Pumpkins, Pilgrims, and Presidents

mayflower.jpgSitting in my comfortable home with plenty of food just a few steps away, it’s hard for me to imagine the hardships of the early pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock November, 1620. The conditions must’ve been horrendous, both on the Mayflower and in carving out a settlement in the dead of winter.

One hundred and two passengers set sail from England in a cramped ship that had little room for breathing, much less eating and sleeping. One adult male died enroute.  But one child was born during the long voyage, a baby boy who was named Oceanus.   

An unmarried passenger, John Howland, fell overboard during the voyage and was miraculously rescued. Here’s an odd fact—if he had drowned, we wouldn’t have had President George Bush Sr., President George W. Bush, President Teddy Roosevelt’s first lady, or Humphrey Bogart. They directly descended from John Howland. How wild is that? I’ve always heard that only six degrees separates each of us. Must be true. Five years after arriving in Plymouth, John married Elizabeth Tilly who had lost both parents within a few months of landing. John and Elizabeth ended up siring ten children and 82 grandchildren before they died.   

Also John Alden, another on board, was a descendant of John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Vice President Dan Quayle. Seems these pilgrims contributed quite a lot to the presidential office!  

But back to their arrival in November, 1620, you can imagine how glad they must’ve been to have seen land. I know how squirmy I get in the car during a four hour trip. These people endured 66 days of nothing but water and pounding, gigantic waves. Most of the time, seawater soaked their bedding and clothing. It would’ve been extremely difficult to stay dry. Seeing that shoreline could only have renewed their hope. They just didn’t know what lay in store for them and how much strength and determination it would take.  

native-americans.jpgIn four months over half of them died. By March only 47 colonists were left. By the time they saw November, only four adult women out of eighteen who started out had survived. It’s a proven fact that none of the colonists would have made it if it hadn’t been for the generosity and compassion of the Native Americans who provided food and taught them how to live off the land. Oh, the thanks the settlers must’ve given!  

In November of 1621, Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Colony declared a day of Thanksgiving and prayer to celebrate the pilgrim’s first harvest and that was our first Thanksgiving.


From written account, they had roasted venison, turkey that was pilgrims.jpgprobably boiled or stewed. And for vegetables, squashes, carrots, cabbages and onions. They had no potatoes at that time. Corn was probably in the form of pumpkins.jpgmeal and not on the cob and used to make bread. Pumpkin, if they had it, was cooked into a pudding and not made into a pie. Honey and maple syrup was the only sweetener available. They had no cranberry sauce either. It wasn’t the most scrumptious feast, but I’m sure they were grateful for each morsel.


turkey1.jpgIt wasn’t until November 26, 1789 that George Washington proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving. But, the holiday wasn’t widely observed on the same day. States had wide latitude on which day they wanted to celebrate it. President Abraham Lincoln made it an annual holiday in 1863 and it was observed on the fifth Thursday in November. Then for three years, President Franklin Roosevelt moved it to the third Thursday. But after much uproar, Congress and the president anchored it officially on the fourth Thursday and that’s where it’s remained ever since.  

Now we get to celebrate it again this Thursday. I hope when we sit down to our heavily-laden table that we remember the pilgrims and their Native American friends—their sacrifices and the resiliency of the human spirit. It’s a time to give thanks for what we have and a time to remember our service men and women who are far from home.

I’m thankful for freedom to come and go as I wish, for the food I eat, and especially for the love of family and friends. What are you thankful for?

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

19 thoughts on “Pumpkins, Pilgrims, and Presidents”

  1. I’m thankful for my husband and children, my family and friends, that we have a roof over our heads and food to eat. I’m thankful for our service men and women and our freedoms.

  2. One one died on the trip over but HALF died in the next four months…winter in New England. What a nightmare that must have been.
    And four adult women? Where there a lot of younger girls, did more ships come? How did they build a colony with four women.
    You know I’ve heard that this wasn’t even close to the first boat to land on american’s shore from England…but the others…when the next boat would come…everyone was gone, dead or driven away and lost some did survive on their own but no settlement survived.
    This reminds me of Louis La’Mour’s Sackett stories. The ones where the first Sackett came to American. It seems like they talked about the few and far between Europeans who managed to survive in America BEFORE Jamestown or Plymouth Rock.
    They must have been insanely tough. No wonder America is so strong, huh?
    And for them to all be related to later great leaders, that’s kind of weird. I’ve heard that all the presidents are interrelated if you go back far enough. I wonder if that’s true.
    It smacks of royalty and dynasty, don’t you think? I’m not completely comfortable with that.

  3. I went and read on the Pilgrims a while and on Jamestown.
    So Jamestown if the first permanent settlement in 1607 and the pilgrims and the Mayflower didn’t get here until 1620. So why are the Pilgrims so famous? What are they the ‘first’ of? Why didn’t they just go to Jamestown since there was a settlment there?
    I’ve spent too much time already this morning reading about this. 🙂
    I guess I’ve never quite united these two facts in my head. I knew Jamestown was the First Permanent Settlement, but I guess I thought the Pilgrims were first, too.
    Hmmmmmmmmm……..back to Wiki.

  4. Hi Taryn! I think it’s really good that we have one day a year to set aside and really think about the things we’re thankful for. I know I take so much for granted, that it’ll always be here. But, someday it might be gone. Especially people we love; those who make our lives a lot more full. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  5. Good morning, Mary! You ask some interesting questions. No, those in Plymouth Colony were the second to arrive. But I think, this is my own assumption, that after the disaster in Jamestown they might’ve had trouble finding people willing to come over. I know I wouldn’t have wanted to. I like to play things safe. And from what I read, they really intended to go to Jamestown or close to it, but the Mayflower was so badly damaged in the voyage they couldn’t make it.

