Category Archives: Events

Save the Wetlands


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Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj
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Logo of Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Logo of Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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On February 2, 1971, an international treaty for the conservation and wise use of sustainable wetlands called the ‘Ramsar Convention on Wetlands‘, was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar, on the shores of the Caspian Sea. It provided the framework for national action and international cooperation. In 1997, World Wetlands Day celebrated for the first time made an encouraging beginning.

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Wetland wallpaper
Wetland wallpaper (Photo credit: Jon Rieley-Goddard aka baldyblogger)

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Technically a wetland is defined as:

An ecosystem that arises when inundation by water produces soils dominated by anaerobic processes, which, in turn, forces the biota, particularly rooted plants, to adapt to flooding.

In layman’s words, a wetland is a land area saturated with water, either permanently or seasonally, such that it takes on the characteristics of a distinct ecosystem.

Every continent has its own Wetlands that occur naturally except Antarctica. The Amazon swamp forests and the Siberian peatland are the largest wetlands in the world. Another large wetland is the Pantanal, which straddles Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay in South America.

The primary factor that distinguishes wetlands from other landforms or water bodies is the characteristic vegetation adapted to its unique soil conditions. Primarily wetlands consist of hydric soil, which supports aquatic plants.

A hydric soil is formed under conditions of saturation of soil with water, seasonally by flooding, or permanently by ponding (pooling of unwanted water) long enough to develop anaerobic conditions in the upper part. This term is part of the legal definition of a wetland included in the United States Food Security Act of 1985 (P.L. 99-198).

There are four main kinds of wetlands: marsh, swamp, bog and fen. Sub-types include mangrove, carr, pocosin, and varzea. Some experts also include wet meadows and aquatic ecosystems as  wetland types.

Marsh is a flat, wetland area, devoid of peat, saturated with moisture during one or more seasons. Typical vegetation includes grasses, sedges, reeds and rushes. Marshes are valuable wetlands that maintain water tables in adjacent ecosystems.

Swamp is a low-lying wetland area found near large bodies of open water in such places as low-lying coastal plains, floodplains of rivers, and old lake basins or in areas where glacial deposits have disrupted normal drainage. An abundant growth of rushes and sedge characterize swamps in the northern regions. Trees, such as the swamp cypress and high shrubs dominate southern regions. Swamps can prevent flooding by absorbing floodwaters from rivers and coastal regions.

Bogs and fens (in eastern England) are types of mires – an area of wet, soggy, muddy ground.

Bogs receive their water from the atmosphere. Their water has a low mineral ionic composition because ground water has a higher concentration of dissolved nutrients and minerals in comparison to precipitation. Bogs have acidic soil.

Fens, also known as the Fenland(s), are natural marshy regions in eastern England.

A fen is the local name for an individual area of marshland or former marshland and also designates the type of marsh typical of the area.

Most of the fens drained several centuries ago, became flat, damp, low-lying agricultural regions.

The water chemistry of fens ranges from low pH and low minerals to alkaline with high content of calcium and magnesium. ,

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Laguna de Rocha, the largest wetland in the urban area in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo - Martinsnm)
Laguna de Rocha, the largest wetland in the urban area in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo: Martinsnm)

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Water in wetlands along the coastal shorelines is invariably salty or brackish. Water found in inland wetlands can also be fresh water.

Wetlands have many vital and fascinating characteristics that play a number of roles in the environment while also providing recreational opportunities.

Wetland systems improve water quality, control floods and buffer coastal communities from erosion vital for shoreline stability.

Wetlands are the most diverse of all biological ecosystems. They comprise a range of plants that provide essential food and habitat for various wildlife such as fish, birds, reptiles, insects, etc.

The wetlands are pivotal to 75% of world’s migratory birds. More than half of the fish caught for recreational or commercial purposes depend on wetlands at some point in their life cycles.

Wetlands can also be constructed artificially to serve as a water management tool in the design of water-sensitive urban areas.

Frankly, much of the report compiled by the world environmental agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  (NOAA) do not portend well.

For example, NOAA has authored a report, “Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watersheds of the Conterminous United States 2004-2009,” with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that summarized the status and trends of coastal watersheds.

According to the report, the coastal watersheds of the continental United States lost wetlands at an average rate of 80,000 acres a year during the study period an area about seven football fields every hour, and a 25% increase over the previous six-year study period.

The loss of these valuable wetlands threatens not only the sustainable fisheries and protected species, but also the supply of clean water and stability of shorelines in the face of climate change.

Almost half of the population in the United States now lives in coastal counties. Continued loss of coastal wetlands means less protection for those communities in the coastal counties from strong storms, such as Superstorm Sandy.

Key factors in the degradation and loss of wetlands in coastal watersheds are directly traced to population growth and its associated development — both residential and infrastructure, changes in water flow, and increased pollution.

Imagery from Earth-observing satellites that map changes in wetlands, however, show that while Mediterranean wetlands had been principally used for agriculture, less wetland areas have been changed by agriculture in the past 10–15 years. This  indicates that agriculture expansion is no longer a severe threat and successful agricultural practices can actually support healthy wetlands.

Imagery from Earth-observing satellites that map changes in wetlands, however, show that while Mediterranean wetlands had been principally used for agriculture, less wetland areas have been changed by agriculture in the past 10–15 years. This  indicates that agriculture expansion is no longer a severe threat and successful agricultural practices can actually support healthy wetlands.

Agriculture needs wetlands for water, pest management, pollination and landscape improvement. At the same time, agricultural land acts as a buffer zone around wetlands, protecting them from developing industrial zones and urban areas. This cohabitation shows that wetlands and the agriculture sector are mutually beneficial.

Recognizing this connection, common strategies for wetland and agro ecosystem-conscious management are on global agendas.

Paul OuedraogoRamsar Convention’s Senior Advisor for Africa said:

“We need to find the right balance between the economic demands of agriculture and the necessary wise use of wetlands, which benefits both and is indeed essential for each of them.”

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Violet Jessop, the 20th Century Lady Jonah: Part 6 – Aboard the HMHS Britannic


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj
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HMHS Britannic (Author: Allan Green, 1878 - 1954)
HMHS Britannic (Author: Allan Green, 1878 – 1954)

The HMHS  Britannic was the third and largest Olympic-class ocean liner of the White Star Line larger than the RMS Titanic.

