Thanksgiving Day 1621, 2021: Looking back, looking around
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