Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving

I’m hosting Thanksgiving this year, an intimidating task for me, and I’ve been too busy with my various preparations to come up with a proper (thematic, colorful, aspirationally interesting?) post for the holiday, but I did want to say Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, however briefly. May we all have the calm and the company to reflect on what we are truly grateful for in this…..interesting year. Back in a few days with something more substantive, and leaving you with a few images for the day: Trinity (helpfully) serving as a centerpiece until I came up with something more stable, the glittery squirrels I seem to be placing everywhere (tacky I know, but I just love them), and Governor Belcher’s 1730 Thanksgiving Proclamation for Massachusetts Bay. What were our predecessors thankful for? Peace, a good harvest, and the diminution of pirates and smallpox. The basics.

thanksgiving-trinity1

thanksgiving-squirrels1

thanksgiving-belcher-broadside1

Courtesy Winterthur Museum Collections.

    I have therefore thought fit, with the advice of His Majesty’s Council, to appoint THURSDAY the TWELFTH of NOVEMBER next, a day of Public THANKSGIVING throughout this Province, hereby exhorting both ministers and people in their several assemblies, religiously to solemnize the same by offering up their sincere and grateful PRAISES for the manifold blessings and favors which GOD of His undeserved goodness hath conferred upon us; PARTICULARLY, in continuing to us the invaluable life of Our Sovereign Lord the KING, with His Royal Consort Our Most Gracious QUEEN, His Royal Highness the PRINCE OF WALES, and the rest of the royal issue; In succeeding His Majesty’s wise councils FOR RESTORING and establishing the peace of EUROPE; In prolonging the ecclesiastical and civil privileges of this people; In granting his gracious conduct and assistance in the administration of the civil government of this Province; In restoring HEALTH to many of our towns lately visited with a contagious distemper [small pox], and preserving others from the infection thereof; In maintaining our PEACE with the Indian Natives, and granting us a plentiful HARVEST, in giving success to our MERCHANDISE AND FISHERY, and protecting it from the insults and ravages of PIRATES, with other numberless instances of the Divine beneficence: And all servile labor is prohibited on the said Day.


Fabricating the Feast

Can there be any other holiday more closely associated with women than Thanksgiving? Forget the quasi-mythical “First Thanksgiving”, for which we only have references to men fowling and feasting–after that it’s all about women. What emerged as a New England tradition in the early nineteenth century was transformed into a national holiday through the intense efforts of author and editor Sarah Josepha Hale, eventually resulting in Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863. Several other New England ladies contributed to this effort, including Lydia Maria Child, whose “Over the River and through the Wood” we traditionally associate with Christmas but was first published in 1844 as “The New England Boy’s Song about Thanksgiving”. Successive presidents followed Lincoln’s precedent until 1941, when Congress established the fourth Thursday of November as a permanent Thanksgiving holiday. In the interim, a major medium for the adoption of a national harvest holiday seems to have been women’s magazines, chief among them Hale’s own Godey’s Ladies Book and later Good Housekeeping, The Ladies’ Home Journal (and Practical Housekeeper), (The) House Beautiful, and even Harper’s Bazaar. There was definitely a bit of culinary imperialism at work here: the ideal Thanksgiving menu published in Hale’s first novel, Northwood, was Yankee fare (cranberries!), but as turkey assumed the center stage (pushing out the very popular chicken pot pie and assorted other fowl) regional dishes could be assimilated as “sides”. And need I even say it? Women were making all those Thanksgiving feasts.

Thanksgiving HP 1894

Thanksgiving 1895 Bradley

Thanksgiving LHJ 1897-98

Thanksgiving 1904 Puck

Thanksgiving Pictorial Review 1906 Cover

Bearing Thanksgiving HP 1914

Thanksgiving gh 1937

Fabricating a very FEMININE Thanksgiving in the popular print media, 1894-1937: 1894-95 covers by Louis John Rhead and William H. Bradley, Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Ladies’ Home Journal Thanksgiving covers for 1897 and 1898; 1904 Puck Magazine cover, Library of Congress;  Pictorial Review and Ullman Manufacturing calendar page for November 1906; Harpers Bazaar and Good Housekeeping covers, 1914 and 1937, Library of Congress and Good Housekeeping archive.


