘Days of fasting’ and ‘Days of thanksgiving’ after events that they called the Acts of Special providence.
This were acts that were unexpected disasters, or threats of judgement from God, they were called ‘Days of fasting’. Some of these were the draughts of 1611, the floods in 1613, as well as the plagues of 1604 and 1622. While special blessings, also considered as being from God, were called “days of Thanksgiving”. They were times like the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and failure of the gunpowder plot 1605, by the way, that act was also called Guy Fawkes day and that was on the 5th of November. Yes, it is true.
The puritans actually left England to pursue religious freedom in the new world for exceptionally good reasons, actually. To start with, they were separatists from the Anglican church. And they viewed to splintering of the catholic church in 1535 only did part of the job and never reached the level they thought it should have reached. You see, there were many things wrong that they saw with the church at that time, for example, the head of the Anglican church was the King, and not a pope, which would have been the same if not worse than things were for them before they separated from the church.
So, to gain the true freedom they wanted, they fled and went on a religious trek, or what is called a pilgrimage, which is where and why we called the pilgrims today. It is surprising to note that these pilgrims did not initially leave England for North America as their primary destination, nor did they initially eave in 1621 either.
The year was more like 1606 in what is now known as Nottinghamshire, England, where a small congregation of religious dissenters were having a secret meeting. You see they didn’t like the church of England, which by the way was the only legal church in England during the 17th century, where they formed their own congregation. This was a great risk they took to themselves and their very lives. There were many during this time that felt that the church needed reform but were afraid to do so, especially considering who their leader in that church is, yet they still tried to improve it.
What a lot of people don’t know is that during the 1600’s it was dangerous for anybody who had broken away from the church of England. However there truly was a shimmer of hope that was given to the people in the year of 1603 when Queen Elizabeth 1 passed away. There was a shimmer of hope that when King James 1 took over that there would be more religious freedoms. But it seems he had other ideas.
Sadly, when he did take over, he used the church as a tool of the monarchy and used the church to force a national consensus to be taken. And in 1604 the king informed a group of reform-minded ministers that he would “harry them out of the land” if they and their congregations didn’t fully comply with him and his ways.
For a time, these people put up with a lot of persecution in England. It wasn’t until 1607 that the separatists had began to think about leaving England forever. They had just about giving up hope for their continuance there in England.
Through rumors and stories told to them, they had heard of England separatists living in Amsterdam who had found what they were after. It really didn’t take them log to agree to go there and join them.
However strong the pull was to go join this group, there was some who knew that their ‘exile’ would be an adventure, but would be almost a desperation move and would be intolerable almost to the point of being worse than death itself. And without ‘Official’ permission from the crown to leave England, they would actually have to find extralegal means to cross the North Sea to Holland.
They did try several times to gain this but had been duped by more than one English ship master which resulted in several of them doing a short stint in prison within the town of Boston and other towns in England.
But, according to the writings of William Bradford, the future governor of the Plymouth colony, he remembers that he and his fellow separatists, as they were called, were hunted down and persecuted on every side possible. During this time their sufferings were like flea bites compared to what they would be facing living in the new world at first. Some were actually taken and clapped into prison, while others were brutally attacked and made to watch as their whole lives were destroyed before their eyes, much like burning their houses, and belongings, and other unspeakable acts.
In their rush to get out of England the Dutch ship master ended up leaving behind most of the women, and most of their belongings in England, while most of the remaining group making it to Amsterdam sometime in 1608.
The pilgrims, being the separatists and not to be confuse with the puritans, arrived in 1609. Now during this time Holland, one of the seven provinces that formed the Dutch republic, had just signed a peace accord with Catholic Spain which meant an end to a war that the Dutch had been fighting for 40 some odd years. This wasn’t a permanent truce but a truce, for the moment, at least.
What they could not have prepared themselves for was the push of religious refugees coming to Amsterdam due to the religious wars going on across Europe, and this cause population explosions and housing shortages.
The English were more used to the country life and not accustomed to city life at all, and most of what they could do was farming or animal husbandry which there was no or little call for that there.
There were other groups of English who came there before this group did, which was why they had come there due to those other groups. However, even though there were other English groups there, they realized that they were in turmoil, and the fear that those flames would destroy their group as it had other groups before them. So, in result to that after a decade of living there they all elected to leave Amsterdam.
This time they got official permission to leave the city, and once they were prepared enough the did depart this place. In reality, they found the people of Holland morally corrupt, and headed back to England in 1620 on a ship called the ‘Speedwell’. However, the ship had major issues, mainly leaking in the hull. Once they arrived in Plymouth England, all 102 of them boarded the ship ‘Mayflower’ for their journey to the new world.
