Pilgrim story doesn't quite match reality, but was likely a 'harvest feast'
The essence of it is even true.
Of the 102 who arrived in that November 1620, 50 had died in the first three months. But by the next summer, she said, "they had their harvest and realized that they were going to make it."
And the Pilgrims, she said, "didn't dress with buckles on their hats."
About 90 Wampanoag Indians joined the feast - with only five adult Pilgrim women to manage it, Rojo said. "You think you have it bad on Thanksgiving."
Liz Charlebois is education director at the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum in Warner and a member of the Abenaki nation.
The kind of harvest feast held in 1621 was a tradition among native peoples as well as Europeans, she said.
"There very well could have been turkey there because turkey was a food source in this area, but more likely it would have been deer and moose and crops. Because the native people were farmers and they, in fact, taught the settlers how to farm," she said.
"And in fact, without food from the native people, without this knowledge, the Pilgrims probably would have starved."
Harvest celebrations continued to be held throughout New England, Rojo said.
And in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation asking Americans to set aside the last Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving and to "fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it ... to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union."
A good start
However, Rojo said, while relations between natives and newcomers were indeed troubled at settlements in Jamestown, Va., and on the North Shore of Massachusetts, the Pilgrims of Plymouth, Mass., initially got along with the local Wampanoags.
Then, she said, "that original generation of (Pilgrims) ... passed away, and then the subsequent generations sort of had this feeling of entitlement to land expanding into the rest of New England. They kind of forgot."
"To put it in perspective, it's basically that this is the land of the native people, and these others came across the ocean and basically started to encroach upon hunting grounds and fishing grounds, and not allowing native people to be on the land that had been theirs for thousands of years.
Rojo didn't know she was a Mayflower descendent until about 15 years ago.
The Mayflower Society has a strict process to prove someone is descended from a Mayflower passenger, using birth, marriage and death records, Rojo said. By the time she was done, she could trace her ancestry to 12 of the 102.
Rojo started reading original journals written by some of the voyagers. "I wanted to know the real story," she said. "And a lot of it is really different from what we learned."
There are about 500 New Hampshire residents who belong to the state Mayflower Society. The group has chapters in every state and members in other nations, including Canada, Australia and England, Rojo said.
The Mayflower Society is working with other groups on the 400th anniversary celebration of the Mayflower's arrival; the Wampanoag nation is also involved in the plans, Rojo said. Charlebois said there are hundreds of Indian tribes, "and they're all very different," with different languages and traditions on Thanksgiving.
Charlebois gets together with her family for dinner that day. But she said, "I don't claim this holiday as my own."
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