|I hope you had an enjoyable Thanksgiving. Every year we tell the
heartwarming story of Thanksgiving. We tell the tales of the hard-working
Pilgrims who in the words of Garrison Keillor came to America in order to
have less religious freedom than they could have at home.
And we praise the friendly tribe who were such good neighbors.
This talk is a roast. And I am about to serve Roast Thanksgiving.
The Mayflower was no cruise ship. It was designed to carry 12 people.
The Pilgrims were a group of 101 men, women and children, plus 5 crew
members. A baby was born en route, so 102 pilgrims arrived at the New
World. They planned to arrive at Virginia where they could buy essentials
like cooking pots and blankets and seed grain. They brought 4000 pounds of
unsalted butter, and plenty of guns and ammunition, because they’d heard
those would be popular in America. But they didn’t bring enough grain
for eating and planting, or blankets to keep warm.
The pilgrims believed that the King of England had the right to give
them land that was occupied by other people. They didn’t seem to have
the principle of law that if you buy stolen property, you can’t keep it.
The world hasn’t changed – which you know if you’ve ever had
The pilgrims actually codified legal punishments as they have come to
be practiced today. The penalty for a crime, such as public smoking, could
be a fine, 3 hours in the stocks, or 3 days in jail, depending on the
person’s social standing.
When they sighted land, one of the children, Francis Billington,
ancestor of President Garfield, stuffed feather quills with gunpowder and
set off home-made firecrackers. According to William Bradford, the town’s
mayor and historian, the resulting fire got within 4 feet of a bed, but no
one was hurt. The pilgrims had an incredible run of good luck.
Shortly after they landed, Squanto, the last living Patuxet tribesman,
met with the pilgrims and spoke to them in English. The pilgrims took this
as proof that God had truly given them this land – people even spoke
English here. And why did Squanto know English so well? He had been
captured by slave traders and taken to England where he lived for several
years until a preacher bought his freedom and sent him home. When he
returned, he learned that his people had all died of plague while he was
gone. The Pilgrims settled land had belonged to his people, and hired.
Squanto to communicate with the local tribes.
And why would any of the local tribes want to talk to the English,
rather than shoot arrows at them? What could these English possibly give
them? The nearest tribe was the Wampanoag, and they had a secret they
wanted to keep from the other tribes. During the previous year, the plague
had killed 2/3 of their population. There were only 2000 of them left. The
surrounding tribes might try to take their territory if they found out.
They were willing to make a deal with the Pilgrims. Corn and land – in
trade for guns. Guns were one thing the pilgrims had plenty of. They
literally were people who practiced guns and butter diplomacy.
Squanto played a trick on the Pilgrims by telling them they had to bury
fish with the corn to fertilize it. After wild animals dug up the first 2
plantings, the Pilgrims caught on.
When the harvest came in and it looked like there was going to be
plenty of food to get through the winter, the Pilgrims wanted to
celebrate. Mayor Bradford suggested a day of prayer instead, but nobody
listened to him. They wanted to PARTY! They invited the Wampanoag to a
3-day feast. The Wampanoag didn’t want to strain the Pilgrims’
hospitality, so they only sent 90 tribesmen and they contributed 5 deer to
the feast. The Pilgrims served up that year-old rancid butter.
About a week later another boatload of
immigrants arrived at Plymouth. They’d been heading for Virginia, and
they didn’t bring grain or blankets. That bountiful harvest turned into
meager rations to get everyone through the winter.
Thirteen years after this Thanksgiving, due to immigration, the settler
population was now 35,000. The Wampanoag decided it was time to call a
halt to the British land grab. They issued a decree confining them to the
Plimoth Plantation, kind of a reservation. They drew boundaries and
declared war if the settlers crossed them. As a precaution, they hid 400
women and children in a distant settlement. The British settlers killed
all but those 400, still believing that God had given this land to them.
In conclusion, there’s nothing
heartwarming about the original story of Thanksgiving. But, thanks to our
politicians putting their spin on history, we now have a worthwhile
celebration. It is good to have gratitude for a good harvest. It is goof
to celebrate good friends. And it is good to enjoy the freedom that the
settlers came here to avoid. I hope you had a good Thanksgiving.