Friday, November 21, 2014

A Thanksgiving Story for Adults

Warning -
This is not an X-rated article. Sorry, folks.

As kids we colored pictures of Pilgrims in black and white outfits and half-naked Indians feasting happily together, and savored dishes lovingly prepared by our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and more recently, restaurants.

The real story of the holiday is quite different from childhood versions.

The myths and realities of Thanksgiving –

The Pilgrims sailed across the sea in 1620, intent on settling in Northern Virginia - present day New York State. Perilous seas prevented the Mayflower from anchoring in the chosen land. Heading North, the ship landed on the tip of Cape Cod in what is today Provincetown, renowned as an art colony and vacation destination for the LGBT crowd.

The Pilgrims moved on and settled in a deserted Indian village they named Plimoth. There were lots of deserted Indian villages at the time. A few years earlier European traders arrived in the area seeking riches. They left behind beads, trinkets and bacteria, and as a result two-thirds of the Wampanoag Indian tribe perished.

Upon docking, the Pilgrims did not set foot on Plymouth (Plimoth) Rock. The legend is a myth. No contemporary accounts mention a rock.

The rock initially appears as the place the Pilgrims disembarked 120 years after their arrival. A 95-year-old man, Thomas Faunae, told the tale in 1741, supposedly recounting what he heard from Mayflower survivors. The story was accepted at face value, and the rock became a treasured national memorial.

Back to the Pilgrim story...

In the fall of 1621 the Pilgrims celebrated their arrival and survival in their new homeland with a three day harvest festival, replicating a yearly English tradition. The Pilgrims and their neighbors, the Indians, were not too friendly, although the Indians taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn, beans, and squash. But the Pilgrims were wary of their neighbors and looted their homes.

During the harvest celebration the colonists shot off guns and cannon, and the Indians came to see what all the ruckus was about. Whether invited to dine or crashing the party, we do not know for sure. What we do know is that 52 Pilgrims and 90 Wampanoag Indians feasted on local produce, game and fish.

The celebration did not become an annual event.

A couple of years later a drought made life difficult for the colonists. Governor Bradford declared a day of thanksgiving, prayer and fasting. No feasting in 1623.

Moving ahead to 1637, an incident created a series of events leading to the first of what became annual thanksgiving celebrations.

A Pilgrim was found, in his boat, murdered. The settlers blamed the Indians, and, enraged by the crime, massacred the tribe. It is estimated over 700 Indians died. Survivors, mainly women and children, were sold into slavery in the Caribbean.

Governor William Newell declared a day of thanksgiving in honor of the battle victory, and a day of remembrance every year going forward.

A small number of the Indian tribe - the Pequots, living in what is today Connecticut and Massachusetts, survived and, centuries later, thrive. The tribe owns the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, advertised as the largest resort casino in North America.

Historians know the stereotypical black and white Pilgrim outfits are inaccurate. Black was worn only for church meetings. Buckles did not decorate their clothing - they were not invented yet, and the black shoes and black steeple hats often pictured are not authentic either. As for the Indians, by fall they would be wearing more than loincloths.

Wild turkey – a much slimmer, tougher predecessor to today’s fat, round, chemically-enhanced birds - may or may not have been on the menu. Wild fowl – most likely geese, ducks, and venison were consumed, along with seafood, Indian corn prepared in dishes similar to porridge and pancakes, a variety of vegetables including parsnips, carrots, turnips, spinach, cabbage, onions and beans, and herbs such as thyme, marjoram, sage and parsley.

Foods not available included sugar, pumpkin pie, cranberries, sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top (a favorite in my family), apples, pears, and quite a few other goodies common on modern dinner tables.

150 years later the Continental Congress suggested an annual day of thanksgiving. New York adopted the custom in 1817, and other states followed. President Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November a day of Thanksgiving, and President Franklin Roosevelt specified the fourth Thursday of the month.

The traditional turkey dinner was popularized during the late 1800s.

Today millions of Americans celebrate the 3 F’s on the Fourth Thursday in November – Feasting, Football, and Family (not necessarily in that order).

Whether dining on a traditional turkey dinner, a vegetarian or vegan variation, or totally different meal -

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


  1. I didn't know most of this story. Thanks for the holiday information, although most of it isn't anything to be thankful for (if you were an Indian, anyway). :-)

  2. Thanks for the great background info. -- I promise not to shoot off my guns and cannons on Thursday.

  3. An interesting version of the tale. I read many books on this subject in a grad course on British Colonial America. These days, I have located many many ancestors who migrated here from 1620 onwards.

  4. As usual, the victor gets to write the history books. Thanks for the story behind the story!

  5. A great Thanksgiving story to remember.

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  7. Interesting! History is always so much more complicated than we are taught, and even when we grow up and find alternative, better-researched texts we don't always get the full truth. Nevertheless, a day to be grateful for what we have here and now is probably a good idea. Cheers.