The war on Thanksgiving down through the years!


Tomorrow, a possible special report: At the bagel joint we frequent, the Christmas decorations have already been up for two weeks.

All around the nation, a war on Thanksgiving has been declared. And wouldn’t you know it? Bill O’Reilly doesn’t seem to notice or care!

While we're on the subject, where was the first Euro-American Thanksgiving held? Was it in Massachusetts, or in Virginia?

(Frost: "But we were England's, still colonials.")

Last week, the New York Times did a fascinating report about Jamestown, written by Theo Emery. Tomorrow, we expect to start a new special report, though travel plans may intrude. If we do, we’ll begin it right there.

Whatever! Perhaps you can sniff out our theme from Emery's intriguing report.


  1. I would guess this:

    Some scholars lament that popular knowledge of colonial-era religion has been flattened into a view of the Virginians as greedy and indolent, while later colonists in Plymouth, Mass., were pious and devout.

    The distinction is rooted in their origins. While Virginians were largely loyal to the Church of England, the pilgrims in Plymouth repudiated the church and came to America to escape it.

    “Fundamentally, they’re different places,” said David D. Hall, a scholar of colonial religion at Harvard Divinity School.

    Religion would still have been central to Jamestown, and theories abound as to why there has been scant attention. Histories tend to emphasize commercial pursuits of its colonists, and scholars also point to the Civil War: with the Union victory, the story of Northern colonial virtues — including piety — triumphed over those of the South. Another view is that Plymouth had a prolific printer and Jamestown did not.

    “You have two very different Christian experiences; both of them can be equally rich and nuanced, but one tended to leave a much richer and more layered testimony about itself,” said Richard Pickering, deputy director of program innovation at Plimoth Plantation, the recreated colonial village in Plymouth that uses the historical spelling of the name.

    There is also a practical reason: until recently, relics of early Jamestown were underground. For centuries, the fort was believed washed into the James River. But Mr. Kelso, unconvinced, began digging along the river’s banks in 1994.

  2. After reading Brooks' gibberish today about the Sun, the Moon and the brutal cleansing deluge followed by Cohen's little jokes about the economic benefits of tsunamis and war (if we just ignore all those dead people), I would like to think that both Anglicans at Jamestown and the Puritans at Plymouth would have sent both of them to the kiddie table for all Thanksgivings in perpetuity.(*)

    *On second thought, they'd probably want to keep both fairly far away from their children.

  3. Yeah, I don't expect Billo will be standing up for Thanksgiving. Too bad, because it's our best holiday!

  4. I guess religion doesn't really count unless it's Protestant.

  5. I'm with hardindr. Shirts vs. skins.

    BTW, the notion that Virginia was completely different from virtuous New England is entirely the invention of pre-Civil War 19th C historians who (surprise!) were New Englanders. They were eager to invent a past based on racial harmony ("The First Thanksgiving!") to distance themselves and their ancestors from the sin of slavery. But English plantations, North and South, had much more in common with each other than not, esp. compared to Native American communities and French and Spanish colonial settlements.

    Church weddings were actually not nec. the norm in the English-speaking world in the 17th C, for a whole variety of reasons, so I'm naturally skeptical of the notion that Pocahontas and Rolfe had a "church wedding."

  6. Also there was a fair number of Native American x Colonist intermarriage in the early generations of the Virginia and North Carolina settlements where it was almost unheard of amongst the Pilgrims....

    My southern ancestors are a direct attestation to this. In three family lines (two maternal, one paternal)I have Native American ancestry mixed with Scottish.

    Oh, and because a significant segment of those 17th and early 18th century immigrants were Scottish (especially in Virginia and North Carolina), Presbyterian was a quite common sect in the early southern colonies alongside Anglican. Baptist didn't become the dominant sect in the south until some time in the 19th century- likely the complete independence of each church in the sect was the big draw amongst southerners... (until the radical right wing take over of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980's. But even now individual churches can outright reject the right winger mindset of the people who control the SBC and have women preachers and espouse socially liberal attitudes and still call themselves a southern Baptist church as long as they chose to maintain membership in the SBC...)

  7. Oh, darn! I wished I'd heard about this "war on Thanksgiving!" :) Someone wished me "Merry Christmas" yesterday and I was speechless.

  8. Did the settlers of Jamestown lynch Quakers or imprison teenage girls? That might be a cultural difference.

  9. War on Christmas is officially over:

  10. gravy, i don't know about the "lynch quakers" part, but they definitely married teenage girls. john rolfe was the jerry lee lewis of his age, marrying young pocahontas when she was around 13 or 14. never let it be said that the original va colonists were a staid & conservative bunch!

    yes, the puritans left england (by way of the netherlands) to escape the repression of the anglican church. upon setting up shop in the ma bay colony, they immediately set about repressing every other religion but their own. this is how roger williams ended up in that colonial era hot spot, rhode island, banned by the puritans, under pain of death should he return. nice bunch.

    as to the actual question: per the historical record, the first "thanksgiving" occured at berkely plantation, va, in 1619, two years before the more famous event in plymouth, in 1621. however, "thanksgiving" celebrations were not a unique event, they happened for all sorts of reasons: a particularly good crop harvest, not having been killed by the (understandably) angry natives or illness, etc. the one at berkely was of the "thank god we made it here in one piece!" variety, while the plymouth version was of the "thank god we had a decent harvest, maybe we won't all starve to death during the coming winter!" variety. the main difference was that the plymouth event had better food and drink.

    given a choice between the two, i'll go for the food and drink pretty much every time, and i'm a native virginian. that said, should you ever have occasion to travel down va rt. 5, i strongly urge you to visit berkley, if you happen to be into historic (and lovely) houses and grounds.

  11. it's a pity i can't spell, otherwise, i might go far! it's "Berkeley Plantation", ancestoral home of the harrisons, of william henry & benjamin fame.

  12. cpinva
    Thanks for the tip. As a DC native I lived in Alexandria, VA, for about 9 yrs, and another 3 in Montgomery Co. MD.
    As a kid, I saw all the sights people go to DC an VA for. My wife wants me to take her to Jamestown. Berkeley Plantation sounds like a must see on that trip.
    By coincidence, I just attended a wedding of an old friend in Alexandria, VA. His bride was named Rebecca, the name Pocahontas took when she married John Rolfe.

  13. hey, you said a while back you had multiple degrees. At the risk of being weird, I've been reading your blog for a while and was wondering where else you went besides Harvard?