Friday, November 22, 2013

History of Thanksgiving

In 1621, the Plymouth Colonists and the Wampanoag Indians shared a feast that lasted several days. It was not called a holiday or Thanksgiving. It was simply a meal of gratitude because they had survived a year on a new continent. Of course, it only happened because  the Wamponoag Indians taught them how to stay alive and how to reap a good harvest over the summer. Most importantly, the Indians gave them hope that they could make it through another coming cold season.  Still sad that 42 of them had already died out of 102 pilgrims, either on the voyage, from the frigid weather, or sickness, the early settlers wanted to celebrate for the future.

Photo courtesy of Plimouth Plantation
According to Edward Winslow in a letter to a friend in England in 1621, he wrote, “And 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….” He continued, "...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."

In my research, I sometimes find the reasons behind historic events that are not necessarily taught in school. For instance, peace between the Indians and early settlers lasted only 50 years or one generation. After which, the decimation of the Native Americans began with earnest as more people came to the New World. The new pilgrim arrivals required more land and took it from the Indians, either by legitimate trade, purchase, or war. The survival of the Indians was not uppermost in their minds, their own well-being came first. It surely was a sad time in American history. If only our forefathers would have been more compassionate with the plight of the American Indian. I often think there had to be a way for both peoples to live side by side in peace. Let's hope that history will never repeat that era.

Here are a few more facts, but on the lighter side of Thanksgiving – people always celebrated a harvest but the festivities were never on a Sunday because that was the day of the Lord, so a weekday was chosen.

In the 1700s – 1800s, there were regional celebrations of Thanksgiving throughout the colonies and states but no set date.  In 1863 amidst the Civil War, Lincoln declared a day of Thanksgiving to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November.

Photo - Cast of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" – 1938

Then in 1939 during the Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the holiday to the third Thursday of November. He wanted to stimulate the economy and give retailers more time for promoting Christmas sales. People didn't like it. They called it 'Franksgiving'. Reluctantly in 1941, President Roosevelt changed the day back to the fourth Thursday of November.

As far as the traditional food of the season as we know it, it was different by region throughout the 19th century. When the southern states finally joined in the holiday around the late 1800s, they brought with them some of our favorites, such as corn bread, ham, and sweet potatoes. In New Mexico, chilies and southwestern flavors appeared in stuffing. Crab was important on the menu around the Chesapeake Bay. Key Lime pie sat next to pumpkin pie in Key West. New England had a big influence on the Thanksgiving menu, adding cranberry sauce and probably scallops, especially here on Cape Cod.

There is no mention of Thanksgiving or Christmas in my historical novel, The Old Cape House because it was not celebrated as we know it today. The Puritans frowned upon dancing, singing, or pretty much anything that was fun. But every fall season around the harvest, I'm sure a thank you was on everyone's lips and in their hearts, happy that their cupboards and root cellars were stocked for the approaching cold season and that they would survive another winter once more. 

                                                              Happy Thanksgiving!

From our table to thankful for whatever good is in your life and wish the same to others. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Cape Cod – Maria Hallett

Many stories have been written and told about 18th century Maria Hallett. 

In my historical novel, The Old Cape House, I tell a story that has never been heard before.

According to legend and folklore, Maria was a poor, misunderstood girl who happened to fall in love with a handsome soon–to–be pirate. His name was Sam Bellamy, aka - Black Sam Bellamy or The Pirate Prince. He came to Cape Cod in the spring of 1715 on his way to salvage treasure in the West Indies.

A fleet of Spanish galleons wrecked in a hurricane off the coast of Florida in 1715 and all of its cargo sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic. Bellamy was determined to go there and find his fortune. He left Maria behind on Cape Cod and never knew she was with child. When he arrived where the treasure was, it was almost all gone. Not wanting to return empty handed, he went 'on account' and turned pirate.

The following winter, Maria was found in a barn with a dead child and no explanation came from her lips as to how she got into this predicament.

Given the century and its Puritan beliefs, townsfolk accused her of witchery and murder. She was eventually punished, shunned, and made an outcast. As time passed, the people of Eastham blamed Maria Hallett, aka - The Witch of Billingsgate or Goody Hallett for every sailor or ship lost at sea and any other problems they had in their lives. Her legend only grew bigger and more frightening to anyone who knew of it.

One day, many years ago, I visited the Whydah Pirate Museum in Provincetown and discovered the Bellamy/Hallett legend. I found it fascinating. But all the way home to Brewster, I couldn't keep my mind off of Maria's story. She was so young. How could this have happened to her? 

Then I thought of the Salem witch trials and how the religious leaders of that period kept their congregants in line. They taught that one must follow the church's law no matter what the circumstances. Any unexplained or bad occurrences are the work of the devil. They preached, " must be fearful of the Lord and be solemn. No dancing! No singing!"  They screamed, "if you indulge in these pleasures, you might become distracted, and a prime target for the devil to control you."  If you were slightly different from the others, harbored strange thoughts, had a child with a birth defect, or anything they couldn't was the work of the devil.

From that day, I kept thinking...what if the legend never happened the way the old salts of Cape Cod have told it? 

Fact #1  Sam Bellamy has been proven to exist in history and was a real pirate and he did visit Cape Cod in the spring of 1715. 

Fact #2  Sam Bellamy's body was never found after the wreck of his ship the Whydah off the coast of Cape Cod.

Fact #3  Maria Hallett has never been proven to exist. 

With these few thoughts I created a new story about Maria. One that will take you on an adventure back through time and forward to the present. 

You'll find history, romance, and mystery. 

Read The Old Cape House  available as an ebook or paperback.

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