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The President Pardons the ‎National Thanksgiving Turkey 2015        The White House        25 November 2015


President Obama

pardons Abe and its alternate Honest,

the National Thanksgiving Turkeys,

in a Rose Garden ceremony.


November 25, 2015.





















Gary Varvel

The Indianapolis Star-News



7 November 2010


















Jimmy Margulies

The Record

New Jersey


7 November 2010






























Mayflower        1620


In September 1620,

a merchant ship

called the Mayflower

set sail from Plymouth,

a port

on the southern coast

of England.



the Mayflower’s cargo

was wine and dry goods,

but on this trip

the ship carried passengers:

102 of them,

all hoping to start a new life

on the other side of the Atlantic.


Nearly 40 of these passengers

were Protestant Separatists

–they called themselves “Saints”–

who hoped to establish a new church

in the New World.



we often refer

to the colonists

who crossed the Atlantic

on the Mayflower

as “Pilgrims.”




The colonists

spent the first winter,

which only 53 passengers

and half the crew survived,

living onboard the Mayflower.

(The Mayflower

sailed back to England

in April 1621.)


Once they moved ashore,

the colonists faced

even more challenges.


During their first winter

in America,

more than half

of the Plymouth colonists

died from malnutrition,


and exposure

to the harsh New England weather.


In fact, without the help

of the area’s native people,

it is likely that

none of the colonists

would have survived.


An English-speaking

Pawtuxet named Samoset

helped the colonists

form an alliance

with the local Wampanoags,

who taught them

how to hunt local animals,

gather shellfish and grow corn,

beans and squash.


At the end of the next summer,

the Plymouth colonists celebrated

their first successful harvest

with a three-day

festival of thanksgiving.


We still commemorate

this feast today.














Mayflower Compact > Full text


The Mayflower Compact,

signed by 41 English colonists

on the ship Mayflower

on November 11, 1620,

was the first written

framework of government

established in what is now

the United States.


The compact

was drafted

to prevent dissent

amongst Puritans

and non-separatist Pilgrims

who had landed at Plymouth

a few days earlier.





































Cape Cod






Plymouth colony























Native American Girls Describe the REAL History Behind Thanksgiving        November 2016




Native American Girls Describe the REAL History Behind Thanksgiving | Teen Vogue        23 November 2016


6 Native American girls school us

on the REAL history of Thanksgiving.



























Thanksgiving day



























watch?v=K7jLeBWMA0U - Teen Vogue - 23 November 2016






























http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=90034700 - July 17, 2011







http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120863163 - Nov. 26, 2009


















celebrate Thanksgiving








New York Times > Thanksgiving help line

















Thanksgiving Recipes        NYT        Playlist





Thanksgiving Recipes | The New York Times        Playlist



































cartoons > Cagle > Turkeys 2013






turkey > president > pardon























Thanksgiving day > Cartoons > Cagle > Turkeys!        November 2010












Thanksgiving Day parades






Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade        UK / USA












Cartoons > Cagle > Tight Thanksgiving        November 2010











The Horrible History of Thanksgiving

Before you fill your plate,
please remember why we mark this day.


Nov. 27, 2019
Charles M. Blow
Opinion Columnist


When I was a child, Thanksgiving was simple. It was about turkey and dressing, love and laughter, a time for the family to gather around a feast and be thankful for the year that had passed and be hopeful for the year to come.

In school, the story we learned was simple, too: Pilgrims and Native Americans came together to give thanks.

We made pictures of the gathering, everyone smiling. We colored turkeys or made them out of construction paper. We sometimes had a mini-feast in class.

I thought it was such a beautiful story: People reaching across race and culture to share with one another, to commune with one another. But that is not the full story of Thanksgiving. Like so much of American history, the story has had its least attractive features winnow away — white people have been centered in the narrative and all atrocity has been politely papered over.

So, let us correct that.

What is widely viewed as the first Thanksgiving was a three-day feast to which the Pilgrims had invited the local Wampanoag people as a celebration of the harvest.

About 90 came, almost twice the number of Pilgrims. This is the first myth: that the first Thanksgiving was dominated by the Pilgrim and not the Native American. The Native Americans even provided the bulk of the food, according to the Manataka American Indian Council.

This is counter to the Pilgrim-centric view so often presented. Indeed, two of the most famous paintings depicting the first Thanksgiving — one by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe and the other by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris — feature the natives in a subservient position, outnumbered and crouching on the ground on the edge of the frame.

The Pilgrims had been desperate and sick and dying but had finally had some luck with crops.

The second myth is that the Wampanoag were feasting with friends. That does not appear to be true.

As Peter C. Mancall, a professor at the University of Southern California, wrote for CNN on Wednesday, Gov. William Bradford would say in his book “Of Plymouth Plantation,” which he began to write in 1630, that the Puritans had arrived in “a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men.”

Mancall further explained that after the visits to the New World by Samuel de Champlain and Capt. John Smith in the early 1600s, “a terrible illness spread through the region” among the Native Americans. He continued: “Modern scholars have argued that indigenous communities were devastated by leptospirosis, a disease caused by Old World bacteria that had likely reached New England through the feces of rats that arrived on European ships.”

This weakening of the native population by disease from the new arrivals’ ships created an opening for the Pilgrims.

King James’s patent called this spread of disease “a wonderfull Plague” that might help to devastate and depopulate the region. Some friends.

But many of those native people not killed by disease would be killed by direct deed.

As Grace Donnelly wrote in a 2017 piece for Fortune:

The celebration in 1621 did not mark a friendly turning point and did not become an annual event. Relations between the Wampanoag and the settlers deteriorated, leading to the Pequot War. In 1637, in retaliation for the murder of a man the settlers believed the Wampanoags killed, they burned a nearby village, killing as many as 500 men, women, and children. Following the massacre, William Bradford, the Governor of Plymouth, wrote that for “the next 100 years, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by a Governor was in honor of the bloody victory, thanking God that the battle had been won.”

Just 16 years after the Wampanoag shared that meal, they were massacred.

This was just one of the earliest episodes in which settlers and colonists did something horrible to the natives. There would be other massacres and many wars.

According to History.com, “From the time Europeans arrived on American shores, the frontier — the edge territory between white man’s civilization and the untamed natural world — became a shared space of vast, clashing differences that led the U.S. government to authorize over 1,500 wars, attacks and raids on Indians, the most of any country in the world against its indigenous people.”

And this says nothing of all the treaties brokered and then broken or all the grabbing of land removing populations, including the most famous removal of natives: the Trail of Tears. Beginning in 1831, tens of thousands of Native Americans were forced to relocate from their ancestral lands in the Southeast to lands west of the Mississippi River. Many died along the way.

I spent most of my life believing a gauzy, kindergarten version of Thanksgiving, thinking only of feasts and family, turkey and dressing.

I was blind, willfully ignorant, I suppose, to the bloodier side of the Thanksgiving story, to the more honest side of it.

But I’ve come to believe that is how America would have it if it had its druthers: We would be blissfully blind, living in a soft world bleached of hard truth. I can no longer abide that.

The Horrible History of Thanksgiving,
Nov.27, 2019,






An Earlier November

in the New World


November 23, 2011
The New York Times

On Thanksgiving it’s usual to think back to that first feast, one far better known in custom and imagination than it is in fact. What is certain is that in 1620, when the Mayflower was rounding into shoal waters near Cape Cod, there was little reason, apart from faith, to expect that the settlement its passengers hoped to found would succeed. By the following autumn more than half of the 101 humans on board the Mayflower would be dead.

For all the natural wealth of this new world, it also turned the Pilgrims’ knowledge into ignorance. Their English seeds were nearly useless. They carried with them barely enough food to sustain themselves and the ship’s crew until April 1621, when the Mayflower returned to England. Had it not been for the agriculture of local American Indian tribes, already tragically decimated by European diseases, the Plymouth colony would surely have followed earlier New World settlements into extinction.

To us, looking back from the staggering opulence of the present day, life in 1620 looks more than threadbare. It looks all the barer the more accurately you understand it. But it was life. And while there is life, there is always room for thanks, for a gratitude that is never threadbare. It is not the feast we give thanks for, but our presence at it.

One of those early settlers called America “a most hopeful place.” We accept that now as nearly a truism. But it took a certain cast of mind to see a hopeful place in those grim November woods, in the early snows of 1620, among the lingering effects of nine hard weeks at sea. In that cast of mind, you quickly learn to give thanks abundant for being present at the feast of life, just as we do today.

