And speaking of stuffing, Rush Limbaugh has angrily been threatening a move to Costa Rica. We should all be so lucky.
Sometimes, you look at the world and wonder if humankind has lost its collective grip on whatever marbles it once had. We might even wonder (if we live in a red state) whether God has forsaken our nation. Our Pilgrim ancestors and their neighbors, the Native Americans, would scoff at our whining.
Maybe, this Thanksgiving, we should start by thanking God for the First Amendment. Religious freedom, which we take for granted (unless we worry about the War on Christmas), was a rarity in the 1600s. In those days it was still possible for judges to order heretics branded on the forehead with an "H" for questioning accepted religious belief. Sometimes you could cut off an ear or two to make the lesson clearer.
So, no. Life wasn't better four centuries ago. When the Pilgrims left England for exile in Holland in 1608, the King James Bible did not yet exist, although arguments about correct church doctrine were still common. Fifty scholars would gather together in 1611 to work on a definitive translation of the ancient texts into English.
Perhaps we should count modern health care among our blessings--including, perhaps, a prayer of thanks to the U. S. Supreme Court for upholding the constitutionality of Obamacare. Disease in the Pilgrim days was a major factor in shaping history. Outbreaks of Black Plague, for example, regularly closed London theaters in the time of Shakespeare, who died in 1616. (Be thankful today that none of your loved ones have to worry about rat-borne killer diseases.)
That same year Shakespeare died (and Pocahontas, visiting England died as well) an epidemic of smallpox brought to the shores of Massachusetts by fishing vessels plying the coastline in search of codfish swept away most of the native population and left the land more or less open for English settlement.
IN 1620, THEN, 105 PASSENGERS BOARDED THE MAYFLOWER and headed for America. Only half of the people aboard, however, were "saints" or church members, technically, real "Pilgrims." London city officials saw a chance to thin out the ranks of orphans, whose support was a drag on the taxpayers. So they packed off Richard More, 7, and Ellen More, his little sister, just to be rid of them. Paul Ryan might have applauded their fiscal discipline. (Then again, Mr. Ryan might recall that the Pilgrims, and the English generally, were no fan of the Roman Catholics.)
Other passengers included William Bradford, who would go on to lead the colony and write a book about it, John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, whose romance became the focus of a famous poem by Longfellow (which few today read) and Elizabeth Hopkins, well advanced in her pregnancy. (She gave birth to a child named "Oceanus" during the voyage.) There were also a number of goats on board; but the goats do not play a role in the story.
The Mayflower finally dropped anchor off Cape Cod in November and scouting parties were soon sent out to locate the best possible site for a settlement. In the cold winter ahead tuberculosis, pneumonia and scurvy took a heavy toll among the settlers. Bradford described the Pilgrim’s lowest point:
Yeah. Good times. (Be thankful for flu shots.)
You may recall this part of the story from back when your teacher talked about it in third grade: How the Pilgrims met Samoset, who stepped out of the forest shadows and greeted them in good English (he had been hanging out with some of the crewmen from those earlier fishing expeditions). He called out to them hearty: “Welcome!”
Then he asked if they had beer. (Fans of watching the NFL this afternoon can relate.)
Anyway, moving along: Samoset introduced the Pilgrims to Squanto, who understood English even better, since he'd been kidnapped by fishermen and taken to England as a slave, before he escaped, was captured again...and...it's a long story. (See: People were more religious in those days, more honest, still followed all ten of the Ten Commandments!) Squanto showed his new buddies where to catch lobster and how to raise corn, using fish as fertilizer. (The colony was saved and the way to the foundation of the Red Lobster chain was opened.)
Well, that's pretty much the story. The Pilgrims didn't want to get wiped out after a rough winter. The Wampanoags knew that the enemy of their enemy was their friend and a treaty of peace was signed and both sides kept it for half a century.
Believe it or not, t
Of course, the Pilgrim's survived and thrived. (This is why NFL players still point when they score touchdowns and thank God for granting us the inalienable right to watch football.) Even troubles with tribes beyond Massasoit’s control could not break their spirits. When a sachem named Wituwamat threatened
In another case of married people behaving badly, a young wife got in trouble after she was left behind while her husband went away on business. When she, too, had an affair, Pilgrim officials arrested everyone involved. All three individuals, husband, wife, and lover were locked up, side by side, in the stocks. (Hear that Paula Broadwell and General David Petraeus?)
With a deep sense of satisfaction Bradford noted:
So, there you have it. The story of the First Thanksgiving, with a few details added. (And I'm sorry I had to leave the story of the two Indians who mooned the Pilgrims one day out.) Today, thank God for all your blessings. Be thankful, if for nothing else, that you weren't born in the seventeenth century.
Good wishes to all Americans, liberal and conservative alike. May you all digest your turkey in peace and harmony.
As for Rush? Maybe he'll send us a postcard.
|There's myth; and there's history.|
Happy holidays to all.