Our Resident journal for Billericay District Residents' Association has just issued one of the most interesting editions this year. Chris Wade, its current editor is moving from the area. In this current journal, I see that Andy Maddocks, Chairman of BDRA is asking folk to volunteer for some of the roles which are vital to keep this 95th year old organisation continuing.
The story leading up to the US Thanksgiving tradition has interesting Billericay connections. It was from our town - on 6 September 1620 that a group of local residents joined the contingent of Puritan emigrants who boarded the Mayflower ship at Plymouth. Christopher Martin, who is believed to have lived at the Chantry House at 57-61 High Street (pictured) , was the ship’s governor who supplied the food for the voyage, including flour ground at the Bell Hill windmill.
Conditions during the 66-day voyage across the Atlantic were awful. The Mayflower was terribly overcrowded. The crossing was so stormy that it cracked a main beam of the ship but the ingenious use of a printing-press as a screw-jack to support the beam, enabled the ship to hold together. During the journey, one person died and two boys were born, Peregrine White and the aptly named Oceanus Hopkins. When the Pilgrims reached Cape Cod they ‘fell upon their knees and blessed ye God of Heaven who had brought them over ye vast and furious ocean’. Sadly, the folk from Billericay died shortly after reaching America.
Attempts by the newcomers to provide food were pitiful. During the first month they caught only one cod. In January 1621 they caught three seals and shot an eagle. Mostly they lived on shellfish from the beaches and nuts from the woods. By spring, half had died from scurvy or starvation. Then into their lives came Samoset and Squanto, two Indians who showed the Englishmen how to live off the land. By the end of their first summer in America, the newcomers were able to celebrate their harvest with a thanksgiving feast.
They invited the local Indians to join them. Four men were sent to shoot wildfowl and returned with a modest bag. But their guest of honour the Indian chief Massasoit turned up with an escort of no less than 90 hungry braves. The Indians were able to bring in five deer after a brief hunting expedition; somehow there was enough food for all.The Pilgrims continued to hold this ‘thanksgiving’ feast in succeeding years, gradually adding dishes traditionally associated with it. Other New Englanders adopted the custom and when they travelled westwards, took it with them. But it was not until 1863, during America’s Civil War that President Lincoln issued a White House proclamation calling on the “American people wherever they lived to unite with one heart and one voice”.