An Earlier November in the New World, NYT, 23.11.2011,






Enduring Thanksgiving


November 23, 2011
The New York Times


San Francisco

LAST Thanksgiving my girlfriend and I flew to Milwaukee to spend the long weekend with her parents and sister. Caitlin and I had been dating for over a year and a half, and I felt comfortable enough around her family. But things always got tough for me around the holidays, and it didn’t help that Caitlin’s family was so close, so affectionate, always hugging and teasing. Caitlin and I had just moved in together, and her mom — mildly religious and deeply sarcastic — had started referring to me as her “sin-in-law.”

I’d told myself this trip was no big deal, but as soon as we set foot in the house, I started acting aloof and grouchy. At the table for the big meal, I could mumble only a brusque, impersonal thanks for “good food and hospitality.”

“Lame,” Caitlin’s mom said, calling me out. “Boy, that was truly lame.”

Later, doing the dishes, I dropped a glass Caitlin handed me and started shouting at her. When everyone went out to a movie, I stayed home. I went upstairs to Caitlin’s childhood room, pulled the covers over my head and sobbed.

Thanksgiving is an emigrant’s holiday, first celebrated, legend has it, by the settlers of the Plymouth colony in desperate gratitude to God for their first good harvest. The previous winter, they had lost nearly half their number to starvation, illness and attacks. A successful harvest, along with the peaceful participation of the Wampanoag Indians in the feast, meant that from that point on the Pilgrims might endure.

Few Americans know that the Mayflower initially embarked not from Plymouth but from Southampton, my birthplace. When I was 7, my family emigrated from southern England to the Midwest, our pilgrimage for a job my dad had landed that, my parents prayed, would finally lift us out of working poverty. We spent our first Thanksgiving with work friends of my dad’s, the Stiers, a brash, beautifully welcoming heartland couple who plied us with Tater Tot casserole, green-bean casserole, fried onions, candied yams and — most curious — ambrosia (which, after a few gooey spoonfuls, seemed the very symbol of the giddy, stomach-sick feeling of being briskly ushered into a new culture).

Our friendship with the Stiers ended after they asked my dad to come in on a risky business venture and he refused. But by that time we were versed in Thanksgiving ritual. In the kitchen, Dad forwent the marshmallow-centric sides, substituting favorites from across the pond: roast parsnips, toad-in-the-hole, bread sauce, stump. But we weren’t just turning Thanksgiving into a larger version of an English Sunday roast. By choosing to celebrate the holiday — as we came to celebrate the Fourth of July — we were staking our claim on this new life, declaring that, despite homesickness and hard winters, we intended to endure and make a permanent settlement.

For the Pilgrims, the trials were long and began even before they reached these shores. Two hundred miles out of port, the Mayflower’s sister ship, the Speedwell, started leaking, and the expedition had to make a pit stop in Plymouth, England. The Mayflower continued on, burdened with extra passengers; the Speedwell was abandoned.

My family, too, was scuppered mid-journey. The summer before I went away to college, my mother was given a diagnosis of terminal brain cancer. When I came home for Thanksgiving, she was so far gone she didn’t even remember my name. At the table, I watched in gutsick horror as she drooled chewed-up turkey and cranberry sauce down her chin. After she died, my father and my younger brother went to war with one another, Dad threatening Rory with military academy and expulsion from the house if he didn’t shape up and quit drinking, smoking weed and staying out all night with friends.

The next two Thanksgivings the three of us came together for the few hours it took to pick over a meal, but the only words I remember Dad actually addressing to Rory were “pass the bread sauce.” That winter, my brother was killed in a car accident, out with his buddies on their way to a party, and my father, shattered by grief, set to the business of drinking himself to death. Our last Thanksgiving together, just the two of us, he was too wasted to eat the meal he’d spent all day preparing.

I spent the next seven holidays in seven different places, most often with friends and their families, as an extra guest at their tables, the English guy with the Midwestern accent, the guy without a family of his own.

When Caitlin, her mom, dad and sister got back from the movie, they caught me raiding the fridge. I’d crawled out from under the covers with bleary eyes and bedhead, and they started peppering me with jokes. When I looked hurt, Caitlin’s mom gave me a hug and tousled my hair. “Come on, kiddo,” she said, “you’re gonna have to take it like the rest of us.” She was still joking around, but she wasn’t.

That night, lying awake next to Caitlin, I tried to pick apart my feelings.

