As Americans reach for the stuffing and turkey basters, it is well to reflect on the meaning and origins of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

William Bradford, in his classic Of Plymouth Plantation, records that in 1621:
They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strenth and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came firest (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.

A letter by Edward Winslow, dated December 11, 1621, relates:
Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, so we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labours. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king, Massasoit with some 90 men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted.

And so the Pilgrims embarked on their task of founding a new nation, a new culture, a new world. Sustained by their courage and their faith in Providence, they persevered through good times and bad.

But all was not perfect among these early pioneers. For all their virtues and their ideals, they, too, had human failings. Life in the settlements was harsh, and sometimes, despite the Pilgrims' heroic efforts towards virtue, the more unpleasant aspects of human nature emerged. And so we read, in chapter 32 of Bradford, the unfortunate case of a young man who was brought to trial for unnatural acts involving
a mare, a cow, two goats, five sheep, two calves, and a turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving.