Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Acorns Revive Pilgrims

I'm farther along in reading Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick (which I highly recommend), and continuing to look for acorn references.  It didn't take long.

After a harrowing first winter* during which more than half their number perished, the Pilgrims, with Squanto (who had previously been given a 6 year all-expenses paid tour of Europe... as a captive) acting as intermediary, struck an alliance of friendship with Massasoit, sachem of the Pokanoket people.

Later that summer Governor William Bradford dispatches Stephen Hopkins and Edward Winslow to travel with Squanto to visit Massasoit with the goal of strengthening friendship.  Just a brief 40 mile two day hike.  At noon of the second day the group stops for a quick lunch of herring and boiled acorns... the 17th century version of fast food!  Except that this fast food won't kill you.

* Of course much of the reason that first winter was harrowing was that the Mayflower arrived in New England on November 11, 1620 just in time for winter.  Remember that this was the "little ice age" with much harsher winters, and it snowed just a few days after they arrived (sounds like Minnesota where we've had snow on the ground since November 13).  They had no shelter and were short of rations.  Not a recipe for success.  By spring 52 of the original 102 settlers would be dead.

The summer of 1620 went well.  After getting off to a bad start by stealing corn from the local Indians' cache and looting one of their graves, the Pilgrims were able to achieve friendly relations with several local sachems.  With Indian expertise and assistance they were able to grow a good crop of food, enough to see them through the winter ahead...

... until another ship arrives in November, 1621 with 37 more settlers sent by Mayflower "adventurer" (financier) Thomas Weston.  Not only does Weston send 37 more mouths to feed and bodies to house just before winter, he doesn't send them with any additional provisions.  Even better, the passengers carry a letter from Weston berating the Pilgrims for sending the Mayflower back the previous spring without enough saleable trade goods!

This time they send the ship back to England loaded with beaver pelts and other valuable goods.  I would have included a letter saying, "Dear Tom, Sorry the return voyage of the Mayflower was light on trade goods.  Providing a return on your investment must have slipped our minds, since the majority of us were busy dying.  Your humble servant, William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth Plantation (because Carver is dead)"

Can't wait to see how they make it through the winter of 1621/22.  All the sustenance they need had fallen from the oak and chestnut trees the month before.  Stay tuned.

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