Nathaniel Philbrick’s compelling story of the first English settlers to New England starts out, “For sixty-five days, the Mayflower had blundered her way through storms and headwinds, her bottom a shaggy pelt of seaweed and barnacles, her leaky decks spewing salt water onto her passengers’ devoted heads. There were 102 of the them—104, if you counted the two dogs: a spaniel and a giant, slobbery mastiff.” He continues, “They were nearly ten weeks into a voyage that was supposed to have been completed during the balmy days of summer. But they had started late, and it was now November, and winter was coming on” (Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War [New York: Penguin Books, 2006], 3).
They finally settled in what is known today as Massachusetts in 1620. “We do not know the exact date of the celebration we now call the First Thanksgiving,” adds Philbrick, “but it was probably in late September or early October , soon after their crop of corn, squash, beans, barley, and peas had been harvested. It was also a time during which Plymouth Harbor played host to a tremendous number of migrating birds, particularly ducks and geese, and [William] Bradford ordered four men to go out ‘fowling.’ It took only a few hours for Plymouth’s hunters to kill enough duck and geese to feed the settlement for a week. Now that they had ‘gathered the fruits of our labors,’ Bradford declared it a time to ‘rejoice together . . . after a more special manner’” (117).
General George Washington set apart December 18, 1777, as a day of thanksgiving in honor of recent victories in the American War of Independence. Later, President Abraham Lincoln set aside a day to thank God for recent Union victories in the Civil War in 1861. However, it was President Franklin D. Roosevelt who finally established the American tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November in 1941. Today, no matter where we live, we should take time to thank people who have encouraged us, helped us, and strengthened us. Additionally, it seems appropriate to thank God for his blessings, often bestowed on us through others.
At the RSC we are grateful to countless people who support us in our efforts to provide thoughtful essays, books, and conferences about things that matter most. We thank our donors, student staff, and business associates (printers, designers, distributors, and bookstore owners). Most of all, we are grateful to those who take the time to attend one of our conferences or read one of our books. We hope to provide “food for thought” for years to come.