The Truth About Thanksgiving

Nov 22nd, 2018 | By | Category: Featured

The Truth About Thanksgiving

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From “The Light and the Glory” (compiled from the libraries of Harvard and Yale), by Peter Marshall, Chapter 6, “God Our Maker Doth Provide.”

The Pilgrims named the site Plymouth, not because it happened to be called New Plymouth on John Smith’s map, but because Plymouth in Old England was the last town they left in the native country; and for that they received many kindnessess from some Christians there.

“When the worst was over, they had lost forty-seven people, nearly half their original number, and through it all, their hearts remained soft toward God. Whether they knew that they were being tested, as Bradford later suspected, the high point of their week remained Sunday worship when the beat of a field drum would summon them to the morning and afternoon services. All on board the Mayflower would come ashore, and joined the procession led by William Brewster, their spiritual leader until such time as God provided them with a minister.

pilgrim-thanksgiving-5“As they made their way up the hill for worship, their clothes were not the somber browns and blacks of the pictures that hang in school rooms around Thanksgiving time. Miles Standish almost certainly wore his plum-red cape, and William Brewster had an emerald- green satin doublet which might have been appropriate Sunday garb. For these were Elizabethan Englishmen. It would be their Puritan cousins of a later generation who would hold that ‘frivolous’ clothes connoted a frivolous heart attitude.  “The service was held in the blockhouse at the top of the hill, an imposing building with a flat roof and a trap door, so the house could be defended from the roof. Inside, on rough hewn log benches, the men would sit on the left, the women on the right. William Brewster would preach, because he had a gift for teaching ‘both powerfully and profitably, to the great contentment of the hearers, and their comfortable edification.’ Many were brought to God by his ministry. Bradford said Brewster’s preaching was an instrument to ‘bring sweet repentance to their hearts for the sins they might have forgotten about.’

“Their territory had always been the territory of the Patuxets, a large, hostile tribe who had barbarously murdered every white man who had landed on their shores. But four years prior to the Pilgrim’s arrival, a mysterious plague had broken out among them, killing every man, woman, and child. So compete was the devastation that the neighboring tribes had shunned the area ever since, convinced that some great supernatural spirit had destroyed the Pautaxets. In 1605 when Squanto and four other Indians were taken captive by Captain George Weymouth, who was exploring the New England coast at the behest of Sir Ferdinando Gorges, they were taken to England. There, they were taught English so Gorges could question them concerning the tribes that populated New England, and where the most favorable places to establish colonies could be found. Squanto spent the next nine years in England, where he met Captain John Smith, recently of Virginia, who promised to take him back to his people on Cape Cod. He did not have to wait long. On Smith’s 1614 voyage of mapping and exploring, Squanto was returned to the Patuxets, at the place Smith named New Plymouth.

“When the Indian stepped ashore six months before the Pilgrims arrived, he received the most tragic blow of his life: not a man, woman, or child of his tribe was left alive. Nothing but skulls and bones and ruined dwellings remained.

“He wandered aimlessly, until one day he walked into the Massasoit’s camp, and Samoset brought news of a small colony of peaceful English families who were hard pressed to stay alive. Squanto found his reason for living again. These English were like little babes, so ignorant of the ways of the wild.

_Plymouthrock“The next day he brought them all the eels he could hold in his hands, which the Pilgrims found ‘fat and sweet.’ He took several young men and taught them how to squash eels out of the mud with bare feet and catch them with bare hands. Next, he showed them how to plant corn the Indian way, hoeing six-foot squares in toward the center, putting down four or five kernels, and then fertilizing the corn with fish. He taught them to guard their corn against wolves, so the wolves could not take the fish fertilizing the crop.

“Obediently the men did as he told them, and four days later the creeks for miles around were clogged with alewives making their spring run. The Pilgrims didn’t catch them; they harvested them! He taught them how to stalk deer, plant pumpkins among the corn, refine maple syrup from maple trees, discern which herbs were good to eat and good for medicine, and find the best berries. He also introduced them to the pelt of the beaver, which was in plentiful supply in north New England, and in great demand throughout Europe. Not only did Squanto get them started, but he guided them in the trading, making sure they got their full money’s worth in top-quality pelts. This would prove to be their economic deliverance, just as corn would be their physical deliverance.

“Despite several deaths and the Mayflower heading back for England, leaving them at the complete mercy of the land, the Pilgrims were brimming over with gratitude the summer of 1621. Much work went into the building of new dwellings, and ten men were sent north up the coast in the sailing shallop to conduct trade with the Indians. Squanto once again acted as their guide and interpreter. It was a successful trip, and that fall’s harvest provided more than enough corn to see them through their second winter.

“The Pilgrims were thankful, not only to Squanto and the Wamanoags who had been so friendly, but to God. In him they had trusted, and He had honored their obedience beyond their dreams. So, Governor Bradford declared a day of public Thanksgiving, to be held in October. Massasoit was invited, and unexpectedly arrived a day early, with ninety Indians! Counting their numbers, the Pilgrims had to pray hard to keep from giving into despair. To feed such a crowd would cut deeply into the food supply that was to get them through the winter.

_Thanksgiving3“But if they had learned one thing through their travails, it was to trust God implicitly. As it turned out, the Indians were not arriving empty-handed. Massoit had commanded his braves to hunt for the occasion. They arrived with no less than five dressed deer, and more than a dozen fat wild turkeys. They also helped with the preparations, teaching the Pilgrim women how to make hoecakes, and a tasty pudding made out of cornmeal and maple syrup. Finally, they showed them an Indian delicacy: how to roast corn kernels in an earthen pot until they popped, fluffy and white, popcorn!

“The Pilgrims in turn provided vegetables from their house-hold gardens: carrots, onions, turnips, parsnips, cucumbers, radishes, beets, and cabbages. Using some of their precious flour, they also took summer fruits the Indians had dried and introduced them to blueberry, apple, and cherry pie. It was all washed down with sweet wine made from the wild grapes. A joyous occasion for all!

“Between meals, the Pilgrims and Indians happily competed in shooting contests with gun and bow. The Indians were especially delighted that John Alden and some of the younger men of the plantation were eager to join them in foot races and wrestling. There were even military drills staged by Captain Standish. Things went so well (and Massasoit showed no inclination to leave) that Thanksgiving Day was extended for three days.

“The Pilgrims had so much for which to thank God: for providing all their needs, even when their faith had not been up to believing that He would do so; for the lives of the departed and for taking them home to be with Him; for their friendship with the Indians, so extraordinary when settlers to the south had experienced the opposite; and for all His remarkable providences in bringing them to this place and sustaining them.”

Quoted verbatum (except for a few exerpt-editorial revisions) from “The Light and the Glory,” by Peter Marshall. c

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