Very often, we Americans forget their fairly recent ancestory and take our lives on this continent for granted. It is rare to find someone now who can grasp the true meaning of "having it rough" and the harsh realities of true survival.
America's history, in comparison to other nations, is very short, indeed. This is why it is amazing that historical accounts and legends such as that which follows are fading quickly.
The following document comes from The Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants
Five Kernels of Parched Corn
In the midst of our abundance it is only fitting that we should commemorate today, with visible, tangible token, one of the most acute of the privations that preceded the final triumph of the Pilgrims.
Though the Pilgrims were notably provident, they were also exceedingly sympathetic and charitable. So their food supply was frequently depleted to the danger point by the many unforeseen demands made upon it by distressed mariners and other unexpected arrivals; with all of whom they invariably shared their meager stores.
After the corn planting in the spring of 1623, the scant supply remaining until the following harvest, when pooled and divided, permitted a ration, according to tradition, of only five kernels of corn per day per person. Nevertheless, still other demands arose, and even this slender supply became exhausted weeks before the next harvest. Thus came about their memorable 'starving time'. The suffering became intense. Strong men fell exhausted at their work. However, it is recorded that not one succumbed. Their great faith and indomitable will to survive carried them through to the next harvest and the well-earned years of plenty ahead.
Our familiar corn was not known to Europeans until found in America. The word "corn" in English usage meant any small grain. It is not too much to say that without this indigenous 'Indian corn', the Pilgrims could not have survived. None of the great variety of English garden seeds that they brought with them and planted ever produced a good harvest. Their food supply had become precarious. Occasionally a deer, turkey, partridge or quail could be shot, if the hunters were fortunate. Fish, when fisherman's luck permitted could be caught. Lobsters, clams and eels; if, and when, they could be found, were in the waters. Occasionally, in season, wild berries, grapes, 'ground nuts', strawberries and such could be gathered. Besides not having sufficient corn to make bread, the often hungry settlers were also without butter, cheese or milk (except possibly a little goat's milk), because they had no cattle.
The Bi-Centennial of the Landing of the Pilgrims was commemorated at Plymouth on Forefathers' Day, 1820. After a memorable address by Daniel Webster, a procession was formed. Escorted by the Standish Guards, it marched to the new Court House, where a rich banquet was spread. At each place were five kernels of parched corn. The significance and beautiful appropriateness to the occasion of these silent tokens were appreciated by many of the guests, for they were reminders of that affecting privation in 1623 when the allowance was only five kernels of corn per day per person. When these were gone, they had no corn, and, of course, no bread.
Here, today, at each place, will be found the traditional ration of five kernels of Indian corn. Only five kernels of corn; but how full of significant associations. May these token of the privations of our ancestors remind us of the victory for freedom that this little band of outcasts won, against overwhelming odds, on the edge of a vast, unknown continent more than three hundred and sixty years ago.
-The Massachusettes Society of Mayflower Descendants
More on the Legend of the Five Kernels can be found at http://arose4ever.com/karen/thanksgiv/5kernels.htm
It is because of the struggle
of the people who came before us that we have the lives ahead of us. America was founded by strong
people with strong wills and a belief
in the power of the family