Tag Archives: pilgrims

A Time For Gratitude

Reblogged from Starting With Some Gratitude:

With Thanksgiving approaching, I thought I’d share one of my favorite blog posts from the past about gratitude and family.

*****

This holiday is always special to me and my family because we’ve tracked our ancestry back to two of the pilgrims that crossed over on the Mayflower. John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley. John Howland came from England as an indentured servant to John Carver, one of the Leiden Separatists (AKA: pilgrim). John Carver was Plymouth colony’s first Governor and the first person to sign the Mayflower Compact, which he wrote.

Me, standing in front of the Mayflower II - an exact replica of the original 1600's ship

But John Carver and his family did not survive the first winter in the new world. In fact, most of the original passengers on the Mayflower did not survive that first winter. My 17th Great Grandfather, John Howland, who was in his 20′s at the time, now found himself a land owner and became a prominent member of the community. He would later become quite a reputable fur trader, working with Native Americans along the coast of Maine, and ending his days as a farmer in Massachusetts.

Elizabeth was only a teenager when she made the voyage across the Atlantic with her parents. Her parents did not survive the first winter either.

Eventually, John and Elizabeth married in the new world, and over their life together, gave birth to 10 children! What is so remarkable about their story is that they all survived! The Howland line is the most common bloodline for pilgrim descendants to belong to because it was so rare that these people lived as long as they did. Elizabeth was in her 90′s when she passed!

Me standing in front of the Jabez Howland house in Plymouth, MA - one of only two houses still standing where a pilgrim (John and Elizabeth) actually lived.

I am fortunate in many ways. I’m fortunate that I know where my people come from. I know their story, or at least as much as I can know. And I know we are survivors. I’m also fortunate to have visited the land and place where they walked. The first time in 2010 with Joe, who was patient and understanding with me while I took photos of everything and felt like I was walking in a really good dream. The second time in 2013 when I took my parents to tour Plymouth and watched my mom have the same journey I did three years ago.

Mom and Pop outside Plimoth Plantation

So Thanksgiving is a meaningful holiday for me. It’s a reminder of who we are and what we’ve been through. What we can endure, with hard work and family, in order to achieve our dreams. It’s a reminder to change for the better by learning from others and seeking understanding more than being right.

This month, I’d like to focus on thanksgiving. I’ve kept a journal since I was 13, but for the last few years I’ve turned it into more of a gratitude journal. At the end of each entry, I write five specific things I’m grateful for.

****

Here’s what I’m most grateful for today…

  1. My family. I’ve had a year with an immense high (my marriage) and an extreme low (the passing of my brother in law), and through both events my family rallied together and supported one another with love, patience, and grace.
  2. My spouse – because he lets me ignore him to focus on writing this month and supports my dream of being a published author.
  3. Tacos. Joe made them and they were delicious.
  4. Writing friends. For the many critique groups, write-ins, and classes I’ve been able to attend this month.
  5. Coffee. And blankets. (it’s cold outside)

What are you thankful for today?

and

for more Thanksgiving stories to impress your family at the dinner table,
check out my other Thanksgiving posts!

The First Thanksgiving: It Happened in 1863

The One That Fell Off the Boat

The Baby That Was Born on the Mayflower

Advertisements

The First Thanksgiving: It Happened in 1863

100_0461

Hanging out with Priscilla Mullins aboard the Mayflower II

Happy Thanksgiving Week Everyone!

As a descendant of  two of the Mayflower pilgrims, I’ve been sharing Thanksgiving stories on my blog all month. If you missed out, feel free to check out:

Starting With Some Gratitude

The Baby Born on the Mayflower

and The One That Fell Off the Boat

This week, I thought I’d share a history of the actual Thanksgiving.

Are you ready for this?

It happened in 1863.

Wait! The pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621! Your date is over 240 years later?!

That’s right my little pilgrims. The first official Thanksgiving happened in November of 1863, when President Lincoln made it a national holiday at the urging of Sarah Josepha Buell Hale.

