Myth # 69: The first Thanksgiving took place in Plymouth in 1621.

November 17, 2018

The heart-warming tale of Pilgrims and Indians sharing a Thanksgiving feast and prayers at Plymouth never took place. More accurately, it is a combination of two events that did take place: a harvest feast that occurred in 1621 with about 90 Wampanoag Indians and a day of thanksgiving declared by William Bradford in 1623. The pious Pilgrims did not consider that feast to be a “thanksgiving,” which to them meant solemn day of prayer at church, not a harvest celebration or a meal shared with heathens. Historians believe they would not have combined the two events as we do today.

An annual Thanksgiving holiday wasn’t established until the Civil War, when President Abraham Lincoln made it official.

All this begs the question of where the real first Thanksgiving took place. There are other serious contenders, you know, including Berkeley Plantation, Virginia, where the settlers were specifically instructed to make the day of their arrival in 1619 a day of thanksgiving to be celebrated every year thereafter. But St. Augustine, Florida, may trump them both with its 1565 date. This is where the Spaniards celebrated with a Catholic mass and a fine meal with the Timucua Indians. And Texas believes it has claims on an earlier event. Now, now, children, no squabbling . . .

The truth is, there were many official days of prayerful thanksgiving in colonial America.

Previous comments:

informationforager says:
November 19, 2011 at 8:50 am (Edit)
Thanks for the info. I always like to find and realize real history. Mankind has such a propensity for misaligning the truth and making it totally self-serving. Recently I finished some books on the founding Fathers original religious views. That was very good. Keep Blogging. Keep Writing.

P.S. I’ve been to St. Augustine, Florida and it’s beautiful.

Reply
marymiley says:
November 19, 2011 at 9:55 am (Edit)
I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting St. Augustine but it’s definitely on my short list!

Reply
Jamie says:
November 19, 2011 at 11:51 am (Edit)
I believe George Washington also proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving for Thurs, Nov. 26 in 1789 (see http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/GW/gw004.html), more of day of prayer than a feast. My understanding is it didn’t quite catch on (and where it did was mainly in the North?) but set the stage for Lincoln’s national holiday, late in November (though, did I read that originally Lincoln’s holiday was the fourth Tuesday? and FDR moved it to third and later the fourthThursday?).

Reply
Saraspondence says:
November 21, 2011 at 4:07 am (Edit)
Thanks! I like the idea of multiple events in different geographical locations involving shared harvest and thanks to God!

Reply


Revisited Myth #69: The first Thanksgiving took place in Plymouth in 1621.

November 20, 2017

The heart-warming tale of Pilgrims and Indians sharing a Thanksgiving feast and prayers at Plymouth never took place. More accurately, it is a combination of two events that did take place: a harvest feast that occurred in 1621 with about 90 Wampanoag Indians and a day of thanksgiving declared by William Bradford in 1623. The pious Pilgrims did not consider that feast to be a “thanksgiving,” which to them meant solemn day of prayer at church, not a harvest celebration or a meal shared with heathens. Historians believe they would not have combined the two events as we do today.

An annual Thanksgiving holiday wasn’t established until the Civil War, when President Abraham Lincoln made it official.

All this begs the question of where the real first Thanksgiving took place. There are other serious contenders, you know, including Berkeley Plantation, Virginia, where the settlers were specifically instructed to make the day of their arrival in 1619 a day of thanksgiving to be celebrated every year thereafter. But St. Augustine, Florida, may trump them both with its 1565 date. This is where the Spaniards celebrated with a Catholic mass and a fine meal with the Timucua Indians. And Texas believes it has claims on an earlier event. Now, now, children, no squabbling . . .

The truth is, there were many official days of prayerful thanksgiving in colonial America.

 

Previous comments:

informationforager says:
November 19, 2011 at 8:50 am (Edit)
Thanks for the info. I always like to find and realize real history. Mankind has such a propensity for misaligning the truth and making it totally self-serving. Recently I finished some books on the founding Fathers original religious views. That was very good. Keep Blogging. Keep Writing.

