Thursday, November 25, 2010

The First Thanksgiving Part 3 (re-posted for 2010)

(This post was originally sent as an email to family and friends in 2008.)

You all remember Squanto from grade school, don't you? He was the English-speaking Indian who helped the Pilgrims by teaching them to put a dead fish in every hill of corn they planted. He and Samoset, another English-speaking Indian, were both at the three-day harvest feast in the fall of 1621 and acted as interpreters so that all the communication between the Pilgrims and Massasoit's tribe didn't have to be confined to sign language.
Samoset was actually the first Indian to help the Pilgrims. In March of 1621 he walked into their compound and asked if they had any beer. He was an Abneki from Maine who had learned some pidgin English from some fishermen (and had learned to like beer). It was Samoset who talked Squanto into coming to Plymouth to help the Pilgrims. Squanto was fluent in English and had been Christianized.
Squanto, whose real name was Tisquantum, was a member of the Patuxet sub-group of the Wampanoag tribe who had been captured in 1605 and taken to England as sort of exotic curiosity to prove that his captors actually had been to the New World. He got back to his native land in 1612 only to be captured again in 1614 for the purpose of being sold into slavery in Spain. He was saved by some religious types who converted him to Christianity (I'm sure he preferred that to slavery in Spain). He was able to get back home again in 1619 only to find that his tribe had been decimated by a plague, probably smallpox. So it was that he was in the neighborhood and able to join up with the Pilgrims in 1621 at Samoset's behest.
I am now going to indulge in some more speculation about what went on during that three-day FirstThanksgiving fest. Winslow said "..whom for three dayes we entertained.." and "...amongst other recreations..." Thus it is plain that there was more going on than eating and sleeping.
How about the Indians playing a demonstration game of Lacrosse? The game was more than fun. It was also important to the Indians for conflict resolution, the training of young warriors and as a religious ritual. Certainly the Pilgrims would have been interested, probably fascinated.
And foot racing, I can imagine white girls vs Indian girls and white boys vs Indian boys. My Mother, who could outrun any of the three of us, said young girls loved to run and race despite long skirts. Maybe Joseph Rogers raced.
And how about the Wampanoag braves demonstrating their archery prowess with their bows and arrows? The Pilgims had probably already "...exercised their Armes..."
And Captain Miles Standish surely put his small troop through some close-order drill to demonstrate their marching and manual-of-arms proficiency.
I can also imagine a race between the Indians in their canoes and the Pilgrims in their long boat. Plymouth was located right on the water.
I can even imagine a wrestling match between two muscular Pilgrim youths. I think I read one time that wrestling was popular in those days. Improbably, one of the Pilgrim boys was named Wrestling Brewster.
Can you visualize ceremonial groups of Indians doing their shuffling tribal dances around campfires? And super-devout Pilgrims hym-singing? And a long-winded Pastor intoning    seemingly endless invocations, benedictions and prayers of Thanksgiving? I can.
Well, there's my story of the First Thanksgiving. I hope it adds to yours.
Elaine and I wish you all a happy Pratt-Woodruff Thanksgiving
The Patriarch

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The First Thanksgiving Part 2 (reposted for 2010)

(This post was originally sent as an email to family and friends in 2008.)

I am trying to visualize what that first Thanksgiving at Plymouth was really like. You all have seen illustrations of immaculately dressed Pilgrim families: men, women and children, sitting around neatly set tables outdoors. So where are the Indians? And it was the Pilgrim custom for men to eat first, served by the women (I don't know where the children and adolescents fit in). Indians normally ate sitting on the ground on skins and just used their hands to eat with, and Indian men and women ate together. Some accounts have the Indians joining the Pilgrims at the tables. Did the squaws sit with the braves and Pilgrim men while the Pilgrim women still stood behind? Another question, where did the 53 Pilgrims get enough tables to seat 90 Indians? Pilgrims ate three meals a day, their big meal being at mid-day and their breakfast being leftovers. Indians just ate when they were hungry from continually simmering kettles rather than having meals (that is when they had food). And we know the Pilgrims had beer. Did they share with the Indians?

The accounts by Winslow and Bradford that I sent you yesterday are the only primary sources of information on the First Thanksgiving so everything else that has ever been written about that three-day harvest celebration is second-hand speculation at best. Thus I feel free to make up my own account (with the help of a lot of Googling) and share it with you.