Sarah was a New Englander who was interested in bringing a war-torn country together. She wrote editorials for a lady’s magazine on the importance of Thanksgiving, in addition to writing the President, all state governors, and every member of Congress once a year for 17 years!

It is Sarah Josepha Buell Hale who can be thanked for our national holiday being credited to the pilgrims. Many New Englanders did observe an annual Thanksgiving, however in 1863, the states were still divided about the holiday. The South believed the North to be celebrating their current success in the war, so many of them opted to celebrate on an entirely different day.

Playing house with the Pilgrims on Plimoth Plantation

Playing house with the Pilgrims on Plimoth Plantation

What the pilgrims really did in 1621 was celebrate their harvest. To truly understand how important that first gathering was for the pilgrims and the Wampanoag native tribe, you need to know that the pilgrims would not have survived without their native neighbors.

A local comedian and storyteller in my town put it like this:

If the pilgrims hadn’t invited the Wamanoag people, that first Thanksgiving would have been an all-you-can-eat barley buffet.

They were still learning how to live off this new land. Much of the food that became staples of their diet was learned through the Wampanoag. And it is a Wampanoag tradition to give thanks throughout the year at harvests. Since they lived off the land, they took time to celebrate it at every season. They knew the peak times for picking berries, fishing in the river, planting the crops, and hunting the forests.

Two native men burning a log to be made into a canoe.

Two native men burning a log to be made into a canoe.

A native woman tends to the fire where a fish is cooking.

A native woman tends to the fire where a fish is cooking.

See that long doughy item laying in the bark? There's a bluefish in there! It's wrapped in clay  and cooked over the fire.

See that long doughy item laying in the bark? There’s a bluefish in there! It’s wrapped in clay and cooked over the fire.

So in act of gratitude, the pilgrims invited Chief Massasoit to their harvest. He brought with him some 90 men, and the harvest feast lasted for three days.

The only known description of this first harvest was found in a letter written by pilgrim colonist, Edward Winslow. He was a key person who helped foster the friendship between Wampanoag and pilgrim. He wrote:

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their great king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

Clearly Edward Winslow didn’t care about run-on sentences.

Eh-hem. So there you have the first harvest, which we now refer to as the first Thanksgiving.

Other noteworthy topics of conversation you can toss around the turkey table this week with family, include…

  • The first Thanksgiving had no forks. They used knives, spoons, and their fingers. Forks were not yet invented.
  • Eels were considered a delicacy and lobsters were lower class.
  • Venison was the main course served, followed by turkey.
  • The Wampanoag word for “time of harvest” is Keepunumuk.
  • Beer was considered a normal drink regardless of age, gender, or class.
  • Both cranberry sauce and pumpkin pies came years after the first Thanksgiving.
  • In the 1800’s celery was the featured vegetable – pricey, but available, it was often laid on the table in a fine silver bowls filled with cold water to let the stalks crisp up.
  • Sports have always been present at Thanksgiving. After dinner was over, the men would go to the fields to play ball or pitch horseshoes.
  • It was President Franklin Roosevelt who made Thanksgiving a truly official holiday, signing the Congressional bill that made it law in 1941.

How will you be celebrating Thanksgiving this year?

The One That Fell Off the Boat

I’ve shared with you all that my family has traced their roots back to the voyage of the Mayflower. My 17th Great Grandfather, John Howland, crossed the Atlantic as an indentured servant, and my 17th Great Grandmother, Elizabeth Tilley, was only 13 when she lost both her parents that first harsh winter in the New World.

I take pride in knowing my family is full of survivors.

I also know we’re a clumsy bunch of buggers.

Those of you that’ve stuck with me for awhile know that I tend to get lost in the woods, a little overexcited when I go to the circus, and I recommend packing extra underwear on vacation. 😉

Well, it would seem the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree in my case.

