Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thanksgiving Facts, Myths, And Those Naughty Pilgrims--Part 2







Last week I posted some facts about Thanksgiving By The Numbers. This week, before talking about more adventures of those sexy pilgrims, I have some Mayflower myths to share with you.

Myth: The first Thanksgiving was in 1621 and the pilgrims celebrated it every year after that.
Fact: The first feast wasn't repeated, so it wasn't the beginning of a tradition. In fact, it wouldn't have been called Thanksgiving because to the pilgrims a thanksgiving was a religious holiday. That feast in 1621 was a secular celebration and would not have been considered a thanksgiving in their minds.

Myth: The original Thanksgiving feast took place on the fourth Thursday of November.
Fact: The original feast in 1621 occurred sometime between September 21 and November 11 and was a three day celebration based on the English harvest festivals. President Franklin D. Roosevelt set the date for Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday of November in 1939, a decision fraught with controversy. The date was approved by Congress in 1941.

Myth: The pilgrims wore only black and white clothing with buckles on their hats, garments, and shoes.
Fact: Buckles did not come into fashion until later in the 17th century. Black and white were commonly worn only on Sunday and formal occasions.

But what about the actions and activities of those naughty pilgrims? As with so much in life, there's the fa├žade and then there's the reality. :)

Although not liberal in their thinking or lifestyle, the pilgrims were not as uptight as history would have us believe. They tried to create a strict religious society, but had an understanding and mercy unusual for their time. As time passed, intolerance grew and was reflected in their laws as demonstrated by the notorious Salem witch trials.

Men were not the only offenders in Plymouth colony. The prim women weren't always so pious either. Women were often caught with the evidence of their dalliances: babies. The records of the times are filled with one out-of-wedlock child after another. Babies showing up just a few months after marriage were also evidence of wrong doing. Pre-marital sex was severely punished. Fines were levied even for making passes, for appearing to have a "lascivious carriage" in public, or partying in mixed company at an unseemly time of night.

Sex outside marriage, even between two unmarried consenting adults, usually meant a whipping and fines. If the woman became pregnant, the man had to either marry her or pay for the child's upbringing. The man was usually placed in the stocks and whipped while the woman was made to watch. Sometimes mercy was granted as in the case of a servant, Jane Powell. Following years of hard servitude, she was destitute and had agreed to having sex in the hopes of marrying the man. Apparently the court found her plea convincing and she went unpunished.

Even though the pilgrims imposed strict punishment for crimes, they also understood human temptations. In 1656, Katheren Aines and William Paule were sentenced for committing adultery. William was whipped and forced to pay the costs of his imprisonment. Katheren was whipped, imprisoned and forced to wear a letter on her shoulder designating her as an adulteress. (Calling Nathaniel Hawthorne!) However, Katheren's husband, Alexander, was also punished. Alexander had left his family for some time and treated her badly during their marriage. The pilgrims viewed him as guilty of "exposing his wife to such temptations." Alexander was required to pay for his wife's imprisonment, and sit in the stocks while William and Katheren were whipped.

This Thanksgiving as you sit down to your turkey dinner, it might be a good idea to take a moment to be thankful that you aren't a pilgrim. :)

4 comments:

Mary Ricksen said...

Kinda convoluted thinking right. But they are a part of our history. I wouldn't have been whipped because I never did those things. But I might get smacked a few times in the head for other stuff!

Samantha Gentry said...

Mary: They were sure big on whipping as their primary punishment ... anyone and everyone for anything and everything.

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Samantha,
Very interesting blog. I an Australian, so I am not really up with the Pilgrims as such, but the punishment meter out - whipping, was very common in Australia in the early days, as we started out as a penal colony.

Regards
Margaret

Samantha Gentry said...

Margaret: Yep, we got England's puritans and you got their convicts. Whipping seems to have been 'the' type of punishment back in those times for criminal offenses. Even though cruel and extreme by today's standards, it was better than the tortures used on enemies.