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Thanksgiving for Early American Pilgrims

Updated on November 30, 2014
Jamestown 1607-8
Jamestown 1607-8
The real Pocahontas
The real Pocahontas

Thanksgiving is truly an American holiday, just as 4th of July. But, the meaning of it has been lost over the decades or more. It began in 1621 with 50 English-Americans and 90 Indians who had gathered in New Plymouth, Mass. It was a three day holiday to just give thanks to the merciful gods for a modest bounty of food and they had survived. In 1620, they had arrived on the horrid, Mayflower, and began a colony of wooden huts. In the winter, half of them died from starvation and disease. They relied on the Indians for their expertise in growing food.

But the real story of America started as a military outpost of sorts for England at Jamestown in 1607. Another post tried to survive in Maine that year but all died, and those in Jamestown were commanded by Captain John Smith. It was a hostile environment due to weather and Indians, then, disease and starvation. The small post colony clung to life but by 1609, faced dire starvation in the winter months. Many died but those who survived ate rats and leather according to records. The worst of it was cannibalism. Records show graves were dug up and what remained eaten. The odds of survival were bad- 9 out of 10 died. Yet, England demanded exports in fur and timber from the colonists to pay for their way over. It looked as if the colony might fail.

Then, in the first innovation, a farmer named John Rolfe, somehow had created a new tobacco hybrid that was sweet. By 1611, the colony was far better off and tobacco exports from America filled the London shops. It saved the colony and demand was increasing so Rolfe, in order to secure more land, married the Indian princess, Pocahontas, whose father was the leader of Indians in the area. This is no Disney make believe. When Rolfe sailed back to England, Pocahontas followed. She was the talk of London and received by the royal court. Yet, she would die from TB on the way back to America.

Of the 10,000 who arrived in Virginia after 1607, four-fifths would die by 1622 from disease, hunger, accidents, or wolves. When the Mayflower arrived, it only had 102 people on it from a variety of backgrounds. For them, in 1607-11, their diet consisted of cornbread and vegetable stew.

The Indians were at first friendly until the death of Pocahontas, after which, they blamed the white man and in 1622, attacked the settlement killing 347 colonists or one-third of all colonists in America. Naturally, England took offense and now began the never ending war with them. In 1630, the first colonists landed at Massachusetts. Life was tough. Those who had landed at Plymouth ate peas and fish from their burrows dug into the riverbanks. The area was far from the ideal for farming. Much of the soil was rock and the winters brutal. One man who sucked his wife's breast for nourishment lost his teeth from arsenic.

The Indian took revenge upon the white man invasion. In the 1670's, New England colonies were almost entirely wiped off the map when Indians destroyed 12 settlements and killed 2000 colonists. The Indians did capture women.They also killed entire families and burned all their buildings.

The ironic thing about early America was that it was modeled after England. America was considered the child of England. The colonists continued to practice all the English customs, dress, names, and enforce English laws, as if it WAS England. Many had come over to make a better life or improve what was bad in England. Yet, not all coming over would remain. The harsh conditions were just too much for 1 of 5 colonists. These would return to England.

As time went on, the further away America became from Mother England. It was like a child growing into an adult and going their own way-leaving home, which the colonists had done. Like a parent who clings to their kids, England did not want America to go it alone. They liked the exports it was getting and the taxes. Americans had other ideas. The more England clutched the colony, the more America rebelled.

From all this, American character was born: resilient, innovative, and intrepid against whatever comes.

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