Guest Author - Lisa Shea
The third Thursday in November is Thanksgiving in the US, celebrating the first year's harvest of the pilgrims in Plymouth Colony. Just what was the turkey's part in this?
Early America was a higly strict, religious place. The settlers were strongly God-fearing people who wished to practice their style of religion unfettered by the "corruption" (as they saw it) of Europe and England. They did not celebrate Christmas or other holidays. They saw their duty to worship God every day, evenly, with hard work and high moral standards.
After many decades, though, some celebrations began to spring up as more immigrants came in. By the 1700s and 1800s there were autumn festivals being held, to give "Thanks" for the bounty of nature. At the time Indians were still being fought by many settlers, so the thought of this being a peaceful time with the native Americans was not brought up.
In 1841, the letters from 1621 that discussed the first 'fall harvest celebration' were discovered by a historian. By the early 1900s, the story of the "first Thanksgiving" was being taught in schools as a way to bring together a country that had grown very large and diverse.
That all being said, there WAS of course a feast for those hearty souls who survived the hardships of the first year in their new home, and Indians shared in the feast. There was "fowl", and although turkey isn't specifically mentioned, it's known that wild turkey was eaten regularly by both the indians and newcomers. Some feel that, given the way the description reads, geese or duck are more likely. There weren't potatoes, no popcorn, and the cranberries were probably raw. There would be venison and Indian corn.
But back to the turkey. There were millions of turkeys in the US before the pilgrims moved in, and they were a substantial source of food for indians and pilgrims. But as the population boomed and land was cleared for homes and farming, turkeys had a rough time. By 1920, they were completely gone from 18 states. The bird was almost considered endangered. In the 1950s and 1960s, a renewed effort was made to restore the wild turkey.
With fewer people bothering to hunt their own food, and more land going back into forest as fewer people farm, the turkeys have had a great resurgence. From under 1/2 million in the late 50s, there are now over 4 million wild turkeys in the US, and the numbers keep growing. Turkeys can be found in every state except Alaska. In fact, in some areas of the country, wild turkeys are becoming a nuisance!
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