Thanksgiving Colors

We spent Thanksgiving up in my hometown of York Harbor, Maine, which is only about an hour north of Salem. When we arrived York looked very different than still-green Salem, coated in icy snow. Many people in the southern counties of Maine and adjacent counties of New Hampshire lost their power due to a Thanksgiving-eve snowstorm, but we were fortunate to have light and heat and lots of food and drink. While waiting to eat on Thanksgiving Day, we took a drive around the grey town: York (encompassing York Harbor, York Village, York Beach and Cape Neddick) is a summer town and it always looks strikingly stark to me in the winter. I’ve also got some pictures of my stepmother’s Thanksgiving table here–before we messed it up. When we returned to Salem, all was icy and white but today is forecasted for the 50s so the terrain is returning to that golden brownish-green hue so characteristic of November.

Thanksgiving 001

This cat o’nine tail exploded before we left; the rest burst while we were away (just one day and night!) Impossible to clean up all this fluff.

Thanksgiving 009

Thanksgiving 011

Thanksgiving 015

Thanksgiving table: Della Robbia plates and Shaker chairs.

Thanksgiving 042

Fifty shades of grey off Nubble Light.

Thanksgiving 069

Thanksgiving 078

White on white: one of my favorite houses in York, and the gargoyle outside my parents’ house.

Thanksgiving 080

My favorite childhood painting.

Thanksgiving Colors 002

Back home; sunny Sunday.


Cranberry Picking

“…as why are Strawberries sweet and Cranberries sowre, there is no reason but the wonderfull worke of God that made them so…”.  John Eliot, the Puritan “Apostle to the Indians”, used the “American” name rather than the preferred English fenberry (variantly bear-berry and mosse-berry) in his 1647 treatise The Day-Breaking if not the Sun-Rising of the Gospell with the Indians in New-England, one of several seventeenth-century references to the sour little berry that was so common in Massachusetts. Along with corn, this was one native American crop that captured the attention of  the English early on–though most of their efforts seem to have been directed at transforming cranberries into something sweeter:  syrups, tarts, sauces.  They could not ignore a berry that ripened in the winter!

One last Thanksgiving weekend post on a fruit that remains one of Massachusetts’ few commercial crops, although we are no longer the country’s leading producer:  that title is now claimed by Wisconsin.  Still, there’s a major harvest every year starting in late September, and it’s a beautiful sight to see.  I just couldn’t make it down to the southeastern part of the state this busy semester, but here’s a great recent photograph of a bog at the A.D. Makepeace Company in Wareham, one of the state’s oldest producers.

Photo credit:  Charlie Mahoney for the Boston Globe; 1907 Makepeace Co. cranberry sign,Etsy.

The conditions of cranberry picking have changed a lot over the last century, for the better. Documentary photographers like Lewis Wickes Hine focused on the industrial exploitation of child and migrant labor in the early nineteenth century, and contemporary photographs of very small children, native Americans, and newly-arrived Europeans (in the case of southeastern Massachusetts, primarily Portuguese “bravas” from New Bedford, led by bog bosses called padrones) abound.

Portuguese cranberry pickers at the Eldridge Bog in Rochester, Massachusetts, and the “tenement” that housed them, September 1911, and a boy “scooper” at the Makepeace Bog. The caption of the last photograph reads: Gordon Peter, using scoop with metal teeth not covered. Said 10 years old. One of the smallest scoopers that we found. Usually scooping is done by adults. Been picking 3 years. Location: Makepeace near Wareham, Massachusetts. Lewis Wickes Hine, Library of Congress.

The pictures above contrast sharply with the recent photograph of the cranberry harvest at Makepeace, but also with artistic representations of cranberry picking in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Two paintings that fall on either side of Hine’s photographs are Eastman Johnson’s Cranberry Pickers, Island of Nantucket (1880) and Provincetown artist Ross Moffett’s circa 1930 Cranberry Pickers. Moffett’s modernistic representation of the workers in their spare Cape Cod context is a lot bleaker than Johnson’s more romantic image, but both artists seem to focus on the landscape at least as much as on the pickers.

Eastman Johnson, Cranberry Harvest, Island of Nantucket, 1880, Timken Museum of Art, San Diego; Ross Moffett, Cranberry Pickers, c. 1927-30, Smithsonian American Art Museum.


Pilgrim Pants

Eat, drink and shop: the association of Thanksgiving and commerce is nothing new.  Pilgrims were used to pitch almost everything in the later nineteenth and twentieth centuries:  not so much now.  I’ve seen pilgrim advertisements for all sorts of food and drink, which is understandable, but there were also lots of ads for various types of clothing, which is not really that logical an association; after all, one does not think of the Pilgrims as fashionable. That was not the pitch, however, for the famous “Plymouth Rock $3 pants”, which all New England men apparently wore in the later nineteenth century. Rather, the appeal was affordability and durability; these pants were stalwart and persevering, just like Pilgrims. The very collectible lithograph below, from the archives of both the American Antiquarian Society and the Boston Athenaeum, is a play on the classic Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers painting by Charles Lucy. This painting was turned into multiple prints and postcards before World War I, so it’s only natural that it became the basis of a very anachronistic advertisement.

Plymouth Rock $3 Pants lithographic advertisement by G.H. Buek & Co., 1885, American Antiquarian Society; 1915 postcard print of Charles Lucy’s Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers, New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

The other article of clothing commonly associated with Pilgrims, primarily before World War II, were socks, which don’t have to be very fashionable. The Pilgrim brand of clothing, one of Sears’ most long-running (1905-1964), started with socks, and took off from there. While Pilgrims didn’t always appear in ads for this line, they definitely established the brand in the first decades of the twentieth century. Women’s “Pilgrim Positive Wear”, guaranteed to last for six months, were advertised everywhere. Other companies followed suit with ads that featured Pilgrims wearing durable, seldom-in-need-of darning socks. Just one more thing to be thankful for, according to the Norman Rockwell-illustrated ad in the Thanksgiving 1922 edition of the Saturday Evening Post.


The Spoils of War and Thanksgiving

I’m going to bypass any politically correct discussion of Thanksgiving this week and return to the source:  William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation.  Bradford was the second governor of the Plymouth Colony, and his personal history of the spiritual and literal journeys of his fellow Separatists out of England and to the New World is one of the earliest and most important sources of British American history. Bradford began writing the book in 1630, and it covers the formation of the Plymouth colony up to 1647, including that first legendary “Thanksgiving”, which did not become an official holiday until two centuries later. Ironically, one factor which rather inadvertently led to the establishment of Thanksgiving as the quintessential American holiday was the theft of the source which first referenced it.

A paragraph from Plymouth Plantation; Paul Manship’s idealistic image of the first Thanksgiving, 1930s, Smithsonian institution.

Bradford’s book was known and referenced by colonial American historians in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but it remained in manuscript form. After the siege of Boston, when the British occupied downtown, troops ransacked the Old South Church (and turned it into a riding school, of all things) and found Bradford’s Plymouth Plantation lodged in the steeple. One (or several–who knows?) soldier took it as a spoil of war, and it made its way to Canada and later to Great Britain where it somehow (again–who knows?) found  its way into the Library of Fulham Palace, the official residence of the Bishop of London.  There it was used and referenced by several British historians of early America, bringing it to the attention of American scholars–who had apparently forgot all about it?  I know; there are a lot of question marks in this story! In any case, the sole copy of this very important American source  was in England and a movement to get it back began organizing in the 1840s. It took a while–a half-century to be precise– but the British “borrowers” did consent to have the text printed while it was in their possession.  It was published in 1856, under the auspices of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and it clearly revived interest in the history of the “Pilgrim Fathers”.

Old South Church, Boston, apparently threatened after surviving the great Boston fire of 1872, and in 1898, Boston Public Library; Fulham Palace in the later nineteenth century.

The publication of Plymouth Plantation came at a time when the United States was increasingly divided over the issue and expansion of slavery, and the text seems to have stimulated interest not only in the Pilgrims but in the Northern settlement at Plymouth, to counterbalance the earlier Southern settlement at Jamestown. After the Civil War broke out, President Lincoln responded to the continued lobbying of the influential author and editor Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale, a strong advocate for the extension of New England values to the rest of the country as a way towards national unity, and proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. George Washington had issued a similar proclamation, but Lincoln formalized the custom and standardized the date, in the spirit of both thanksgiving and union in the midst of war.

Two Winslow Homer views of Thanksgiving Day, 1865 from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated:  Hanging up the Musket and The Church Porch, Smithsonian Institution.

And what of Bradford’s manuscript?  It remained at Fulham Palace for nearly the rest of the nineteenth century, despite some high-ranking diplomatic deliberations. Trades were attempted, and some papers of King James I were sent over to Great Britain, with the hope of receiving Plymouth Plantation back.  To no avail:  the Bishop of London had to consult with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had to confer with the Prince of Wales.  It all took some time:  not until 1897 was the manuscript returned to Massachusetts, where it remains, in the State Library.

Two pages from the Bradford manuscript at the State Library:  the title page and a list of Mayflower passengers.  Note the IT NOW BELONGS TO THE BISHOP OF LONDON’S LIBRARY AT FULHAM note on the former.


%d bloggers like this: