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An Open Letter From Mr. Thomas Turkey

November 21, 2018

By Thomas Turkey

I have taken pen in wing to write this letter to all of you who may be anticipating tomorrow's meal of roasted turkey. In this age of enlightenment, I find it a bit self-serving to give no thought to the fact turkey probably wasn't on that first Thanksgiving table in 1621. Fish, duck, deer were most likely the center of the pilgrim's dinner tables.

In the woods near Plymouth 400 years ago, wild turkey would have been plentiful. But even back then, we turkeys were a wily bird and not easily caught. Sneaking up on us in the woods would have been hard, especially if the hunters were wearing those big black Pilgrim hats. If their hats didn't give them away, loading their big old blunderbusses and getting a shot off, before we disappeared into the thick woods, would have been nearly impossible. Pilgrim hunters used no decoys, no turkey calls and no automatic corn feeders to sucker us into range of their blunderbusses. You'll have to admit, humans have lost many of the skills you would have needed to hunt my ancestors near Plymouth Rock. That's why I'm telling you from a turkey's point of view, it would have been easier for Pilgrims to have hunted wild game like ducks, fish, rabbits and deer. Why take the chance of not getting a meal if you go after an elusive wild turkey? Pilgrim hunters most likely shot those clueless deer grazing in the meadows and fields near the big rock where they tied up their boat, the Mayflower. It is only right, they should be the main course on that first Thanksgiving dinner table.

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I know you would tell me that the Indians brought the turkeys to dinner; maybe they did. The Native Americans of the time hunted wild game in the forest and were skilled woodsmen. But they also gathered berries and nuts. History tells us they introduced the colonist to a type of maze known as Indian corn. A different, heartier variety than what the colonist brought with them.

In fact, if the Indians had not helped those pilgrims of the Plymouth colony, it is likely they would not have survived. Another thing you may not know, the area around Plymouth had already been cleared by Indians who lived in the area. But disease brought by earlier settlers wiped out most of the local Indians. So now that I have told you all that, let's add up what they started with. The land was already cleared by the Indians. Most of the local population had been wiped out by disease. And Mother Nature provided a big rock to tie up their boat. You would have to say the pilgrims had a pretty sweet deal those first years.

That first Thanksgiving lasted three days. Records say there were 50 colonists and about 90 Indians. There is no official record that turkeys were on the menu. No real record of the menu has survived. In other words, you could be eating a Thanksgiving goose or duck. Or even a rack of venison.

History tells us the first feast was in 1621. It was not officially proclaimed Thanksgiving or any other festive day. One of the colonists described the event in a letter as, the end of a hunting party with the local Indians that lasted three days.

Governor Bradford wrote a book which chronicles the period of time in the Plymouth colony. Land was not owned by individual colonists. It was deemed to be the property of the entire settlement. That first year a communal garden was planted with expectations everyone would work the garden. Come fall everyone would share the bounties of the harvest. This approach was the way the colony managed the land and crops for the first two years. By the 1623 growing season, it had become clear that communal approach was not going to work. Apparently not all colonists did their fair share. If changes were not made in the management of the work and land, it was going to be another hard winter.

Governor Bradford made a bold move and decided that every man should have his own parcel of land to work. Ownership of the land would remain the property of the community, but each parcel holder was solely responsible for the success or failure of his own garden plot.

That summer, it appeared the change in the management of the land was going to be a great improvement. The colonists working their individual garden plots showed promise the growing season would be successful. Then, something unexpected happened, and the future of any harvest was in doubt. The rains suddenly stopped. The soil dried quickly, and crops began to wither in the fields. It was decided collectively the colony should hold a "Day of Humiliation" and prayer. Low and behold, their prayers were answered; the rains returned, and the crops were saved. Governor Bradford took this as a sign from God and proclaimed November 29, 1623 as a Day of Thanksgiving. Their celebration was about how a change in land management and return of the rain made a difference in the colony's survival. So you see, in reality Thanksgiving was more about the economics and management of the community. The bountiful harvest was the result of these changes. Most history books still give credit to the year 1621 as the first Thanksgiving. Perhaps, the story of the first real Thanksgiving could have been better told in a Civics class than American History.

Now that you know the real truth about Thanksgiving and the reality of how it surveyed, maybe you will give some thought to having a Thanksgiving goose or maybe a big fat chicken. I think we turkeys have been the center of the Thanksgiving tradition far too long. Happy Thanksgiving from Mr. Thomas Turkey and the staff at the Wetzel Chronicle, as we see it Through the Lens.



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