This post, Thanksgiving and Native American Farmers, gives a glimpse into the lives of the settlers in the 17th century and some of their farming practices.
In the fall of 1620 the Mayflower arrived off the coast of Plymouth Massachusetts. By the spring of 1621 only about half of the original passengers survived the brutal first winter. In the spring the settlers were met by a Native American named Squanto. Squanto taught the settlers how to farm, hunt, and avoid poisonous plants in the new land.
The Native American farmers showed the early settlers a new way to plant in this rich fertile soil. They showed the settlers how to grow native crops like maize, beans and squash. They mounded soil up around the stumps of felled trees, making a hugelkultur type bed and put a fish in each mound for fertility. Other Native American crops included pumpkin, tobacco, and sunflowers.
Three Sisters Garden
The Native Americans taught the new settlers the concept of what we now know as a three sisters garden. The concept here is to plant corn, followed by beans a few weeks later, followed by squash a few weeks after that. The way it works is the corn will sprout and get some height to it. The beans will sprout several weeks later and by they time they are climbing up the corn, the corn is strong enough to support them. Once the beans are climbing and off the ground, the squash spread on the ground and shades the ground from direct sunlight, thereby keeping the ground moist.
The Native Americans also taught the settlers how to make maple syrup, dyes from plants and clam shell hoes. Native Americans did not use plows and tools to disturb the land in mass. That was a European way of doing things. They used advanced farming techniques like terracing, crop rotation, irrigation and the use of wind breaks to improve farm yields.
The Native Americans had domesticated animals that consisted of dogs and turkeys. The turkeys were among the first products of the new world agriculture introduced to European markets. The settlers in turn introduced European animals such as chicken, cows, sheep and swine. The settlers also introduced grains like wheat, rye and oats.
The settlers were able to grow everything they needed on one acre of land with the exception of salt, gun powder, and iron for tools.
The first Thanksgiving is said to have happened in 1621 with the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians during a three-day celebration of a successful harvest. They shared a feast of their autumn harvest. There is some controversy over exactly who had the first thanksgiving day feast as it may have been a Spanish explorer in 1565 or British settlers in 1619.
Thanksgiving Becomes an Annual Holiday
Many celebrations occurred in the following two plus centuries. In 1827 Sarah Josepha Hale, the author of “Mary Had A Little Lamb”, began a letter writing campaign to make Thanksgiving an annual national holiday to help unify a country heading towards civil war. Her campaign lasted for 36 years and Thanksgiving officially came to be a national holiday in the midst of the Civil War in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it as an annual national holiday.
The annual Thanksgiving holiday has been moved around from the forth Thursday of each November, to the third Thursday of each November, and back to the fourth Thursday of each November. The famous Macy’s day parade started in 1924. In 1989 George H.W. Bush granted the first Presidential pardon to a turkey and this has become tradition each year since.