“The First Thanksgiving” is more than a great book about Thanksgiving,
it is one that encompasses Plymouth Rock and how the area first got
settled. I read this with my oldest three grandchildren, one is 9 and
the others are 8 years old. It was written in 1993, by Jean Craighead
George and illustrated by Thomas Locker.
This book starts out with lovely and dark “paintings” of Cape Cod and
it describes how the mountains of gravel came from the Ice Age that
deposited along the coast of New England. It tells that above the top
of the gravel, the glacier deposited huge boulders from distant places.
This became known as Plymouth Harbor.
The unusual facts about the boulders, include how they are called
“Dedham granite” and they are believed to have arrived from Africa
over 200 million years ago. This is when the continents, scientists say,
broke apart and floated to their current locations.
The largest rock, all 200 tons of it, is described:
“It came to rest in lonely splendor, on a sandy beach in a cove.
This boulder is Plymouth Rock.”
Somehow, years later, this area became inhabited by the Pawtuxets,
a tribe of the Wampanoag: “The People of the Dawn.”
Their customs included thanking Mother Earth for Her harvests of corn,
beans, squash and pumpkins. They hunted deer, turkey and fished the
ocean and streams. Their celebration annually was named the “Green
Corn Dance” which lasted many days.
In the 1600’s, Englishmen arrived on big ships killing animals with guns
and kidnapped some of the Wampanoag men for slaves. Indians were
afraid of the newcomers, white men, with their loud weapons.
On man tricked to come aboard a ship with the 17 Pawtuxet men, was
named Squanto. His life is complicated, being traded from England to
Spain to eventually Newfoundland, sailing back to London and then
finally back to New England (America) in 1619. When he arrived back
and saw his village, many tears were wept for the homes were merely
skeletons and the mighty crops were reduced to weeds. All of his
people he believed were dead of European plague.
I thought I might “pause” in this devastatingly real and sad story to
tell you that the grandkids were fascinated. I asked if they were a
little sad, they said, “Yes, but Nana, tell us the rest of the story!”
Squanto traveled northward to Maine, where he joined the tribe
named Massasoit. They were a branch of the Wampanoag Indian
community where he felt accepted.
During this time, over in England, King Jame I was making everyone
join the Church of England. There was a group of people known as
the Puritans, who when they traveled across the ocean, became
known as the “Pilgrims.” Their great ship was called the “Mayflower.”
Their arrival to the New World, was on December 11, 1620. They
landed on Plymouth Harbor beach. The sight of Plymouth Rock.
Once ithe Pilgrims arrived, they called the natives or citizens that
belonged there, “savages.”
Their Governor John Carver and the Pilgrims all struggled through
the winter, until they were able to plant the seeds they had brought.
The women planted English herbs in “kitchen gardens.” The men
dug deeper into the land, creating huge gardens of vegetables,
wheat and barley.
Samoset, a Massasoit Ambassador, traveled to greet the Pilgrims
in English. They formed a “Peace Treaty” and the Massasoits stayed
in Rhode Island, while Squanto stayed behind in Plymouth.
Squanto showed the men how to catch hibernating eels, showed
them where the herring ran in the Spring, and taught them how
to make “weirs” and nets to catch cod and salmon. He also showed
them how to put herring in the holes they dug for planting, along
with 4-5 corn kernels in the soil. This was not noted as “first use
of fertilizer” but I thought this was very interesting, as did the kids!
The seeds that Squanto shared were considered by historians, ones
from ancestors as far away as Mexico and Peru. These included corn,
squash and pumpkins.
Squanto also taught them where to hunt for the turkeys, showed them
leaf nests of squirrels adn the hideouts of skunks and raccoons. The
Pilgrims were shown where there were blueberry patches to pick from.
In the Late Spring, meadows were filled with wild strawberries where
the children could pick also, sweet roots of Jerusalem artichoke.
In the Mid Summer, cranberry bogs and gooseberry patches’ locations
were shown and shared.
In September, chestnuts, hickory nuts and hazelnuts were found on the
ground under their trees.
The boys were taught how to make dugout canoes and paddle out into
the sea to set lobster pots, made of reeds and sinew. There were all
kinds of edible creatures in the tidal pools to show the Pilgrims, too.
Philosophy of the Native Americans which is the tenet in why Squanto
shared his learnings:
“The Land did not belong to the people; People belong to the Land.”
Such a peaceful and meaningful message right there!
When the following harvest came, after all that Squanto had taught
the Pilgrims, they felt the need to rejoice and invite the Massasoits
to join them in a Feast. Governor William Bradford sent a message
of invitation and the response was 90 guests! For three days they
shared the Feast, played games and the Pilgrims shared their guns
in contests. The Native Americans shared their bows and arrows,
using targets to just enjoy the harvest.
When I heard of the games, shooting for pleasure and the many
dishes that they ate, I thought, WE should do this, too! How many
people sit down and watch football or some form of stationary
activities after they eat their Thanksgiving dinner? We all should
hike around, play games and enjoy each other’s company!
The end of the book summarizes that the Pilgrims called this day a
“Harvest Feast” and the Native Americans called it the “Green Corn
Dance.” They must have included dancing, but the book did not
mention it specifically, it did not show any dancing in the beautiful
President George Washington declared and named the first national
Proclamation of celebrating Thanksgiving during his Presidency.
President Abraham Lincoln named the annual day of Thanksgiving
to be the last Thursday of November and called it a day of
“thanksgiving and praise.”
In my family, we include two types of meats, two types of dressings,
usually more grilled or fresh vegetables lately (not so many casseroles)
and our big splurges on calories and not so healthy food are lots of
pies and two kinds of potatoes, both baked. Sometimes I will drive
home from my brother and sister in law’s house in Cleveland missing
my Mom as I drive. She and my brothers and sometimes my sister in
law’s children will be there but the rest of my own family are back in’
After my “goodbyes,” I head directly to my son’s house, where Jamie
and Trista still serves green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, corn
pudding, hamburger mixed in with onions in the stuffing, sweet potato
casserole with marshmallows and pecans mixed in. We finish our meal
with pumpkin pie served with whipped cream in a can (not Cool Whip.)
We eat white rolls with real butter, too!
What are some of your favorite foods, your traditions and if you are
from another country, do you have a harvest time meal?