1621: The First Harvest Festival

Before 1752 the English used the Julian calendar with the new year beginning on March 25. You’ll notice this if you read William Bradford’s Of Plimoth Plantation. I’ve added the Julian year in the 1621 winter reference.

Consider their first few years: the Pilgrim’s arrival at Cape Cod in November 1620, and the desolation and then deliverance of the following winter, spring and autumn in 1621.

November 1620:

Being thus arived in a good harbor
and brought safe to land, they fell
upon their knees and blessed the
God of heaven, who had brought them
over the vast and furious and ocean,
delivered them from all the periles and
miseries therof, againe to set their
feete on the firme and stable earth, their
proper elemente. . . .Being thus passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before
in their preparation (as may be remembred by that which vente before), they had
now no freinds to wellcome them, nor inns to entertaine or refresh their weatherbeaten
bodys, no houses or much less townes to repaire too, to seeke for succoure.

Winter 1621 (Julian Calendar 1620):

But that which was most sadd and lamentable was, that in 2. or 3. moneths time half e of their company dyed, espetialy in Jan : and February, being the depth of winter, and wanting houses and other comforts; being infected with the scurvie and other diseases, which this long vioage and their inacomodate condition had brought upon them; so as ther dyed some times 2. or 3. of a day, in the foresaid time; that of 100. and odd persons, scarce 50. remained., And of these in the time of most distres, ther was but 6. or 7. sound persons, who, to their great comendations be it spoken, spared no pains, night nor day, but with abundante of toyle and hazard of their owne health, fetched them woode, made them fires, drest them meat, made their beads, washed their lothsome cloaths, cloathed and uncloathed them; in a word, did all the homly and necessarie offices for them which dainty and quesie stomacks cannot endure to hear named; and all this willingly and cherfully, without any grudging in the least, shewing herein their true love unto their freinds and bretheren.

Spring 1621:

. . . Squanto continued with them, and was their interpreter, and was a spetiall instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectation. He directed them how to set their carne, wher to take fish, and to procure other comodities, and was also their pilott to bring them to unknowne places for their profitt, and never left them till he dyed.

. . . The spring approaching, it pleased God the mortalitie begane to cease amongst them, and the sick and lame recovered apace, which put as it were new life into them; though they had borne their sadd affiiction with much patience and contentednes, as I thinke any people could doe. But it was the Lord which upheld them, and had beforehand prepared them; many having long borne the yoke, yea from their youth.

Early autumn 1621:

They begane now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strenght, and had all things in good plenty; for as some were thus imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersised in fishing, aboute codd, and bass, and other fish, of which they tooke good store, of which every family had their portion. All the sommer ther was no wante. And now begane to come in store of foule, as winter aproached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besids water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they tooke many, besids venison, etc. Besids they had aboute a peck a meale a weeke to a person, or now since harvest, Indean coree tb that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largly of their plenty hear to their freinds in England, which were not fained, but true reports.

Account from Mourt’s Relation:

Our harvest being gotten in our Governour sent foure men on fowling that so we might after a more speciall manner reioyce together after we had gathered the fruit of our labours. they foure in one day killed as much fowle as with a little helpe beside served the Company almost a weeke. at which time amongst other Recreations we exercised our Armes. many of the Indians coming amongst vs and amongst the rest their greatest King Massasoyt with some ninetie men whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted and they went out and killed fiue Deere which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour and vpon the Captaine and others. And although it be not alwayes so plentiful as it was at this tune with vs yet by the goodnesse of God we are so farre from want that we often wish you partakers of our plentie.

William Bradford closed his chapter describing their safe arrival at Cape Codd by saying:

May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: Our faithers were Englishmen which come over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this willdernes; but they cried unto the Lord, and he heard their voyce, and looked on their adversitie, etc. Let them therfore praise the Lord, because he is good, and his mercies endure for ever. Yea, let them which have been redeemed of the Lord, shew how he hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressour. When they wandered in the deserte willdernes out of the way, and found no citie to dwell in, both hungrie, and thirstie, their sowle vas overwhelmed in them. Let them confes before the Lord his loving kindnes, and his wonderfull works before the sons of men.

__________
Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, William Halsall: PD-US.
The First Thanksgiving, Jean Leon Gerome Ferris: PD-US.
This is the artist’s rendition of this 1621 harvest festival.
Of Plymouth Plantation, An Electronic Edition, William Bradford 1590-1657 (125; 134; 143, 152; 162; 125). Original Source: Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation, 1606-1646. Ed. William T. Davis. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908. Copyright 2003. This text is freely available provided the text is distributed with the header information provided.
Edward Winslow and William Love references via Wikipedia from The fast and thanksgiving days of New England” By William DeLoss Love, Houghton, Mifflin and Co., Cambridge, 1895. Books.google.com. Jan 28, 2009 971–72). Retrieved 11-21-2012.

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