December 27, 2003

Five Kernels of Corn

A nice tradition for our Stone descendants....

Five Kernels of Corn

The tradition of placing five kernels of corn at each plate first started at Plymouth on Forefather's Day, 22nd Dec. 1820 on the occasion of the Bi-Centennial of the Landing of the Pilgrims. Hosting the occasion was the newly founded Pilgrim Society with guest speaker, Daniel Webster.

These tokens symbolize the period in 1623 known as the "starving time", but I would like to go back a little to show you that this starving time was by no means an isolated occurrence.

The first Thanksgiving in the fall of 1621 was a bountiful feast, but an inventory taken afterwards in preparation for winter proved that the Pilgrims had grossly overestimated their harvest. The only way they could possibly get through the winter was to cut in half the already meager weekly rations. To make matters worse, soon after in November, arrived the ship Fortune with 35 new settlers and absolutely no provisions, no food, bedding, cookware or warm clothing.

They struggled through the winter, but in May 1622, their food supply was completely gone and the harvest was four months away. You may wonder why they did not hunt and fish for food; according to Edward Winslow, the number of fowl decreased during the warm months and the proper equipment and netting prohibited them from taking advantage of the abundance of cod in the area.

"And indeed," said Winslow, "had we not been in a place where divers sorts of shell fish may be taken with the hand, we must have perished."

In desperation, Winslow was sent 150 miles up the Maine coast to buy, beg or borrow whatever provisions the English ships there could spare. Hearing the plight of this courageous little group, the captains were extremely generous; all who were asked gave what they could and not one would accept payment of any kind. By the time Winslow returned, the settlers were literally starving. The provisions were a godsend, but there were many mouths to feed and when rationed out, each person received only one quarter pound of bread a day.

The long awaited harvest of 1622 was a dismal failure. The Pilgrims had not yet perfected the art of growing corn; they had been busy building the fort and their lack of food that summer left them too weak and weary to tend the fields properly. It seemed that they now faced the prospect of another year with little food.

"Behold now, another providence of God: a ship comes into the harbour

Posted by jhowell at December 27, 2003 12:09 AM