When the Mayflower left England in September of 1620 it was carrying 102 passengers and 26 crew. As far as we know, 31 of these passengers were children. The Mayflower actually set sail three times. The first in July 1620, but they had to turn back twice. July would have been a much more advantageous time to make the three-month voyage because of the weather in the new world. They turned back both times because the ship they were sailing with, the Speedwell, was leaking. They decided to leave the Speedwell behind and the Mayflower finally got underway on September 6, 1620. I don’t know about you, but the fact that the sister ship kept springing a leak, might have made me think twice about even going.
They weren’t actually Pilgrims either. That name didn’t stick until Daniel Webster called the settlers “Pilgrim Fathers” two hundred years later. They were originally called “Old Comers.” Later, a manuscript was found written by William Bradford, who was the Plymouth Colony governor. In that manuscript he referred to his fellow settlers as “saints” and “pilgrimes.” The Old Comers weren’t from England either, they were from Holland, and not all of the passengers on the Mayflower were members of the separatist sect.
One-hundred and two people were stuffed in living quarters that were 5.5 feet high, 80 feet long and 25 feet wide. Stop and think about that for a minute. For over three months these people were living in a tossing and heaving box designed to carry goods and supplies. An area the size of a modern-day, double-wide, mobile home.
The Mayflower had been used to trade with Norway in the past, and that cargo was fish. You know they couldn’t get that smell out of the hold, but I’m sure that wasn’t the worst of the pungent odors. What did you do for three months sitting in a box? I can’t imagine doing anything like that for even a few days. Tending to the sick, burying the dead at sea and birthing babies passed some of the time. Peregrine White, son of William White, was born on the Mayflower in late November 1620. He was the first Pilgrim born in America as the Mayflower was anchored in Cape Cod harbor at the time.
More than 35 million people are direct descendants of the Mayflower voyagers. John Adams, Franklin Roosevelt, Marilyn Monroe and Clint Eastwood are some of the more notable. If your last name is Turner though, you can’t trace your ancestry to the Mayflower. Thomas and his two sons died in the winter of 1620. In fact, almost half of the settlers died on the voyage or during the first winter in America. James Chilton and his wife; Moses Fletcher; John Tilley and his wife, Joan; Degory Priest; and Thomas Rogers, were some of the Pilgrims who died in that first winter at Plymouth Plantation.
The original Mayflower, obviously, no longer exists. Plimoth Plantation’s full-scale replica does. (That’s not a misspelling of the word Plymouth either. William Bradford who recorded the history of the Pilgrims, used the phonetic spelling of the word, as there were no rules for spelling English words in the 17th century. Sometimes the same word could be spelled differently on the same page.) It was built in Devon, England and crossed the Atlantic to America in 1957. Christened the Mayflower II, you can visit the ship today. The renovated Mayflower II returned to its home in Plymouth Harbor at 2 pm on June 6, 2016. The Plantation is hoping to raise $8 million to finish the restoration in time for the 400th anniversary in 2020.
Ever heard of Squanto? Me neither. He was the Patuxet Indian who spoke English and taught the Pilgrims to successfully plant corn. He could speak English because he was taken hostage and kept in England for a time before he was returned to his homeland some time before the Pilgrims got there. You might imagine how surprised the Pilgrims would have been to have one of the heathen Indians speak to them in English. The Pilgrims used to bury their dead at night to hide from what they considered hostile Indians. The corn he taught them to plant was an important crop for the settlers, but they would have called it “Indian corn” or “turkey wheat” because, in the 17th century, the English word corn meant, rye, barley, oat or some other grain.
Remember that lie, one of many, that they told us in elementary school about how the Indians taught us how to make popcorn? Total lie. The type of corn grown would have been Northern Flint which does not pop at all well.
And while we’re on the subject of fact or fiction, has Thanksgiving ever been held on the last Thursday of November? I always thought it was, and truth is President Abraham Lincoln designated the last Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving in 1863. (Do the math. It took 242 years before anyone decided to make Thanksgiving a holiday.) And it stayed that way until 1939. President Franklin Roosevelt decided it should be the fourth Thursday in November, not the occasional fifth, because the National Retail Dry Goods Association didn’t want it cutting into their holiday shopping season. Of course, the president’s decision sparked great controversy and wasn’t resolved until two years later when the House of Representatives and the Senate made the fourth Thursday in November a legal national holiday. Now it doesn’t really matter, because the holiday shopping season starts before Halloween, doesn’t it?
My favorite thing about Thanksgiving, aside from the turkey and the pumpkin pie, is, of course, football. The NFL didn’t start playing on Thanksgiving Day until 1934. The Detroit Lions had just arrived in the city, (From where you ask? Okay, you didn’t, but I’ll tell you anyway.) from Portsmouth, Ohio. They were originally the Portsmouth Spartans and were bought in 1934 for a little over $7,500 and moved to Detroit. So what better thing to do than to stuff 26,000 stuffed fans into the University of Detroit stadium to watch them lose to the Chicago Bears 19-16. The Lions have played on Thanksgiving Day every year since, except during World War II (1939-1944). College football started it though, back in 1876.
And finally, I can’t think about “turkey day” without remembering one of the funniest shows I ever saw on television. To preface this, just so you know, turkeys, domestic turkeys, the kind you eat on Thanksgiving, CAN NOT FLY. Wild turkeys which are much smaller, under eight pounds, can fly for small distances pretty fast. Which is why there is such a thing as a turkey shoot. It will take a lot more wild turkeys at around eight pounds each to feed the Pilgrims, say, so that wasn’t the main staple on their Thanksgiving table. Another lie they told you in elementary school.
October 30, 1978. WKRP in Cincinnati, “Turkeys Away.” Mr. Carlson, station manager, decides to organize a free turkey giveaway promotion. Twenty live turkeys. His final words in the show: “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”
Happy Thanksgiving ( a little early) everyone.