Some sources claim the ship was to be named “Gigantic“. At least one set of documentations exists, in which Noah Hingley & Sons Ltd., in Netherton, near Dudley, United Kingdom, discuss the order for the ship’s anchors; this documentation states that the name of the ship is Gigantic. It appears more probable that the name Gigantic must have been used informally in correspondence with Harland & Wolff before being dropped quietly. However, Tom McCluskie affirmed that in his capacity as Archive Manager and Historian at Harland & Wolff, he “never saw any official reference to the name ‘Gigantic’ being used or proposed for the third of the Olympic class vessels.

The keel for Britannic was laid on November 30, 1911, at the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast, 13 months after the launch of the RMS Olympic. Her watertight bulkhead was extended, higher than Titanic’s had been. Britannic was designed to carry 48 open lifeboats. Of these, 46 were to be 34 feet long, the largest lifeboats ever carried until then and two of the 46 were to be motor propelled equipped with wireless sets for communications. The other two were to be 26-foot cutters placed on either side of the bridge.

Though Britannic was intended to enter service as a transatlantic passenger liner, she never crossed the Atlantic carrying the rich and the poor to the New World.

After improvements were introduced as a consequence of the Titanic disaster, Britannic was launched at 11:10 am on February 26, 1914. Around 20 tonnes of tallow, train oil and soft soap were used to move the gigantic ship down the slipway. In 81 seconds she stood afloat in the water.  Later, she was towed to the Abercon Basin for fitting by five tugs.

The British press hailed her as “a twentieth century ship in every sense of the word” and “the highest achievement of her day in the practise of shipbuilding and marine engineering.” However, after launching, she was laid up at her builders in Belfast for many months.

In August 1914, when the first World War broke out, the shipyards in Britain focused on converting many liners for Transport of Troops. Some were converted to Hospital ships. Britannic‘s maiden voyage scheduled for April 1915 was cancelled.

On November 13, 1915, after being docked for 15 months, the British Admiralty requisitioned Britannic, which was just an empty hull, to use it as a hospital ship. She was readied in just six weeks before being put to use as a hospital ship and was given ship number 9618.

The public rooms on the upper decks were converted into wards for the wounded soldiers. The large first class dining rooms and the reception rooms were converted into operating theatres and main wards. Deck B was furnished to house the medical officers. The lower decks were fitted out for medical orderlies, other staff and the less wounded patients. In all, the ship was fitted to carry 3,309 people.

Digital plans of the Britannic in hospital ship colours by Cyril Codus. (Source: hmhsbritannic.weebly.com)
Digital plans of the Britannic in hospital ship colours by Cyril Codus. (Source: hmhsbritannic.weebly.com)

The ship’s hull was repainted in the internationally recognized colours of a hospital ship; a green band was painted along each side of the ship broken by three large red crosses, to provide her safe passage at sea. For protection at night, two large red crosses were painted on both sides of the boat deck and were highlighted at night with a band of green electric bulbs.

Renamed HMHS (His Majesty’s Hospital Ship) Britannic, she entered service on December 23, 1915 under the command of Commodore Charles Alfred Bartlett.

On December 23, 1915, she entered service as His Majesty’s Hospital Ship – HMHS Britannic.

23-year-old Violet Jessop in her Voluntary Aid Detachment uniform while assigned to HMHS Britannic
23-year-old Violet Jessop in her Voluntary Aid Detachment uniform while assigned to HMHS Britannic

After her traumatic experience on the RMS Titanic, Violet Jessop secured a position with the British Red Cross as a stewardess. She was posted on HMHS Britannic.

Along with Violet on board was 27-year-old Arthur John Priest, a fireman / stoker, who, like her, had survived the collision of the RMS Olympic with the HMS Hawke, and escaped from the RMS Titanic when she sank on April 15, 1912.

Also, on board was 23-year-old Archie Jewel, one of the six lookout men on the deck of the ill-fated Titanic. On the night of April 14, 1912, he had worked the 8 pm to 10 pm shift and was in his berth when the ship hit the iceberg at 11:40 pm. He was one of the first to leave the ship on the starboard side at 12:45 pm in lifeboat 7, with just 28 people on it while the full capacity was for 65. After the Titanic, Archie was on board the SS Donegal which was sunk by enemy action in April 1917.

On December 23, 1915, HMHS Britannic left Liverpool on her maiden voyage to Moudros, on the island of Lemnos, North Aegean, Greece under the command of Commodore Charles Alfred Bartlett. She reached Moudros eight days later on December 31, 1915 and returned to Southampton on January 9, 1916.

After completing two more voyages to Naples, she was laid up on April 12, 1916.

On August 28, 1916, HMHS Britannic was recalled to active service and was given a new Transport Identification Number, G618. She made two more voyages to Moudros returning with the sick and wounded.

The HMHS Britannic left Southampton at 2:23 pm on November 12, 1916 with Captain Charles Bartlett in command on her 6th outbound voyage to Moudros. On arriving at Naples on November 17, 1916, she took on board more coal and water.

The ship was secured for two days at Naples due to a storm. On Sunday, November 19, 1916, finding a brief shift in the weather, Captain Bartlett decided to sail away from Naples. A total of 1,066 people – sick and wounded soldiers, the ship’s crew, and the medical staff – were on board.

As HMHS Britannic left the port, a storm set in and the sea rose again. The following morning, the storm passed and the sea became calm and the ship passed the Strait of Messina without any further problems. In the early hours of Tuesday, November 21, 1916, the ship rounded Cape Matapan.

At 8:00 am, Captain Bartlett changed course for the Kea Channel, in the Aegean Sea, lying between the islands of Makronisi (to her port side) and Kea (to her starboard side), just off Cape Sounion on the mainland of Greece. Chief Officer Robert Hume and Fourth Officer D. McTowis were on the Bridge along with him.

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 Previous: Part 5 – After the Titanic Disaster

To be continued

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February 2, 2014 is World Wetlands Day


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj
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Today, February 2 is World Wetlands Day

Logo of Ramsar Convention on Wetlands
Logo of Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On February 2, 1971, the ‘Ramsar Convention on Wetlands’ was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar, on the shores of the Caspian Sea,  to provide the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands. World Wetlands Day celebrated for the first time in 1997 made an encouraging beginning.

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Wetland wallpaper
Wetland wallpaper (Photo credit: Jon Rieley-Goddard aka baldyblogger)

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A wetland is technically defined as:

“An ecosystem that arises when inundation by water produces soils dominated by anaerobic processes, which, in turn, forces the biota, particularly rooted plants, to adapt to flooding.”

In layman’s words, a wetland is a land area that is saturated with water, either permanently or seasonally, such that it takes on the characteristics of a distinct ecosystem.

