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6 Hale’s Turkey Tale; or, The Invention of Turkey Day The Separatists, a small splinter group of Puritanism, followed John Calvin’s teachings. Separatists believed that Scripture was the only guide to all matters of faith and that individuals had the right to interpret the meaning of Scripture. Each Separatist congregation selected its own pastor, whose responsibilities were limited to the jurisdiction of that single church. When the English Parliament banished those who refused to join in common prayer, many Separatists left England for Amsterdam. One group formed a church in Leyden, but in 1619 some decided to sail for North America. After leaving Holland, they stopped for repairs and provisions in Plymouth, England, and one vessel, the Mayflower, set sail for Virginia in 1620. Whether by accident or design, the ship came ashore in present -day Massachusetts, where the settlers established what they called Plimoth Plantation. With the help of local American Indians , the Wampanoags, they barely survived the challenges of their new life in America.The leaders of the small band knew that additional settlers would be needed if the struggling colony were to survive. Two—William Bradford and Edward Winslow—wrote reports of the wonders of America to encourage others to follow them, and many Puritans did leave England for America. Some reinforced Plimoth Plantation, and others established new communities in Massachusetts and other locations in New England. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries thousands of Thanksgiving days were proclaimed by ministers and governors in various locations throughout the European colonies in North America. Observances were usually organized in response 01.1-136_Smit.indd 67 8/1/06 3:45:40 PM 68 . the turkey to specific events such as a military victory, a good harvest, or a providential rainfall, but no specific day of thanksgiving was observed on an annual basis.1 A Puritan thanksgiving was a solemn religious day celebrated in church, praying to God. Not much is known about early Thanksgiving dinners in New England—if there were any—and of all the hundreds of Thanksgiving days observed there in the seventeenth century, only one church record in 1636 suggests the possibility of a feast. This account reports that after church services there was “making merry to the creatures, the poorer sort being invited of the richer.” Unfortunately, no description of the “making merry” has survived, but the presumption is that it included food of some sort. Similar events were likely conducted on October 12, 1637, and December 11, 1639.2 No further references have been located for the next 150 years in New England, although fall festivals and feasts were typically English traditions.3 The absence of references does not imply that there were no Thanksgiving dinners during this period, but it is surprising that more records have not been found. Days of thanksgiving were celebrated in all colonies, and in the American South there is evidence of dinners. In November 1732, for example, there was a thanksgiving at the first settlement in the Colony of Georgia, and a “plentiful Dinner” with “eight Turkeys” and other food was provided after the ceremony. On July 7, 1733, the town of Savannah gave thanks with a “very substantial dinner .”4 What’s interesting about these incidents is that those who marked the events with a dinner came directly from England and were not from existing American colonies. Even from the eighteenth century, only a few other descriptions of Thanksgiving dinners have been unearthed. During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress declared December 18, 1777, a day of thanksgiving in honor of the American military victory at Saratoga. One soldier, Joseph Plumb Martin , noted in his journal that “each man was given half a gill of rice and a tablespoonful of vinegar.”5 A more sumptuous feast dates to 1784, but the description is not very precise. It mentions drinking and eating in general and then comments, “What a sight of pigs and geese and turkeys and fowls and sheep must be slaughtered to gratify the voraciousness of a single day,” suggesting that all these meats were served.6 Two years later, Boston’s Continental Journal encouraged everyone to “furnish their Thanksgiving day tables with “Turkies.”7 By 1792 a newspaper editor in Norwich, Connecticut, estimated that 85,694 turkeys and geese were eaten on Thanksgiving.8 By the beginning of the nine01 .1-136_Smit.indd 68 8/1/06 3:45:40 PM teenth century, turkeys played an extremely important role in the Thanksgiving...


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