My guess is that it was more like a three-day tailgate party than a sit-down banquet. I would also like to think the Wampanoag women and children were included ( Winslow said "...some nintie men..."). Probably it was a sort of long-running buffet interspersed, as Winslow indicated, with "rejoycing'", " Recreations" and discharge of "Armes". Certainly some prayers of thanksgiving.

Massasoit's hunters went out with their bows and arrows and brought down five deer (probably fat does instead of bucks in rut). They had to have been butchered and roasted outdoors. Did that much venison all get devoured in three days? Probably, there were 143 mouths to feed plus the dogs (the Pigrims had a female Mastiff and a small Spriger Spaniel that survived the Mayflower trip. Did the Indians leave their dogs back at the wigwam with no food for three days?)

In addition to venison the Indians would have contributed corn (as meal and cornbread) and beans and turkeys. Lobster, eels, clams and mussels were plentiful as were fish. Winslow indicated that the four men sent "fowling" were very sucessful. The"fowl" would have been migrating waterfowl; ducks, geese, swans and maybe cranes. They were probably shot on the water. The Pilgrims' "fowling pieces" were muzzle loading, funnel shaped matchlock shotguns, not hardly suitable for shooting birds on the fly like in skeet-shooting. Wild turkeys were very plentiful.

Wild food collected by the Pilgims in the fall season would have included grapes, both red and white, plums and rose hips. Strawberries, raspberries and blackberries would have been gone by then. I think that the huckleberries would have been gone too. Cranberries would have been avilable, but not for cranberry sauce (they had no sugar). Likewise they had pumpkins but no pumpkin pie (not only no sugar, but also no shortening or wheat flour or ovens). They collected walnuts, butternuts, hickory nuts, acorns and maybe chestnuts. Indians harvested wild onions, wild garlic and watercress to jazz up their diet.

What else did they not have that are part of traditional Thanksgiving menus today? No mashed potatoes. White potatoes were not yet in cultivation anywhere. No yams or sweet potatoes either. Sweet potatoes were rare, thought to be aphrodisiacs, affordable only by the wealthy. No apples or apple sauce. Apples were not native to North America. (Also no ham or bacon. The Pilgrims had no hogs).

So what did they have? They grew corn, onions, garlic, parsnips, collards, carrots, parsley, turnips, spinach, cabbage, pumpkins, squash, beans, sage, thyme and marjoram. Maybe radishes and lettuce. And they had salt and pepper but they didn't put a pepper shaker or mill on the table, using it only for cooking. In Pilgrim houses, all cooking was done in the fireplace.

As for table manners: As I said, the Indians used their fingers. The Pilgrims did not use forks. Their "silverware" consisted of a spoon and a knife. At that early stage they used wooden plates. It is said that they also handled food with a piece of cloth. I can't quite figure out how that went. Did they reach over and pull off a drumstick with the cloth? (I devour drumsticks with my bare hands and then use a piece of cloth to wipe my mouth and fingers).

NEXT: Communication and Recreation

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The First Thanksgiving (reposted for 2010)

(This post was originally sent as an email to family and friends in 2008.)

The traditional "First Thanksgiving" was a three day feast in the early fall of 1621 at Plymouth Plantation involving 53 surviving Pilgrims and about 90 Wampanoag Indians.

Three of our ancestors were there, but unfortunately two were in the graveyard. Pratt ancestor Degory Priest and Woodruff ancestor Thomas Rogers died that first winter. Thomas' son Joseph, then an adolescent teenager, survived and participated. Pratt ancestor Phineas did not arrive until 1622. His famous run through the snow took place in the late fall of 1622. Degory's daughter Mary, who would eventually marry Phineas, was still in Holland.

William Bradford tells of their situation (modern spelling):

"They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached of which this place abounds and when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was a great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports."

PERSONAL NOTE: As I type this I am looking out over my back yard towards the river. The yard is snow covered and there are 17 wild turkeys foraging. One tom is displaying. Two are pecking at an ear of corn hanging by a small brass chain from a maple tree. That ear replaces one that was stripped overnight, presumably by deer. I have seven that regularly visit my yard and meadow.

Edward Winslow describes the feast (17th century spelling):

"our harvest being gotten in, our governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes. many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by goodness of God, we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plentie."

NEXT: Menu and table manners

Best laid plans

Karen posting here: Well, for your news of the Verlen Kruger Memorial you'd best rely on the Memorial website, as Pa did not complete commentaries for the construction (despite my nagging).

However, I ran across emails he sent in 2008 about Thanksgiving, and our family history therein, and thought you might enjoy seeing those.

The next three posts will tell that story.