Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thanksgiving Facts, Myths, and Those Naughty Pilgrims--Part I

We all know the story of how the pilgrims left England seeking religious freedom and finally settled in the New World at Plymouth in what is now the state of Massachusetts. And how in 1621 they invited the local natives to share a dinner with them in order to give thanks for a successful harvest and surviving their first year. That feast of thanksgiving was not repeated the next year, therefore it was not the start of the Thanksgiving Day holiday tradition.

From those humble beginnings have come many facts and as many myths about the pilgrims and our Thanksgiving holiday. So, I'd like to take this week and next week to share some of those facts with you, correct several of those myths, and contradict the belief that the pilgrims embodied the very soul of purity and piety.

Let's start with some facts. Here's a list of Thanksgiving by the numbers.

3,000—the number of calories eaten during an average Thanksgiving meal.

12,000,000—the number of whole turkeys Butterball sells for Thanksgiving.

2,000 - 3,000—the number of people used to guide the balloons during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

214—the average number of miles driven for the family get together at Thanksgiving.

1939—the date the Great Thanksgiving Day calendar controversy began (when FDR declared the fourth Thursday of November to be the official date of Thanksgiving).

23.3—the percentage of Black Friday shoppers who arrive at stores before five o'clock in the morning.

12,000—the number of cubic feet of helium in the Big Bird balloon in the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

40,000,000—the number of green bean casseroles made for Thanksgiving dinner.

72,000,000—the number of cans of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce sold for Thanksgiving dinner.

Now that we've covered some facts, next week I'll tackle some myths about Thanksgiving.

What about those pious pilgrims? They certainly have a reputation for being a rigid and humorless group. But there are a few surprises to be found. Even though drunkenness was discouraged, beer was accepted as a drink by men, women, and children. The daily ration on the Mayflower was a gallon a day for each individual. Even sex was not taboo under the right circumstances. They had a matter-of-fact attitude about sex as long as it was between a married couple. It's when sex strayed from being the exclusive right between a married couple that the stories get interesting.

Studies by a group of anthropologists at the University of Virginia found that the pilgrims spent a great deal of time thinking about how to punish those with impure thoughts and actions. Studies also discovered that in 11% of the marriages at Plymouth Colony the bride was pregnant at the time. The same study estimates that as many as 50% of the pilgrims engaged in premarital sex. Definitely not an image that fits the staid pilgrims.

According to the Mayflower Compact, the colony was to establish laws based on Biblical teachings "for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith." The Old Testament book of Leviticus was the basis for most of their laws. Adultery? Death. A man has sex with his daughter-in-law? Death. Sodomy? Death. Bestiality? Death. Are you beginning to see a pattern? :)

But interestingly, the pilgrims did not typically enforce the death penalty for sex offenses. There was only one case in which the convicted offender was actually put to death for sex crimes. It was the case of Thomas Graunger, a teenage boy apparently at the throes of raging hormones who sought satisfaction from any and all sources available to him…the farm animals.

According to Plymouth Governor William Bradford, "He was this year detected of buggery, and indicted for the same, with a mare, a cow, two goats, five sheep, two calves and a turkey."

Even though Thomas was the only one executed for a sex crime, punishments were routinely severe even with far lesser sex crimes and usually meant whippings, being put into the stocks, and fines.

In next week's blog (Sunday, November 22) Thanksgiving Facts, Myths, And Those Naughty Pilgrims Part II—I'll demyth some of the Mayflower myths and give you a few more examples of the lusty nature of the pilgrims that they couldn't keep under control in spite of the severe punishments for such crimes including the wearing of the infamous letter A for adultery, a punishment prominently used by Hawthorne in his 1850 novel, The Scarlet Letter.


Mary Ricksen said...

Well with no TV, radio, movies, nothing to do after dark. What else was there but sex?
Great post, love the facts Samantha!

Samantha Gentry said...

Mary: Ain't it the truth!! I guess they could maybe read by candlelight, but that's very hard on the eyes.

Sex was obviously the overwhelmingly popular choice. :)

Penny Rader said...

Great post, Samantha! I bet the animals ran when they saw Thomas coming. :D

Samantha Gentry said...

Penny: Not only ran, but also went into hiding!