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Thanksgiving Day 1621, 2021: Looking back, looking around

A Thanksgiving buffet. (Photo by David Pendered.)

By David Pendered

As the nation marks the 400th anniversary of Thanksgiving Day this Thursday, new views on the history of the holiday and the role of the Native Americans merge with reports on Georgia’s agricultural bounty.

The views include displays at Pilgrim Hall Museum, “America’s Museum of Pilgrim Possessions,” that add shading to familiar Thanksgiving lore. On Nov. 2, a children’s book written by a tribal member was released by Scholastic Nonfiction. It presents the story of the first Thanksgiving from the perspective of the Native Americans who encountered the colonists. Meantime, some in metro Atlanta are engaged in similar introspection.

Pilgrim Hill Museum features the natural abundance colonists found in what, to them, was the New World. William Hilton, a passenger on a boat that landed at Plymouth, was not at the first Thanksgiving celebration. The museum displays a letter he wrote a letter to his cousin in November 1621 that describes a landscape awash with nuts and plums and strawberries, along with:

“Timber of all sorts you have in England doth cover the land, that affords beasts of divers sorts, and great flocks of turkey, quails, pigeons and partridges; many great lakes abounding with fish, fowl, beavers, and otters. The sea affords us great plenty of all excellent sorts of sea-fish, as the rivers and isles doth variety of wild fowl of most useful sorts.”

The museum offers a letter from William Bradford, governor of the colony. Bradford provides his own stories of abundance and the observation that his accounts and others “were not feigned but true reports.”

The children’s book was written by Chris Newell, a museum professional and member of Maine’s Passamaquoddy Tribe. Kirkusreviews.com gave it a rating of “essential” and observes: “[T]he lens Newell offers is a Native one, describing how the Wampanoag and other Native peoples received the English rather than the other way around.”

Newell presents his perspective in the early pages of “If You Lived During the Plimoth Thanksgiving.” The introduction begins:

“The ‘First Thanksgiving’ has become a foundational story of how America came to be. The Mayflower landing in Plimoth in 1620 and the later feast in 1621 are taught as a turning point in the creation of a new country. However, the holiday we celebrate today does not have any real connection to the Mayflower’s landing. In fact, the story that links them was not created until two hundred years later. Nevertheless, it is important to understand the events of this critical landing.”

Some residents of metro Atlanta are looking inward. They’ve been reviewing their thoughts about American Indians in the 18 months since George Floyd was murdered by a police officer.

Members and supporters of the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights helped lead a call to action to have a cannon removed from the Decatur Square. The cannon was taken away in October, and with it the last vestige on the town square of the effort by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to leave their mark. The Confederate Obelisk was removed in 2020.

Even before the cannon was removed, a new statue was erected in Midtown. The monument portrays Chief Tomochichi, who facilitated the colonization of the Savannah area by James Oglethorpe and his party.

The land Oglethorpe and others colonized now creates a bounty that ranks Georgia in the national top 10 for a variety of commodities, according to two 2020 reports — here and here — from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They include:

  • No. 1 – broiler chickens, 1.3 billion
  • No. 1 – peanuts, 3.3 billion pounds
  • No. 1 – pecans, 147.5 million pounds, in shell
  • No. 2 – cotton seed, 613,000 pounds
  • No. 3 – peaches, utilized, 29,760 tons

Two categories not in the top 10, but of note:

  • No. 11 – honey, 3.43 million pounds
  • No. 28 – land in farms, 10.2 million acres



David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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1 Comment

  1. Greg Allen Hodges November 24, 2021 7:13 pm

    David, you made some salient points about the big feast day that is almost upon us. Many tables will be overflowing with nature’s bounty…some of which will be GA. products, like those that you commented on.
    But a bit of nit-picking if you don’t mind. December 12th will mark the 402nd anniversary of the first recorded instance of a “Thanksgiving” proclamation in what is now the state of Virginia….on the banks of the James River roughly 50 miles SE from where I am now seated. The London Company had backed a journey across the Atlantic by Captain John Woodlief and crew on the good ship Margaret…departing from Bristol England on 9/16/1619. On December 4, 2019 the party landed near present day Jamestown. Fulfilling a condition set by the London Company., captain Woodlief walked ashore and proclaimed ” WE ORDAINE THAT THIS DAY OF OUR SHIP”S ARRIVAL, AT THE PLACE ASSIGNED FOR PLANTACON, IN THE LAND OF VIRGINIA, SHALL BE YEARLY AND PEPUTALLY KEPT HOLY AS A DAY OF THANKSGIVING TO ALMIGHTY GOD” Almost 2 years later a harvest feast was held in present day Massachusetts, and we can surmise that ‘thanks’ was most likely offed up at that event. Even John F. Kenndy, a Bay State icon, named both Virginia and Massachusetts ‘ in a speech about “a time of Thanksgiving” on Nov 5, 1963. (JFK would be dead just 18 days later. ) But old stories are hard to change, just like when we kids (I’m a product of the Fulton Co. School system…back in the Stone Age) were informed that the county of my birth and upbringing was named for Robert Fulton, of steam ship fame. But apparently recent research seems to point towards a different Fulton (“Hamiliton”…an early railroad official) as being the county’s namesake. But as noted above, old stories and accounts are hard to vanquish once established.
    Enjoy some turkey, David.


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