On Thanksgiving 2022 – and an Unknown American Icon

 John Howland – a Mayflower pilgrim – holding on for dear life in the cold North Atlantic

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A note: For the most recent post see On Saints Peter and Paul, January ’23.

(I’m not sure why the platform is doing that…)

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I just googled “what’s new for Thanksgiving 2022.” The answer is apparently “not much.” (Which could be a good thing; who needs more excitement?) So, aside from getting stuffed with turkey and fixings, the big news is a full slate of football, college and NFL. (Thanksgiving Football Schedule: Egg Bowl tops Turkey Day marathon: The Egg Bowl has Mississippi State playing “Ole Miss,” along with three NFL games.) So I guess I’ll have to revisit some old posts from the past…

Like Thanksgiving – 2021. Two years before that – meaning before COVID – I posted Thanksgiving 2019. Before that came three earlier posts, on Thanksgivings in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Before that – in 2014 – I posted On the first Thanksgiving – Part I and Part II. That Part II has – I just discovered – some errors that need correcting. The most noticeable is a missing lead painting, showing John Howland, holding on for dear life in the middle of a North Atlantic storm, with only the slenderist of lifelines back to the Mayflower, far off in the distance.

So maybe it’s time to revisit Howland’s story, because he not only survived that “adventure,” he went on to populate America with 2 million descendants. Interestingly, he came over as an indentured servant, but signed the Mayflower Compact in 1620. He went on to serve as trusted assistant to Governor Carver, and in 1621 helped make a treaty with the Sachem Massasoit of the Wampanoag tribe. By 1626 he’d finished his indenture and become a “freeman.” 

In the years after becoming a freeman, Howland “served at various times as selectman, assistant and deputy governor, surveyor of highways, and as member of the fur committee.” And aside from various adventures during the early years of Plymouth Colony, Howland married Elizabeth Tilley. The couple then started what became a dynasty of sorts: 

John and Elizabeth Howland founded one of the three largest Mayflower families and their descendants have been “associated largely with both the ‘Boston Brahmins‘ and Harvard’s ‘intellectual aristocracy’ of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.” American actors Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957), Anthony Perkins (1932-1992), and Alec Baldwin (b. 1958) are counted among Howland’s descendants.

Howland died at the ripe old age of 80, outliving “most of the other male Mayflower passengers.” And left quite a legacy, detailed at Meet John Howland, a lucky Pilgrim who populated America with 2 million descendants. But first he and the other Plymouth Pilgrims had to survive. On the voyage over two people died, and once they arrived in America, “in the space of several months, almost half the passengers perished in the cold, harsh, unfamiliar New England winter.”

I’ve listed the gory details of that first harsh winter, and the First Thanksgiving that followed a year later in 1621. Which brings up the ongoing “need for a reality check every so often:”

102 [Pilgrims] landed in November 1620 [at Plymouth Rock].  Less than half survived the next year.  (To November 1621.)  Of the handful of adult women – 18 in all – only four survived that first winter in the hoped-for “New World…”  The point is this[:  T]he men and women who first settled America paid a high price, so that we could enjoy the privilege of stuffing ourselves into a state of stupor.

So, as we stuff ourselves into a stupor this Thanksgiving, let’s remember that after this national “Splurge Day,” it’ll be time to get back to work. And to remember that when it comes to Jesus:

It is to vigor rather than comfort that you are called.

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And don’t forget to remember those not “home for Thanksgiving…”

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Re: The upper image is courtesy of Meet John Howland, a lucky Pilgrim who populated America with 2 million descendants.

Re: Book of Common Prayer. At page 339.

Re: Howland’s “indenture.” Wikipedia noted that William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Colony for years, “wrote in Of Plymouth Plantation that Howland was a man-servant of John Carver.”

Re: “vigor rather than comfort.” The quote is from Practical Mysticism, by Evelyn Underhill:

Hearing now and again the mysterious piping of the Shepherd, you realize your own perpetual forward movement . . . and so are able to handle life with a surer hand.  Do not suppose from this that your new career is to be perpetually supported by agreeable spiritual contacts, or occupy itself in the mild contemplation of the great world through which you move.  True, it is said of the Shepherd that he carries the lambs in his bosom; but the sheep are expected to walk, and to put up with the bunts and blunders of the flock.  It is to vigor rather than comfort that you are called.  (E.A.)

Ariel Press (1914), at page 177. See also Evelyn Underhill – Wikipedia.

The lower image is courtesy of Norman Rockwell’s Beloved “Home For Thanksgiving” Sells For $4.3 Million to Benefit American Legion Post. The article further noted:

The painting was one of Rockwell’s legendary homecoming pieces painted as war began transitioning to peacetime. For The Saturday Evening Post he painted myriad images of the soldier home from war, including the iconic “Homecoming GI” that appeared in May 1945 and was famously used in the film “Broadcast News.” “Home for Thanksgiving” became so beloved because it showed “the veteran doing K.P. (kitchen patrol) and liking it…

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