I am related to John Howland, who crossed the ocean in 1621. And that same individual is the pilgrim whose biggest notoriety is the fact: he fell off the boat.

Mayflower

Yes, it’s true. William Bradford wrote about it in his diary.

That gossip!

As the story goes, John became seasick below deck and ventured upstairs for some fresh air. Once on deck, the winds from the ocean storm were so strong, he fell overboard. As he was falling, he managed to grab hold of a rope that was trailing in the water. Because he hung on, the men on ship were able to hoist him back on board.

Pretty crazy to think I was one stomach ache away from not being here!

Thankfully, John did survive. He went on to become a well respected member of the community, and I can see his signature on the Mayflower compact today.

Plymouth CollageThat’s me visiting the replica of the Howland house at Plimoth Plantation.

I feel a kinship to John. I think both of us make pathetic look pretty dang awesome. Even if we are a scrappy lot!

5 Things I’m Thankful For:

  1. Even when I find myself in less than desirable situations, they always make for a good story
  2. Getting to travel to Plymouth, Massachusetts and walk aboard the Mayflower II
  3. A good sense of humor
  4. A never give up attitude
  5. Mederma – that stuff you put on to minimize scarring 😀

What embarrassing moments have you overcome that made you stronger?

Or at least made a good story?

The Baby That Was Born on the Mayflower

I didn’t get a blog up on Friday because I spent the weekend at home visiting the newest edition of the family!

Welcome Sarai Lorraine!

Sarai

It’s baby city in my families as both my sister and Joe’s just had little ones. We have a healthy baby girl and boy to celebrate Thanksgiving with this year. Both moms had some difficulty with labor, and it sure makes me grateful for modern medicine, knowing they (and babies) were in good hands.

I’m blogging about Thanksgiving this month and in honor of our little ones, I thought I’d share this story…

The only baby born on the Mayflower belonged to Stephen and Elizabeth Hopkins. They named their son Oceanus in honor of the voyage.

Imagine being pregnant and packed below ship with 101 other people for months on end!

When the Mayflower originally sailed from England, it was to be accompanied by another ship, the Speedwell. Rumor has it that one of the voyage benefactors wasn’t too keen on the trip and purchased sails much too large for the Speedwell’s frame. When the crew raised the sails, they caught the wind so strongly that the beams cracked, turning the Speedwell into the Sinkwell.

Aboard the Mayflower II

Aboard the Mayflower II

Both ships had to turn back and families were forced to make the difficult decision of either staying in England and departing at a future date, or crowding onto the Mayflower, setting sail for the New World. Some families even split up, leaving the women and children behind and sending their men to procure land and prepare homes.

For the Hopkins family, the journey was a tumultuous one. The Mayflower had a boxy shape to it which offered some resistance to the bouncing waves, but didn’t counteract them altogether. The pilgrims were considered the worst lot on the boat. Captain Miles Standish, a fiery redhead with a temper to match, was a military man who hadn’t much use for farmers and families aboard his ship. Many of the pilgrims became seasick and the soldiers on board mocked their lack of sea legs.

What the crew's quarters probably looked like.

What the crew’s quarters probably looked like.

Below deck, the pilgrims crowded with their families as well as livestock into small bunks with nothing more than curtains for privacy. The noise was one matter, and the smells were an entirely different one.

Such was the environment that Elizabeth Hopkins gave birth in. And Oceanus was born.

These babies and their mothers remind me what we’re capable of. They overcome unbearable pain, the sense of being out of control, and yet so incredibly focused all at the same time. And they introduce us to the very essence of hope – a new child. What a perfect reminder to be grateful. Grateful for every day we have with our family. For every adventure we embark on – whether we know what that new world will bring or not. For every lesson learned along the way.

Here’s my gratitude list from this weekend:

  1. Holding baby Sarai.
  2. Hugging my sister and brother-in-law.
  3. Sleeping next to Sonja (Sarai’s 4 year old big sister) who kicked me in the ribs, butt, and thigh repeatedly on the hour every hour for two nights in a row. Once the soreness fades, I’ll remember how we got to snuggle in the early morning and she told me how excited she was to go home with mommy and daddy and her new sister.
  4. Concealer, to hide my lack of sleep. Coffee for the drive home.
  5. Being an aunt to some truly loveable kids, all five of them.

What’s on your gratitude list this week?

Starting With Some Gratitude

The house seems extra quiet this week since Joe took down all the Halloween decorations already. No ghosts or ghoulies to keep me company anymore. We’re still on our scary movie kick though. We spent Halloween watching The Lost Boys and The Exorcist! Classics. We still have a few in our pile to watch yet (Psycho (the remake), The Ring, Village of the Damned, The Prophecy…)

Even though Halloween is over, it’s the beginning of another favorite holiday for me. Thanksgiving.

This holiday is always special to me and my family because we’ve tracked our ancestry back to two of the pilgrims that crossed over on the Mayflower. John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley. John Howland came from England as an indentured servant to John Carver, one of the Leiden Separatists (AKA: pilgrim). John Carver was Plymouth colony’s first Governor and the first person to sign the Mayflower Compact, which he wrote.

Me, standing in front of the Mayflower II - an exact replica of the original 1600's ship

Me, standing in front of the Mayflower II – an exact replica of the original 1600’s ship

But John Carver and his family did not survive the first winter in the new world. In fact, most of the original passengers on the Mayflower did not survive that first winter. My 17th Great Grandfather, John Howland, who was in his 20’s at the time, now found himself a land owner and became a prominent member of the community. He would later become quite a reputable fur trader, working with Native Americans along the coast of Maine, and ending his days as a farmer in Massachusetts.

Elizabeth was only a teenager when she made the voyage across the Atlantic with her parents. Her parents did not survive the first winter either.

Eventually, John and Elizabeth married in the new world, and over their life together, gave birth to 10 children! What is so remarkable about their story is that they all survived! The Howland line is the most common bloodline for pilgrim descendants to belong to because it was so rare that these people lived as long as they did. Elizabeth was in her 90’s when she passed!

Me standing in front of the Jabez Howland house in Plymouth, MA - one of only two houses still standing where a pilgrim (John and Elizabeth) actually lived.

Me standing in front of the Jabez Howland house in Plymouth, MA – one of only two houses still standing where a pilgrim (John and Elizabeth) actually lived.

I am fortunate in many ways. I’m fortunate that I know where my people come from. I know their story, or at least as much as I can know. And I know we are survivors. I’m also fortunate to have visited the land and place where they walked. The first time in 2010 with Joe, who was patient and understanding with me while I took photos of everything and felt like I was walking in a really good dream. The second time, just this year, when I took my parents to tour Plymouth and watched my mom have the same journey I did three years ago.

Mom and Pop outside Plimoth Plantation

Mom and Pop outside Plimoth Plantation

So Thanksgiving is a meaningful holiday for me. It’s a reminder of who we are and what we’ve been through. What we can endure, with hard work and family, in order to achieve our dreams. It’s a reminder to change for the better by learning from others and seeking understanding more than being right.

This month, I’d like to focus on thanksgiving. I’ve kept a journal since I was 13, but within the last year or so, I’ve turned it more into a gratitude journal. At the end of each entry, I write five specific things I’m grateful for.

Here is today’s list:

  1. The opportunity to travel to Plymouth this year with my parents.
  2. The chance to tour my ancestors’ home and see artifacts used by them.
  3. The sound of my mother’s voice, telling John and Elizabeth’s story at the dinner table on Thanksgiving day.
  4. My mom’s dairy potatoes.
  5. Knowing my family is full of survivors. If they can cross an ocean with only the stars to guide their way, then I can publish my damn book!

What are you thankful for today? What does Thanksgiving in your house look like?

Hello from sunny…Boston!

Boston Postcard

Hello from sunny Boston!

