Recognizing the Plymouth Thanksgiving: How the Pilgrims became America's forefathers
In American lore, Plymouth, Massachusetts, holds a singular place.
It's known as the site of the colony founded in 1620 by the Pilgrims, passengers on the iconic ship, the Mayflower, and host to the first Thanksgiving feast.
The town has not always been well known. The town and the Pilgrims who created it were largely forgotten for 200 years until December 22, 1820.
On that day, the great orator Daniel Webster traveled to Plymouth from Boston to take part in the bicentennial celebration of the Pilgrims' landing. So great was his speech that it became known as the "Plymouth oration."
Before 1,500 people seated on wooden benches in the meetinghouse, he said, in part:
"We have come to this Rock to record here our homage for our Pilgrim Fathers; our sympathy in their sufferings; our gratitude for their labors, our admiration of their virtues; our veneration for their piety, and our attachment to those principles of civil and religious liberty...
"We listen to the chiefs in council ... We are filled with reverence and admiration for the mild dignity of Carver and Bradford, the decisive military air of Standish, the devout Brewster, the enterprising Allerton..."
Webster's oration started the elevation of the Pilgrims to the status of forefathers of the nation. At that time, the recently independent America needed an event and a place that rooted the country to its founding history.
They needed a founding location. Jamestown in Virginia was a candidate as was Plymouth in Massachusetts. Jamestown had an advantage because it was founded 13 years before the Pilgrims landed. But Plymouth offered a moral authority, thanks to the words of Daniel Webster.
Though the great Thanksgiving feast occurred 396 years ago, we still follow the Pilgrims' lead in being thankful for our blessings on Thanksgiving Day.