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Cover-up? Did you know NH's founder
David Thompson saved the Pilgrims?
turkeygate pix

The lid is off, Massachusetts. And we're steaming.

For nearly 375 years Now Hampshire residents have watched Bay Staters wallow in holiday gravy, taking credit for the founding of our Nation, but the cover-up is over. We know there was a second Thanksgiving, and we know why.

It was a neat little scam all right. Just pretend it never happened, pretend that those Massachusetts settlers survived with a little help from the Indians. The truth is, right from the start, New Hampshire was bailing the Pilgrims out of a desperate situation.

The record shows that life took a turn for the worst after that first fat Thanksgiving, and by 1623 people in Plymouth Colony were real depressed, even for Puritans. That's why Governor Bill Bradford sent Miles Standish off to find food, anything to keep the newborn colony alive.

Of course Standish made a beeline north, like a Bostonian heading to New Hampshire for the weekend. He crossed the state border and right away met David Thomson, an early New Hampshire settler, who was only a few weeks into building his great house called Pannaway Manor, which stood near present day Portsmouth. Now we call that scenic spot on the coast Odiorne's Point. It's a big hit with the tourists.

Thomson, an early entrepreneur, dropped his housework and brought as much codfish as he and his crew of fishermen could carry down to Plymouth. He knew the Separatists were an odd lot who liked to exile themselves from other countries (They had already moved to Holland, and they were never "kicked out'' of England as many believe.), but New Hampshire's first citizen was big hearted.

Old English records show that Thomson might have been a Scot, and that he was definitely an apothecary. The documents describe Thomson as a just, scholarly, and gentle man who could easily converse with the Indians. Thomson was the kind of self-made, selfless, fish seller you could build a holiday around.

According to Pilgrim father Edward Winslow, that's exactly what happened in July 1623. In a letter to a friend in England, Winslow mentioned a terrible famine and the fortuitous arrival of a man from "Pascatoquack, where he liketh well". Those of us who today live on the Piscataqua River still like it well.

Soon after Thomson and his cod came to the rescue, a supply ship from the hinterland arrived, and Pilgrim father Winslow wrote that it would not be proper to "content ourselves with private thanksgiving for that, which by private prayer could not be obtained." So, in the Pilgrim's words, another solemn day was set apart and appointed for that end." Thanksgiving II, courtesy of New Hampshire.

The Codfish Thanksgiving never made it into the history books. Bradford wasn't going to let a fishmonger from the Granite State take the tang out of his cranberry sauce. Bradford does mention Thomson's visit in his chronicle of Plymouth Plantation, but says nothing of the celebration. Whenever he mentions Thomson again in his writings, it is only to carp about how the man's crew was overfishing the Atlantic Ocean, or to complain that the Piscataqua settler was giving shelter to the rogues being tossed out of Plymouth. Thomson, you will remember was a kind hearted sort.

A few years later, even Winslow was referring to the commercially successful fishing settlement at Pannaway as just another "abortive attempt" at colonization. Next thing you know, the Massachusetts Bay Colony decided to annex the whole state of New Hampshire. But we're used to the abuse.

Why the coverup of Thanksgiving II? It's as simple as the message Deep Throat whispered to Robert Redford in an underground parking garage in that movie about Watergate "Follow the money." This Turkeygate scandal incriminates everyone trom Squanto to John Smith, from the makers of Hallmark cards to whom ever butters those Butterball turkeys.

Think about it. Where are the little candles shaped like David Thomson and his wife Amias, the little codfish mobiles, the popout centerpieces of Pannaway Manor? Somehow, even way back then, Bradford knew he was sitting on a gold mine with Thanksgiving. It had all the elements of commercial success, an emerging nation, Indians, adventure, religion, feasting, family strife, racial harmony, colorful costumes. The spinoff products would dwarf Star Trek, Power Rangers and 101 Dalmations combined.

How Bradford managed to control all the vendor licenses is still uncertain, but the paperwork will drift to the surface someday. Despite similar ceremonies from Maine to Virginia, he managed to stamp Thanksgiving indelibly with the Massachusetts state seal. Today his ancestors reportedly still squeeze a secret user-fee out of every pumpkin pie and every Thanksgiving TV special.

Few know that it was Sara Hale a woman from New Hampshire who convinced Abraham Lincoln to proclaim Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. She brought her case to the media for 20 years until she won. Well, a loyal band of David Thomson fans are forming and we want restitution. We demand that the New Hampshire fisherman be raised to his rightful position in the Thanksgiving ceremony. And until Massachusetts recants, we are going to keep writing these cod pieces.

By J. Dennis Robinson
1997 All Rights Reserved
Art by Reggie Logan

Related web pages:
Souvenirs of Plymouth Rock
Plymouth Disposable Camera Tours
Outgrowing the Pilgrims
Seacoast Contact Era History
Brewster's Rambles/ Pannaway Manor

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