The primary factor that distinguishes wetlands from other land forms or water bodies is the characteristic vegetation that is adapted to its unique soil conditions. Primarily wetlands consist of hydric soil, which supports aquatic plants.

A hydric soil is formed under conditions of saturation of soil with water, seasonally by flooding, or permanently by ponding (pooling of unwanted water) long enough to develop anaerobic conditions in the upper part. This term is part of the legal definition of a wetland included in the United States Food Security Act of 1985 (P.L. 99-198).

There are four main kinds of wetlands: marsh, swamp, bog and fen. Sub-types include mangrove, carr, pocosin, and varzea. Some experts also include wet meadows and aquatic ecosystems as additional wetland types.

Marsh is a flat, wetland area, devoid of peat, saturated with moisture during one or more seasons. Typical vegetation includes grasses, sedges, reeds and rushes. Marshes are valuable wetlands and maintain water tables in adjacent ecosystems.

Swamp is a low-lying wetland area, found near large bodies of open water, generally in such places as low-lying coastal plains, floodplains of rivers, and old lake basins or in areas where normal drainage has been disrupted by glacial deposits. Swamps are characterized in the northern regions by an abundant growth of rushes and sedge and in the southern regions dominated by trees, such as the swamp cypress, and high shrubs. Swamps can prevent flooding by absorbing flood waters from rivers and coastal regions.

Bogs and fens (in eastern England) are types of mires – an area of wet, soggy, muddy ground.

Bogs receive their water from the atmosphere. Their water has a low mineral ionic composition because ground water has a higher concentration of dissolved nutrients and minerals in comparison to precipitation. Bogs have acidic soil.

Fens, also known as the Fenland(s), are a naturally marshy region in eastern England. Most of the fens were drained several centuries ago, resulting in a flat, damp, low-lying agricultural region. A fen is the local name for an individual area of marshland or former marshland and also designates the type of marsh typical of the area. The water chemistry of fens ranges from low pH and low minerals to alkaline with high content of calcium and magnesium, but few other plant nutrients because they acquire their water from precipitation as well as ground water.

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Laguna de Rocha, the largest wetland in the urban area in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo - Martinsnm)
Laguna de Rocha, the largest wetland in the urban area in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo: Martinsnm)

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Every continent has its own Wetlands that occur naturally except Antarctica. The Amazon swamp forests and the Siberian peatland are the largest wetlands in the world. Another large wetland is the Pantanal, which straddles Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay in South America.

The water found in inland wetlands can be fresh water. The water in wetlands along the coastal shorelines are invariably salty or brackish.

Wetlands have many vital and fascinating characteristics that play a number of roles in the environment while also providing recreational opportunities.

Wetland systems improve water quality, control floods, and buffer coastal communities from erosion vital for shoreline stability.

Wetlands are the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems comprising a wide range of plants and serve as home to diverse animal life – fish, birds, reptiles, insects, etc., and provide essential food and habitat for wildlife. More than half of the fish caught for recreational or commercial purposes depend on wetlands at some point in their life cycles. Wetlands are crucial to 75 percent of world’s migratory birds.

Wetlands can also be constructed artificially to serve as a water management tool in the design of water-sensitive urban areas.

Frankly, much of the report compiled by the world environmental agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  (NOAA) do not portend well.

For example, NOAA has authored a report, “Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watersheds of the Conterminous United States 2004-2009,” with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that summarized the status and trends of coastal watersheds.

According to the report, the coastal watersheds of the continental United States lost wetlands at an average rate of 80,000 acres a year during the study period. That’s approximately seven football fields, every hour! It’s a 25 percent increase over the previous 6-year study period.

The loss of these valuable wetlands threatens not only the sustainable fisheries and protected species, but also the supply of clean water and stability of shorelines in the face of climate change. Almost half of the population in the United States now lives in coastal counties. Continued loss of coastal wetlands means less protection for those communities in the coastal counties from strong storms, such as Superstorm Sandy.

Key factors in the degradation and loss of wetlands in coastal watersheds can be directly traced to population growth and its associated development — both residential and infrastructure, changes in water flow, and increased pollution.

Imagery from Earth-observing satellites that map changes in wetlands, however, show that while Mediterranean wetlands had been principally used for agriculture, less wetland areas have been changed by agriculture in the past 10–15 years. This  indicates that agriculture expansion is no longer a severe threat and successful agricultural practices can actually support healthy wetlands.

Imagery from Earth-observing satellites that map changes in wetlands, however, show that while Mediterranean wetlands had been principally used for agriculture, less wetland areas have been changed by agriculture in the past 10–15 years. This  indicates that agriculture expansion is no longer a severe threat and successful agricultural practices can actually support healthy wetlands.

Agriculture needs wetlands for water, pest management, pollination and landscape improvement. At the same time, agricultural land acts as a buffer zone around wetlands, protecting them from developing industrial zones and urban areas. This co-habitation shows that wetlands and the agriculture sector are mutually beneficial.

Recognizing this connection, common strategies for wetland and agro ecosystem-conscious management are on global agendas.

Now, 43 years later, the anniversary of the adoption and signing of the ‘Ramsar Convention on Wetlands‘ is being celebrated under the theme ‘Wetlands and Agriculture: Partners for Growth‘.

Paul Ouedraogo,Ramsar Convention’s Senior Advisor for Africa said:

“We need to find the right balance between the economic demands of agriculture and the necessary wise use of wetlands, which benefits both and is indeed essential for each of them.”

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Thai Pongal: The Harvest Festival of South India


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Happy Pongal

The Tamils in Tamilnadu, Puduchery, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia, celebrate the festival called Pongal (பொங்கல்) or Thai Pongal (தைப்பொங்கல்). This festival marks the end of the harvest season. The farmers thank the Sun, the principal energizer that helps to reap a bountiful harvest.

In Tamilnadu and Puduchery, Pongal is a four-day festival. It begins on the last day of the Tamil month Maargazhi and culminates on the third day of the Tamil month Thai (January 13 to January 16 in the Gregorian calendar).

The Tamil word Pongal means “overflowing” signifying abundance and prosperity. “Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum” meaning “the birth of Thai heralds new prospects” is an oft quoted popular saying among the Tamils.

The four days of Pongal are: Bhogi Pandigai, Thai Pongal, Maatu Pongal, and Kaanum Pongal.

First day: Bhogi Pandigai

In Tamil the first day of the festival, namely the day preceding Pongal, is known as Bhogi Pandigai. Telugu people in Andhra Pradesh too observe this day and call it “Bhogi“.