I was scared of committing, really committing, to this relationship. And I missed Mom, Dad and Rory as achingly as ever. For so many years, Thanksgiving had been something to brave — every year another mark on the wall. But this Thanksgiving, here with Caitlin, wasn’t just one more to endure. History tells us the Plymouth settlers, when sure of a good harvest (and good defenses), repaid their native hosts with mistrust, disease and war. It’s hard to survive, even harder to stop behaving like a survivor.

Over the rest of the weekend, I relaxed a little. All that was expected of me, really, was that I eat, drink, joke around, give as good as I got. After all, Caitlin’s mom seemed to mother just about everyone she met.

But by the time we all said goodbye at the airport and she kissed me on the cheek and said, “Love ya, kiddo,” I’d recovered enough of my good spirits to realize her “kiddo” wasn’t just a knee-jerk nicety. I’d been given a seat at the family table. It was time for me to start calling this new world “home.”


Will Boast is the author of the short story collection

“Power Ballads.”

    Enduring Thanksgiving, NYT, 23.11.2011,






Cruel and Unusual:

A President’s ‘Pardon’

as Dark Parody


November 20, 2011
5:00 pm

The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers
on issues both timely and timeless.


In just a few days, we will once again endure the annual spectacle of the president of the United States pardoning a turkey that would otherwise have been fated for the Thanksgiving table. This event is typically covered in the media as a light-hearted bit of fluff — and fluff is what it might well be, if there were not actual humans on death row awaiting similar intervention. In the current American context, however, the turkey pardon is a distasteful parody of the strange power vested in politicians to decide the earthly fates of death-row prisoners. There is in it an implicit acknowledgment that the killing of these prisoners is a practice that bears real, non-jocular comparison to the ritual slaughter of birds for feasts.

I am not saying that this slaughter of birds for food is wrong ― not here anyway ― but only that the parallel the presidential ritual invites us to notice is revealing. To riff on Dostoyevsky’s famous line about prisoners: you can tell what a nation is like by the way it treats its turkeys. Obama’s pardoning of one randomly selected bird at Thanksgiving not only carries with it an implicit validation of the slaughtering of millions of other turkeys. It also involves an implicit validation of the parallel practice for human beings, in which the occasional death-row inmate is pardoned, or given a stay by the hidden reasoning of an increasingly capricious Supreme Court, even as the majority of condemned prisoners are not so lucky. In this respect, the Thanksgiving pardon is an acknowledgment of the arbitrariness of the system of capital punishment.

Arbitrariness is generally treated, both by supporters and detractors of the death penalty, as a mere glitch in the system, as something that could in principle be worked out. But what this understanding misses is the historical fact that, until very recently, capital punishment was explicitly arbitrary, and openly cruel: its principal reason for being was to set an example of the infinite power of the state over the lives of its subjects.

It is thus not surprising that in most of the Western world, capital punishment died away, though usually only gradually, along with the decline of absolutism and the shift to democracy. When a person is executed, a message is sent about what the state may legitimately do to its subjects, and it is a message that has proven difficult to make fit with other basic commitments of a political culture that rejects arbitrary absolutism and favors human dignity and human rights.
Leif Parsons

In many countries, including Britain and France, the last vestiges of capital punishment survived for rare cases of treason alone: a fact which highlights the fundamentally political character of the death penalty. The rest of the Western world eradicated capital punishment by the late 20th century, even for treason, while somehow it managed to survive in the United States. Curiously, though, it has survived alongside a redoubled dedication to upholding the constitutional ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.”

There has of course been a great deal of controversy over what this phrase means, and whether any imposition of the death penalty is by definition a violation of the ban. Yet in the United States, debates about what constitutes cruelty and unusualness tend to focus on the particular methods of execution, whether it be by firing squad, electrocution or lethal injection. This focus is what has been in part responsible for the continual migration from one method of execution to another: each new method, starting with the guillotine in the French Revolution (perhaps the most vivid, if short-lived, instance of the gross discrepancy between democratic and egalitarian ideals, on the one hand, and state terror on the other), has been introduced as an unprecedently humane way of carrying the punishment out.

With time, though, methods that were once hailed as innovative and humane end up faring no better than their predecessors, and one can’t help but sense that the continual migration from one form of killing to another has to do not so much with real progress toward greater humanity, as with the ultimately groundless whim of fashion.

