Saturday, December 15, 2018


11/21/18 The Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Every November, I like to look back at the humble beginnings of this place that we call home— the United States of America. This year, as usual, our super-power country is in the midst of controversies of every kind. They include on-going wars and conflicts, political differences, homelessness, inequality, devastating climate changes, and more. It has ever been so. Nevertheless, we have a mighty fine place to call home.

I love stories of our founding parents and what life was like in 1620 when the Pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock in the Americas. And yes, I know that long before the Pilgrims arrived, the area had been visited by sea-going travelers from Africa, China, Europe and the Vikings. And we all know that Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492!

But it was the Pilgrims who settled into the land when they arrived on our shores in 1620. They had previously lived in England under religious persecution and moved to Holland where there were other problems. So, off they sailed to the Americas. Now if that wasn’t bravery, I don’t know what is. Because this was no cruise ship that they were on.

They had planned to cross the ocean on the Speedwell, a passenger ship, but it developed mechanical problems. Instead, they boarded its sister ship, the Mayflower. A freighter, it was not built to carry passengers. Quarters were tight, food was rationed, the seas were rough, storms caused leaks and weakness in the structure, people were sick and one person died.

It took about 66 days to get to the new world. Their planned destination was the Colony of Virginia but the winter weather forced them to return to Cape Cod. There were about 30 crew and 102 passengers aboard.  

After the ship dropped anchor on Nov. 11, 1620, the new settlers had the foresight to write and sign the Mayflower Compact. Some of the passengers were non-Puritans who wanted to proclaim their own liberty. The Pilgrims wanted to establish their own govt. while affirming allegiance to the Crown of England. The result was an agreement in which all 41 of the male passengers consented to follow the community’s rules for the sake of order and survival. They were off to a good start.

That first winter was brutal. There was no local lumber yard to buy supplies. They had to build crude shelters from whatever was at hand. Food was scarce and there was no medicine to treat diseases like pneumonia.  Sources say that at one point each person could only eat 5 kernels of corn daily.

 Starvation, disease and exposure soon killed half the population. Only 53 adults survived that first winter. Fourteen of the 18 adult women died. Weak and hungry, they gave their children food and herbal medicines. Eleven of the 31 children died. Orphans were taken in by other families. Two baby boys had been born on the Mayflower journey. One died at 2 years of age. Another boy, Peregrine White was born nine days after they landed and he lived to be 83 years old.

Strangely enough, the Pilgrims had landed in an area where some Europeans had settled in the mid-1610s. An epidemic wiped out most of their coastal population. According to historian Charles Mann, “Plymouth was on top of a village that had been deserted by disease. The pilgrims didn’t know it but they were moving into a cemetery.”

Enter Squanto. He was the only living Patuxent Indian in the area. He had survived slavery in England and knew the language. He taught the Pilgrims to grow corn, fish and negotiated a peace treaty between them and the Wampanoag Native Americans.

The arrival and generosity of the Wampanoag’s saved the Pilgrim immigrants from starvation and death. They welcomed the newcomers and taught them what they needed to know to raiser bumper crops of corn, beans and more. Both sides abided by the peace treaty.

So where does Thanksgiving come in? Well, the religious Pilgrims yearly celebrated days of thanksgiving—days of prayer, not feasting. In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag celebrated the colony’s first successful harvest with venison supplied by the Indians. The feast lasted three days and was attended by 63 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans. Two years later in 1623, the colonists gave thanks to God for rain after a two-month drought and Thanksgiving feasting became a yearly event.

This year, as we celebrate Thanksgiving and our many personal blessings, let us also remember our foundation. We are a unique, mixed nation of people, laws and compassion—built by immigrants and mutual respect. Let us never forget that we are blessed in so many ways.

Happy Thanksgiving and God bless you all!

Contact Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox at