Learning about Pilgrims might ensure a sense of Thanksgiving gr

November 19, 2004|by Lisa Tedrick Prejean

There has been a lot of talk about Pilgrims and Indians around my house. The children are planning what they will wear for a Thanksgiving feast at school.

It seems that Indian garb is winning out. It's easier to come up with things that an Indian would wear, especially when you have Grandma's help.

My two little munchkins will be dressed as American Indians, but they still are very curious about the people who arrived in Plymouth, Mass., in 1620.

We have many books on the topic and have been reading them as the holiday approaches.

The Mayflower has been described as being as big as two trucks. It was overcrowded with 102 people. Originally, two ships set sail from England's Southampton harbor. The smaller of the two, the Speedwell, sprung a leak and was unable to make the voyage. Some of the passengers from the Speedwell climbed on board the Mayflower. Others stayed behind in England.


With the extra passengers, the Mayflower was crowded. There was no space to run and play. There barely was room to walk around on deck.

Meals were basic and bland. There was salted beef or fish, and dry, hard biscuits. There was a little bit of cheese and a little bit of butter. It was hard to keep the food from spoiling.

At times, the Pilgrims put sand in an iron box and built charcoal fires. This served a dual purpose. They could sit around the fire to get warm and could use the fire to cook porridge, soup or stew.

Many of the Pilgrim children slept on the ship's hard, cold floor. They didn't have pajamas. They slept in the same clothes they wore every day. After a while, those clothes became dirty and torn.

It's hard to believe they were in the same clothes for more than two months. (Look at the clothes you have on now. Imagine if you wore them on an unwashed body until mid-January. That thought should make us all thankful for washers and dryers, eh?)

When they reached the New World, the Pilgrims were elated to see land. At the same time, they knew the hard part was just beginning. They started working on their new town, but the snow fell before they could finish building their homes. Many Pilgrims died that first winter.

The Pilgrim families were thankful when spring came and they could once again work on their homes. They made beds, benches - which also were used as tables - and stools. Children often ate standing up because there weren't enough stools.

Most families had one pot. They used it for cooking, dipping candles and making soap.

Children had many chores. They made mattresses by stuffing pine needles, rags or feathers into big bags. At mealtime, they often served their parents. (Perhaps if we still practiced this, there wouldn't be as much grumbling about eating vegetables.)

Even through all the hardships, when the Mayflower sailed back to England the following April, none of the Pilgrims chose to leave their new home. They were becoming settled and had made friends with some Indians. At harvest time, they wanted to celebrate. They shared what they had with their new friends.

To learn more about that first Thanksgiving, read one of these picture books with a child:

· "The Pilgrims' First Thanksgiving" by Ann McGovern.

· "The Thanksgiving Story" by Alice Dalgliesh.

· "'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving" by Dav Pilkey. (This one doesn't provide any history, but it is an adorable tale that causes lots of little giggles ... my favorite sound of the season.)

May the spirit of gratitude from that first Thanksgiving be present around your table next week.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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