    As for the four women left and how they built a settlement…there were some teenage girls in addition to the four adult women. One of them was Elizabeth Tilly who married John Howland. Both of Elizabeth’s parents died the first few months. She was an orphan at 13. There were others like that. And a second ship did come a year or two after, bringing more people.

    Keep digging, Mary! We’re bound to find the answers to our burning questions. 🙂

  6. Linda – your accounting gave me goose bumps. I love reading history and personal stories along the way. Very cool facts!
    I’m so thankful for my family, my country and the hard sacrifices our servicemen and women make each day they are away from their families. Holidays are especially hard for them, so I try to never take our freedoms for granted.
    Wonderful post!

  7. Wonderful stuff, Linda. Reminds me of days of yore when I taught American Lit and we studied Bradford and the Pilgrims. As I recall, they were headed close to Jamestown but got blown off course. I even count women in painting/pictures of the first Thanksgiving to see if there are more than four. And yes, thanks be to Squanto! He had lost his tribe to disease brought over by English fishermen; those fishermen are the reason he spoke English! Oh, I’m babbling. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

  8. Disaster at Jamestown? Missed that.

    And I’m thankful that a press release just appeared in two different fiction emagazines announcing my exclusive contract with Barbour to write NINE books for them through 2011.
    I’m writing Book Four right now!

    Here’s a blurb:
    Glowing Sun, a white girl raised by an Indian tribe, is left alive when her village is attacked.
    Wade saves her. Now he must face his tyrant father and Wade needs feisty Glowing Sun to teach him what tough really is.

  9. Linda, I truly enjoyed reading about the Pilgrims. Gosh, my history has gotten rusty. I needed the refresher. Fascinating stuff!

    Mary–what a day-brightener for you on the big contract announcement! Congrats!!

    What am I thankful for? Oh, I could go on and on. First off, my health and happiness. My daughters, grandbabies, husband–and not necessarily in that order. The health of my parents. The safety of friends and family. Prosperity. I’m thankful to be living in the greatest country in the world–.

    Okay, I have to stop.

    But I have to add, I’m thankful for Petticoats & Pistols–the Founding Fillies and all the new friends I’ve made on this site! Y’all are the BEST!!!

  10. Charlene, you’re absolutely right about the goose bumps. I had them while I was writing today’s blog. The fascinating thing about history is that I never know what I’ll uncover. I love putting faces on those people and humanizing them. Makes so much more personal.

    Yes, we owe our dedicated men and women in the service for keeping us free. As much as we gripe and complain about things, we have to admit we sure wouldn’t like it if we lost our freedom. And that one thing was what drove the pilgrims to leave their homes and come to America. They wanted to be free. Have a great Thanksgiving! 🙂

  11. Hi Tanya! Yeah, I agree about being rusty on my history. I studied all this in school, but somehow it seemed stuffy and uninteresting then. Guess our age helps in seeing the contribution and value of the early settlers.

    Another interesting fact that I didn’t include in my blog was that John Howland’s brother, Henry Howland, gave us President’s Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Very strange. I also didn’t mention that John Howland was listed on the ship’s manifest as a manservant. He was no one of consequence. And his family were also commoners.

    Thanks for mentioning Squanto and the hardships he and his tribe endured. That tends to get overlooked. They certainly didn’t have to help the settlers and yet they did because they believed in the good of man. I’m sure they probably came to regret that later. I’m really ashamed of the later treatment of the Native Americans who sacrificed so much.

    Many wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving!! 🙂

  12. Mary, wow!!! That’s fantastic, wonderful news. My gosh girl, you’re gonna be employed for a long time. The blurb for book four really hooks me. Wade sounds like my kind of hero. I’m so proud to know you. Looks like you have extra thanks to be giving on Thanksgiving!

  13. Hi Pam! I too am thankful for being a part of Petticoats and Pistols. It’s definitely changed my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined. And yes, family always comes first when I list the things I’m grateful for. Family keeps us going when the chips are down. They cry with us over the bad times and cheer (loud and long) when fortune smiles on us. Without the support of family life would sure be empty and bare. Always hold them close and tell them often how much you love ’em.

    Have a great day! Wishing you the best, dear sister.

  14. I know y’all are probably getting tired of all this history stuff, but I just have to add something else. It concerns one of the passengers, William Bradford who later became governor. There is an unsubstantiated rumor that his wife had an affair with the ship’s captain, Christopher Jones. In any event she fell (or was pushed) off the ship and drowned shortly after they dropped anchor off the coast of Massachusetts. William Bradford later remarried. But I’ve forgotten if his second wife was a widow or one of the teenage girls after she came of marrying age. There wasn’t a lot of choices until more ships came with other women.

  15. Mary, to answer your question of what happened in Jamestown….Due to disease, famine, and attacks only 60 of the original 214 settlers survived. Those were tough times for sure! Only the heartiest, most determined made it. At one point they abandoned the town, but came back when supply ships arrived.

  16. Hi Estella, Happy Thanksgiving to you as well! I’m so grateful for all the visitors to P&P who come to read our blogs and post comments. Thank you for helping add richness to our lives. Continue to give thanks for everything that makes your little corner of the world special.

  17. Linda, what a thought provoking post. I am thankful for my freedom, family, and friends. I visited Plymoth Village and the Mayflower a couple of years ago. It’s hard to believe that people even tried to live in the tiny quarters and poor conditions. It certainly made me stop and think how greatful I was for what I have today. Great post. Happy Thanksiving to all. Phyliss

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