P.S. I’ve been to St. Augustine, Florida and it’s beautiful.

Reply
marymiley says:
November 19, 2011 at 9:55 am (Edit)
I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting St. Augustine but it’s definitely on my short list!

Reply
Jamie says:
November 19, 2011 at 11:51 am (Edit)
I believe George Washington also proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving for Thurs, Nov. 26 in 1789 (see http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/GW/gw004.html), more of day of prayer than a feast. My understanding is it didn’t quite catch on (and where it did was mainly in the North?) but set the stage for Lincoln’s national holiday, late in November (though, did I read that originally Lincoln’s holiday was the fourth Tuesday? and FDR moved it to third and later the fourthThursday?).

Reply
Saraspondence says:
November 21, 2011 at 4:07 am (Edit)
Thanks! I like the idea of multiple events in different geographical locations involving shared harvest and thanks to God!

Reply


Revisited: Thanksgiving Myths

November 19, 2017

A couple of years ago, I tackled the main Thanksgiving myth (see #69) about the first Thanksgiving and also the one about popcorn and Pilgrims (see #70). This year I’ll send you to another site where Eric Thompson of Texas has tackled several Thanksgiving myths. I learned something from his site–I hadn’t known of a First Thanksgiving claim of 1541 from Texas. Really, many states point to an early feast and prayer event and claim it was the earliest Thanksgiving, but the truth is, our holiday began when Lincoln made it a holiday during the Civil War. 

http://www.officespaceforrent.org/blog/6-myths-about-thanksgiving-revealed/


Revisited Myth # 70: The Indians taught the Pilgrims how to pop corn at the first Thanksgiving.

November 27, 2016
from The Pilgrim's Party, Lowitz

from The Pilgrim’s Party, Lowitz

Another Thanksgiving myth would have us believe that the Indians taught the Pilgrims the magic of popcorn at the first Thanksgiving. It didn’t exactly happen that way, then or later.

While corn was ubiquitous in the Americas, that doesn’t mean the natives or the colonists popped it. First of all, not all corn pops. Or, perhaps it is more accurate to say that not all corn pops well, only the relatively few varieties that have hard, thick hulls. The type we eat has too thin a hull to contain the pressure necessary to cause a puffy explosion.

According to the Department of Agriculture, there is ample evidence that Native Americans in South America, Central America, and the southwestern part of the U.S. ate popcorn more than 2500 years ago. But no evidence exists for it in Massachusetts or Virginia or any of the Atlantic colonies. In the archives at Colonial Williamsburg there are letters going back to 1950, asking the historians that very question, and the answer has always been, “no references to popcorn in Virginia.” As for Massachusetts, the type of corn those Indians grew was the Northern Flint variety which does not pop well. And according to James W. Baker, vice president and chief historian for Plimoth Plantation, no trace of popcorn has been uncovered in regional archaeological excavations.

In his book Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn in America (Smithsonian, 2001), food historian Andrew F. Smith traces the Pilgrims-and-popcorn myth to the 1880s, a time of heavy immigration when national myths were being created by magazines, newspapers, and school curricula to Americanize the newcomers. “Popcorn was sold in grocery stores, popped at fairs, and peddled at sporting events,” he writes of those years. Written references to popcorn seem to begin in the mid-19th century. The first known popcorn poem appeared in Harper’s Magazine in 1853. It did not become commercially significant until the latter part of the 19th century. Look at this interesting advertisement from a magazine called the American Agriculturist, dated February 1866. It offers popcorn for sale as a novelty item. Regular local corn must not have popped well, because J. A. Hathaway imported this from Brazil and acclimated it in Cincinnati for two years. The company offers 150 grains for 25 cents, so you could grow your own. Get 6 to 15 ears to the plant!

