For most of us down South, Thanksgiving memories are guided by food. Forget the turkey, we wait with dread and delight then debate until Christmas what new ingredients were added that year to the corn bread dressing. Oysters, walnuts, leeks, sausage, chili’s . . . they all have a try and are endlessly critiqued, joked about and secretly avoided for years to come. And forget stuffing. Nothing but suspicion can come from dark crumbles hidden inside a turkey.
We also ask a blessing from Almighty God over our Thanksgiving dinner. Southerners remain a thankful people though I am afraid that we are moving toward a time when the reason for our thanks will be called into question. Not contemporary thanks for safety, health, family, jobs, material goods, Clemson’s undefeated football team or a Gamecock resurrection. Those thanks should be part of our daily ablutions anyway and they carry no historical baggage other than an assumptive belief in God that is individual in practice and is no problem to our secular society as long as our beliefs do not lead to action, but that is another type of liberal stuffing altogether.
The Thanksgiving to be shortly called into question was offered by those irritating Christian separatists at Plymouth Colony. If you recall the story from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (who with The Andy Griffith Show remain the best ambassadors for traditional America) the first thanksgiving was offered to God by the Pilgrims for surviving. Period. They received help from Native Americans, or Indians as we used to call them in elementary school, and the Pilgrims invited them to the feast. In the Charlie Brown version, Linus even talks about how Pocahontas married John Rolfe thus making the head of the colony the Indian chiefs son-in-law. Then Snoopy makes his toast and popcorn dinner and the Native Americans are sadly forgotten.
Of course, we cannot rely totally on Linus for the truth of it all but he gets close in spite of tv time constraints.
Thirteen years after establishing Jamestown Colony with a group of gentlemen entrepreneurs, the Virginia Company of London established Plymouth Colony in 1620 with a group of English Christian dissenters that had been chased out of several countries for being obnoxious – a lasting Northern trait. Both colonies were intended to be moneymakers for their investors.
The Christian dissenters were way behind the prospering gentlemen of Jamestown. By the time the Mayflower arrived, the Jamestown colonists were so intent on turning a profit that they had already started I-95. Of course, I jest, as a national gas tax had not been levied yet.
Seriously, when the Mayflower finally dropped anchor, Jamestown had already established a representative government for free Englishmen, defined limited indentured servitude for destitute Englishmen, set an open-ended indentured servitude for immigrating Europeans and forced chattel slavery onto kidnapped Africans. Tobacco became the rage in England and the colonies grew until war broke out with the Native Americans. Since most of us will not have any Native American guests at Thanksgiving dinner today, we know how that dreadful story ended.
The colonists at Jamestown, Plymouth and Charles Town, with their unique blend of religious freedom, secular enterprise, and forced labor combined with their ability to independently defend themselves by force of arms cast into our national character the tensions that drive our political debate today. They also cast America as the land of opportunity, a land where a person can be free to worship and work as he sees fit, a land that we still openly thank God for – at least this year.
For the Day of Apology comes, in spite of the liberty, material blessings and opportunity now available for the descendants of all – English, European, African, Native American and then all others. The apology will be demanded by those who have lost or never been properly taught their own self-identity or the value of national character. The apology will be demanded by a growing number of Americans who are unable to understand our complex history and who will be unable to keep the blessings those early colonists bequeathed us. They believe that ancient wrongs rather than current opportunity define their future.
So, before you carve up the turkey or pinch a taste of the dressing, take a moment to reflect on the miraculous foundation of our America and thank the first Christian refugees who along with their more freewheeling Southern cousins endured much hardship and formed who we are today.
For your consideration, a modern translation of the Mayflower Compact:
In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, defender of the Faith, etc.:
Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith, and the honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another; covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.
In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, 1620.