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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving…

     ...to those that celebrate it. To those that don’t, have a peaceful rest of the week. 

     A boatload of Pilgrims, or were they Puritans, fleeing religious persecution, sailed from England, landed on Plymouth Rock and with the help of the friendly Indians barely survived their first winter. In thanks for their survival, these pious folks invited the Indians to share in a huge feast. At least that's the way I heard it told when I was in elementary school.
     Many get the Pilgrims and the Puritans mixed up. The common thinking is that they were both groups of English religious reformers who landed in Massachusetts, wore black hats, square collars and buckled shoes. 
     Every British citizen was expected to attend the Church of England or be punished. One group of farmers in Northern England, known disparagingly as the Separatists, began to worship in secret. As a result they were hunted and persecuted and many of them lost their homes and their livelihood, so they began seeking another place to live. 
     The Separatists first fled to The Netherlands, but life in Holland wasn’t English, so they decided the only way to live as true English Christians was to establish their own colony in the New World. 
     Not all of the Separatists could make the trip across the Atlantic, including their spiritual leader, Reverend John Robinson. With Joseph Bradford as their leader, they left the docks in Delftshaven to meet the Mayflower in London. 
     They were the Pilgrims, but first usage of that term wasn’t until around 1800. Prior to that the Separatists who landed at Plymouth Rock were known as the first-comers or forefathers. It was these people who had the first thanksgiving. Or were they?
     On the other hand, the Puritans thought they could reform the church from within and were less radical because they believed they could live in their local churches without abandoning the Church of England. 
     The Puritans ultimately decided to journey to the New World, too, but not for the same reasons as the Separatists. The Puritans, who already had some money, saw a favorable investment opportunity by owning land in America. And they also believed that by being far away from England they could create the ideal church. They were under the leadership of John Winthrop. 
     When the Puritans settled in 1630, they arrived in 17 ships carrying more than 1,000 passengers. They had money, resources and divinely ordained arrogance. In a few decades the Massachusetts Bay Colony swallowed up the Pilgrim colony of Plymouth. 
     With the help and protection of Squanto and the friendly Wampanoag, the Pilgrims learned how to live off the land and the little band survived. The first Thanksgiving in 1621 was held to celebrate a bountiful harvest and it was shared with the tribe that helped make it possible. 
     That story is mostly a boatload of falsehoods, but even historians can’t agree on what the real Thanksgiving story is and a lot of people are now, like all other holidays, opposed to it for a variety of reasons. 
     One idiot on the radio claims it wasn’t a bitter winter and shortage of food that endangered the Pilgrim’s survival, but it was their Socialistic politics and communal living that caused the problem. 
    Take the colony’s most creative and industrious people…they had to share the fruits of their labor with the colony sluggards and so had no incentive to work any harder than anyone else. 
     According to this talk show blabbermouth, things turned around when the colony’s governor, William Bradford (who was probably a staunch Republican) assigned a private plot of land to each family and put them on their own. 
     These days, instead of celebrating the boldness, piety and sacrifices of those first Europeans, some claim the holiday whitewashes the genocide of indigenous people and others hold a fast in observance of what they call a “national day of mourning” in remembrance of the beginning of the end of Indian culture.
     Actually, the end for the Indians started several years earlier when British slaving crews introduced smallpox that was carried by their infected cattle and it ended up killing over ninety percent of the local population. The death rate for the Black Plague was “only” thirty percent. 
    Smallpox did decimate the Wampanoag and they did help the Pilgrims survive, but a group calling itself The United American Indians of New England allege that in return for their generosity, Pilgrims stole grain stores and robbed Wampanoag graves. How and where they got the evidence for this is not clear.
     In any case, it is simply not known whether the Wampanoag were actually invited, or if they crashed the party, as some historians now suggest, when they heard gunfire from the stockaded village and just showed up to see what the commotion was all about. Many historians claim the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag were never more than wary allies against other hostile tribes. In reality, the Pilgrims regarded the Indians as uncivilized, heathens.
     There is no evidence that turkey was served, only some kind of wild fowl...probably geese and duck. Venison, corn mush and stewed pumpkin, or traditional Wampanoag succotash may have been on the menu. Cranberries, though native to the region, would have been too tart for desert and sweet potatoes were not yet grown in North America. Grapes and melons may have been available.
     Another theory on the beginning of Thanksgiving is that in Connecticut where the Pequot tribe was celebrating a corn festival, in the predawn hours a band of Puritans, not Pilgrims, descended on the village and shot, clubbed and burned alive over 700 men, woman and children. 
     According to Robert Jensen, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, that was the real origin of Thanksgiving and it was so proclaimed in 1637 by Massachusetts Bay Governor John Winthrop in gratitude for God’s destruction of the Pequot village. Thereafter massacres of the Indians were routinely followed by days of thanksgiving. 
     What’s true and what’s not, I can’t say. How ever it happened that Thanksgiving became a holiday, I will be spending the day with my family and being thankful for a whole lot of things.

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