But the popcorn myth is repeated endlessly in children’s textbooks, magazines, and newspapers. Andrew Smith calls it a “twice-told myth.” “Undocumented food stories are the grist of newspapers, magazines, cookbooks, and even works which purport to be true histories. Myths gain reality through repetition, and unfortunately, almost all modern food writers from James Beard to Waverly Root have colluded by repeating them.” He points to several popcorn myths that have no archaeological or historical evidence whatsoever: Columbus found popcorn in the Caribbean; American Indians attached religious significance to popcorn; colonial Americans ate popcorn as a snack; and Indians in what is today the eastern half of the United States ate popcorn in pre-Columbian times.


Revisited Myth # 69: The first Thanksgiving took place at Plymouth in 1621.

November 20, 2016

20071121-first-thanksgiving-300x252

The heart-warming tale of Pilgrims and Indians sharing a Thanksgiving feast and prayers at Plymouth never took place. More accurately, it is a combination of two events that did take place: a harvest feast that occurred in 1621 with about 90 Wampanoag Indians and a day of thanksgiving declared by William Bradford in 1623. The pious Pilgrims did not consider that feast to be a “thanksgiving,” which to them meant solemn day of prayer at church, not a harvest celebration or a meal shared with heathens. Historians believe they would not have combined the two events as we do today.

An annual Thanksgiving holiday wasn’t established until the Civil War, when President Abraham Lincoln made it official.

All this begs the question of where the real first Thanksgiving took place. There are other serious contenders, you know, including Berkeley Plantation, Virginia, where the settlers were specifically instructed to make the day of their arrival in 1619 a day of thanksgiving to be celebrated every year thereafter. But St. Augustine, Florida, may trump them both with its 1565 date. This is where the Spaniards celebrated with a Catholic mass and a fine meal with the Timucua Indians. And Texas believes it has claims on an earlier event. Now, now, children, no squabbling . . .

The truth is, there were many official days of prayerful thanksgiving in colonial America.

 

Previous comments:

informationforager says:
November 19, 2011 at 8:50 am (Edit)
Thanks for the info. I always like to find and realize real history. Mankind has such a propensity for misaligning the truth and making it totally self-serving. Recently I finished some books on the founding Fathers original religious views. That was very good. Keep Blogging. Keep Writing.

P.S. I’ve been to St. Augustine, Florida and it’s beautiful.

Reply
marymiley says:
November 19, 2011 at 9:55 am (Edit)
I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting St. Augustine but it’s definitely on my short list!

Reply
Jamie says:
November 19, 2011 at 11:51 am (Edit)
I believe George Washington also proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving for Thurs, Nov. 26 in 1789 (see http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/GW/gw004.html), more of day of prayer than a feast. My understanding is it didn’t quite catch on (and where it did was mainly in the North?) but set the stage for Lincoln’s national holiday, late in November (though, did I read that originally Lincoln’s holiday was the fourth Tuesday? and FDR moved it to third and later the fourthThursday?).

Reply
Saraspondence says:
November 21, 2011 at 4:07 am (Edit)
Thanks! I like the idea of multiple events in different geographical locations involving shared harvest and thanks to God!

Reply


More Thanksgiving Myths

November 18, 2012

Last year I tackled the main Thanksgiving myth (see #69) about the first Thanksgiving and also the one about popcorn and Pilgrims (see #70). This year I’ll send you to another site where Eric Thompson of Texas has tackled several Thanksgiving myths. I learned something from his site–I hadn’t known of a First Thanksgiving claim of 1541 from Texas. Really, many states point to an early feast and prayer event and claim it was the earliest Thanksgiving, but the truth is, our holiday began when Lincoln made it a holiday during the Civil War. 

http://www.officespaceforrent.org/blog/6-myths-about-thanksgiving-revealed/


Revisited Myth # 91: Popcorn was the first breakfast cereal.

July 2, 2016

Park Ranger Kevin Hanley wrote: “Outside of the 9 to 5 job, I’m a trustee for a historic Dutch house in Brooklyn. As part of my research into Dutch stuff, I’ve come repeatedly upon a reference to the Dutch use of popcorn. According to the texts, the Dutch didn’t know what to make or do with popcorn. Dutch wives apparently improvised and, supposedly, placed the popcorn in a bowl and added milk. Viola! The first cereal – or so it is claimed. Can you verify or bust this myth?”

