November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Day – U.S., Guam, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands

Painting By Jennie A. Brownscombe

Many people in the U.S. are familiar with the story of the “first Thanksgiving” – which was really just a gathering and a large feast and 3-day celebration of a bountiful harvest – NOT a holiday per se. However, Americans might not remember some of the finer points of the story, such as the name of the Indian/Native American group who had helped the European settlers learn to grow important food crops, and who subsequently shared the harvest celebration with them.

It was Native Americans from the Wampanoag tribal group.

One of the Wampanoag Indians was Squanto, apparently the last of the Patuxet tribe (which was wiped out by an epidemic). Squanto had been enslaved by an English sea captain and later purchased and eventually set free by Spanish monks; he had also worked as a translator on an English ship. Because of his familiarity with the English language, he was able to act as a middleman between the Pilgrims and Massasoit, the Wampanoag sachem.

To learn more about the Wampanoag Tribes, check out this informational site

The Wampanoag Indians divided food production between men and women—the men hunted and fished, and the women gathered nuts, fruits, shellfish, and did the farming of the “three sisters”—beans, squash, and corn. The women were responsible for around three-fourths of the food production!

And speaking of food...

Mmm....the Traditional Thanksgiving Feast!

Lest you Americans think you are eating a “traditional” Thanksgiving meal—you with the turkey and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie—to be traditional in the sense of traditional-to-1621, you would have to serve venison (deer), ducks, goose, shrimp, lobster, fish (including eel—yum!), mussels, clams, and perhaps seals, eagles, and swans!!!! Oh, yeah, a lot of meat!

It may be that there was wild turkey, too, but our best source doesn't list turkey in his description of the feast.

There were no potatoes, milk, or sugar, and not much flour. So there was no pie of any sort, no cranberry sauce as we know it (which requires sugar), little or no gravy (which requires flour), little bread.

Still, there was probably stewed pumpkin, radishes, beans, squash, grapes, walnuts, plums, berries, watercress, lettuce, carrots, and a kind of fried cornbread.

For a brief history of Thanksgiving, see last year's post

Fun Links

  • Here you will find a game enjoyed by many Native American kids, and another played by English settlers.  You can make the games yourself!

  • Here is a coloring page showing a wetu, or Wampanoag home. And here is a coloring page showing the Plymouth colony (six years later than that first Thankgiving). 

  • And here are some recipes. Do you want to use an old-time Wampanoag recipe for succotash? Better get yourself some bear fat! can turn to the modernized version, which uses vegetable oil. 

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