We look at firing squads as barbaric, not because we have any solid reasons for believing that lethal injection is more gentle, but only because they remind us of the past, and we believe as an article of faith that in the past people were less enlightened than we are. One death-row inmate in Utah, Ronnie Lee Gardner, illustrated this point in 2010 with a request to be executed by firing squad in one of the few states in which this was, until recently, still possible, and in which prisoners are free to choose the method of their death. Gardner apparently selected this method out of a simple personal preference, but he sent the state, and the country, into a terrible fit over what to do. Many people assumed that he must simply have been stalling, or that he was seeking to draw attention to his case. Yet few stopped to ask in what respect death by rifle is really more horrible than death by chemicals.

What all the migrations from one method to another have consistently missed is that it might not be the method of killing that is cruel and unusual, but rather, so to speak, the existential consequence of the method’s deployment: the fact that it results in a loss of life at the hands of the state. This focus on methods, rather than on what the methods bring about, makes it appear as though the subtraction of a life is not in principle cruel and unusual, even if it has proven impossible so far to find a way of bringing about the subtraction of a life that is not cruel and unusual. If one pauses to think about it for just a moment, this quest quickly shows its absurdity: we are in effect seeking to retain capital punishment in a justice system that has already done away with corporal punishment.

In such an odd ― and unprecedented ― state of affairs, the only way we could really live up to the prohibition without abandoning the practice in conflict with it would be to somehow subtract souls from existence without having to work through the bodies these souls inhabit. But that can’t work: capital punishment is not categorically different from corporal punishment, but rather a limit case of it. There is no way to have the one without the other, and arguing over the relative comfort of the method of execution employed, acting as if in executing a person one is doing no harm to his body (even going so far as to swab the prisoner’s arm with rubbing alcohol before injecting the chemical solution that will kill him moments later) is nothing but a pseudohumanitarian farce.

In the confusion of the post-9/11 era, the lawyer Alan Dershowitz was enabled to emit a horrible proposal: that the government should start issuing “torture warrants” to federal agents who find themselves in situations in which they could, by getting cruelly and unusually rough, extract information that might save the lives of hundreds or thousands of people. The most lucid objectors to this proposal noted that although agents might very well find themselves in such a situation ― and although, perhaps, when they do they should perhaps just go ahead and start torturing ― what we absolutely do not want is to enshrine into law the possibility of suspending what are otherwise our deep moral commitments.

Similarly, we may acknowledge that some people almost certainly do deserve to die. But for better or for worse, there simply is no person or body that can be entrusted with the grave responsibility of killing them. One of the strongest arguments against capital punishment, in my view, has not to do with its effect upon the criminal who is punished, but with what it does to those involved in the application of the punishment.

In Gardner’s case, one of the five executioners was given blanks to fire, without any of the squad members knowing which of them this was. In this way responsibility for the execution was diffused, so as to ensure that no one member of the firing squad would, with certainty, be tainted by it. This diffusion was also an implicit acknowledgment that to participate in an execution is to risk being tainted.

Execution cannot be fully normalized or proceduralized, and the attempt to do so is in a certain respect more terrifying than the murder to which it is a response: the murder was plainly a transgression, whereas the compensatory execution is allowed for in our books of law, as the culmination of normal procedure-following. The death penalty makes it possible for killing to be encompassed within the normal carrying out of a bureaucratic procedure, rather than remaining a transgression or a suspension of our ordinary commitments. To uphold capital punishment is therefore to make killing itself normal: something that it is not even for the great majority of murderers.

Killing is, in short, cruel and unusual, and this is why murderers are rightly despised. This is also why capital punishment fits so well as part of the system of justice of absolutist states, but cannot, and never will, have an uncontested place in a democracy.

    Cruel and Unusual: A President’s ‘Pardon’ as Dark Parody, NYT, 20.11.2011,






In the Pilgrims’ Footsteps,

Through England

and the Netherlands


November 17, 2011

The New York Times



LAST Thanksgiving my wife was trying to explain to our granddaughter, Lizzie, 5 at the time, that some of her ancestors had been participants at the original 1621 feast in Plymouth. “I know,” said Lizzie, who apparently had been learning about Thanksgiving in school. “We’re Indians!”

Actually, Lizzie’s forebears were Pilgrims. (My wife, like several million Americans at this point, is a Mayflower descendant.) Nowadays Pilgrims, with their funny, steeple-crowned hats and buckle shoes and their gloomy, pious ways (no games on Sunday, no celebrating even of Christmas!), have gone out of fashion. It’s true that upon arriving in the New World they were so hapless that they would surely have perished during their first winter without the help of the American Indians.

