HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO BACKBONE COUNTRY
By Matt Dunn & Krista Kafer
November 27, 2013
George Washington proclaimed the Firth Thanksgiving in America on November 26, 1789. In October of 1789, the newly elected president was in New York, readying to take a tour of each state in the new union. According to Washington biographer Ron Chernow: “Prior to leaving New York, Washington also signed a proclamation for the first Thanksgiving on November 26, declaring that “Almighty God” should be thanked for the abundant blessings bestowed on the American people, including victory in the war against England, creation of the Constitution, establishment of the new government, and the “tranquility, union and plenty” that the country now enjoyed.”
And perhaps we should offer extra thanks that the American Founders did not conduct a Revolution the way the French did back in 1789 — in which the Jacobins enforced their unnatural purity codes with the guillotine, and who only succeeded in paving the way for Napoleon Bonaparte.
For America’s first “unofficial” Thanksgiving, we need to look back to the year 1621 and the Plymouth Colony near present-day Cape Cod. William Bradford, a 31-year-old English Separatist leader, had lost his wife on the voyage of the Mayflower. He was elected Governor of Plymouth, and described the first winter the settlers endured in the New World in which over half of the group perished from starvation or disease: “It pleased God to vissite us with death daily, and with so generall a disease that the living were scarce able to burie the dead.”
Yet when the Mayflower returned to England in the spring of 1621, not one of the surviving colonists went with her. Their home was America. They were not easily discouraged individuals. Their determination was expressed in the words of one of their leaders: “It is not with us as with men whom small things can discourage.”
By the following fall, prospects began to improve for the hearty band of colonists. In his wonderful memoir “Of Plymouth Plantation,” William Bradford described the “First Thanksgiving” in 1621. With the Mayflower departed back to England (5 April to 6 May) and Corn Planted, Bradford wrote:
“First Thanksgiving. They now began 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 a 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.”
Another of the Plymouth Colonists, Edward Winslow, noting the camaraderie between the colonists and the native peoples, wrote the following description of the same First Thanksgiving in a letter to a friend in England on 11 December, 1621:
“Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit 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, man of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king, Massasoit with some 90 men, whom for 3 days we entertained and feasted. And they went out and killed 5 deer which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our Governor and upon the Captain and others.”
So much to be thankful for, then as now. We wish everyone all the best on Thanksgiving 2013.