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Episode 19.  Thanksgiving, 1621

In this special Thanksgiving Episode, Host Julian G. Simmons interviews our Director, Rob Wilson -- who had eight ancestors on the Mayflower. They discuss the origins of this holiday in a very personal way.

This episode was first aired in November 2022, when it stirred some controversy among listeners.  The episode delves into the details of the first Thanksgiving in the Fall of in 1621 among the Mayflower settlers and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. Many people feel that it was the Pilgrims who brought the plague and brutal genocide that decimated the Native people -- but that's not quite accurate.  


The episode features a rare interview with our usually-silent Director, Rob Wilson, who had eight direct ancestors on the Mayflower:

John Alden & Priscilla Mullins
10th Great-Grandfather


William Bradford
9th Great Grandfather


Myles Standish
9th Great Grandfather


Rose Hanley
9th Great-Grandmother

John Howland
9th Great-Grandfather


John & Elizabeth Tilley 

9th Great-Grandmother


Degory Priest
10th Great Grandfather


Sarah Allerton Vincent
10th Great Grandmother

Rob has made a study of their persecution in England, their suffering on the perilous and ill-timed sea journey from England to Cape Cod, and the terrible travails of that first winter of 1620.  The Wampanoag had already been nearly wiped out by then, and bonded with the Mayflower settlers who were unprepared for that New England winter.  The Wampanoag did much to help them survive that first grueling winter, and deep, lasting friendships formed between them. That first harvest feast in the fall of 1621 was amicable and worthy of our celebration today, which Abraham Lincoln made a national holiday we now know as Thanksgiving.

The association of that word "Thanksgiving" actually  predated even the Mayflower celebration.  On December 4, 1619, when 38 British settlers reached a site known as Berkeley Hundred on the banks of Virginia's James River, they read a proclamation designating the date as “a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”  Thomas Jefferson opposed making it officially-sanctioned government holiday due to his adamant belief in the separation of church and state.  When Jefferson was President, he wrote"I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises...Certainly no power to prescribe any religious exercise, or to assume authority in religious discipline, has been delegated to the general government."

It was finally made a national holiday due to the persistent lobbying by the author  Sarah Josepha Hale, best known for her poem, "Mary Had a Little Lamb," who petitioned Congress and five different presidents (Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, and Lincoln)  between 1846-1863, to create a national annual holiday for Thanksgiving. Hale was from New England where, by the mid-19th century, celebrating and giving thanks for abundant autumn harvests was an established tradition. She finally had success when in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday on the last Thursday in November. Lincoln’s proclamation urged the nation to heal its wounds and restore “peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

Hale_Sarah_LOC_3a36346r square.heic

Sarah Josepha Hale

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