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This is a tough nut to crack. First, it’s terribly illogical. Pour milk on popcorn and it becomes a soggy glop. (I’ve tried.) Searching for historical underpinnings to this myth yields nothing in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, but see Myth #70–popcorn doesn’t become significant until the latter part of the nineteenth century. It was not something Indians introduced at the Pilgrim’s harvest feast we now call Thanksgiving. 

There is at least one somewhat historical mention of eating popcorn with milk, and it comes in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy, page 32-33, a book set in the late 1850s but written in the 1930s. The author mentions that young Almonzo (who would become her husband) liked popcorn and milk. “You can fill a glass to the brim with milk and fill another glass of the same size brim full of popcorn, and then you can put all the popcorn kernel by kernel into the milk and the milk will not run over. You cannot do this with bread. Popcorn and milk are the only two things that will go into the same place. Then, too, they are good to eat.” Of course, she also repeats the myth about Indians and Pilgrims and popcorn at Thanksgiving, so she is not wholly reliable. Even if we take her words at face value, she isn’t talking about breakfast cereal; she talking about a science experiment that tastes good.

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The first packaged, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals were invented in the 1870s and made of oats and wheat. Cereal took a turn for the better in the early years of the twentieth century when the Kellogg brothers accidentally invented wheat flakes and corn flakes. None of these cereal pioneers used popcorn, presumably because it doesn’t work well. That doesn’t mean no one ever ate popcorn with milk, but it doesn’t seem to have been common or popular enough to call it the “first breakfast cereal.” 

 

12 Responses to Myth # 91: Popcorn was the first breakfast cereal.
Jean says:
June 30, 2012 at 7:33 am (Edit)
Thanks for pointing out that the Little House series is not reliable as historical fact. We need to keep in mind that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books were written decades after the experiences. The books were also heavily edited by Rose Wilder Lane, Laura & Almanzo’s daughter.

Don’t get me wrong, the series is wonderful. There are working historians who trace their start interest in the Little House books!

Keep straightening us out with this blog!

Jean

Reply
marymiley says:
June 30, 2012 at 8:41 am (Edit)
Thank you, Jean. I’m straightening myself out with this blog too!Lots of things I assumed were true, I’ve found are not, and some things I thought sounded fishy turned out to be true!

As for the Little House books, yes they are WONDERFUL and inspiring, but that doesn’t mean they are historically perfect. The American Girl series is great too, but perhaps not as engaging because it isn’t “real.”

Reply
Pamela Toler (@pdtoler) says:
June 30, 2012 at 10:37 am (Edit)
I can’t speak to when popcorn was first used as a breakfast cereal, but I know my grandfather poured milk on left over popcorn and ate it for breakfast.

Reply
marymiley says:
June 30, 2012 at 3:38 pm (Edit)
I’m sure it happened on occasion. Popcorn seems traceable back to the mid-19th century. But since there isn’t any evidence for widespread practice of eating it with milk for breakfast, I’d hesitate to call it the first breakfast cereal. It does seem clear that it was not a colonial Dutch practice.

Reply
Keith Doms says:
July 4, 2012 at 9:16 am (Edit)
I remember reading about popcorn being used as a breakfast cerial by the Colonests in the World Book Encyclopedia Young Persons set in the the late 1960s.

Keith

Reply
Sei Paulson says:
May 16, 2013 at 9:28 pm (Edit)
Could it possibly have been “parched” corn? A recipe for parched corn is included in Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden (originally published as “Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians,” 1917). It’s a little like modern corn nuts, in that the corn poofs out. I imagine in milk it would be a little like corn puffs.

Reply
Mary Miley says:
May 17, 2013 at 7:39 am (Edit)
How interesting! That’s a new idea for me, anyway. How does one make parched corn? I always assumed parched corn was just dried corn, but evidently not.