There were a few people, who were not part of that puritan movement, who relished the idea pf land ownership in the new world and a promise of prosperity who went with them on that ship. These people who joined them began, once onboard, to create dissonance during this journey. The several outbursts by this small group onboard the ship had led to the Mayflower compact being agreed upon and signed into being actually on November 11,1620, bringing everybody on the ship into one “civil body politic”. The mayflower compact was the first document to establish self-government in the new world.
They had to be sure they really wanted it because they knew that the crossing was not easy one. It was common knowledge that it was a long and treacherous journey for them.
During that time of year, the seas in the North Atlantic can be a bit rough at times and it battered the ship, but the ship sailed on towards its destination. Finally, after sailing for 66 days they finally dropped anchor in Cape Cod bay. It was by contract with the Virginia company that they were to settle near the Hudson river however they got diverted by rough seas and storms. I believe it was an end to the roughest part of the journey, or so they thought.
After what seemed to be forever, the ship called the ‘Mayflower’ crossed the Massachusetts bay and dropped the Pilgrims off to build the colony of Plymouth, named as such after the town in England which they departed from by John Smith of the Jamestown colony fame.
During the first few months the settlers lived mostly on board the ship. They were ferried back and forth during the day to build the storage and living quarters for the settlers to use. They worked hard at building a settlement for their people there where the first fort and watchtower were built upon burial hill.
The ‘Mayflower’ was not the only ship that came to Massachusetts bay. In 1621 the ship the fortune arrived, followed by the ‘Anne’ and the ‘Little James’ who arrived in 1623. The colonist that arrived at Plymouth were call “old comers” to the colony and were to special treatment in later colonial affairs.
Even though they were from England and were used to living without much they still were not prepared for the first winter there in that place. It was very brutal. This first winter is when several maladies fell upon the inhabitants of this colony which ended up taking about 50% of the people’s lives. While it did make the survivors much more resilient and stronger.
When the winter broke, and spring returned, In March of 1621, they moved inland and were greeted by an Abnaki Sagamore, or a subordinate chief of the Eastern Abenaki tribe, with an English greeting, his name was Samoset. Strangely, His first request after making all the introductions was a beer. He had learned English from fishermen who had been visiting and fishing the new England and Canadian coasts for at least 100 years before the Pilgrims came. Keep in mind that the Jamestown colony preceded the Pilgrims by 13 years.
The visitor stayed with them overnight and were completely amazed with his hosts. Then within a couple of days 5 other Indians showed up at their colony with pelts to trade. While on the better part of what they thought was the right thing to do, the pilgrims refused the trades.
And within a few days of that meeting, March 22,1621, he returned with another Native American by his side. His name was Squanto, also known by another name Tisquantum, and was the last member of the Patuxet tribe. He was brought in because he understood English much better than the others did.
His story was a broad one. You see he had been kidnapped in 1614 and sold into slavery by English explorer Thomas Hunt who brought him to Malaga, Spain, to be sold as a slave. He was bought by local monks. They educated him in European ways then sent to England. It was rumored that in his travels in England he met Pocahontas from Virginia. After which he was brought back to his native country and made way back to his homeland on or about 1619 where he found that his tribe had been wiped out by an epidemic infection.
This old encampment is where the pilgrims set up their colony.
He stayed with the pilgrim’s for nearly 20 months. Since the seeds, the Pilgrims brought from England essentially failed, they were near starvation as food shortages worsened. So Tisquantum helped them by, as you learned in school, teaching them the fur trade, how to grow corn, avoid the poisonous plants, catch fish and other things to ensure their survival. Although the thought of needing to learn some of that stuff, since they did come from a civilized area should have been already known to them.
During the fall of 1621, the settlement had been established and their treaties with the Native American tribes around them for 50 miles was well underway. The settlers seemed content with the way things were going. Governor Bradford praised God for the Indians as they were helpful beyond measure to them.
They celebrated the harvests from that year and invited the Wampanoag Indians to join them in a feast that celebrated the harvest. Now that feast and time of celebration was not just a feast it was a three-day event and contained other events other than just a feast.
Events like bow and arrow shooting, foot races, and wrestling were suggestions as to what could happen, as the results were not written down while combining the feast and recreation were documented widely.
To prepare for the Event the governor sends four men out on a ‘fowling’ mission. According to Bradford there was a great store of wild turkeys, which they got many turkey’s as well as venison. They have also consumed ducks, geese and swans as well.
