Friday, November 28, 2014


Massachusetts -- The "Wild West" of New England

Yeehaw, and Happy Thanksgiving! I suppose people may already know the "original history" and facts from the Pilgrim days, but that's all I got this month. Besides, everyone's probably out shopping today. So in the interest of history, I'll discuss what was considered "the wild west" back before and after the turn of the 16th century. The Pilgrims can't claim the first Thanksgiving celebration, though, since the Jamestown settlement had been thanking God for their survival since 1610. And the above painting, done in 1899, was a bit off in terms of clothing - the Indians are wearing Great Plains style and the Pilgrims also are inaccurate. Hey, everyone's a critic, right? At least we know "America" was west of England and Europe, and pretty wild.

Map of the 1600s settlements in New England (

The Pilgrims who landed in Plymouth barely survived the first winter. If it wasn't for Squanto -- a Pawtuxet Indian who'd been kidnapped and sold into slavery, found his way to London and returned to the New World -- taught the Pilgrims how to plant maize, catch fish, tap the maple trees for syrup and identify good plants from poisonous. Without him, New Englanders might be speaking French, or singing "God Save the Queen" at ball games instead of The Star Spangled Banner. Who can say?

Anyway, once the Pilgrims established themselves, they invited the Wampanoag chief and his tribe to a "harvest feast" that lasted three days -- of eating, entertainment (axe-throwing, etc.) and hunting. This happened in 1621, and venison was definitely on the menu since the Indians brought the deer. Maize, fowl such as swans, ducks and geese, barley and perhaps fish and lobsters may also have been served. Potatoes had not arrived yet in the New World, and wild turkeys may or may not have been an option.

"Thanksgiving" wasn't really celebrated until President George Washington decided to name it as such for Thursday, November 26th, 1789. The Revolutionary War had taken its toll on everyone in the new "America" so bringing families and friends together was crucial. Here's a bit from the official Congressional Proclamation:

"Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness..."

Despite the Proclamation, subsequent Presidents -- Adams and Madison -- chose only two Thursdays during their 4-year terms to celebrate. Jefferson refused. The only official holidays at the time were George Washington's birthday and the Fourth of July; Southern states never celebrated Thanksgiving at all. Not that they weren't thankful, but they may have had their own style of harvest feasts.

It took a 20+ year campaign of letters written to several presidents by Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of the "Lady's Book" (think Oprah and Martha Stewart of the early American days, who also wrote the popular children's rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb") before Thanksgiving was declared an official holiday. Sarah also helped raise $30,000 for the Bunker Hill Monument and to preserve George Washington's Mount Vernon plantation for future generations.

Sarah had taught school before her marriage to lawyer David Hale in 1813. Together they had five children before his death in 1822. The young widow wore black from that point on until her death in 1879 at the age of 90. Her first novel, Northwood, published in 1827,
was about slavery -- long before Uncle Tom's Cabin. That book also described the traditional roasted turkey and other meats at a typical Thanksgiving feast of the day, plus chicken pie, vegetables, plum puddings, custard and pumpkin pies. As "editress", she published recipes in the Lady's Book magazine as well.

But her campaign for a Thanksgiving holiday proved difficult -- Sarah wrote to Zachary Taylor, Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and finally Abraham Lincoln -- who re-established Thanksgiving as a legalized annual holiday in 1863. The entire country needed to be unified, so he believed, given the stresses of the ongoing war. Lincoln chose the fourth Thursday of the November, which made sense given the harvest that needed to be done before any celebrating could be done. Most of the population in the country lived on rural farms, so all that work came first.

During the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt actually changed Thanksgiving to the third Thursday to boost the holiday shopping season -- but he soon changed it back in 1942. Thanks, Frank! We get enough Christmas before Thanksgiving as it is. And who doesn't identify with the above painting by Norman Rockwell? Grandma in her apron, bringing the huge turkey to the table, with other dishes ready, and the family eagerly waiting to dig in... Yummm!


Mystery author Meg Mims lives in Southeastern Michigan with her husband and a 'Make My Day' Malti-poo dog. Meg loves writing novels, short novellas and short stories, both contemporary and historical. Her Spur and Laramie Award winning books - Double Crossing and Double or Nothing - are now among the Prairie Rose Publications book list. Meg is also one-half of the D.E. Ireland team writing the Eliza Doolittle & Henry Higgins Mystery series for St. Martin's Minotaur. Wouldn't It Be Deadly, Book 1, is out now! Book 2, Move Your Blooming Corpse, will be out in 2015. You can find Meg (and D.E. Ireland) on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. If you're in the mood for short, sweet Christmas novellas with rescue dogs and cats, check out the following:


  1. Sarah was one accomplished broad. I'm glad she persevered to establish Thanksgiving along with the many other things she did. Good for her.

    Very interesting article, Meg. Thanks.

  2. LOL, Frank! I wonder if Sarah would appreciate being called a 'broad.' I think she looks quite ladylike. And probably a pain in the a** to keep writing those letters. ;-D

  3. Thanks for a good article - hope you had a great holiday as well!

    1. We did lots of visiting and cooking for my dad. Hope yours was fab too!

  4. May your Thanksgiving have been a good one. Thanks for the research. Isn't it a hoot when you can dig up so much history and have some of it not fit the known. Ah, the joys of research. Doris

  5. Yes, I do looooove research. Happy weekend, Doris! hope your pies last through. I should have baked more. ;-D

  6. Mrsd. Hale sure did a terrific job in saving Washington's Mt. Vernon property. It's a fun place to visit.

  7. I need to get there and check it out. Missed it last time we went to D.C.