Reply
Sei Paulson says:
May 17, 2013 at 6:06 pm (Edit)
You sort of… roast it on a griddle? I don’t know, I’ve always wanted to try it. ^_^

deb mcintyre says:
March 31, 2014 at 11:09 pm (Edit)
We often ate popcorn in milk with a spoon, but as an after supper snack. My grandpas family (who had this tradition) originally came from New York state – just like Almanzo!

Reply
pavan inr levels creator says:
July 5, 2015 at 10:53 pm (Edit)
I learned about this in grade school. The Native Americans probably did this. They were geniuses with corn.

Reply
Sally says:
July 23, 2015 at 7:59 am (Edit)
My mother ate warm buttered popcorn with milk on it. She acquired this tradition from her father (b abt 1872 in NH). Said it was like Oyster Stew—a salty butter in milk flavor.

Reply
Mary Miley says:
July 23, 2015 at 8:12 am (Edit)
Have you ever tried that? Wouldn’t it turn to soggy slop instantly? I tried it once and that’s what happened. Maybe my “recipe” wasn’t the same as your mom’s!

Reply


Revisited Myth # 80: Slaves were made to whistle as they walked between the kitchen and the house carrying food, to make sure they didn’t sample the food on the way.

April 10, 2016
Tuckahoe Plantation kitchen and walkway

Tuckahoe Plantation kitchen and walkway

The “Whistle Walk” story is related at many Southern plantations where the kitchen is located apart from the main house. It is an imaginative tale, but one with little logic to support it and no actual documentation. Let’s face it, the slaves who cooked and prepared food in the detached southern kitchens could easily have (and surely did) tasted and eaten the food inside the kitchen without anyone being the wiser. 

One historian who spent her life researching topics involving women’s work and home life wrote in 1986 that she had never found any contemporary references that the walkways connecting outside kitchens with inside dining rooms were called “whistle walks.” The earliest known written reference comes in 1954 in the book, Shadows in Silver: A Record of Virginia 1850-1900 in Contemporary Photographs, where a picture of a plantation kitchen from the 1890s carries a caption that mentions the story.

“I suspect the story is apocryphal,” wrote late Patricia Gibbs, “or perhaps depicts a mid-to-late nineteenth-century practice. Certainly if it really occurred, it was never so widespread as interpretations in many southern historic house museums imply. On the other hand, I think it is quite likely that food en route to the dining rooms was occasionally sampled. Since there is much reliable information to convey about foods and serving practices, I would discourage repeating this story.”

Good advice.

Thanks to Bill Backus, Historic Interpreter at Ben Lomond Historic Site/Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park in Prince William County for asking about this story.

Previous comments:

Megan says:
February 26, 2012 at 10:18 am (Edit)
I never thought this story made sense for slaves or servants. Weren’t they the ones preparing the food in the kitchen, and could taste it there?

marymiley says:
February 26, 2012 at 2:01 pm (Edit)
Excellent point. And so obvious, I’m embarrassed I didn’t think of it!!

Mark A. Turdo says:
February 26, 2012 at 11:43 pm (Edit)
My Italian-American father used to tell me his immigrant father made him whistle when getting wine from the cellar. It was always a cute story, but I suspect that’s all it is. Thanks for sharing this.

Michael Comer says:
April 10, 2012 at 4:52 pm (Edit)
I wonder what happened if they couldn’t whistle?

amst418 says:
October 26, 2012 at 8:00 pm (Edit)
Who is the historian you refer to in this post? I recall reading something to this effect but cannot find the source. I “googled” whistle walk and found your excellent site!

Mary Miley Theobald says:
October 26, 2012 at 9:41 pm (Edit)
The historian I referred to was Patricia Gibbs, who spent her entire career (I think) at Colonial Williamsburg and was the acknowledged authority on so many subjects, among them women’s issues. She died a few years ago, shortly after she retired, and I miss her very much. She had the answer to everything!

amst418 says:
October 27, 2012 at 5:36 pm (Edit)
Thank you for the quick reply. Indeed, it must have been Gibbs. I recently spent a month on fellowship at CW and I’m sure I came across her work there. Thanks!

amst418 says:
October 27, 2012 at 5:39 pm (Edit)
one more thing: do you know the citation for the quote? I have a ton of files that I copied while at CW. Was it from an internal report for the preservation folks?

