For the rest of you, particularly graduates of the public school system, here's a little easy-to-digest American history for you to chomp on in between bites of that dried out turkey you'll insist is "the best turkey [you] ever had."
Bullet Point History! Lincoln Proclaims Thanksgiving:
- On November 28, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln ordered all government offices closed in order to celebrate a day of Thanksgiving in Washington, DC.
- For several decades prior, each of the individual states scheduled and set aside their own days of Thanksgiving
- In 1863, a magazine editor urged President Lincoln to proclaim a national day of Thanksgiving for all of the states of the Union to observe collectively
- On October 3, 1863, during the height of the Civil War, Secretary of State William Seward issued the President's proclamation setting aside the "last Thursday of November next" as a national day of Thanksgiving.
Bullet Point History! The Pilgrims:
- The Pilgrims were originally chartered by a merchant company in London to land in Virginia, but since bad weather forced them off course and onto the shores of what is now Massachusetts, the settlers decided they "would use their own liberty" and make a social contract because "none had power to command them." Not everyone signed the Compact but they lived by its outline.
- The "Pilgrims" were divided between the "Saints" or separatists, (often called the "Old Comers" who left England for religious reasons), and merchant capitalists who were looking to make money in the New World, as well as employees of the Company of Merchant Adventurers of London and indentured servants.
- Only 35 of the 137 souls that sailed on the Mayflower were actually sailing for religious purposes.
- The "Saints" (commonly referred to as 'Pilgrims' in the United States, first left England for Holland after refusing to join the Church of England. After a time spent in Holland they realized their own customs were being subsumed by local Dutch customs and so decided to leave for the New World.
- Two ships were set to sail from Plymouth, England in early September, 1620. One of them, the Speedwell, turned out not to be seaworthy and turned back.
- There were 102 'Pilgrims' and a crew of 30. The Mayflower was a cargo ship and was not designed for human passage. Because of the weather, the Pilgrims spent most of the 66 day journey below decks in the hold.
- Food consisted of hard tack (dry biscuits) and was shared with the insects and rats on board.
- The Mayflower was between 90 and 105 feet in length and approximately 25 feet wide (original dimensions have been lost to time). It had three masts, and spent most of its time sailing as a merchant ship between England and France.
- The Pilgrims didn't like the earthiness of the crew and the crew didn't like the fact that the Pilgrims spent the bulk of the 66 days they were at sea puking and dying.
- The Pilgrims landed on Cape Cod on November 9, 1620. After a survey of the land, a crew of the healthiest men was sent to search for a better spot to settle. On December 21, 1620, the Pilgrims landed at what is now Plymouth, MA. For the first few months the settlers lived on the ship and went to shore to build a common supply house and clear land.
- Since the many of the Pilgrims were religious exiles, common belief is that the "First Thanksgiving" was modeled after the Jewish observance of Sukkot. Thanksgiving meals were common then when harvests or other good fortune dictated and were not simply a single day set aside for observances of gratitude, whether a person was a religious observant or not.
- As Separatist Christians, the Pilgrims did not celebrate Christmas, Easter or other holidays, deeming them remnants of our pagan past. They also did not believe in prayers for the dead, thinking of them as superstitious rites that played on the fears and terror of the living.
- More than half of the original settlers died in the first year.
- In 1621, 35 more settlers arrived aboard the Fortune.
- Two more ships, the Anne and the Little James, brought settlers to Plymouth in 1623
- In 1630, a group of 1,000 Puritan refugees settled in Massachusetts.
- In the spring of 1621 the Pilgrims came in contact with members of the Wampanoag tribe who lived in the area.
- A member of the tribe Tisquantum, (known by the name his English captors gave him, Squanto) spoke fluent English after having been captured by explorer John Smith's crew five years before. Tisquantum had actually been to England and returned prior to the Pilgrim's arrival. Upon his return he learned that most of his tribe had been wiped out by the Plague, which had arrived with Smith's exploration crew.
- During the early years of the settlement, the settlers of Plymouth insisted on sharing resources equally as a means to ensure survival. Many anti-Socialists point to the Pilgrim's failures as proof socialism doesn't work. It doesn't, but the failures of the Plymouth settlement were caused by other factors.
- The bulk of the settlers at Plymouth were hard and fast capitalists, and within a few years each family was given a plot of land to tend for their own use.
- The initial settlers were not prepared to live the life of settlers and farmers. Later financial failures were the result of poor business decisions, a desire to live communally, and tough competition from other settlements in the area.
- Historians are divided over whether the "First Thanksgiving" occurred in Jamestown, Virginia, or in Plymouth. What is known is that in October, 1621, the settlers at Plymouth held a feast in celebration of their crop yield and their first year of survival. They were joined by members of the Wampanoag tribe who had taught them basic farming skills like using fish heads as fertilizer.
- There is no record of the settlers or subsequent Puritan settlers holding annual Thanksgiving feasts.