But the Pilgrims were nevertheless heroic in their way. There were a great many Puritans in England at the beginning of the 17th century who wanted to purge Christianity of what they considered the laxity and corruption introduced by Rome and by the insufficiently rigorous Church of England. But only a few hundred of them felt strongly enough to become separatists and emigrate to another land.

What they objected to in the established church may seem fussy and trivial today: the wearing of surplices, the exchange of wedding rings, making the sign of the cross at baptism. But at the heart of their convictions was also a radical political thought: that the state had no business in the running of religion, and that congregations had the right to elect their own leaders.

The 102 passengers who sailed on the Mayflower in September 1620 came from all over England (and not all of them were religiously motivated), but the leaders of the separatist movement came from just a handful of farming villages in Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and southern Yorkshire, most within walking distance of one another. This is not the touristy, thatched-cottage part of England, but it is beautiful nonetheless, and last spring my wife and I visited to see what we could learn about her ancestors, who in so many ways are forefathers to us all.

We made the underappreciated cathedral town of Lincoln our base, and stayed at the White Hart Hotel in a charming upstairs room that overlooked the cathedral close. John Ruskin, the great English art critic, called the town’s cathedral “out and out the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isles,” which did not prevent the dean and chapter from renting it out as a location for the film “The Da Vinci Code.” It really is a towering wonder, visible from miles around. Clearly I would not have made a good Puritan, for of all the churches we visited, this is the one, with its cassock-wearing choristers, flickering candles and rumbling organ, that I liked the best.

Lincoln also has some interesting Roman ruins and a couple of good restaurants. At the bottom of the aptly named Steep Hill, there is one exceptional restaurant with a name that would probably summon forth pickets in the United States. It’s called the Jews House, which is what it was in the 13th century, when Lincoln was home to one of the largest Jewish populations in England. Far from being an ethnic restaurant, the Jews House these days serves a lot of food that observant Jews are not allowed to eat: dishes like pork belly with miso glaze and pan-fried tiger prawns with melon sorbet.

To visit the villages of the Pilgrim leaders, all you really need is a map and a car. We had the additional benefit of Nick Bunker, author of “Making Haste From Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and the New World” (Knopf, 2010), who, after working as a stockbroker in London, now lives in an old, partly Norman house in Lincoln, where he writes full time. He was wearing riding breeches, stout boots and thick knee socks — not strictly necessary but a nice, squire-like touch. He took us first not to one of the Pilgrim sites but to the Church of St. Lawrence, in the all-but-abandoned village of Snarford. The tiny stone building gives no suggestion of the extravagant alabaster statues within — funeral monuments of the St. Paul family, local grandees who became staunch Puritans. Sir George, the last and wealthiest of the clan, and his wife, Frances Wray, are propped up on their right elbows, as if watching television on the couch. He’s wearing armor and she has on a starched white ruff.

The almost lurid colors of the statues take a little getting used to if you have grown up on notions of Puritan somberness, and the general splendor of the little church is an important clue to the Pilgrims. Unlike so many radical religious movements, theirs did not take hold among the poor and downtrodden but, rather, among small landowners and yeoman farmers. Many of them could read, a fairly unusual accomplishment then but a useful one for a group that believed wisdom derived from personal study of the Scriptures.

The most important of the Pilgrim villages, and probably the epicenter of the whole separatist movement, is Scrooby, in Nottinghamshire, where William Brewster, the local postmaster and later a Pilgrim leader, lived and held clandestine religious services in a large manor house. Scrooby today is a bit of a backwater and most of the house (which is now in private hands) was demolished in 1636.

You can still see traces of the moat and fishponds that once surrounded this grand establishment, and in the nearby market town of Gainsborough, another Puritan stronghold, there is an enormous half-timbered Elizabethan manor that gives an idea of what Scrooby Manor must have been like. In Gainsborough, especially, the Puritans were not rubes but bustling men of business.

Not far from Scrooby is the modest Yorkshire village of Austerfield, where William Bradford, the second governor of the Plymouth Colony, grew up; orphaned, he found solace in the radical preaching that could be heard in the area. In the other direction is Babworth, a pretty little hamlet where Richard Clifton, an important separatist thinker, was rector of the local church.

