Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving: Remembering Some Of The First Immigrants

Turkey made by one of the younger generation in my family

The pilgrims (as they were to be called much later) were among a persecuted religious group (Puritans) that fled England for Holland in the early 1600s.  Some eventually moved to the nearby university town of Leiden.  But that didn't last either.  From the Pilgrim Hall Museum:
"After a decade in Leiden, the low wages, the danger of renewed war with Spain, and concern for their children's future led them to seek another solution. The Leiden Separatist community decided to relocate to America."
They returned to England and prepared for their journey to Virginia.

The trip over was rough.  From Eyewitness to History:
"Problems plagued their departure from the start. Leaving Southampton on August 5 aboard two ships (the Mayflower and the Speedwell) they were forced back when the Speedwell began to leak. A second attempt was thwarted when the Speedwell again began to leak and again the hapless Pilgrims returned to port.
Finally, after abandoning the Speedwell, 102 Pilgrim passengers departed from Plymouth aboard the Mayflower on September 6. The intended destination was Virginia where they planned to start a colony. After a journey of 66 days they made landfall at Cape Cod near present-day Provincetown - more than 600 miles off course."

The pilgrims arrived Dec. 21, 1620.  From the Pilgrim Hall Museum:
The Pilgrims' Landing in America
Having landed on Cape Cod, a small party set out to explore. Coming on a place where Native People had stored corn underground, they confiscated it to use for seed.  Finding poor soil and lack of fresh water, they decided to look further.
The Mayflower’s pilot, Robert Coppin, remembered Plymouth Harbor from a previous visit.
An exploring party set out in the shallop:
...though it was very dark and rained sore, yet in the end they got under the lee of a small island [Clark's Island] and remained there all that night in safety... And this being the last day of the week, they prepared there to keep the Sabbath. On Monday they sounded the harbor and found it fit for shipping, and marched into the land and found divers cornfield, and little running brooks, a place (as they supposed) fit for situation. At least it was the best they could find.
- William Bradford    [emphasis added]
The first few months were disastrous.  From National Humanities Center:
"But that which was most sad and lamentable was that in two or three months’ time half of their company died, especially in January and February, being the depth of winter, and wanting [lacking] houses and other comforts; being infected with the scurvy and other diseases, which this long voyage and their inaccomodate condition had brought upon them, so as there died sometimes two or three of a day, in the aforesaid time, that of one hundred and odd persons, scarce fifty remained. And of these in the time of most distress, there was but six or seven sound [healthy] persons who, to their great commendations be it spoken, spared no pains, night or day, but with abundance of toil and hazard of their own health, fetched them wood, made them fires, dressed [prepared] them meat, made their beds, washed their loathsome clothes, clothed and unclothed them; in a word, did all the homely and necessary offices for them which dainty and queasy stomachs cannot endure to hear named; and all this willingly and cheerfully, without any grudging in the least, showing herein their true love unto their friends and brethren. A rare example and worthy to be remembered." [emphasis added]
If you look at the list of people on the Mayflower, you'll see married women, children, adolescents, and men.  One baby was born during the voyage and another in harbor.  Here's a list of the Mayflower passengers and a brief account of them. 

It wasn't until March 1621 that they made official contact with the indigenous people. From the Pilgrim Hall Museum again:
The English were moving into a region where Native Peoples already lived. Seventeenth-century Europeans believed that their colonizing effort was justified because they were "improving" the land in European ways of intensive farming and permanent villages. The Europeans also believed their colonizing effort was justified by the introduction of the Christian religion. 
The weakened group of colonists worked hard to build houses and gather food. While they occasionally saw Native People from a distance, it was not until March 1 of 1621 that an Abenaki named Samoset entered the little village of Plymouth, "saluted us in English and bade us ‘Welcome!’ for he had learned some broken English among the Englishmen that came to fish at Monhegan [Maine]."
Samoset brought Tisquantum (Squanto) to meet the colonists. Squanto, a Wampanoag native of Patuxet, was kidnapped by an English sea captain in 1614, returning to his homeland with an English explorer in 1619. Massasoit, a sachem of the Wampanoag, then came to Plymouth.

The two groups approached each other cautiously, exchanging hostages. The Wampanoag sought to balance the dominance of the powerful Narragansett. The colonists sought to ensure security for their fledgling settlement. On April 1, 1621, they agreed upon an alliance of mutual support.
"... the coming of their great Sachem, called Massasoiet. Who, about four or five days after, came with the chief of his friends and other attendance, with the aforesaid Squanto. With whom, after friendly entertainment and some gifts given him, they made a peace with him (which hath now continued this 24 years) in these terms:
I. That neither he nor any of his, should injure or do hurt to any of their people.
II. That if any of his did any hurt to any of theirs, he should send the offender that they might punish him.
III. That if any thing were taken away from any of theirs, he should cause it to be restored; and they should do the like to his.
IV. That if any did unjustly war against him, they would aid him; and if any did war against them, he should aid them.
V. That he should send to his neighbours confederates to certify them of this, that they might not wrong them, but might be likewise comprised in the conditions of peace.
VI. That when their men came to them, they should leave their bows and arrows behind them.

From: Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford,
edited by Samuel Eliot Morison
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984), p. 80-81

That first Thanksgiving was about eleven months after they first arrived.

From the Pilgrim Hall Museum are two primary sources of that event (both from the pilgrims' perspective, of course.)
That 1621 celebration is remembered as the "First Thanksgiving in Plymouth." There are two (and only two) primary source descriptions of the events of the fall of 1621. In Mourt’s Relation, Edward Winslow writes: 
"our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty." 
In Of Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford writes:
"They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to 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 thus 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 did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was 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 here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports."
It sure sounds like their need to leave their home country and their experience as boat people and their difficult situation on arrival isn't all that different from immigrant experiences around the world today.


  1. Good information. Over in Britain, many see this migration as 'good riddance'. They were all nutters, as we say here. Eugene and I are thinking about joining the little effort to recall the 1620 send-off next year in Plymouth, England. It's a town Eugene worked in for about 3 years in the early 70s. The historic pilgrims weren't regarded too highly in Plymouth until some enterprising persons realised that American tourists would come if they were to memorialise the venture somehow.

    And of course, they did. And Americans do come.

    Sorry, I'm in a bit of bad mood after having attended the American Ambassador's annual Thanksgiving fete in St Paul's only to have the (American) homilist give everyone an 'altar call'.

    Oh, my. Oh my. It couldn't have been more inappropriate.

    1. Oops. Next year isn't quite 400 years. That's what I meant, of course.


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