With this being their first harvest, they feasted on the bounty they reaped with the help of the natives. They also used local fruits and vegetables from the area such as onions, beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots and perhaps peas.
Although corn was plentiful in the area, it may have also been included in the feast but not as we would know it. It would have been removed from the cobb and made into corn meal which was then boiled and pounded into a thick corn porridge or mush and sweetened with molasses.
There were also other fruits there such as blueberries, plums, grapes, gooseberries, and raspberries as well as cranberries. But they did not make tarts or pies as there were no sugars left from the trip over or flour available to make crusts of any kind.
There was also seafood that were most probably in that feast. Most notably lobster and mussels that were available in the area along the shoreline and were easily gathered.
However, potatoes in any form had no place at the table for this Thanksgiving feast because the Spanish hadn’t discovered them in south America and brought it to the new world until about 1570. However, they did have other root vegetables such as turnips and ground nuts which may or may not have been at the table.
When the natives arrived the made an offering of five deer, which were prepared and most probably spit roasted over a fire, while some colonists would have, or rather might have made a stew out of it while the natives ate it right off the bone as it was.
The feast was most probably have been attended mostly by men, because of most of the women in the colony were killed off due to weather and famine. As there were only 4 women that survived along with over 25 children. The Indians brought their king along with some 90 men, which made the attendance a little over 125 people at the fist feast.
What was surprising about the feast is that there were only 4 women who cooked all that food for over a hundred people with very little help.
He also wrote about them in December of 1621 that they were faithful of their covenant with them. But not just of the tribe’s royalty but of the princes and peoples of the tribes as well. Squanto had become a form of an ambassador between the white people and the American natives.
This is when the colony’s governor William Bradford had to rely on Tisquantum’s help to pilot a ship, namely the ship the sparrow, of setters on a trade mission around cape cod and within the dangerous shoals that existed there. However, it was during that cruise that Tisquantum fell ill, the sickness according to the governor was an Indian fever. Bradford and Tisquantum being good friends as they were, he stayed by his side for nearly 6 days before he died, in Bristol, Maine, in approximately 1653. Once he did the Governor call his passing a great loss to the colony.
And through all this, with Squanto’s past help, the pilgrims forged an alliance with the Wampanoag Indian tribe of the area. This treaty lasted for half a century and was a good example of how the European people and the Native Americans could live and coexist together in peace. The chief that made the treaty was named ‘Massasoit’ and it was upon his death that his son ‘Metacom’ took over as chief of the tribe.
With the treaty the pilgrims who landed on their tribal lands were given certain lands to live and thrive upon. However, due to several bad settlers who encroached upon the lands given to them that ‘Metacom’, known to the English as King Phillip to organize several tribes to drive the pilgrims out, also known as King Phillip’s war, which went from 1675 to 1676.
Eventually the colonists defeated the Wampanoag and the Narragansett Native Americans tribes, they killed King Phillip. Some survivors fled to the interior while some stayed on Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket to join kin that fled there during the war. Sadly, the indigenous people in Nantucket were nearly wiped out by disease and famine, however, the Wampanoag people survive to the present on Martha’s Vineyard.
In 1622, an account of Squanto’s interactions with the pilgrims is related in printed a printed work. It was called “Mourt’s relation” a pamphlet written which was formally titled “ A relation or journal of the beginning and proceedings of the English plantation settled at plimouth in New England”. It was called Mourt’s relation because it was erroneously attributed to someone named George Morton, aka George Mourt, he was a puritan that was involved with the same people who sailed on the mayflower but didn’t arrive there until 1923, but only lasting a year in the colony before dying shortly thereafter.
It wasn’t until October 3, 1863, that Thanksgiving is declared a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln, in response to a request from Sarah Hale’s request, and in gratitude for a pivotal victory for the union army at Gettysburg. The speech he gave was written by secretary, William Seward, which declare the fourth Thursday in November as a U.S. Holiday. This goes back to the former President George Washington and when the new country of United states of America had just emerged from the American revolution.
The fourth Thursday in November remained the thanksgiving day from that time until Franklin D. Roosevelt who, at the tale end of the great depression, hoping to boost the economy by providing shoppers and merchants a few extra days to conduct business between thanksgiving and Christmas was thanksgiving moved to the 3rd Thursday in November.
In 1941, Roosevelt gave in to congress and kept thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday, without any further alteration possible.
Although there were other Thanksgiving celebrations but this one in and of itself is unique in that this celebration was in the fruit of the peace treaty between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians. It also showed their gratefulness to God for the harvest. And finally, it provided friendly competition between the two groups.