Then there is Sturton le Steeple, where these days at the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Fisher-Price toys, for child-minding, are parked next to a sarcophagus. Sturton, a large and still prosperous-looking village, was the birthplace of both John Robinson, the charismatic spiritual leader of the Pilgrims, and John Smyth, who led a large separatist congregation but eventually became even more important in the Baptist movement.

More than anything else it was probably the critical mass of such men — eloquent, passionate, many of them educated at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge — that accounts for why this area became such a hotbed of separatism. It also did not hurt that the main religious authority was the Archbishop of York, who, being more worried about Roman Catholics, took a fairly relaxed attitude toward the Puritans.

But could the landscape itself have been a factor? This is farming country, so flat that a modest little mound in the Nottinghamshire village of Gringley-on-the-Hill is a local landmark. Nick Bunker took us up there one morning, and though the view has changed a lot since the 17th century — much of the land has been drained, and there is a big power station to the north — you can still get a sense of what it must have been like. The sky is endless, the horizon flat, the light soft and Hopperish. There are marshes, woods, heaths, pasturelands and fields of red clay. Though far from the sea, it is a countryside, Mr. Bunker suggested, that in some ways resembles what the Pilgrims found in New England. It’s also the kind of landscape that urges you to spread out and — far from bishops and bureaucrats down south — think daring, independent thoughts.

So why did they leave? For one thing, the king and a new Archbishop of York had begun cracking down on them. The Scrooby congregation also interpreted a devastating flood that surged up the Bristol Channel in January 1607 as a sign of divine disapproval. Later that year a large group tried to flee the country, booking passage from the Lincolnshire port of Boston. They were betrayed by the ship’s captain, however, and the leaders, including Brewster, were imprisoned in the town’s medieval guild hall. (Once a port second in importance only to London, Boston is now down at the heels a little, though still worth a visit thanks to the local church, St. Botolph’s, and the guild hall, now a museum.)

A year later the separatists tried again, and a handful of them made it to Amsterdam, where they were followed by a steady trickle of others from the Scrooby area. “They all got over at length,” Bradford wrote, “some at one time and some at another, and some in one place and some in another, and met again according to their desires, with no small rejoicing.”

After a year or so, the flock, now numbering 100 or so, moved south to the town of Leiden. My wife and I came to like this university town even more than Amsterdam, though the bike riders are apt to run over the unwary. One afternoon I saw a woman pedaling her young child on the crossbars while also texting.

Many of the canals in Leiden are wider and leafier than those in Amsterdam, and there are extensive public gardens belonging to the university. But in the 17th century Leiden was also an industrial town, noisome and crowded. The English immigrants, like most people, worked in the textile business, weaving cloth on looms in the home, and they sorely missed rural life. William Bradford lived on a canal, not far from Haarlemmerstraat, the city’s main shopping thoroughfare, that was so foul it eventually had to be filled in. The entrance to the alley where he lived is today across from an H & M store. William Brewster lived on an alley appropriately known as Stincksteeg. There is a plaque marking the spot and, in a window where his house once was, a poster of Marilyn Monroe. Like most of the English Pilgrims at Leiden, Brewster lived near the Pieterskerk, the city’s grandest church, still imposing though much of the ornament was stripped out during the Reformation.

The only remaining Pilgrim house is also in this neighborhood, on the corner of the Pieterskerkhof and the Kloksteeg, but it has been so modernized that you would never take it for a 17th-century dwelling. To get a better idea of how the Pilgrims lived you need to visit the American Pilgrim Museum, a brick house near the Hooglandse Kerk presided over by the genial and drily ironic Jeremy Bangs, author of the immense and immensely knowledgeable book “Strangers and Pilgrims, Travellers and Sojourners: Leiden and the Foundations of Plymouth Plantation” (General Society of Mayflower Descendants, 2009).

It is the oldest house in Leiden, dating back to the 14th century, and typical of a Pilgrim dwelling: a single 8-by-14-foot room with a stone floor, small leaded windows, a big medieval fireplace. The parents would have slept sitting up in a box bed (because lying flat was thought to cause disease) and the children on the floor. Somewhere in there a loom would have been crammed.

It was for the sake of the children, Bradford later wrote, that the Pilgrims decided to move on to the New World. In Leiden they had to work from an early age and many of them were learning Dutch and adopting Dutch customs. But the cramped, slumlike conditions, so far from the open Scrooby landscape, also had something to do with the decision.

