"Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean."
~ William Bradford
I think we're all pretty much aware that the image of happy Pilgrims and Native Americans celebrating the first Thanksgiving is at best bogus if not an outright fabrication. It's simply a case of the victor writing history to suit his purpose. I was raised on a sanitized tale of Pilgrims sailing nobly to America and making friends with the Indians, bolstered by cute cut out cardboard decorations from the greeting card store. For many years that's how it was for all of us until around 1970, when someone burst our collective bubble and the realization that this wasn't just another potluck social starring our ancestors. The reality of the Pilgrims landing in the new world was gritty and grim. It seems the story was destined to be romanticized from the beginning if you consider the opening quote by William Bradford, so we can't blame it all on the greeting card companies.
The voyage last for nine weeks of mishap and stormy seas. Originally the Mayflower had been accompanied by a smaller ship, the Speedwell, which leaked so badly both ships had turn back to England. When ready to set sail again, the Mayflower, loaded with 102 passengers and crew, sailed alone.
At this point the history becomes muddled: the original landing site was somewhere near the mouth of the Hudson River, but records show that the group had permission to settle in Virginia. Instead, they landed near Cape Cod, Massachusetts...quite a bit of a mistake in navigation, if you ask me. They spent a month anchored just off the rocky shore while a group of passengers, including William Bradford, went ashore to explore the area. According to Travels of the Rock by John McPhee (Princeton University Press http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s5_7108.html), Bradford was in the woods on day when he was accidentally caught in a trap cleverly designed by one of the native inhabitants. Once freed, Bradford and the exploration party proceeded to search the area and found a storage of corn in buried baskets, which they acquired for their own use. Coming across the grave of a child, they pillaged what they considered the best of the belongings buried with the body. Little wonder they had arrows fired at them from unseen attackers in the nearby woods numerous time before the sun set that day. (I guess grave robbing was permissible by their religious standards and personal ethics because they considered the native people of the area a lesser form of humanity.)
When the scouting party of First Comers returned after some time to the Mayflower, they discovered that Dorothy Bradford had committed suicide by "going over the side of the vessel" and drowning. Months passed before the group dared to finally walked through sub-freezing water and ice over the rocky shore to land. Most of the passengers on the ship had been ill with pneumonia and scurvy, and less than half of them survived to make settlement.
The Pilgrims and Natives kept their distance until nearly a year and a half later, when they had contact with Samoset, a Native elder, who greeted them in broken English he'd learned from some other Europeans who'd come to fish in the area. It was he who introduced Squanto to the residents of Plymouth Colony. Squanto had been kidnapped by a sea captain in 1614, but returned to his people five years later. He remained a part of the colony as an ambassador until his death many years later.
There are only 2 reliable historical accounts (http://www.pilgrimhall.org/1stthnks.htm) of the "First Thanksgiving", which was actually a Harvest Festival the Pilgrims celebrated every year at home in England. To them, a day of thanksgiving was designated each week on the Sabbath, so there was no need for an additional day to give thanks.( There is a record of a special feast happening about three years after the establishment of the colony, to give thanks for the intervention of Providence after an extraordinarily long period of drought being ended by a rain storm.)
|"Freedom from Want" by Norman Rockwell|
I'd prefer to think of Thanksgiving as simply that: thanks-giving. The day is about being thankful for what is manifest abundance. Individually,we have a lot to be thankful for no matter who we are and how much we struggle. Every one's life could stand some improvement in some form, but we've all been blessed, we've all received something unexpected, something we have not earned and do not deserve. Every one of us. Be thankful for those things. Stop to acknowledge that which has come into your life unearned or uninvited, even the things that seem go wrong or be wrong. You will be surprised by the gift of resiliency you find and the personal tools you develop to survive. Isn't that something to be thankful for?
Thanks-giving is about what is plentiful in our lives, not about Pilgrims and turkeys.