Thanksgiving & beer: The back story

Many of the details in this week’s column are drawn from a 17th-century document called Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims in Plymouth
– and there’s a pretty cool Philadelphia connection to its story.

Mourt's RelationThe document – actually more of a pamphlet published in England in 1622 – is a collection of diaries and journals written mainly by Edward Winslow and William Bradford. It details much of what happened in the first year after the Mayflower landing.

Over the years, most copies disappeared, leaving only abridged versions that omitted any mention of a harvest feast.

The original was mostly forgotten – until 1820, when a long-lost copy turned up in Philadelphia.

(I poked around to learn where, exactly, it was found, and was unable to come up with a definitive answer. My best guess is the re-discovered pamphlet is the same one that had been given to the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1755 as part of its original collection. A spokesman said the Library Company still holds that copy.)

The full version was reprinted in 1841 by Alexander Young, who wrote in a footnote that the Pilgrims’ 1621 feast was “the first Thanksgiving.”

That assertion helped spark a peculiar campaign by Godey’s Lady’s Book, a popular 19th-century Philadelphia magazine, to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. In 1863, President Lincoln established the last Thursday of November “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.”

By the way, the image of the feast above is a fantasy. Neither the Pilgrims nor the Wampanoag dressed anything like that. The work is by Jean-Leon Gerome Ferris, who was born in Philadelphia and trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

A big thanks to the Philadelphia Free Library and the Library Company of Philadelphia for research assistance.

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