Thursday, November 26, 2015

THANKSGIVING: As Told by a Mayflower Descendant

“Countless Victorian-era engravings notwithstanding, the Pilgrims did not spend the day sitting around a long table draped with a white linen cloth, clasping each other's hands in prayer as a few curious Indians looked on.” – Nathaniel Philbrick, author of Mayflower, about the first Thanksgiving.

Neither was there pumpkin pie or cranberry sauce or forks. No forks? It's true, says Philbrick. Forks didn't make their appearance at Plymouth, Mass., for several decades. Our Pilgrims ate with their fingers and knives.

And did they ever earn that first Thanksgiving.

That bunch of brave, gritty, shrewd pioneers – putting their trust in God – survived a dangerous and arduous journey across the Atlantic only to be met by more challenges in the New World than they ever could have imagined.

Of the 102 who arrived on that voyage just as winter weather was setting in, 52 were dead by the spring.

Someone was dying from the hard life on an almost daily basis in February and March. Three entire families were wiped out. By spring, of the 50 still standing, there were six orphans, four widowers and only one surviving widow.

Whenever an Indian attack threatened that first winter, Philbrick explains, the sick were pulled from their beds and propped up against trees with muskets in hand to conceal from the enemy how many had died.

Fortunately for me, my ancestors were among the survivors. John Alden was a 21-year-old cooper when he set sail. His wife-to-be, Priscilla Mullins, became a 17-year-old orphan during that first bitter winter. Their blood is running through my veins.

So, too, is that of Capt. Miles Standish, the Pilgrims' military officer. His first wife also died that winter.

Although I have long known via oral tradition that I was of Mayflower stock, the official word came a while ago from the Mayflower Society in Plymouth, Mass.

After a thorough check of my lineage documents by society historians, I was admitted as a member and mailed an official document certifying me as a Mayflower descendant.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow depicts my three ancestors in “The Courtship of Miles Standish.” It tells how Priscilla Mullins asked John Alden to speak for himself when he attempted to deliver a marriage proposal from his friend, Miles Standish.

By all rights, none of the Pilgrims should have survived that first winter. Diplomatic efforts created a working peace with Indians. Otherwise, they may not have made it.

That first Thanksgiving probably came in late September or early October to mark a successful harvest.

There were corn, squash, beans, and peas. A successful barley crop meant they could now brew their own beer.

Migrating ducks and geese were part of the bounty as were wild turkeys. Striped bass, bluefish and cod may have been added to the menu. The Indians came with five freshly killed deer.

The surviving Pilgrims thanked God.

Then they ate and drank: standing, squatting, sitting on the ground around open fires. No long table with white linen cloth.

By Peter, Calamity Janet’s husband