Mary Miley says:
October 27, 2012 at 8:30 pm (Edit)
It came from a letter dated 9/2/86 that is in the Research Query file at the Rockefeller Library in Williamsburg.

Esther Hyatt says:
November 6, 2012 at 2:35 pm (Edit)
I visited Berkley Plantation for the 51st celebration of the first Thanksgiving on November 4, 2012 and the tour guide reported the tale of the whistling slave tunnel as if historical fact. Even more interesting were the responses of the tourist agreeing that the practice was not only clever but efficient because it alerted those in the main house of their meal’s arrival. I dismissed the story as true when I couldn’t figure out how the sound would travel from underground through winter’s closed door and pierce a home constructed of several layers of brick.

 


Myth # 88: John Hanson was the real first president of the United States.

May 18, 2012

John Hanson

This resilient myth has been around for more than one hundred years, as his descendants have sought to plump up his reputation. In 1959, the director of research at Colonial Williamsburg tried to stamp it out–obviously, he was unsuccessful–by writing about whether Peyton Randolph or John Hanson was the first president of the Continental Congress. “The apparent confusion on this point arises form the fact that the Continental Congress existed first as a revolutionary body and then after the formal ratification of the Articles of Confederation on March 1, 1781 as the congress of the Confederation Government. Most historians, however, refer to this body as the Continental Congress during the entire period of its existence from 1774 until 1788.” He concludes that Hanson was not the first president of the Continental Congress, although he was one of several presidents, none of whom were “president” of the United States. “[Hanson] has sometimes been called the first president of the nation. However, he was in no sense a true executive officer, as were the presidents elected under the Federal Constitution.”

But let’s let Deborah Brower of Maryland, this week’s guest blogger, share her research and set the story straight. Hang on . . . it’s complicated! Or skip to the summary at the bottom, or check out Jon Stewart’s hilarious take on the Hanson claim at www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-december-5-2001/hail-to-the-thief .

Most people have never heard of John Hanson. If you know him at all, you probably live in Maryland and are familiar with the highway that bears his name.  It’s also possible you may have read about the recent effort to replace his statue in the U. S. Capitol with one of Harriet Tubman.  (Not a bad idea, interjects Mary) You might have encountered him as a featured article in one of those pocket books on the Constitution.  It is amazing that someone so obscure has such a wealth of misinformation attached to him. Of course maybe that’s why, the more obscure the subject more likely it is to be taken at face value.

We do know John Hanson was born in April of 1721 near Port Tobacco, Maryland.  His family origins are obscure, but by the time of his birth they were established members of the planter class. By the 1770s he’d moved to Frederick, Maryland and was serving as the chief officer of the County’s Committee of Safety, a Revolutionary Era alternative to the British Colonial government of Frederick County.  He kept the County and it’s resources firmly in the control of Maryland’s revolutionaries; he was a master at putting them to the best use.  Hanson is an excellent example of the sort of men who worked to fulfill the obligations of their colonies to the Continental Congress and the army.  These men don’t often get credit because they are in the shadows behind the new state government, Congress and the Military.  Although important, their roles just don’t get much attention.  John Hanson’s obligations kept him in mostly in Frederick until 1779 when he was elected as one of Maryland’s delegates to the Continental Congress.  In late 1780 he was elected to preside over Congress under the ratified Articles of Confederation.

Contrary to the general impression, not everyone thought the Revolution would result in a single nation.  Most thought when the war was over the colonies would go on as separate sovereign nations.  All that was needed was a “league of friendship” to deal with a limited number of common interests. The Articles of Confederation were a statement of how the Continental Congress had been operating thus far.   They enumerated the very minimal powers relinquished by the states.  Any power granted by the document was placed solely in the control of Congress.  There was no executive branch, judicial branch or senate only a single body, the Congress.  The difference between the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution are best stated by the documents themselves: The Articles of Confederation, “…, we the undersigned Delegates of the States…”; and the Constitution, “We the People of the United States”.

