Happy Thanksgiving: Truth, History & Ideologies

The Letter

Happy Thanksgiving: Truth, History & Ideologies

Happy Thanksgiving: Truth, History & Ideologies

No doubt ideologies can easily clash over the holidays. We live with different ideas all year long, then come together. What happens for friendship or conflict is our own choice. Politically-inclined periodicals like to instruct readers on how to persuade family members either left or right. But, rather than the usual “gotcha” or “win arguments” campaign, here are some ways to win friendship and let Thanksgiving have its day. If you want instructions, follow these three steps…

1. Don’t argue:

When old relatives use politically incorrect terms from the past, prove how smart you are: You know what they mean, so you don’t need to correct them or even comment.

When people demonstrate different morals, don’t take the bait. If you think someone a fool, joining in an argument is joining a fool. Be mature. If you must debate, talk about the historical absence of cranberry sauce and the fact that the Pilgrims had neither pumpkin pie nor mashed potatoes since they didn’t have ovens. The Pilgrims at Plymouth actually developed as a fishing society since Massachusetts isn’t as friendly for farming as Jamestown, Virginia.

The early versions of today’s Thanksgiving recipes (pumpkin pie, stuffing, turkey, bread, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce) were introduced by writer Sara Josepha Hale (Marry had a Little Lamb) who started a three-decade campaign for the national holiday in 1827. George Washington had declared the first Thanksgiving on Thursday, November 26, 1789. Lincoln made Thanksgiving officially annual during the Civil War, 1863, setting it as the last Thursday in November. In 1939, FDR’s attempt to expand the shopping season by moving Thanksgiving up one week was not welcomed. In 1941 FDR made Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November. George H. W. Bush pardoned the first turkey to retire on a farm in 1989.

2. Talk about today’s political context:

Everything is changing. Refuse to get into any political or ideological debates since a. these change ever more dramatically from year to year and b. many recent ideologies have yet to be tested, therefore there is nothing to discuss, either pro or con.

3. Consider the political-ideological context of the first two British settlements:

The story of the Pilgrims simultaneously sides with and violates both right and left of today’s political scripts. The Pilgrims didn’t want the fickle establishment policing their religion. They had tried to live in the Netherlands starting in 1607, but that didn’t work out. Lacking money and concerned about losing their language to the Dutch, they sold stock, joined the London Company, and got permission from the Crown to leave for Hudson, near the already established Jamestown, Virginia. They were not funded by tax dollars, but they were governed by them.

The Speedwell had accompanied them to Amsterdam, but only the larger Mayflower would prove seaworthy to carry them on to the “New World”. After a 66-day voyage of hardship, the Pilgrims arrived, more or less, as beat-down western imperialists equipped with political and religious ideologies rather than a survival plan for the worst. They never made it to Hudson.

Having arrived too far north, they spent the first winter aboard the Mayflower in 1620. All but fifty-three of the 102 Pilgrims died that first winter. The natives, Wampanoag, were also farmers who helped them survive and taught them to plant their own crops the next year. Their secret was to use fish meal as fertilizer so they could grow better corn. This was important. The Pilgrims were not farmers in Britain nor did the Crown send many supply vessels. The Pilgrims’ welfare could not rely on government welfare.

According to the rules of the London Company (approved by the Crown), the Plymouth colony followed a principle called “common course”—the colony had a central grainery, each Pilgrim contributed what he could, then took what he needed. According to Richard Maybury’s “The Great Thanksgiving Hoax,” (1999) “common course” echoed Marxism’s from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. Due to local theft, little made it into the grainery.

John Carver was elected the Plymouth governor in 1621 and died that April. While William Bradford was out scouting for a colony location, the Mayflower was anchored at the tip of Cape Cod off Provincetown Harbor. His wife, still on the Mayflower, fell overboard and drowned. He was later elected governor which he held for subsequent years. In 1623, having starved from lack of corn, Plymouth had its fill of “common course”. Bradford writes:

All this while no supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expect any. So they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length, after much debate of things, the Governor (with the advise of the chiefest among them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves; in all other things to go in the general way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of the number, for that end, only for present use (but made no division for inheritance) and ranged all boys and youth under some family. This had very good success, for it made all hands industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

Their first Thanksgiving, in 1621, lasted three days, not celebrated the next year. The Pilgrims were first known as “Old Timers”. Bradford had journaled about them as “saints” and “pilgrimes” from Holland. Daniel Webster called them “Pilgrim Fathers” at the 200 year anniversary of Plymouth (1820) and the term stuck. The Pilgrims were the second English settlement.

The first colony had already started in Jamestown, Virginia, named after King James I and was led by Edward Winfeld and a council of six chosen by the company. The names were sealed until their arrival. They chose Jamestown  as their location on May 13, 1607, while the Pilgrims were first beginning their exploits in Europe. Jamestown was Anglican and privately funded by the Virginia Company. The first wave of 104 men and boys had sailed aboard the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery, departing Dec 6, 1606, according to other sources, Dec 20 that year. Their main conflict was with the Powhatan tribe, but the Spanish were also a concern.

Winter of 1609-1610 was historically known as “Starving Time”; William Strachey tells 80-90% died from disease and starvation. Likely a hurricane had set a supply ship off course, which ran a reef in Bermuda to avoid sinking. It finally arrived May, 1610. Thanks to one of the Bermuda survivors, John Rolfe, who married Pocahontas, Jamestown’s Virginia Company became profitable with a non-native tobacco introduced in 1612.

The first legislative assembly met in 1619 at Jamestown Church. Beyond the governance of Virginia, the Pilgrims established New England and were self-governed by the Mayflower Compact. In 1624, after financial problems, Jamestown’s Virginia Company had their private charter revoked by the British Crown and remained a Royal colony until America’s Revolution.

The Puritain Pilgrims at Plymouth, Massachusetts in New England overcame death and finally thrived through friendship with the Wampanoag Indian farmers, by learning to farm their own food, by using fish as both their main trade and as corn fertilizer, lumbering, building ships, and encouraging women and children to work the fields through ownership of their own crops. The Anglicans at Jamestown, Virginia, near Chesapeake Bay, survived to become worthy of acquisition by the Crown, thanks to a triangle-shaped fort equipped with guns at each corner, Captain Christopher Newport’s ability to establish early peace with the Powhatan Indians through trade, the Powhatan chief’s daughter Pocahontas, then 11, saving John Smith’s life while Newport was away on the high seas to trade and bring more settlers, and by Pocahontas’ husband growing foreign tobacco for sales in England.

So, we have everything to be thankful for. After all, Thanksgiving would never give reason for controversy.

Sources and works consulted:

A Short History of Jamestown & Jamestown and Plymouth: Compare and Contrast (National park Service)

The Pilgrims & First Thanksgiving Meal (The History Channel)

Pilgrims, Squanto, William Bradford and Communism (Independent Sentinal)

Why the Pilgrims Abandoned Communism (Free Republic)

The Jamestown Chronicles Timeline (The Jamestown Chronicles)

Timeline History of Jamestown, Virginia