Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The First Thanksgiving

Among the lies my teachers taught over the years was the story of the first Thanksgiving. Back when I was a kid, we learned all about the pilgrims, those stern, black-clad puritans who fled England, sailed on the Mayflower to America, and had a big feast for the Indians.

I think the only fact they had correct was the one about the pilgrims sailing on the Mayflower. The house hunk is descended from six of the original pilgrims, Francis Cooke, John Howland, Elizabeth Tilley, John Tilley, Joan Tilley, and George Soule. Elizabeth Tilley's parents died the first winter leaving Elizabeth, a thirteen year old orphan alone. Two years later she married John Howland.

About half of the passengers were Separatists, the other half signed up for material reasons. Of the 102 original passengers nearly half died the first winter, leaving 53 survivors...mostly men. In the fall of 1621 when the harvest was finally gathered in, William Bradford, governor of Plimoth proposed a harvest feast. It lasted three days. For a wonderful interview with the food historian at Plimoth Plantation, click on Kathleen Curtin.
Other fun facts. They didn't wear black. Black was too hard to keep clean and also was expensive so it was reserved for Sunday services. Generally, they wore colored clothing. Heavy woolen fabrics.

A few years ago we went for a weekend to Plymouth and spent some time at the Plimoth Plantation speaking with the reenactors. Each reenactor picks a specific person to represent. They remain totally in character as they talk about their lives in Plimoth and before traveling to the New World.

So we were talking to Hester Cooke (wife of the Francis Cooke listed above) She did not travel on the Mayflower, electing instead to remain in Leiden (Holland) until later, with their children. One of the other tourists in the tiny Cooke house (see the pictures above) asked her about her clothing and commented that her skirt was wrinkled. "Didn't they iron their clothes?" the tourist inquired.

I've always loved 'Hester's' reply. "But that would be vanity."

I figure if it's good enough for the pilgrims, it's good enough for me.

The houses were tiny. For that matter, the beds were tiny. The bed would be too short for me and I'm only 5'2". When I asked where the kids slept, 'Hester' pointed under the bed and said, "They sleep on pallets."

Hester and Francis had eight children. I just wonder when and where they found privacy to start them! Certainly, there was no bedroom door to shut. Actually, the entire house was only two very small rooms. And one of those was the room with the "kitchen".

The harvest feast had little that we would recognize today. No potatoes (white or sweet)--the pilgrims weren't familiar with the potato as a food at this time. Cranberries might have been added to dishes for flavoring, but certainly there wasn't any cranberry jelly. And pumpkins, though a staple in their diet, were not used for pies. Actually, it's highly unlikely they would have flour or sugar to make pies. Nor did they have ovens.

For that matter, imagine the amount of food you would need for 50 people plus the 90+ guests over a three day period. Nooooo thanks!

I think I'll settle for my modern conveniences and the menu we're planning on. We'd hate to be without our pumpkin pie!



  1. Gotta have the Pumpkin Pie! Yummy!

  2. It does make one wonder where conception took place in these rather large families with few rooms!!

    I absolutely love the design of your blog, it's stunning.

    CJ xx

  3. Thank you, CJ! I appreciate your kind words!

  4. Wow. That was interesting, Anny. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Ooh, I love tidbits like this. Thank you Anny!