This year is not the 400th Thanksgiving anniversary in the New World. While researching on History.com/news’ website, I read about the Texas Society Daughters of the American Colonists’ research. They researched Spain’s famous explorer, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. Coronado had 1,500 troops in full body armor when he departed from Mexico City in 1540. They marched north to find gold. In 1541 the troops camped in Palo Duro Canyon which is in present day Texas. Padre Fray Juan de Padilla planned a feast of prayer and thanksgiving, eighty years before the Pilgrims in the Massachusetts Bay Colony of Plymouth.
The second oldest Thanksgiving was not in Plymouth. In 1598 Juan de Onate, a wealthy Spaniard received from the King of Spain a land grant among the Pueblo Indians in the arid West. He decided to take a “short cut” on the map across the Chihuahua Desert to the Rio Grande. Onate’s group of 500 women, children and soldiers barely survived the challenging journey before finally reaching the Rio Grande. It was reported that two horses drank so much water, their stomachs burst.
The group rested for 10 days near San Elizario, Texas. Onate ordered a thanksgiving feast which he described in his journal. “We built a great bonfire and roasted the meat and fish, and then all sat down to a repast the like of which we had never enjoyed before… We were happy that our trials were over; as happy as were the passengers in the Ark when they saw a dove returning with the olive branch in his beak, bringing tidings that the deluge had subsided.”
There are some historians who claim the Spanish founders of St. Augustine, Florida shared a festive feast, a Thanksgiving, with the local Timucuan natives when the Spaniards came ashore in 1565.
The fourth oldest Thanksgiving was at Fort St. George in Maine which is near present day Bath, Maine and the Bath Iron Works. In 1607 Captain George Popham and English settlers invited the Abenaki native Americans to a harvest feast and prayer meeting.
The fifth oldest, and most well-known Thanksgiving celebration was the 1621 Massachusetts Bay Colony of Plymouth Feast. On Sept. 16, 1620 the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth England with 102 passengers including three pregnant women, 12-plus children and more than one dog. The Mayflower traveled 3,000 miles in 66 days with the last half of their trip in rough seas. The 102 Pilgrims traveled below the deck of the Mayflower without bathing and no toilets, a “slop bucket” was emptied overboard in calm weather. During rough seas, it was impossible to empty the “slop bucket.”
Without a medical doctor and modern drugs, the pilgrims lost 45 of their members during their first winter in the New World.
Despite the loss of lives, love blossomed in Plymouth Plantation. Miles Standish was hired as a military person for the trip to the New World. Being a healthy male, Miles “fancied” Priscilla Mullins, but similar to most males throughout history he feared the word, “NO.” Miles asked John Alden to ask Priscilla for her hand in marriage to Miles. During their first winter, Priscilla had lost her entire family; father, stepmother, and brother.
The poet and relative of John and Priscilla Alden, William Wadsworth Longfellow in 1858 wrote the poem, The Courtship of Miles Standish. When John stumbled asking Priscilla in the poem, she responded, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?” Her response sparked the romance and marriage between John and Priscilla. Guys, the moral of the poem is when it comes to romance, Man up! Do your own bidding! You ask the love of your life to become your wife.
A letter dated Dec. 11, 1621 written by Edward Winslow, a Plymouth colonist, stated the colonists wanted to celebrate their first good harvest of barley and corn with the native Wampanoag Indians.
The colonists selected four men to shoot as many fowl in one day. They invited King Massasoit and 90 of his men “so we might after a more special manner rejoice together.” King Massasoit brought five deer to the three-day feast. Cranberries from the bogs near Plymouth weren’t at the first Thanksgiving, but within three or four years cranberry sauce had become part of Thanksgiving. (There are three fruits native to North America; blueberries, cranberries and concord grapes.)
In 1775 the Sons of Liberty, a group of Boston Patriots, promoted an anti-English proclamation for a “Day of public Thanksgiving” on Thursday, Dec. 18, 1777. This was the first time the 13 colonies celebrated Thanksgiving on the same day.
The champion of Thanksgiving becoming a national holiday was New Hampshire native, Sarah Josepha Hale. She was the author of “Mary Had A Little Lamb” and editor of Gody’s Lady’s Book in 1827. In 1846 Sarah began a letter writing campaign to each American president that, “It was time to make Thanksgiving an official day of thanks.
At 74 years young, Sarah made an impassioned plea to President Lincoln for a day of Thanksgiving. “It now needs National recognition and authoritative fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.”
Sarah’s persistence achieved results. On Oct. 3, 1863 with America torn apart by the Civil War, President Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November to be Thanksgiving Day.
“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States… to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” “and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”
“Are you ready for some football?” The first Thanksgiving football game had Ivy League opponents, Princeton vs. Yale on Nov. 30, 1876. Football was in its infancy, but the game quickly became a tradition. 40,000 spectators watched the Princeton vs. Yale game in 1893 at New York’s Manhattan Field.
What’s Thanksgiving without a parade? The first Macy’s parade was on Nov. 27, 1924 which was originally called the “Christmas Parade.” Elephants and camels were featured in the six-mile parade. In 1927 oversized rubber balloons replaced the animals.
My wish for you this Thanksgiving is to be gathered at a table with one or more people who are an important part of your life as you gather to give thanks, pray for the pandemic to end, consume a wonderful feast while saving room for dessert and don’t you dare mention politics. After reading this commentary, you’re ready to defeat everyone at Thanksgiving Jeopardy.