I decided to research what Thanksgiving was like when the Town was first founded. As you know, Greenwich was founded in 1640, twenty years after Plymouth Colony (1620). We've all heard strories about the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth. They had a huge feast and invited the Native Americans to join them. So I thought the same would have happened here. I couldn't find any information on a similar feast here in Greenwich. This might not be as strange as you may first think.Mead notes in "Ye Historie of Ye Town of Greenwich" that our settlers had left the Massachusetts Bay Colony to escape the rigors of Puritanism. Perhaps they rejected the customs or traditions observed in Plymouth. Maybe they wanted to start their own tradtions. Mead also noted that Greenwich was considered a wild and lawless town. People did pretty much what they wanted.
Looking back at the 1640 time period, one thing that really sticks out is the deteriorating relations with the Native Americans. Captain Patrick and Robert Feake had purchased land in what is now Old Greenwich for 24 fur coats. (Some reports say the natives were never paid in full!) Maybe the Native Americans meant to share the land and not give it entirely away. There were reports of the English using liquor to get them drunk so they could cheat them from their property. Once the Indians figured out the trickery, they retaliated. In 1642, Cornelius Labden was killed by the local Indians, and the next year Captain Patrick killed sachem (chief) Mayn Mianos. The worst incident happened in 1644 when Captain John Underhill led 130 Dutch and English in a massacre at an Indian settlement at Strickland Plains. It was reported that 800 to 1,000 Native Americans were killed near Cos Cob. Eventually, most of eastern Connecticut and southeastern Massachusetts would be involved in King Phillips War. There was definite tension between the Colonists and the Native Americans.
Local newspapers started in 1877, so there are no newspaper accounts of early Thanksgiving celebrations. However, Mrs. A. C. Lowitz, wife of the president of the Historical Society, gave an interview to the Greenwich Time on what an early Thanksgiving feast could have contained. It was published on November 24, 1965. In the seventeenth century, women would start preparing several days before the celebration. Residents relied heavily on home-grown foods. A favorite was Dutch Oven "Pye". This could be made from woodcock, grouse, partridge or chickens. Wild turkey might be served with oyster stuffing. Baked lobster was no doubt on the menu due to our proximity to Long Island Sound. Roasted meat or fowl might be served with homemade bread. (The Bush Holley House had a great fireplace and beehive oven for baking.) Pumpkin fritters (similar to hush puppies) would be served, as well as turnips and carrots glazed with maple syrup or honey. Indian pudding was served for dessert.
Expanding on this thought, I believe local residents would feast on their home-grown agricultural products including apples, pears, peaches, potatoes, vegetables, poultry, sheep, pigs and dairy products. Dumplings were popular (Dumpling Pond?) as well as shellfish such as oysters, clams and mussels.
I would like to add that, since Greenwich was located on the main Post Road to Boston, travellers might enjoy a Thanksgiving meal at one of the many taverns in town. And once Greenwich became a summer resort of sorts during the 1800s, they might choose to spend the holidays in town. Ferry service probably brought people and supplies in for Thanksgiving. Stores on Greenwich Avenue would stock up on dry goods in anticipation of the holiday. Since churches were the main social centers for outlying villages such as Stanwich, Round Hill and Banksville, people might share their Thanksgiving dinners there. Specific ethnic groups (Italians, Polish, Dutch) might bring their own traditions to the community.
Today, many residents observe Thanksgiving in a different way. Family members travel great distances to share a meal. Some attend church services. The Greenwich High School football game has become a Thanksgiving tradition. Stamford has been holding a parade (usually the Sunday before) for over 20 years now. Various groups volunteer at soup kitchens or donate food for the less fortunate. Others have invited people, who would otherwise be alone, to share their Thanksgiving meal. Until recently, local churches held a Union (Ecumenical) Service.
My family had our own tradtioins. We would go to the local high school football game, then come home and watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Dad would carve the turkey. One of us would take a turn saying grace. During dessert, we would each name something we were thankful for. Dad and I would play chess after the meal. Someone would call long distance to relatives that couldn't be with us. And the wishbone was removed so it could dry and be pulled in a few days.
Whatever your personal family Thanksgiving traditions, may you and your family have many blessings in life. And may you end up with the longest part of the wishbone!
Have a Joyous and Happy Thanksgiving!
The Greenwich Time