I’m just sending a quick little “postcard” to all my blogger friends! This week I’m on hiatus in Boston and Plymouth, Massachusetts! Taking a vacation with my parents (hope Dad packed his butt soap) touring the sites and visiting the land and home of our pilgrim ancestors! Joe and I went 2 years ago, but the ‘rents have never been, so I’m playing tour guide this time. We’ll be visiting Plimoth Plantation and the Jabez Howland House, one of two surviving homes in the country where a Mayflower pilgrim lived, one who just happens to be our ancestor! We’re descendants of John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley who made the treacherous voyage across the Atlantic in 1620.

Knowing my family, I’m sure I’ll return with lots of stories. Here’s hoping no one gets lost on the subway, breaks their nose at the aquarium, or poops their pants in a native wigwam.

Wish you were here!

-Jess

The Mayflower: A True Story, and One You May Not Know

Source: Google Images

The Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

For those of you busy prepping for the Thanksgiving holiday, making mad dashes through the grocery store, stocking up on cans of pumpkin like it’ll never be back again, may I ask that you sit a moment and learn the true story about the people who sailed from England to the New World and how they came to know the natives who lived here before them.  If nothing else, you’ll have a great conversation starter for your Thanksgiving table and everyone will be so impressed by what you know.  😉
For starters, to say that Thanksgiving was a time where the pilgrims and Indians came together as friends for a feast, is severely underrated.  And, were I to try to recap for you the 50+ years of alliances and wars that occurred between these people in the historical retelling of The Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick, we’d both be here a long time!  So let me give me the basics, and encourage you with absolute sincerity that this book is a phenomenal read.
Now, our story starts in Leiden, Holland.  Before the pilgrims set sail for religious freedom to the New World, they attempted Holland.  Most of us thankfully will never know the hardships that these people underwent in their attempt to make a new life for themselves.  For the pilgrims who lived in Leiden, they were slaves.  All of them, including the women and children were forced to work long hours in the factories to earn their keep, and barely received any pay.  Their religion was persecuted and they had to gather in secret.  When enough was enough, plans started to be made about a voyage to the new world.
But these people were not rich, government officials, they were simple and poor puritans.  Several times the voyage seemed to make progress, only to have the business deal fizzle out from beneath them.  Even their first stretch of sailing was a complete disaster.  There were in fact two ships that left England, the Mayflower and the Speedwell, but the Speedwell’s captain had been sold faulty sails that were much too big for the vessel and when the Atlantic’s winds ripped through them, the support beam cracked and the boat began to leak.  Both ships headed back to shore.  Some of the Speedwell’s passengers clamored aboard the Mayflower, while others decided it a was sign not to risk their lives any further.

Joe and I outside the Mayflower II Recreation

The Mayflower suddenly held more than its capacity of people and not all of them were getting along!  Amongst the pilgrims we all know and talk about, were other Englanders who had come from the Speedwell, a few militia men, and the ship’s crew.  It was crowded and smelly and there was little privacy to the whole journey, which lasted months.  Amazingly, only two lives were lost from those on the ship, and neither occurred until after they had docked.  One of the ship’s men died, and William Bradford’s wife, Alice, was found overboard and it can be speculated suicide was the cause, as the Bradford’s had to leave their only son with family in England until the new colony was established.