Bhogi Pandigai (Source - mylaporetimes.com)
Bhogi Pandigai (Source – mylaporetimes.com)

In Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh people light bonfires at dawn and burn the derelict items found in their household. This practice is similar to Holika in North India.

Pongal Kolam (Photo - T.V. Antony Raj)
My neighbours creating the Pongal Kolam (Photo – T.V. Antony Raj)

Next, they clean their house, whitewash and paint it if necessary, and decorate the house with banana and mango leaves and embellish the floor with kolams or rangoli (decorative patterns) drawn using brightly coloured rice powder/chalk/chalk powder/white rock powder.

In villages, owners of cattle paint the horns of oxen and buffaloes in bright colours.

Elders showering ‘bhogi pallu’ on children at a programme organised by Sri Gayatri Welfare Assocation and Cultural Youth Academy in Visakhapatnam. (Photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam / thehindu.com)
Elders showering ‘bhogi pallu’ on children at a programme organised by Sri Gayatri Welfare Assocation and Cultural Youth Academy in Visakhapatnam. (Photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam / thehindu.com)

In Andhra Pradesh, in a ceremony called Bhogi-pallu, elders shower a mix of ‘regi-pallu’, flower petals, pieces of sugarcane, coins and jaggery on children attired in colourful ‘langa-voni’ and other traditional wear. This ceremony is conducted to ward off evil eye and bless the children with abundance and long life.

Second day: Thai Pongal

The second day of the four days of Pongal is the principal day of the festival. This day is known as Thai Pongal by the Tamils. Pongal festival per se is celebrated on the first day of the Tamil month of Thai (January 14). This day is celebrated in all the states in India. This day coincides with Makara Sankranthi, a winter harvest festival, celebrated throughout India. On this day the Sun begins its six-month long journey northwards or the Uttarayanam. This also represents the Indic solstice when the sun enters Makara (Capricorn), the 10th house of the Indian zodiac.

In Tamil Nadu, Puduchery, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia it is celebrated as Thai Pongal.

In Andhra Pradesh, Bengal, Bihar, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh it is celebrated as Makara Sankranthi.

Gujarathis and Rajasthanis celebrate it as Uttarayana.

In Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab it is celebrated as Lohri.

Assamese celebrated it as Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu.

Nepaesel celebrate it as Maghe Sankranti or Makar Sankranti.

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Thai Pongal - Boiling milk

In Tamilnadu, it is a tradition for the housewives to boil milk in a new clay pot at dawn. When the milk boils and spills over the vessel, the folk blow the sanggu (a conch) shout “Pongalo Pongal!” Tamils consider it an auspicious to watch the milk boil over as it connotes good luck and prosperity.

Chakkarai Pongal

Later, the women prepare Pongal by boiling rice with fresh milk and jaggery in new clay pots. When the rice is half-cooked, sugar, ghee, cashew nuts and raisins are added to the pot. This traditional preparation of sweet rice or Chakkarai Pongal derives its name from the festival.

Newly cooked rice is first offered to the Sun at sunrise as gratitude for a bountiful harvest. Women prepare savouries and sweets such as vadai, murukku, paayasam which they share with their neighbours.

Third day: Maattu Pongal

Maattu Pongal (Source: happy-2013.blogspot.com)
Maattu Pongal (Source: happy-2013.blogspot.com)

Cattle are important to life in rural India. They are a form of wealth to the rural folks.

The Tamils of Tamil Nadu celebrate Maattu Pongal (மாட்டுப் பொங்கல்) on the day following the Thai Pongal day. This day is also celebrated in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

Maattu Pongal (Source - tamilrasigan.wordpress.com)

The rural folk show their affection to their cattle by applying kungumam (kumkum) on their cattle’s foreheads and garlanding them. A mixture of venn pongal (sweetened rice), jaggery, banana, sugar cane and other fruits.

Youths trying to tame a bull at a jallikattu held at Idaiyathur, near Ponnamaravathy, in Pudukottai district, Tamilnadu, India (Source - thehindu.com)
Youths trying to tame a bull at a jallikattu held at Idaiyathur, near Ponnamaravathy, in Pudukottai district, Tamilnadu, India (Source – thehindu.com)

In many parts of Tamilnadu, youth participate in adventurous game of Jallikkattu also known as Manju Virattu, or taming the ferocious bulls to test their valour.

Fourth day: Kaanum Pongal

People throng the Marina beach to celebrate Kaanum Pongal in Chennai (Phot: R. Ravindran/thehindu.com)
People throng the Marina beach to celebrate Kaanum Pongal in Chennai (Phot: R. Ravindran/thehindu.com)

Kaanum Pongal is an auspicious day for family reunions for Tamils in Tamilnadu.

The Tamil word “kaanum” means “to view”. Siblings pay special tribute to their married brothers and sisters by giving gifts as a token of their filial love. People visit relatives and friends to rejoice the festive season. People have a day out with their families on river banks, beaches and theme parks.

Kaanum Pongal culminates the end of the Pongal festivities for the year.

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Black Friday and the United Stupids of America (USA)!


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Last year when I was in the United States, a friend from India called me over the phone a week before Thanksgiving Day. He requested me to buy a laptop for him on Black Friday. He said that he had heard that on Black Friday electronic goods could be bought at bargain prices. Little did he know about the madness that inundates the United Stupids of America (USA) on Black Friday.

Traditionally, Thanksgiving Day is celebrated in the United States on the fourth Thursday of November. Also, traditionally, the beginning of the Christmas shopping season starts in the United States on Black Friday, the day following Thanksgiving Day.Most major retailers open their sales outlets extremely early on Black Friday to kick off the holiday shopping season and offer promotional sales.

Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday in the United States and people celebrate the day with religious fervor.

Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner.
Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner.

People get together with their loved ones, invariably devour large amounts of food centered around an enormous roasted turkey, and like angels and saints praise and thank God for all that they have.

Black Friday - People waiting outside a mall.
Black Friday – People waiting outside a mall.

But on the following day, the Black Friday, they become United Stupids of America by transmogrifying from angels to demons. They stubbornly gather outside malls, some from midnight on. They while away their time chattering and shivering, undaunted by the bitter winter cold, and wait for the shops to open.

As soon as the doors open, the stampede begins.

Black Friday Shoppers rushing into the mall.
Black Friday Shoppers rushing into the mall.
Black Friday Shoppers rushing into the mall (isource)
Black Friday Shoppers rushing into the mall (isource)
Black Friday Shoppers rushing into the mall.
Black Friday Shoppers rushing into the mall.

People behave like crazed animals. They barge into the malls like raging bulls. They trample and maul one another to buy more stuff that they already have or absolutely do not need; just 24 hours after offering thanks for how much they have.

That is Black Friday for you in the United States of America. No other country in the world can boast of such a frenzied day.

Though Black Friday is not an official holiday, many non-retail employers give their employees the day off, thereby increasing the number of potential shoppers.

Earlier, retailers opened shop on Black Friday at 6 am. However, in the late 2000s, many retailers opened their retail outlets at 5 am, and some opened at 4 am. Big names including Target, Kohls, Macy’s, Best Buy, etc. open at midnight. Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, broke the Black Friday tradition in 2011 by opening its store on Thanksgiving evening.

Here is a video clip depicting the madness of the United Stupids of America for you to decide whether you too want to join these berserk folks and avail bargains on Black Friday.

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A Short History of Thanksgiving Day: Part 3 – Thanksgiving in New England


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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John Robinson's House, Leyden, where the Pilgrim Fathers worshipped

Around 1617, the group of Separatists living Leiden, afraid of losing their cultural identity decided to set up colonies elsewhere, in some other country. Discussions were held as to where the group should go. The decided not to settle near England since that might closely duplicate the political environment back in England.

Candidate destinations included Guiana, where the Dutch had already established in 1616, Essequibo, a colony on the Essequibo River in the Guiana region on the north coast of South America; or somewhere near the existing Virginia settlements. Virginia was an attractive destination because the presence of the older colony might offer better security and trade opportunities.

At the same time, there were many uncertainties about moving to far-off places such as America because of the stories they heard about failed colonies over there. Also, there were fears of violent natives; scarcity of food and water; possibility of exposure to unknown diseases; and hazards of distant travel by sea.

The London Company, also called the Charter of the Virginia Company of London, was an English joint stock company established by royal charter by King James I, for the purpose of establishing colonial settlements in North America. It administered a territory of considerable size in the region.

The territory granted to the London Company included the coast of North America from the 34th parallel (Cape Fear) north to the 41st parallel (Long Island Sound), but being part of the Virginia Company and Colony, the London Company owned a large part of Atlantic and Inland Canada. The company was permitted by its charter to establish a 100-square-mile (260 sq km) settlement within this area. The company shared the territory, north of the 38th parallel  with the Plymouth Company, with the stipulation that neither company should establish a colony within 100 miles (161 km) of each other.

The London Company administered a territory of considerable size in the region. The Leiden Separatists made arrangements with the London Company to establish a new colony in North America. The intended settlement site was at the mouth of the Hudson River, at a distance that allayed concerns of social, political and religious conflicts, but still provided the military and economic benefits of relative closeness to an established colony.

Robert Cushman, a well-to-do wool comber, was the Chief Agent for the Leiden congregation.

John Carver (Illustration from 1800s M & E Cigar label. The picture is an unknown artist's conception that was supposedly based on contemporary descriptions)
John Carver (Illustration from 1800s M & E Cigar label. The picture is an unknown artist’s conception that was supposedly based on contemporary descriptions)

John Carver, a successful London merchant and brother-in-law of John Robinson’s wife, had joined the Pilgrims around 1610.

The New World seemed to offer the opportunity the Leiden congregation needed, but the group had no means for getting across the Atlantic Ocean and establishing a colony. In 1617, the Leiden congregation sent Robert Cushman and John Carver to England to seek financial backing for crossing the Atlantic and to obtain a land patent. But the negotiations delayed because of internal conflicts in the London Company, but ultimately the duo secured a patent in the name of John Wincob on June 9 (Old Style) / June 19 (New Style), 1619.

The charter granted by the king stipulated that the Leiden group’s religion would not receive official recognition.

When the preparations for the voyage stalled because of the continued problems within the London Company, competing Dutch companies approached, and discussed about settling in the Hudson River area.

Thomas Weston (born 1584) persuaded Edward Pickering, in 1615, to become his agent in Holland. Together they began to import a variety of nonconformist religious tracts that were seditious. In 1619, he left England and traveled to Leiden, Holland, where his agent Pickering had married a woman belonging to the exiled Separatists, who were then hoping to gain passage to America.

Negotiations with the Dutch broke off when Thomas Weston, the agent for Merchant Adventurer investment group, assured them that he could resolve the delays of the London Company who intended to claim the area explored by Hudson before the Dutch could become fully established. However, the first Dutch settlers did not arrive in the area until 1624.

Thomas Weston  told the Leiden group that parties in England had obtained a land grant north of the existing Virginia territory, to be called New England.

Elder William Brewster

While these negotiations were on, William Brewster ran afoul of the English government by involving in the religious unrest emerging in Scotland.

In 1618, King James had promulgated the Five Articles of Perth, which were seen in Scotland as an attempt to encroach on their Presbyterian tradition. Pamphlets critical of this law, King James I and his bishop were published by Brewster and smuggled into Scotland.

By April 1619, these pamphlets were traced back to Leiden. This was at a critical time for the Leideners, as the preparations for their voyage to America had entered a critical phase and William Brewster’s guidance was badly needed. Brewster’s whereabouts between then and the departure of the congregation to New England remained unknown.

Supplies and a small ship Speedwell, originally named Swiftsure, built in 1577 and took part in the defeat of the Spanish Armada by the English fleet , was procured to take some passengers from Holland to England; and from there cross the Atlantic to Virginia where it would be deployed for fishing, with its crew hired for support services during the first year.

Thomas Weston helped them to lease a second larger ship, Mayflower, for transport and exploration services.

There was not enough berths for the whole congregation to depart on the first trip. Many members were not able to settle their affairs within the time for departure. Also, there were constraints such as the budget for travel and supplies. As such, it was decided that the younger and stronger members of the congregation make the first voyage and settlement and the remainder agreed to follow if and when they could.

Departure of the Pilgrim Fathers from Delftshaven for New England (Engraved by T.W.Knight after a picture by Charles West Cope). Pastor John Robinson blessing the Separatists leaving for New England.
Departure of the Pilgrim Fathers from Delftshaven for New England by Charles West Cope. Pastor John Robinson blessing the Separatists leaving for New England.

Robinson opted to remain in Leiden with the rest of the congregation. He intended to make the Atlantic crossing with the rest of his flock as soon as it was financially possible. It was not to be. Robinson died in 1624 in Leiden.

In July 1620, Speedwell set out from Delfshaven with some members of the Leiden congregation. On reaching Southampton, Hampshire, they met with Mayflower and
the other colonists hired by the investors. William Brewster joined the first group of Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower and was appointed to lead the voyagers.

Sailing of the Mayflower - 1620 (From Southampton, Hampshire) Anonymous engraver after a picture by A.Forestier.
Sailing of the Mayflower – 1620 from Southampton, Hampshire by A.Forestier.

After making final arrangements, the two vessels set out of Southampton, Hampshire on August 5 (Old Style) / August 15 (New Style).

Soon afterwards, the crew of Speedwell reported that their ship was taking in water. So, both ships were diverted to Dartmouth in the English county of Devon. There Speedwell was inspected for leaks and sealed, and a second attempt to leave also failed, bringing them only so far as Plymouth, Devon.

Since Speedwell was untrustworthy for the long voyage, they sold it. Speedwell’s master and some of the crew transferred to the Mayflower for the trip.

Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert Walter Weir (1857) in Brooklyn Museum
Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert Walter Weir (1857) in Brooklyn Museum

Again due to limited berths, out of the 121 combined passengers, only 102, seventy-three males and twenty-nine females were chosen to travel on the Mayflower with the consolidated supplies, and a crew led by Captain Christopher Jones.

Half of the passengers had come by way of Leiden. Of these 37 were members of the Separatist Leiden congregation that included about 28 adults. This article “List of Mayflower passengers” mentions the names and details of the passengers on board the Mayflower during its trans-Atlantic voyage.

Mayflower finally set sail from Plymouth, Devon, England on September 6 (Old Style) / September 16 (New Style), 1620.

The 'Mayflower' by Donald Swan FRSA. Six days out on her voyage to America she was overtaken by a tremendous storm. The painting shows the topsail being lowered.
The ‘Mayflower’ by Donald Swan FRSA. Six days out on her voyage to America she was overtaken by a tremendous storm. The painting shows the topsail being lowered.

At the beginning the sailing was smooth, but later they met with strong winds and storms. One passenger, John Howland, was washed overboard in the storm. He caught a top sail halyard trailing in the water and was pulled back on board. When they were more than half the way to their destination, a storm caused a main beam to crack, and the possibility of turning back was considered. However, they managed to repair the ship and continued their voyage.

At sea, one passenger and crew member died and a child was born and named “Oceanus”.

After sixty-five days at sea, land was sighted on on November 9, 1620. It was the Cape Cod within the New England territory, now called Provincetown Harbor.

Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall, 1882 -  Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA
Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall, 1882 – Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA

Captain Christopher Jones made an attempt to sail the ship around Cape Cod towards the Hudson River, also within the New England grant area, but they encountered shoals and difficult currents around Cape Malabar (the old French name for present-day Monomoy). He then decided to turn around and anchored on November 11 (Old Style) / 21 (New Style) at the harbor at Cape Cod hook, what is today known as Provincetown Harbor.

The Wincob land patent they had was from their abandoned dealings with the London Company. So, in fact, the colonists arrived without a patent because the charter of the Plymouth Council for New England was not completed by the time the colonists departed England. Some of the passengers, aware of the situation, suggested that without a patent in place, they were free to do as they chose upon landing, and ignore the contract with the investors.

Signing the Mayflower Compact 1620, a painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris 1899.
Signing the Mayflower Compact 1620, a painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris 1899.

To address this issue, a brief contract, known later as the Mayflower Compact, was drafted. This contract in which they agreed to join together in a “civil body politic” that promised cooperation among the settlers “for the general good of the Colony unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.”

This contract was ratified by majority rule, with 41 adult male passengers signing for the 102 passengers.

At this time, John Carver, the most respected and affluent member of the group who was instrumental in chartering the Mayflower, was chosen as the colony’s first governor. Carver’s signature appears first on the Mayflower Compact, the seed of American democracy and the world’s first written constitution.

Landing of the passengers postponed because of the delay in exploring the area. The shallop or pinnace, a smaller sailing vessel, partly dismantled to fit aboard the Mayflower for the voyage was damaged in transit. However, the male passengers waded to the beach in small parties to fetch firewood and attend to long-deferred personal hygiene.

Captain Miles Standish

While the shallop was being repaired, exploratory was undertaken by parties led by Myles Standish, an English soldier the colonists had met while in Leiden, and Captain Christopher Jones.

Up to this time, William Bradford, aged 30, who would soon be elected governor, had yet to assume any significant leadership role among the colonists. Bradford volunteered to be a member of the exploration parties.

In November and December, these parties made three separate ventures from the Mayflower on foot and by boat, finally locating what is now Plymouth Harbor in mid-December and selecting that site for settlement.

During one of the exploratory jaunts, the parties came across an old European-built house and an iron kettle, left behind by some other ship’s crew, and a few recently cultivated fields, showing corn stubble of the previous month.

They partially uncovered an artificial mound near the dunes and found it to be a Native grave. On venturing further they came across a similar more recently made grave. The colonists fearing that they might starve, removed the baskets of maize and other provisions placed in the grave. They placed some of the maize into an iron kettle they found nearby, and reburied the rest.

William Bradford later recorded in his book, “Of Plymouth Plantation,” that after the shallop had been repaired,

They also found two of the Indian’s houses covered with mats, and some of their implements in them; but the people had run away and could not be seen. They also found more corn, and beans of various colours. These they brought away, intending to give them full satisfaction (repayment) when they should meet with any of them, as about six months afterwards they did.

And it is to be noted as a special providence of God, and a great mercy to this poor people, that they thus got seed to plant corn the next year, or they might have starved; for they had none, nor any likelihood of getting any, till too late for the planting season.

They explored the bay and found a suitable place for settlement, now the site of downtown Plymouth, Massachusetts. The location featured a prominent hill (now known as Burial Hill) that was ideal for a defensive fort. There were numerous brooks providing fresh water.

When the exploring party made their way back on board, Bradford learned of the death of his wife, Dorothy. The day after he had embarked with the exploring party, Dorothy had slipped over the side of the Mayflower and drowned.

Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers (Engraved by W.H. Simmons after a picture by Charles Lucey)
Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers by Charles Lucey.

The Mayflower arrived in Plymouth Bay on December 20, 1620 and the colonists set their foot on New England.

'The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth' (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe
‘The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth’  by Jennie A. Brownscombe (1914).

William Brewster led them in prayer with Psalm 100:

A psalm of thanksgiving.

Shout joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
serve the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful song.

Know that the LORD is God,
he made us, we belong to him,
we are his people, the flock he shepherds.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
his courts with praise.

Give thanks to him, bless his name;
good indeed is the LORD,
His mercy endures forever,
his faithfulness lasts through every generation.

During the next several months, the settlers lived mostly on the Mayflower and ferried back and forth from shore to build their living quarters. The settlement’s first fort and watchtower were built on Burial Hill.

The entire crew of the Mayflower stayed in Plymouth through the winter of 1620-1621. During that time, about half of them died. The crewmen that survived returned on the Mayflower which sailed for London on April 5 1621.

The first colony of the English was founded in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607.

The colony established in 1620 by the Separatists was the second successful English settlement and is considered the oldest continuously inhabited English settlement in what was to become the United States of America.

During that first winter of 1620-21, more than half of the colonists died as a result of poor nutrition and inadequate housing that proved fatal in the harsh weather. Leaders such as William Brewster, William Bradford, John Carver, Edward Winslow, and Miles Standish, kept the remaining settlers together.

William Bradford (Courtesy of Pilgrim Hall Museum)
William Bradford (Courtesy of Pilgrim Hall Museum)

Upon the death of John Carver in 1621, William Bradford was unanimously chosen as governor. Brewster became the senior elder of the colony, serving as its religious leader and as an advisor to Governor William Bradford who served for eleven consecutive years, and was elected to various other terms until his death in 1657.

Grave of Governor William Bradford on Burial Hill
Grave of Governor William Bradford on Burial Hill

It was William Bradford who first used the word ‘pilgrims’ for the Mayflower passengers years later in his Of Plymouth Plantation. After he finished recounting his group’s July 1620 departure from Leiden, Bradford used the imagery of Hebrews 11:13–16 about Old Testament “strangers and pilgrims” who had the opportunity to return to their old country, but instead longed for a better, heavenly country. Bradford wrote:

So they lefte [that] goodly&pleasante citie, which had been ther resting place, nere 12 years; but they knew they were ,pilgrimes&looked not much on these things; but lift up their eyes to ye heavens, their dearest ,cuntrie and quieted their spirits.

For over 150 years after Bradford wrote this passage, no one had used the word ‘Pilgrimes’ to describe Plymouth’s founders, except when quoting Bradford. In 1669, historian Nathaniel Morton retold Mayflower’s story, and likewise did historian Cotton Mather in 1702. Both paraphrased Bradford’s passage and used Bradford’s word pilgrims. At Plymouth’s Forefathers’ Day observance in 1793, Rev. Chandler Robbins recited this passage from Bradford.

The following passage from book “The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony” co-authored by James Deetz and Patricia Scott Deetz provides food for thought to the perennial question “who were the Pilgrims?

Cover of the book The Times of Their Lives - Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony by written by James Deetz and Patricia Scott Deetz
Cover of the book The Times of Their Lives – Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony by written by James Deetz and Patricia Scott Deetz

So who were the Pilgrims? This question has been a vexing one for modern historians, and depending on the source consulted, different definitions emerge. Were they all of the Mayflower’s passengers, or were they only the minority of religious dissenters among the group? Does the term refer to those who came on four other ships, the Fortune, Anne, Little James and Charity which arrived during the first seven years of the Colony? Might the term apply to all of the residents of Plymouth Colony during its existence as a separate colony until 1691? There is no modern consensus regarding this matter, and little wonder, for the people of Plymouth never perceived themselves as a group who would at the end of the eighteenth century come to be known as Pilgrims. However, if we change the tense of the verb in the question from were to are, a reasonably concise definition can be offered. The Pilgrims are a quasi-mythic group of people who are looked upon today as the founders of America, and whose dedication to hard work and noble purposes gave rise to our nation as we know it. What most of us know about them we learned as early as grade school, especially around Thanksgiving time. Stern and godfearing, possessed of the loftiest motives, the women dressed in somber attire with white collars, and the men also dressed in grey and black, with buckles on their hats, belts, shoes, and for all we know, even on their undergarments. Some modern Plymouth residents refer to them as the “Grim Pills.” This is the image with which we are all so familiar, but its origins lie more in early nineteenth century America than in the reality of a time two hundred years earlier.

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A Short History of Thanksgiving Day: Part 2 – Life in Holland


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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A canal in amsterdam - Oil painting by Johannes Frederik Hulk sr.  (1829–1911)
A canal in amsterdam – Oil painting by Johannes Frederik Hulk sr. (1829–1911)

Shortly afterwards, in 1607, John Smyth and the members of the Gainsborough group moved on to Amsterdam. Brewster was fined £20 (about £3.66 thousand today) in absentia for his non-compliance with the Church of England, and he resigned from the position of postmaster.

Of the lay preachers among the Scrooby congregation, William Bradford was the most prominent next to William Brewster.  The members of the Scrooby congregation decided to follow John Smyth’s group to Amsterdam. On arrival in Amsterdam a congregation of English dissenters living and worshipping in Amsterdam for over 10 years greeted them. This group, the earliest to arrive in Amsterdam, was officially titled the “Brethren of the Separation of the First English Church at Amsterdam,” and were known, informally, as the “Ancient Brethren.” By 1607, the members of the Ancient Brethren having attained economic stability constructed of a new church.

Francis Johnson (1562–1618), was the leader of the Ancient Brethren at that time. He was an English Presbyterian minister educated in Cambridge like Richard Clyfton and John Smyth. He first came to Holland in 1590 to serve as pastor of an English-speaking church in Middelburg. Though Johnson was a strong believer in reform, he tenaciously opposed Separatism. He confiscated Separatist books and was about to burn them. However, his intellectual curiosity impelled him to read some of those books. On reading the books, he changed his beliefs. Johnson then left his non-Separating Middelburg congregation and returned in 1591 to London where he was elected the pastor of the separatist congregation later to be named the Ancient Church.

In 1593, Francis Johnson and about 50 of his London congregation were jailed for their religious views. Around this time, two other radical reforming Separatists, Henry Barrow and John Greenwood, the authors of the books that had originally converted Francis Johnson to Separatism, were hanged at Tyburn.

Johnson’s congregation except Francis Johnson himself was gradually freed from jail, and they started to migrate to Amsterdam where, leaderless, they struggled to stay as a community. In 1597, after a failed attempt to establish a colony in Canada, Johnson joined his congregation of exiled separatists who had migrated to the Netherlands to avoid persecution, and resumed his pastorate with Henry Ainsworth as their teacher.

