Welcome to my blog, "The British Are Coming, Y'all!" From 17–27 November, I'm participating with several hundred other bloggers in the "Gratitude Giveaways Hop," accessed by clicking on the logo on the left. All blogs in this hop offer reader-appreciation giveaways, and we’re all linked, so you can easily hop from one giveaway to another. But here on my blog, I’m posting essays from Relevant History author guests on the theme of gratitude and thanksgiving. We'll give away books and gifts during the eleven days, to show appreciation for our readers. To find out how to qualify for the giveaways on my blog, read through each day’s Relevant History post below and follow the directions. Then click on the Gratitude Hop logo so you can move along to another blog. Enjoy!
Relevant History welcomes historical romance author Margaret Lake. Reading has always been Margaret's passion. Her other passion is history, especially English History, which began when she first read Anya Seton's novel, Catherine. When the inspiration came to write her first book, she naturally gravitated to the Wars of the Roses. Her favorite author is Susan Howatch, her favorite book is Outlander, and her favorite series is Harry Potter. She leads a Harry Potter book club at the elementary school and also assists with the chess club. Margaret has just rescued a nine-year old Jack Russell Terrier mix named Angelo. For more information, check her web site and follow her on Twitter.
We all learned about the first Thanksgiving feast in elementary school. Kindergarten children make feathered headdresses and Pilgrim hats out of construction paper. We eat too much turkey and green bean casserole and pumpkin pie to celebrate the survival of our forefathers in 1621.
But what about our foremothers? I recently wrote a novelette about the Pilgrims and Indians entitled "Sweet Savage Charity." Being a history addict, I researched my subject beyond what we learned in school. I was surprised to find that only four adult women survived that first winter. Four adult women to care for 50 men and twenty children. I shudder to think.
The Pilgrims lived as a community those first years. The men hunted and fished and tended the fields. Food stores went into the communal pot. The women cooked, cleaned, did laundry and mending for the entire community. No doubt the children helped, but some of them were infants and toddlers and needed a lot of care. Probably the older girls watched the younger ones while the older boys went off with the men.
The women also gathered berries, dug for clams and mussels and fetched the water and firewood. When the men returned with game, it was the women that cleaned and prepared the meat. Mending was a constant chore as they had no spinning wheels or looms to make cloth.
There was no such thing as having a "headache" after a long and arduous day. The men were allowed to beat their wives for refusing their conjugal rights. As proof, just look at Elizabeth Warren who arrived in 1623. She died at age 93 with 75 great-grandchildren. Her husband died 45 years earlier and she never remarried. I expect she felt she had more than done her duty.
Mary Chilton, by tradition the first person to set foot on Plymouth Rock, gave birth to ten children. She was only 16 when she arrived and soon to be an orphan. She didn't marry until 1627. I don't blame her for taking her time.
The next ship to arrive some weeks after the feast, brought 35 men; no women. More cooking and cleaning for our foremothers.
Women finally started arriving in 1623 on the Ann and the James. Patience Brewster* came on the Ann in 1623, but only survived long enough to give birth to three children. She was married to Thomas Prence who later became governor. However, he married three more times. Obviously he needed someone to cook and clean and tend the children.
Back to the Autumn of 1621 on that historic day when 90 Indians arrived with five deer. Can you imagine how these four women felt when all those men showed up for dinner? Talk about unexpected company.
"Honey, I brought a few of the guys home for the weekend," said the Pilgrim father happily.
The Pilgrim mother gritted her teeth as five eviscerated deer were dumped at her feet.
"How nice," she grated. "May I see you in the kitchen, Dear?"
Massasoit mumbles to Squanto out of the side of his mouth. "I told him he should have called ahead."
Sure, they brought their own meat, but who had to prepare and cook it? The four ladies of Plymouth Colony.
Turkeys and other birds had to be plucked, fish had to be cleaned, pumpkins and corn roasted, berries stewed, peas, beans and squash prepared, and beer brewed. Yes, they had a type of beer made from wild strawberries and sassafras for which the women were responsible. The founding mothers cooked for 140 people for three straight days.
What were the men doing while the women cooked? Supposedly praying. They weren't allowed sports and games. In fact, on Christmas Day of that year, Governor Bradford confiscated implements for pitching the bar and playing stool ball (early forms of cricket and baseball) because some of the men refused to work on Christmas.
The Indians, on the other hand, indulged in Lacrosse, swimming, wrestling and archery among other games. Do you think they sat around and watched the Puritans pray for three days? Not a chance. They would have kept themselves amused with their games and maybe even some dancing. I also don't think, given Governor Bradford's actions at Christmas, that all of the settlers kept their eyes on their Bibles or their minds on prayer.
Keep in mind that less than half of the settlers were Puritans or Separatists. The rest of the company were non-Separatists who just wanted to make a new life in a new country. Some of them were sent by those who had put up the money and supplies for this venture to keep an eye on their investment.
So what was really going on that first Thanksgiving? The men were drinking beer and most likely watching the Indians at their sports. Some of them might have even joined in. The women were cooking and washing the dishes and keeping an eye on the children. Are these not traditions that we keep alive to this very day?
Squanto, the Indian we all know as the one who spoke English, stayed with the Pilgrims for the Winter of 1621/22. It was Squanto who taught them how to survive in the harsh climate. But I think it's a safe bet that in all that time he never even shucked an ear of corn.
So, here's to our foremothers, those tough, dedicated women who bore hardships and privations right alongside their men (and a lot of men not even theirs). Let's not forget that without them, there would not be four million descendants of the Pilgrims alive today.
*Patience Prence is the pen name of a descendant of Patience's third child, Hannah.
A big thanks to Margaret Lake. She'll give away an electronic or autographed print copy of her anthology, A Walk in the Woods, which contains the novelette "Sweet Savage Charity," to someone who contributes a legitimate comment on my blog today or tomorrow. Make sure you provide your email address. I'll choose the winner in a drawing from among those who comment on this post by Tuesday 22 November at 6 p.m. ET, then publish the name of the winner on my blog 28 November. Multiple ebook file formats are available, and no eReader is required. Delivery is available within the continental U.S. only for print.
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