Unbuckling the Pilgrim Mystique: Credo's Guide to (US) Thanksgiving

Posted by Duncan Whitmire on 11/11/14 5:42 PM

Current Events, Timely Topics, Timely Topics, Topic Pages

plymouthrockSo much of the American identity is wrapped up in the story of the Pilgrims' struggles 400 years ago, and yet misconceptions, myths, and misunderstandings abound. The celebration of Thanksgiving this month is the perfect time to revisit what we think we know about these early colonists. We've compiled a list of great pilgrim-related Topic Pages to help you sort through the myth versus the history.

Pilgrims (New Plymouth Colony) -  Other than the Turkey, no image plays more into our conception of Thanksgiving more than the severely-dressed and buckle-hatted pilgrim. Nearly half of the 104 pilgrims arriving on the Mayflower died during the first harsh winter of 1620 - 1621, which raises the question if the reason we picture them always wearing black had to do with the number of funerals they had to attend.

Thanksgiving Day - The customs we know today have not always been the norm. When Lincoln proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving to be celebrated in 1863, it had more to do with the war and was not directly linked to 17th century Plymouth. States set their own guidelines for many years, until 1941, when Congress passed a joint resolution decreeing that Thanksgiving should fall on the fourth Thursday of November.

Wampanoag Indians - Other than the disease, war, and land-swindling, the Wampanoag enjoyed mostly peaceful relations with the Plymouth colonists. Three quarters of the tribe succumbed to disease brought traders and colonists between 1614 - 1621. The Wampanoag helped the colonists through their first winter and were invited to share a meal the following year, which was probably the high-water mark of European - Native American relations; what followed was significantly less pleasant.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 10.43.56 AMPlymouth Colony, 1620-1691 - The colony was founded by Separatists, who wanted to leave the Church of England, which makes them different than the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who remained Anglicans. It's an important distinction that is often lost today. Plymouth never became a financial success, like its Puritan neighbor to the north, and eventually merged with the Bay Colony in 1691.

Bradford, William, 1590-1657 - William Bradford, or "Billy Pilgrim" as he was known to probably nobody, was the governor of the Plymouth Colony for most of his life in the New World, being reelected to the position 30 times.

Mayflower Compact (1620) - One of the earliest and most important documents in American history, this agreement between the pilgrims set the tone for other colonial charters to come. It also established the precedent for governance based on written documents and consent.


Landing-Bacon, By Henry A. Bacon [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Landing-Bacon.PNG

Thanksgiving-Brownscombe, Jennie Augusta Brownscombe [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thanksgiving-Brownscombe.jpg?fastcci_from=8461509

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