Having served in the Virginia Tidewater area of the Chesapeake Bay area for nearly 14 years as an Episcopal Priest, I heard multiple times the story of how the actual first Thanksgiving took place on Berkley Plantation up the James River and not in Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. Even the date difference seems to authenticate the "First Prize" to the Virginians given that their settlement dates 1607 in Jamestown to Plymouth Colony's 1620. Even Old St. John's in Hampton, Va. (Originally known as the settlement of Kechoutan) where I served as Associate Rector originated in 1610 and has celebrated its 400th Birthday last year!
Anyway, the story goes that after a severe winter and bouts with brackish water to drink, malaria due to mosquitoes, and the total learning curve how to survive the new wilderness that challenged their visions of quick wealth, treasure, and financial gain, they were humbled to meager levels. Additional setbacks came from attacks from local native Indian tribes. It seemed a bleak outlook for the fledgling settlement. There was even a shift for a while to the end of the Virginia Peninsula to regain stability and health and a retry attempt to then settle the area near Jamestown permanently.
In the midst of the severe winter they had to endure, some of the gentile members thought it below themselves to work as common laborers doing the meager chores and tasks to support the colony. As things got even worse and with the depletion of what stores they were able to stock, things got very dire! It became the rule that "No Work - No Food!" and at the lowest part of the winter siege, the daily ration was 4, that's right, only 4 kernels of corn per day! Half of the population didn't make it to Spring.
A friendly tribe of Indians came to their aid and began to teach them proper agricultural methods, as well as basic survival techniques and practices that enabled times to become more pleasant and survivable. By the roll of time to the next fall, there was a harvest to be gathered and the colony was poised for a much better transition for the coming winter.
With a spirit of Thanksgiving, a shared banquet of the bounty took place at the site of today's Berkley Plantation overlooking the James River. As they all gathered to feast, they were quickly brought back to a sober reality of the year past when they viewed at each place setting, 4 kernels of corn. The sacramental symbol that was present in those kernels not only summed up a year of loss and death of loved ones, of hard labor and effort on behalf of those who survived the year, but also a joy of thanksgiving for new friends and relationships that mentored them into a status that was hopeful for their future. After the prayerful pause and reflection, the feast proceeded with much joy and celebration.
I share this story at a time when many would say that we are going through "Tough Times" in our communities, our country and in the world's context. I to some extent, I agree! Many are out of a job, many are separated from loved ones, and there is an over arching sense of scarcity that presses our senses that yearn for abundance. We don't like sacrifice and loss or pain and suffering. It comes even though we try to stave it off from our lives. But I also know that God's Grace does enable those who desire to stick with the plan, abundance will and does come around again.
I am saddened that there actually will be people in this world that will not even have 4 kernels of anything to eat this coming day or week or on Thanksgiving Day. We must surely do as we are able to try and turn that scenario around as soon as we can. We must all "work" to lesson that plight. I also know that the level of that hunger is far greater than I alone can solve or meet the magnitude of need.
As a starting point, I offer the following idea: As your family gathers around a table that groans with the weight of harvest that you have worked very hard to provide, place 4 kernels of corn at each place setting of your family and guests, share the story of those first Thanksgiving Day recipients, and then vow to move from that day and to make a difference in your daily endeavors from then on to enable someone else in this world to know what it is like to have a daily meal, a crust of bread, a bowl of soup, a drink of clear drinkable water; and then act to do something about it within the coming year.
Happy Thanksgiving to all and may your travels to be with loved ones be safe and covered in God's most Gracious Mercy!