A Puritan Thanksgiving


M E Kemp relives Puritan life

This week I’ve invited M. E. KEMP, who writes an historical mystery series featuring two nosy Puritans as detectives. Her latest book is Death of  a Dancing Master. She lives in Saratoga, NY.

Ninety years after the Pilgrim’s feast of thanksgiving in 1620, the
Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony still celebrated the holiday
— only it might be in July or in May or in January depending upon what
occasion for which to be thankful. That might be for the end of King
Phillip’s War or the arrival of a sloop bearing kegs of molasses. And
Thanksgiving didn’t originate with the Pilgrims, either, but with
celebrations for various causes by the Church of England. In fact, Guy
Fawkes Day was a much more celebrated occasion on November 5th, the day
Fawkes tried to blow up the British parliament. In Boston it became a
rowdy holiday with the North End rivaling the South End, both Ends
parading around the streets carrying a “Guy,” a straw dummy until they
finally met up and ended in a  huge brawl and a bonfire.

When the Puritans did decide it was time for a Thanksgiving it was a
veritable feast, with turkey to be sure, but also with beef, venison,
all kinds of water fowl, ham, shellfish and other bounties of the sea.
( I confess I’m envious of those days when 6 foot lobsters washed up on
the beaches after a storm. Lobster was so plentiful it was considered
a trash-fish.  Now, that’s the kind of trash food I could go for!)
Pumpkins and apples played a large part in the feast, in forms besides
pies.  Both foods were dried for use over the winter.  And there was
drink – lots of hard liquor! Our ancestors were lushes.  Beer and hard
cider were every day drinks, with wine, brandy and rum; rum-punches
being a favorite of gatherings. Even the ministers imbibed unGodly
amounts of liquor at their ordination dinners. They welcomed new
ministers into the fold with every kind of liquor available. Tavern
bills show this to be the case.  Of course, you were expected to hold
your drink–drunkenness was fined, preached against from the pulpit
and perhaps even meant a spell in jail.

Our ancestors must have had stomachs of iron.  We can ourselves give
thanks that we don’t have to drink concoctions like “Sparke’s Special,”
which consisted of beer, rum, molasses and breadcrumbs.  Yuck!  Yet if
you survived the diseases of childhood, barring accident, you lived to
a ripe old age.   Well, you were probably well preserved by all that




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