November 23, 2023

The First Thanksgiving

Timothy Birdnow

The story of the Pilgrim's landing and plight at Plymouth has been told many times. I just thought I'd add a few details.

First, the Pilgrims were not the only people on the Mayflower. Of the 107 people on-board only 32 of them were Pilgrims (Puritans). These people had first migrated to the Netherlands and found life not to their liking there. So they returned to England and basically snuck out as it was not exactly illegal to leave but not exactly cricket either. (They had immigrated to Holland in the dead of night to avoid any engantlements with the authorities, who were not keen on anybody not following the sate religion.)

The Mayflower was a rather poor vessel, and was a replacement for the original ship the Pilgrims were going to take. The Speedwell was first commissioned to take the Pilgrims, but problems with the ship led to them switching to the Mayflower, which was going to carry non-Pilgrims, originally.

The ship set sail from Rotherhithe in southeast London for the New World, and the trip was gruelling. So gruelling they ran out of beer before making landfall.

That was the clincher. The Mayflower needed beer (nobody would drink water alone in those days for fear of water-born illness) and the ship was off course, winding up well north of Jamestown. They decided to land to find acorns and hopefully make acorn beer. Bottoms up!

The first site they found wasn't too great, and they ran into some natives, so they moved north to Plymouth. It was perfect; uninhabited but with cleared land. That was because a tribe of Indians were wiped otu by a plague. They settled on the spot and signed the Mayflower Compact, agreeing to throw in together, Pilgrim and non-Pilgrim.

They were lucky, providentially lucky. They almost immediately met a man who said to them "Men of England welcome!" in accented but acceptable English! Turns out Samoset was also looking for beer, and asked "where's the beer" almost immediately.

He would be replaced as translator by Tisquantum, better known as Squanto, who spoke better English than Samoset. Can you imagine; in the wilderness not one but TWO people know how to speak English.

The Patuxet tribe was eager for good relations with the English settlers; they had guns, which Messozoit, Chief of the Pautuxet, hoped to employ against his tribal enemies.

But winter was coming and there was little food. Starvation and sickness claimed the lives of 45 of the 102 colonists that first winter. And the Pilgrims worked to build several houses of dubious quality, much like their English homes. They did not have fire places, but just a fire pit and smoke hole. The fires had to be extinguished at night so as to avoid burning the place down. It was cold, hungry, and miserable.

And the Pilgrims entered into an economic pact where all shared alike. It was socialism. Nobody worked; everyone found it more appealing to go fishing or whatnot. The colony was starving.

So the Indians taught the starving Pilgrims (who had first tried to grow barley and other European food) how to grow corn and squash and beans.

And the rules were changed so everyone had their own patches of ground and were responsible for their own food.

The end result? A bountiful harvest. The Pilgrims decided to host a feast to thank God for His beneficience and they invited the Indians (no, they weren't thanking the Indians, but rather God.)

The end result was the colony was able to survive.

Bear in mind, none of these people were cut out for this. Few were farmers much less frontiersman, and few were builders. It was a real bear. And they didn't learn from the Indians fast enough. Later they would build the bent-sapling frame structures called wigwams, and cover them with birch bark or grass, but that first year it was standard, timber framed structures as were made in England (timber framing requires cutting heavy beams and is a huge amount of labor, atlhough they last nearly forever.)

At any rate, they stopped for beer and stayed for the food.

And so with Plymouth in the north and Jamestown in the south the English were in a good position to colonise North America. A new colony would be established at Boston, and then Rhode Island, and Maryland, and the Carolinas. The Dutch would try to settle New York but eventually would give it to the English.

But had Plymouth failed things might have been very different.

Posted by: Timothy Birdnow at 09:45 AM | Comments (6) | Add Comment
Post contains 762 words, total size 5 kb.

1 I must say, Tim, that the houses the Pilgrims built to live in that first year remind me a bit of the OH...

Posted by: Dana Mathewson at November 24, 2023 12:17 AM (wQ5RW)

2 I would agree Dana except they were better; timber frame and all. The Ozark Hilton is just precut boards and plywood. Theirs are still standing - the OH will collapse at some point in  the not  too distant future.

Posted by: Timothy Birdnow at November 24, 2023 08:36 AM (AZzSg)

3 One wonders what the Pilgrims' beer tasted like. I doubt it was on a level with Sam Adams.

Posted by: Dana Mathewson at November 24, 2023 11:04 PM (U7481)

4 I doubt it too. There was a small New England brewer who made what was supposed to be the authentic Pilgrim beer and allegedly had their recipe'. I never tried it; would like to have done so.

BTW Dana Sam Adams is brewed by the Koch family. They were the owners of the Koch Brewing Company of St.Louis Missouri and the young Koch (whose first  name I think is Jim but I'm not certain) simply used the old family beer recipe'. So Sam Adams is a St. Louis beer!

Posted by: Timothy Birdnow at November 25, 2023 09:13 AM (KEGU7)

5 I wonder if they're related to the Koch family who run the brewery in Dunkirk, NY, three miles north of my home town of Fredonia? Wonder if they're even still in business? Their beer was standard American pisswater.

Posted by: Dana Mathewson at November 25, 2023 11:41 PM (U7481)

6 Could be Dana!

You are from Fedonia? I didn't know that. Makes me think of  the Marx Brothers movie Duck Soup and their country Freedonia.

Posted by: Timothy Birdnow at November 26, 2023 10:02 AM (RbgnK)

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