Down T'Home

The pilgrims' guns?

By Marion Tucker-Honeycutt | Nov 23, 2017

Some 30 years ago, When I was first writing my column and was editor of the Home & Family page, I came across a Thanksgiving Day column in the Blue Hill paper.

The columnist opined that "obviously" the Pilgrims had neither turkey nor cranberry sauce that first Thanksgiving celebration. (I say "celebration" because what they didn't have was a Thanksgiving DAY. They celebrated, with over a hundred of their Indian friends and neighbors, for three whole days of feasting, singing, dancing and games.)

This writer, relying not on knowledge or even a cursory attempt at research, it would seem, but on just his own mistaken deductions, stated that the Pilgrims surely could not have been able to bag turkeys with those clumsy Blunder Buses they had for guns and implied they would have been too ignorant to know how to get cranberries out of the bogs. (Plymouth is famous for its cranberry bogs.)

Now I had been studying and researching everything Pilgrims — and visited Plymouth Village II — for longer than this feller had been alive. Along with my late aunt, Priscilla Alden (nee Fortier) Jones, I had been doing our family genealogy since in my teens.

Aunt Priscilla was a well-known genealogist/historian here. Her vast collection of work is now housed in the Penobscot Marine Museum with copies in the State Library in Augusta. She was known for her steel trap mind and accuracy. She was interested in names, dates, places from our first ancestors that stepped foot on this side of the pond. Believe me, that's enough to keep you busy for all your years.

I wanted to know what they did, what they thought, how they lived and where the lines led to in the "Old World." In following these lines back hundreds of years — I have one of our lines, through one of my eighth great-great-grandfather's lineage (Capt. Myles Standish), back to 400 A.D. — I learned a lot of history.

I have a small library of books on the Pilgrims, including the famous late 1800s edition of Gov. William Bradford's Journal, "The Bradford History," which is a story all in itself. (He was one of my seventh great-great-grandparents.)

Most people are familiar with the names John and Priscilla Alden (another set of my seventh great-great-grandparents), largely due to Longfellow's book, "The Courtship of Myles Standish." (This used to be a classic taught in school.)

Alden was not a 'Pilgrim" in that he did not belong to the religious group, but was a carpenter hired on as a barrel-maker. Nearly everything was stored in barrels back then.

Before leaving England for the unknown wilderness "full of wilde savages" across the ocean, Alden bought himself what was, for that time, a mighty fine firearm: a Beretta, an Italian-made wheel-lock carbine, known today as "The Mayflower Gun," the only surviving gun of the Mayflower group.

Myles Standish, also not a member of the church, was hired as their military commander. He had fine rifles and a mighty fine sword. His guns are long gone, but his sword, forged of Damascus Steel, was engraved and awarded to him for an above and beyond action in England that saved many lives. It's housed in the Plymouth Museum. He was known as a crack shot and in a demonstration to the Indians, amazed them by hitting the eye of a crow at 80 feet.

So I think they could have bagged some turkeys.

Besides, in Bradford's own handwriting in his Journal, he told of the some of the foods they had that first harvest Thanksgiving that included fish, shellfish, venison and "plentiful wilde foul, including ye turkey." He was there so I'll take his word for it.

As for the cranberries, they not only had a lot of invaluable help from the Indians in catching, growing and collecting local foods, but they had devised these wooden contraptions that they strapped on their boots to keep from sinking in the bogs.

They were a hardy, resourceful group, not an ignorant bunch of nincompoops, like some writers.

For the history and photo of Alden's rifle and how it survived, just search "the Mayflower Gun" and "NRA Firearms Museum Mayflower Gun."

Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, a Maine native and graduate of Belfast schools, now lives in Morrill. Her columns appear in this paper every other week.


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