February 22 – Popcorn Introduced...to Pilgrims? First Thanksgiving...in February? Um...what?

Posted on February 22, 2018

I sometimes look at the question, "How do we know what's true?" This is one of those days...

As I was looking up February 22 stuff, I saw several items that read, "Native Americans introduce popcorn to the Pilgrims on the First Thanksgiving," or "Quadequina brings a deerskin bag of popcorn to the Pilgrim children," or "Squanto surprises Pilgrims with Thanksgiving treat..."

I'm not sure if you can read the print in this book.
But it's basically wrong, wrong, wrong,
so maybe you shouldn't bother!

If it had just been the Quadequina thing, I might have thought, "Oh, how interesting!" - the concept of a Native American whose name I don't recognize introducing a new food during the snowy month of February is surprising but not crazy sounding.

I would probably have wondered, "Did he really bring it especially for the kids?" as I started to check a second source...

And, by the way, I found TONS of sources that made roughly the same claim: that Quadequina brought a deerskin bag of popcorn to the Pilgrims on February 22, 1630.

But I didn't just easily accept the often-repeated story. One reason is that some versions had Quadequina introducing the treat and other versions had Squanto doing the honors. But my skeptical hackles went up especially at the claim that the first popcorn thingie happened during the "first Thanksgiving." I was very skeptical that the first Thanksgiving was in February! 

(Also, by the way, I've always, always heard that the year of the famous feast was 1621, the year after the English settlers' 1620 landing at Plymouth Rock. 

And THAT date is carved in stone, so to speak.)

Don't get me wrong - I know that the term the "first  Thanksgiving" is a misnomer, since people in many different regions of the world have been celebrating harvests for centuries and centuries... And I know that the particular harvest feast we harken back to with our stuffed turkeys and pumpkin pies - you know, the one where radical Puritans from England and people of the Wampanoag tribe probably ate turnips and squash and eels and deer and mussels -  I know that that three-day feast definitely didn't happen on the fourth Thursday of November (the day of our modern Thanksgiving). 

But it couldn't have happened in February!

Plymouth in February.
In temperate regions, harvest festivals happen in the fall. Most crops are planted in the spring, grow all summer, and are ready to pick or reap or dig up in the fall, not late in the winter.

 (We aren't sure when the famous feast actually occurred, because the date wasn't recorded. Historians think it was between mid-September and early November. You know...in the fall!)

Despite the assurance that these are
FACTS, apparently there is no evidence that the
"First Thanksgiving" menu included turkey (although
it did include wild fowl, probably ducks and geese).

And there is only speculation that it included corn-
bread (a cornmeal mush is probably more likely,
and they had no wheat flour, so if the cornmeal
was cooked into bread, it was quite unlike our typical

And for sure no pumpkin pie. They didn't have butter,
sugar, or (already mentioned) wheat flour.

Also, I read that they had no sweet potatoes.
Actually, no potatoes of any kind.

I guess this picture proves that you have to be
careful even if something proclaims itself to be FACTS.

So...I was really skeptical about the whole popcorn-introduced-on-this-date story. And the more I checked it out, the more muddled I got.

Apparently there is some evidence for indigenous people (aka Native Americans) popping corn long, long ago - even 1,000 years ago, in Peru, and perhaps as long as 5,000 years ago, in Mexico! But the kind of corn that the Wampanoag people (including Squanto) showed the settlers how to grow was flint corn, and it just does not pop!

leader of the Wampanoag.
Also, there is no evidence that either Squanto or Quadequina (who was the brother of Wampanoag leader Massasoit) ever introduced popcorn to the English settlers, adults or kids.

Instead, there is some evidence of Iroquois popping corn. French explorers wrote about this other Native American group popping tough corn kernels in pottery jars filled with heated sand. So later settlers probably heard about this and may have been shown how to pop corn - or may have figured it out based on descriptions of the Iroquois technique.

Whatever the case, apparently Americans loved popcorn by the mid-1800s, and popcorn really took off as a popular snack after Chicago businessman created a popcorn popper machine in the 1890s.

So...you may be wondering where the Quadequina-popcorn-deerskin-bag thing happened. It turns out, in fiction! A woman named Jane G. Austen wrote a book called Standish of Standish and included the incident in this novel. Despite the fact that fiction is defined as made-up, not true, etc. - somehow this story caught on and spread and was added to...

There's all sorts of misinformation, myth, legend, lies, propaganda, tall tales, and never-meant-to-be-believed fiction in the world. You have to be careful when "facts" sound fishy (like the first Thanksgiving being in February), when different sources have different details (like different years, different names, etc.), or when a story sounds just too self-congratulatory, or too nicey-nicey, to be real:

Hoo, boy, what do you think about this?

First of all, notice the flag background! The U.S.A. is in the
far future of the feast discussed and pictured here.
Looks like patriotic propaganda to me.

Second, notice that the Pilgrims are billed as the
"first setters...on American land," instead of "one of the
first groups of English settlers in North America"...
since Spaniards and other European powers started to
colonize the Caribbean islands (which are part of North America)
way back in 1492, and they  soon moved on to the continental
lands of North and South America...
and since the Vikings probably arrived in North America
around 1000 C.E...
and since the various groups of people now called
"indigenous," "indio," "Indian," "Native American,"  "aboriginal
peoples," or "First Nations" arrived more than 10,000
years ago!

Heck, even the English settlers of Jamestown beat the
Plymouth settlers - they landed in what is now Virginia in 1607!
You remember that famous settlement, don't you?
The whole John Smith - Pocahontas story?

Third, the whole Pilgrims "invited the local indians [sic]" -
aside from the 
fact that "Indians" isn't capitalized -
may not be accurate and at any rate leaves out the
important fact that Native Americans had
hugely helped the English settlers to survive.

As we already discussed, there is no evidence that
people at this feast ate turkey.

But the capper is the "everybody was in peace and harmony."
That sounds pretty simplistic.
Like simplistic propaganda.

Celebrate the non-fact of today being the anniversary of European settlers in America learning about popcorn... by eating popcorn!!


No comments:

Post a Comment