Not all of them went. Some were fearful. Some, like John Robinson, stayed behind to tend the Leiden flock. Had he gone to New England, history — especially the relations between the Pilgrims and the Indians — might have been different. In Mr. Bangs’s account, Robinson emerges as a man of singular intelligence and liberality who decided, for example, that St. Paul was wrong and that women should feel free to speak up in church.

Another Leidenite, Thomas Blossom, was a passenger on the Speedwell, the Mayflower’s companion vessel, which sprang a leak and had to turn back. He eventually made the journey in 1629, joining the colony at Plymouth, where he became first deacon of the church. This might be of interest to those concerned about President Obama’s Americanness, for Blossom is one of his ancestors.

My wife happened to bring this up a few weeks later when we were completing our Pilgrim journey by making a visit to Plimouth Plantation, a replica of the original colony in Plymouth, Mass., where historical re-enactors take the part of the historical Pilgrims. She got into a conversation with a woman in a bonnet and voluminous skirt cooking over a fire. “You know, a descendant of one of your brethren eventually became president,” my wife said.

The woman looked at her and said, “President of what, Miss?”



There are direct flights from New York to the East Midlands airport in Nottingham, about an hour away, or you can drive or take the train from London, which will take three to four hours. To get around the Pilgrim landscape, you will need a car, some good maps, and GPS wouldn’t hurt, though even that may not help when it comes to navigating Lincoln’s many and confusing one-way streets. Luckily, the police seem tolerant of bewildered Yanks. The cathedral and the Stump, the great church in Boston, are open daily, but the various parish churches have more limited schedules and some are open only by appointment. It is best to write or call ahead to the parish secretary.

The White Hart Hotel (www.whitehart-lincoln.co.uk) is charming, ideally situated at 87 Ballgate, across from the cathedral close, and — a valuable perk — comes with parking. Double rooms, with breakfast, start at about £99 (about $156, at $1.57 to the pound). The food at the White Hart is more than acceptable, but it would be a mistake not to try the Jews House, the city’s best restaurant, housed in its oldest and most picturesque building (jewshouserestaurant.co.uk). Less ambitious and more traditionally English is the nearby Wig and Mitre, a Victorian pub-style restaurant that features things like braised beef and roast wood pigeon (wigandmitre.com).



Car rentals are much more expensive in the Netherlands than in England, and because the country is so small and the Dutch train system so good, a car here is really more a hindrance than a help. Trains from Amsterdam to Leiden run every 15 minutes or so; the trip takes a little over half an hour and costs 14 euros (about $19, at $1.35 to the euro).

Leiden is itself easily and pleasantly walkable. A good way to preview the city and get your bearings is to take a boat tour through Leiden’s many canals. Several companies offer these trips, almost all with narration in English available, and there is usually a boat of one sort or another leaving every few minutes from the Beestenmarkt. Fares are mostly under 10 euros for a ride of roughly one hour.

Though outstanding in just about every other way, Leiden is not a city of great hotels. The Nieuw Minerva occupies what used to be six 16th-century houses facing one of the city’s many canals and is best appreciated from the outside. The rooms are serviceable, not very expensive by European standards (starting at $78 for a double) and the location is ideal: a short walk from the Central Station and just around the corner from the Haarlemmerstraat, one of the city’s two main drags.

The two essential Pilgrim sites in Leiden are the great Pieterskerk, or Peter’s Church, which became the Puritan John Robinson’s adoptive home, and the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, easily found by heading for the hard to-miss belltower of the Hooglandse Kerk, or Highland Church. (That it could be called such suggests that the flatland-dwelling Dutch have very different ideas of altitude from ours.) The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m.; admission 3 euros.

In Leiden, as elsewhere in the Netherlands, it is surprisingly difficult to find authentic Dutch food. A good all-purpose bistro, lively and reasonably priced, is the City Hall Restaurant (restaurantcityhall.nl), as the name suggests, behind Leiden’s 17th-century city hall, a building whose grandness suggests how seriously the town fathers took the notion of civic government.

Elsewhere in town are lots of bars serving authentic jenever, not to be confused with gin and a drink the Pilgrims were probably advised to stay away from. Not for nothing is a shot of jenever, tossed down after a beer, known as a kopstoot, or a head butt.



is a writer at large for The New York Times.

In the Pilgrims’ Footsteps, Through England and the Netherlands,

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