Cozy sleeping quarters aboard the Mayflower II

The pilgrims had depleted their supplies and were still huddled below deck of the Mayflower while roughly 10 men went out each day to find suitable land.  Before establishing the colony in Plymouth they came across several mounds in the earth which held inside them corn, dried meat and other housewares and weapons.  They also held bodies.  The pilgrims had unearthed several Native burial mounds.
Their first encounter with the natives was a shooting match with the Narragansett Natives shooting arrows at them and they shooting their muskets.  The Natives were wary of any white travelers since those who had come before them cheated the Indians out of land, and spread disease.  But the English’s fancy form of dress and iron kettles for cooking proved useful trading supplies.  With the aid of Squanto, a native man who spoke English, a trade alliance was made between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe.
What spanned for the next 50+ years was an up and down relationship between native tribes and the English settlers.  Every chief was in battle with the other tribes for territory, and of course the English were expanding their settlements too.  The greatest alliance of the 17th century was probably that between Chief Massasoit and the pilgrims’ Governor William Bradford.  Through the assistance of Squanto, these men made an alliance against Massasoit’s enemies and assisted the natives in battle, giving them guns as weapons and other supplies.  Massasoit, in return, offered protection and additional furs/food to the pilgrims.  Without his people’s aid, the pilgrims would not have survived the first year.

English Colony in 1627, taken at Plimoth Plantation

One of the most significant acts of kindness that showed the alliance between the natives and pilgrims was Thanksgiving, more likely referred to by the attendees as a Harvest Celebration.  It lasted three days and was put together by about 6 women, two of them teenagers.  The pilgrims invited their Wampanoag friend, Massasoit who brought with him his wives and honored soldiers.  The natives taught the pilgrims games and shared some food from their hunts, but the reality is they nearly ate the pilgrims out of house and home.  Nonetheless, were it not for the stolen supplies from the burial mounds, the pilgrims wouldn’t have survived the first year.  Each owed the other greatly.

The John Howland House at Plimoth Plantation

A Kitchen Area inside the Pilgrim Houses

Hay stuffed Mattress for a Bed

Handmade Clay Watering Can

Thanksgiving and the story of the pilgrims is very dear to my heart because I am a descendant of two pilgrims who crossed over on the Mayflower.  John Howland came over as an indentured servant with the colony’s first governor, John Carver, but Carver and his wife perished that first year.  Howland became a respected member of Plymouth’s colony and helped begin a fur trade expedition further north.  After a year or so settled he married fellow Mayflower passenger, Elizabeth Tilley, who had lost both her parents that first year around the age of 14 or 15.  They raised 10 children and are the most prominent Mayflower ancestors known because they survived to old ages.  Most descendants today come from the Howland family, and John is my 15th great-Grandfather.  My family stems from the tree of his eldest child, a daughter, Desire.  Last summer, I made a trip to Boston, Massachusetts and took a day train into Plymouth and toured Plimoth Plantation, a living museum that recreates the historical houses and people of the Mayflower crossing.  It’s one of the most moving and fascinating history tours I’ve ever been on.  The plantation also includes boarding the Mayflower II, a replica ship actually sailed from England to Massachusetts in a symbolic journey.

The Navigator's Room aboard the Mayflower II

Chatting with Priscilla Mullins aboard the Mayflower II

I was also able to visit the Jabez Howland house, a home built by John Howland’s son that is one of two remaining homes built and inhabited by an original Mayflower pilgrim.  Entering the home of my ancestor was an indescribable experience.  I imagined the days he lived out with his family, the winters he survived, the memories he had of those early days, and most of all his courage.

Honestly, I barely touched the surface of the story of the pilgrims and those first 50 years after settling.  Philbrick does an exceptional job of telling a captivating story of “courage, community, and war.”  I encourage everyone to learn the real story of the people involved in creating a national holiday of thanksgiving through reading his book.  And if you’re ever out east in the Boston area, definitely take a trip into Plymouth and visit the Plimoth Plantation and Mayflower II.  It’s a totally interactive site and historically acclaimed.  They are learning new information all the time.

For more info on John Howland or the first years of the pilgrim’s settlement, check out my guest post, A Thanksgiving to Remember, at David Walker’s blog.

What questions do you have?  Are you surprised by the reality of the first Thanksgiving?  Did you know at that time that eels were the dinner delicacy, and lobster was the throw away food?  What traditions does your family celebrate this time of year?  Have you ever traced your family tree and been surprised who’s shown up there? 

Happy Thanksgiving, Readers, from my family to yours! 

%d bloggers like this: