Thanksgiving!

Welcome back to the Scuttlebutt. 


Grab a chunk of that prime rib off the rotisserie, some green beans and brie sauce, some potatoes and gravy, get a beer or a soda, and let us talk of life, history, and philosophy. 


Last year, I allowed myself to be detoured from doing this particular discussion by the news of the day, and Gods know, I could do that again this year.  


There’s plenty to talk of, from the decision by Dragoncon to do away with the military S/F award (a far better essay on this than I could possibly do, was done by David Weber, here.


To discussions of how the Defund the Police movement and general soft-on-crime bullshit has gotten people killed, from New York to LA with stops in Colorado Springs and hundreds of other places less publicized in the nation where people have died because the cops were forced to release seriously insane people, who had committed crimes, only to have them kill or wound a bunch of people later.


I could talk about Nancy P and her legacy (which is biting the Democratic party already,) or Donald T, and his announcement to run for office again. Or I could go international with the announcement by the Swedish government that they found traces of explosive residue on the Nord Stream pipeline… Then there’s the collapse of FTX or the success of Artemis 1.  


But let us instead speak of Thanksgiving. Its stories, legends, and myths, its value, and its burden.


If you grew up when I did, as a young child, you were told the story of the Pilgrims, seeking religious freedom, fleeing from an oppressive England… Their hardships, their bare survival, and their gratitude to their God for their salvation by God’s grace and the assistance of the Indians. Well, we know that story isn’t quite true, as told.


If you grew up in the last thirty years or so, you were told a very different story as a small child, about how the evil greedy fundamentalist bastards came over to conquer and subdue the poor innocent Indians, who lived in a state of perfect grace and harmony until the evil European Christian bastards showed up, and ruined it all.  Well, that story is a bunch of bullshit too.


Furthermore, that second story is of no advantage to teach young children, unless your goal is to make sure they hate white people, Europeans, and Christians, to make sure that you propagate race war and the hatred of all the things that this nation is founded on.   Which of course seems to be exactly what the people that designed this new story wanted to do.


Everyone does, or at least should, understand that you don’t and can’t explain things to a six-year-old the way you would explain them to a twenty-six-year-old.  It’s “that’s hot, don’t touch” vs “that’s hot, but if you use the appropriate safety gear, and are careful and cautious, that’s a fun hobby.”  Both are speaking of the same thing, heating iron up until it’s “straw temperature” and beating the shit out of it with a hammer, to make something both useful and pretty.


Well, history is the same way.  “The pilgrims were fleeing religious persecution, and came to this land to seek religious freedom” is a fact.  The nuances of it are important when you’re old enough to understand nuance, but for a six-year-old, that’s good enough.


The truth of the matter, the nuances, are this: Yes, no matter how you want to vilify the Pilgrims in specific, or Europe in general, the Pilgrims WERE fleeing religious persecution.  They were on the losing side of England’s rather long and unpleasant set of religious wars.  The fact that they too wanted to control how people worshiped is irrelevant, they didn’t want to kill people over it. 


Let’s look at the timeline: 
-1547-1553 Edward Seymour rules as “interim king” because the King’s son Edward VI is too young to rule.  Edward S makes the country Protestant (C of E) by force of arms, which follows Henry VIII’s ruling on the matter. 
-1553-1558 At age 15 Eddy VI dies, and “bloody Mary” Mary I becomes Queen, converting the nation to Catholicism by force of arms.  (In other words, she cut off the heads of anyone who disagreed.)
-1558, Bloody Mary in turn dies, and Elizabeth I comes to the throne, making the country protestant again, and again, converts by force of arms. (it’s a good time to be an Ax man, as long as you are flexible in your religious beliefs.)
-1587, the other Mary in the mix, Mary Queen of Scotts, who wants to return England to Catholic rule becomes about a foot shorter and goes to her final reward.
-1588 Spain tries to force Catholicism on England by force of arms…The Royal Navy convinces them that this was a bad idea… The survivors agree.
-1603, James Stuart becomes King upon the death of Liza, as her closest living relative, and as he is already king of Scotland and Ireland, unites the British isles under one king.
-1604 Guy Fawkes and friends, try to blow up the king and parliament and convert the country back to Catholicism.
-1607 Jamestown colony is founded.  More on that later.
-1620 Mayflower and Speedwell are contracted to take the English Puritans (it’s important to note that these were Calvinists, and didn’t hold with the Church of England, which is a real problem for the English Government.) that had fled James’ persecution to the Netherlands, only to find that the Netherlands isn’t quite far enough away, to Virginia colony.  Speedwell is a piece of shit and had to turn back or sink. So that leaves them with one boat, the Mayflower, which delays their voyage due to multiple attempts to fix Speedwell, and funding issues.  They end up leaving in September, which is a horrible time to try and found a colony. Or for that matter to be crossing the Atlantic in a small ship.  Storms drive them way north, and they end up in Plymouth, in November, instead of their planned arrival in Jamestown in July.   More on this later too.
-1625 Charles I inherits the crown when James I dies.
-1640 Charles attempts to introduce a new prayer book and forces it on the Scotts by force of arms.
-1641 Irish Catholics kill a bunch of English and Scottish Protestants.
-1642 Civil war breaks out over religion, and in 1646 royalist forces surrendered. Oliver Cromwell takes over, styling himself “Protector of the Realm.”  He rules until Charles I’s execution and the appointment of Charles II, who is unable to take the throne because Oliver won’t let him.  The civil war breaks out again, and Cromwell rules until his death in 1658.  Charles, as did his father, and grandfather, followed a different form of Protestantism than Cromwell, which was a major factor in the war.  More shenanigans over religion, and more wars over it continue until after his death, and the ascension of his brother James (a catholic, with all the persecution starting over again) leads to “The Glorious Revolution” and William and Mary took over in 1688.  Religion played a large part in ALL OF THIS.


So, this is the background under which the Pilgrims (who were Cromwell’s version of Protestants) decide to first bail out of England to the Netherlands, only to find that while the Dutch will tolerate their version of Christianity, they aren’t exactly welcome, one of their leaders is still arrested by the request of England, (for speaking and writing against the C of E)  and the Dutch are willing to turn him over if they can find him… They never did, the congregation manages to hide him, but the writing is on the wall.


Their kids are deciding that maybe being Dutch is more fun than being a Pilgrim, some of them join the Dutch Army… Well, none of this is really working for the Pilgrims, so they decide to bag ass again.  (Imagine if you will, Amish living in San Francisco, watching their kids turn into leftist Antifa types…  Yeah, it was like that.) 


The Pilgrims aren’t really welcome anywhere (as it turns out, for good reason, remember that Cromwell guy that believes the same way they do?  He turns out to be just as bad, probably worse than any of the other religious fanatics that end up in power about this time.  “Believe the way I do, or at least pretend to, or die.  And if your neighbors tell my religious police that you’re still practicing your old religion in secret?  Yeah, that’s going to be really bad for you.) 


Well, they make a deal with some merchant investors, who figure to make money off of the religious nuts, while having them take all the risks (except of course for the risk of capital.)  They get them some non-religious nuts, to cover the skills that the Pilgrims lack, rent a couple of really shitty boats, and send them on their way… Think Mafia lending money to start a new business, you won’t be far off.  


All of this ends up with them hitting what will become New England at the start of winter, ill-equipped, nearly out of food, and completely unready for what they are seeing. Over half of them don’t make it through the winter.


That leads us to the next little subtlety that is glossed over by the people that villianize the Pilgrims.  See the Indian, Tisquantum, (who had been a prior captive and slave of some English Sailors, and knew the language), and his chief Massasoit were involved in a war with the Narragansetts. 


Yes, they befriended the Pilgrims, and literally saved their lives, by teaching them how to farm, hunt, and fish in this new world, but it wasn’t out of the kindness of their hearts.  They were looking for allies, and allies with guns and steel.


This gets the Pilgrims through the first season and brings us to the first Pilgrim thanksgiving.  


Another funny thing is that I keep running into news articles claiming “turkey wasn’t a food at the ‘first thanksgiving.’” And they’re speaking of the Pilgrim one.  The problem with that is that according to the journal of Edward Winslow:


“God be praised we had a good increase. 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 greatest 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.”  


Well, the only big bird found in New England was the turkey… So if you’re bagging enough birds to feed the company for a week, you’re bagging turkeys. 


There’s a lot more to it in the long run, but the bottom line to all of this, is that yeah, the story I was taught is, allowing for simplification, far closer to the truth than what’s being taught now.


The fun part of all of this though is that this is not the first thanksgiving. It wasn’t even the first thanksgiving in America.  I’m pretty sure that there have been declared “Thanksgivings” where a nation had a day of feasting to honor the Gods for another year of prosperity or even survival, for as long as there have been humans.  The first recorded Thanksgiving in America that I can find, was in 1541 by Coronado, at Palo Duro Canyon in what is now TX.  French Protestant colonists at Charlesfort, (now Parris Island South Carolina) had a formal Thanksgiving in 1564.  


Jamestown, (remember them?) started holding Thanksgiving in 1607.  By 1619, it was declared an annual thing, when Captain John Woodlief and 38 settlers aboard the ship Margaret proclaimed, “Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrivall at the place assigned for plantacion in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”


Now there’s another thing that can be learned from Jamestown and Plymouth Colonies.  Both of them tried this new concept that didn’t have a name yet… They were going to hold all of their lands in common, and each would work for the common good, depositing their labors in the common storehouse, which was free to draw from, for any member of the community.  (you could say “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”)  


It’s important to note that, in isolation from each other, both of them tried this new idea… 


Both of them lost over 30% of their populations to starvation and deprivation, and then shitcanned the idea, as unworkable.  It seems that people didn’t work as hard and as smart when they were working “for the common good” as they did when they were working “to improve their family’s lot in life.”


Can you imagine that? Discovering in the 1600s what it took Europe until… Oh wait, they still don’t get it… Communism and Socialism (communism with a pretty mask) DOES NOT WORK.  When tried with a small, insular, community that was all willing to play the game, it still failed, and people starved to death.


To me, the important piece of Thanksgiving comes later though. Specifically, on the Third of October, 1789 when the following words were written:


“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 signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.”


And it was signed:
G. Washington.


May we please live up to those words?


Take care, watch your six, 
Until next time I remain,
Yours in service.
William Lehman.

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