By June of 1780 when John Hanson finally took his seat in Congress, Maryland was the only colony left who had not agreed to the Articles of Confederation. The competing claims of the Colonies and various land speculation companies to the western territories was at issue.  Some colonies had their boundaries set by charters; others had no set boundaries and claimed they extended all the way to the Pacific Coast. Maryland was the only landless state still holding out.  On the surface Maryland argued all that undeveloped territory would make the landed states too powerful.  In reality Maryland’s motivation was the self interests of some of its leading citizens who were among the investors in land companies that purchased directly from the Indians.  The land in question was within the projected boundaries of landed colonies (mostly Virginia and New York). It was not so much Maryland trying to get the landed states to agree to a set border as it was to get the claims of the land companies recognized.  To make it even more complicated there were some Marylanders that had invested in Virginia based companies.  It is fascinating to follow the dance of Maryland legislators over their competing land claims.   George Mason’s letters referring to Maryland and her “twisted sister” Delaware make it clear that people were aware of what was going on behind the scenes.  The way things played out in Virginia, Maryland and Congress rival any back room dealings going on today.

While the other delegates were back in Maryland intriguing, John Hanson sat in Philadelphia, often the only Marylander there.  To break this impasse,  elements in Congress suggested the land claims might have more success in a ratified Congress.  Meanwhile British ships were manacling the Chesapeake and Maryland appealed to the French for protection. The French minister insinuated they were reluctant to place ships in the Chesapeake to shield Maryland because the Articles were not ratified.  If Maryland could see her way to finally sign, the French would be in a better position to help. So Maryland relented, still holding a faint hope for the land claims in a Confederation Congress; which was better than the possibility of being turned into a cinder by the British. We may never know for sure, but it would come as no surprise that John Hanson’s election as president was part of the deal.  On March 1, 1781, the signatures of Maryland’s delegates were added to the Articles of Confederation.  Now the Articles were ratified and took effect with great celebration.

On to the Myths

Beginning the last quarter of the 19th century a series of John Hanson descendants and some others began to slowly reinvent him.  One slight exaggeration was piled on top of another with the result of burying the real John Hanson.

1. John Hanson is NOT Swedish.

Since the publication of an article by genealogist George Ely Russell titled “John Hanson of Maryland, a Swedish Heritage Disproven”, It has been accepted that John Hanson is not Swedish or from the royal Vasa line.  The work of Russell was so compelling that a John Hanson memorial bust and plaque were removed from Gloria Dei (Old Swedes) Church in Philadelphia. The myth was started in the 19th century by George Adolphus Hanson who was trying link his family line to John Hanson.

2. John Hanson is NOT Black. 

3. John Hanson is NOT the first Black President of the United States.

George Russell discovered an indentured servant who came to Maryland by way of Barbados named John Henson/Hanson.  This Hanson might have been the grandfather of John Hanson. For some reason in the 1990s, comedian Dick Gregory took this to mean John Hanson was black.  His proof was a daguerrotype of a John Hanson!  Put aside the fact that photography was invented a long time after Hanson died. The man in the photograph named John Hanson was a senator in Liberia, Africa, during the mid 19th century. On the back of the two dollar is an engraving of the signing of the Declaration of Independence purportedly showing a Black John Hanson. Hanson did not sign the Declaration and was not even in Congress until 1780.

4. John Hanson was NOT a mentor or longtime friend of George Washington.

In spite of claims to the contrary, according to researchers at Mount Vernon there is no evidence of a relationship between George Washington and John Hanson before 1781. There is only one reference in Washington’s journal of a “Mr. Hanson” visiting Mount Vernon in 1772, but it is not John Hanson, according to the editors.

5. John Hanson did NOT solve the Western Land question.

According to Ralph Levering who wrote the most extensive analysis of John Hanson’s political career in his “John Hanson: Public Servant”, there is no record of John Hanson’s stand on the Western land question, let alone documentation that he was responsible for the solution. There is no evidence that anything called “the Hanson Plan” ever existed.

6. John Hanson was NOT elected unanimously.

All the entry for Nov 4th in the Journals of the Confederation Congress records about the election of a presiding officer is that it occurred and John Hanson was elected. Nothing about a vote count.  Representatives for two states, New York and Delaware were not even present that day.

7. Hanson was NOT elected over Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Hamilton or Hancock.

The Nov. 4th entry does not say who (or if) anyone ran against Hanson. Recently it has been asserted that John Hanson was elected over Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and Hancock.  None of them were eligible to be president of Congress Assembled.  According to the Articles (#9) you had to be a member of Congress to be president and none of them were.  In fact Hanson only accepted on the condition that Maryland guarantee his return to Congress following state elections in a few weeks.  If he had not been returned he would not have been eligible to serve.  The entry for the day in the Journal does not say who (or if) anyone ran against Hanson.

8.  John Hanson is NOT the first president of the United States of America or the first president of the Confederation Congress.

When the articles of Confederation were ratified on March 4th things did not change, Samuel Huntington continued as president, making him the first Confederation president of Congress.  In July he resigned; there was an election and the next man elected refused to serve.  Another election was held and Thomas McKeon was chosen to finish Huntington’s term.  McKeon is the second president of the Confederation Congress and the first elected, but did not serve a one year term.  On November 4, 1781, John Hanson was elected president of Congress.  This made him the third president of Congress and the second elected, but the first to serve a one year term. 

9. John Hanson did NOT establish the first Thanksgiving or set a precedent for future days of thanksgiving and prayer to be held on the last Thursday of November.

Congress issued proclamations for a day of Thanksgiving every year since 1777.  Most often they chose a day in December. During the first Confederation Congress  a committee (not including Hanson) chose a day in November. In the draft the words “ the last”  written before Thursday are crossed.  They were not trying to establish a precedent for future days of thanksgiving.  They were following a practice already in place. The next year they went back to a date in December. It was not the holiday we think of as “Thanksgiving”.  The day was meant to be spent in church in prayer.

Summary:

While John Hanson was president, he voted in Congress as a delegate of Maryland just like every other  delegate in Congress..  This is an indicator that his real role was closer to the modern Speaker of the House. It is telling that even though he died shortly after he left Congress there is no mention of his being the president of anything but Congress and nothing about “first.”  When John Hanson died in 1783, his obituary in the Maryland Gazette stated, “This gentleman has long been a servant to his country, in a variety of employments, the last of which was that of president of Congress.”  By the time John Hanson’s wife died about thirty years later she was remembered only as the widow of a delegate to the “…old Revolutionary Congress”, not the wife of a President.

John Hanson should be remembered for his contributions to Maryland’s Revolutionary War efforts which took place primarily in Frederick County.  His service in Congress was a post script to his career.  He outlined his misgivings in letters to his family.  He told them it was his duty to stay because if he left there would not be enough attending delegates to do business.  There weren’t even enough to hold another election.  The fact that he was willing continue when he had good reasons to excuse himself, is to his credit.

The continuing efforts to turn John Hanson into something he is not does him a great disservice and corrupts the public perception of history.  I would urge anyone whose curiosity has been peaked to do some searches, you will be appalled.

Sources

Jensen, Merrill, “The Articles of Confederation”, University of Wisconsin Press, 1970

Jensen, Merrill, “The New Nation”, Vintage Books, 1951

Levering, Ralph B. “John Hanson, Public Servant”. Maryland Historical Magazine 71             (Summer 1976): 113–33.

Russel, George Ely. “John Hanson of Maryland: A Swedish Heritage Disproved”. The             American Genealogist 63, no. 4 (October 1988)

John Hanson (1721-1783), Archives of Maryland (Biographical Series)

            http://www.msa.md.gov/megafile/msa/speccol/sc3500/sc3520/000500/000587/html/587sources.html

Journals of the Continental Congress 1774-1779

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwjc.html

Hoffman, Ronald, “A Spirit of Dissension: Economics, Politics, and the Revolution in Maryland”, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973


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