Several years before the arrival of the Scrooby group in 1608, Francis Johnson, had excommunicated his own father and brother for criticizing his wife.

In 1608, the newly arrived Separatists did not officially join the Ancient Brethren. The three congregations: Gainsborough, Scrooby and Ancient Brethren, maintained their independence and for a very short while worshipped peacefully together in the new church building.

By late summer of 1608, the two Separatist congregations – Gainsborough, led by John Smyth, and Scrooby, led by Richard Clyfton – were well settled in Amsterdam.

John Smyth ((born ~ 1570, died August 28, 1612) (Source - Wikipedia)
John Smyth ((born ~ 1570, died August 28, 1612) (Source – Wikipedia)

John Smyth disrupted  the unity among the congregations by his disposition and constantly evolving religious views. Henry Ainsworth described Smyth as having published “three sundry books wherein he hath shewed himselfe of 3 several [different] religions.

William Bradford described John Smyth as:

an eminent man in his time, and a good preacher, and of other good parts; but his inconstancy, and unstabble judgment, and being so suddenly carried away with things, did soon overthrow him.

John Robinson ( No actual portrait of Robinson exists; this substitute appears online.)
John Robinson ( No actual portrait of Robinson exists; this substitute appears online.)

While Richard Clyfton was battling away with John Smyth, the rest of the Scrooby congregation was becoming increasingly disenchanted with the controversies and
disruptions. They quietly reconstituted around John Robinson, their more tranquil teacher and minister.

Leiden, Holland
Leiden, Holland

Soon, Robinson and the more peaceful elements of the Scrooby group began to look for another place to live. It may have been William Brewster, who had visited The Netherlands in the 1580s, who suggested the Dutch city of Leiden.

In February of 1609, Robinson asked the Leiden City Council for permission to move to that city. He described his group as:

“… members of the Christian Reformed Religion, born in the Kingdom of Great Britain, to the number of one hundred persons or thereabouts, men and women.”

The answer came back :

The Court… declare that they refuse no honest persons ingress to come and have their residence in this city, provided that such persons behave themselves honestly, and submit to all the laws and ordinances here.

On May 1, 1609, John Robinson and most of the Scrooby congregation arrived in Leiden without Richard Clyfton who remained behind in Amsterdam and joined with
the Ancient Brethren. William Bradford wrote:

Mr. Richard Clifton was a good and fatherly old man when he came first into Holland, having a great white beard; and pity it was that such a reverend old man should be forced to leave his country, and at those years to go into exile. But it was his lot, and he bore it patiently. Much good had he done in the country where he lived, and converted many to God by his faithful and painful ministry, both in preaching and catechising. Sound and orthodox he always was, and so continued to his end. He belonged to the church at Leyden; but being settled at Amsterdam and then aged, he was loath to remove any more; and so when they removed he was dismissed to them there, and there remained [in Amsterdam] until he died.”

Richard Clyfton, lived in Amsterdam until his death on May 20, 1616. He was buried in the Zuiderkerk or “South Church,” beside his wife Ann who had died three years earlier.

At that time, Leiden, a city in the Dutch province of South Holland, was a thriving industrial center with about 100,000 inhabitants. On arrival there, the congregation lived in small houses. Many members were well able to support themselves working at Leiden University or in the textile, printing and brewing trades, while others, hampered by their rural backgrounds and the language barrier, were less able to bring in enough income.

Of their life in Leiden, William Bradford wrote:

For these & other reasons they removed to Leyden, a fair & bewtifull citie, and of a sweete situation, but made more famous by ye universitie wherwith it is adorned, in which of late had been so many learned man. But wanting that traffike by sea which Amerstdam injoyes, it was not so beneficiall for their outward means of living & estats. But being now hear pitchet they fell to such trads & imployments as they best could; valewing peace & their spirituall comforte above any other riches whatsoever. And at length they came to raise a competente & comforteable living, but with hard and continuall labor.

By 1617, although the congregation was stable and relatively secure in the Netherlands, there were ongoing issues that needed to be resolved.

Bradford noted that the congregation was aging, compounding the difficulties some had in supporting themselves. Some, having spent through their savings, gave up and returned to England.

Edward Winslow (October 18, 1595 – May 8, 1655)
Edward Winslow (October 18, 1595 – May 8, 1655)

Edward Winslow (October 18, 1595 – May 8, 1655) was a Separatist. In 1617 Winslow traveled to Leiden, Holland and worked with William Brewster as a printer. Winslow’s list of the issues faced by the congregation living in Leiden was similar to that of Bradford. In addition to the economic worries and missionary possibilities, Winslow stressed that it was important for the people to keep their English identity, culture and language. They also believed that the English Church in Leiden could do little to help the larger community there.

The Scrooby congregation found the Dutch morals much too lascivious. Their children were becoming more and more inclined towards the Dutch way of living, “drawn away by evil examples into extravagance and dangerous courses.” The elders of the congregation realized that they faced eventual extinction if they remained there.

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A Short History of Thanksgiving Day: Part 1 – Separatists in England


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday in the United States and many people celebrate the day with religious significance. Traditionally, Thanksgiving Day is celebrated in the United States on the fourth Thursday of November. So, this year, Thanksgiving Day falls on Thursday, November 28.

Several instances of Thanksgiving that were held in early New England have been identified as the “First Thanksgiving.”

The modern Thanksgiving Day celebration is traced to the autumn celebration held in late 1621 at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. The feast known as “The First Thanksgiving” was not known as such to the Pilgrims. “Harvest festival” would be a more proper term because a bountiful harvest prompted the 1621 Plymouth feast.

Pilgrims and Puritans who emigrated from England in the 1620s carried the tradition of Thanksgiving with them to New England – a solemn ceremony of praise and thanks to God for the congregation’s good fortune.

The first Thanksgiving likely included wildfowl, corn, porridge and venison. (Bettmann / Corbis)
The first Thanksgiving likely included wildfowl, corn, porridge and venison. (Bettmann / Corbis)

The Pilgrim holidays celebrated in Plymouth in 1621 for a plentiful harvest, was probably held in early October 1621. It was celebrated by the 53 surviving Pilgrims, along with Massasoit Sachem the leader of the Wampanoag, and “Massasoit” of the Wampanoag Confederacy and 90 of his men. The celebration lasted three days and featured a feast that included waterfowl, wild turkey and fish brought by the colonists, and five deer brought by the natives.

Three contemporary accounts of the event survive: Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford, Mourt’s Relation probably written by Edward Winslow, and New England’s Memorial by Capt. Nathaniel Morton, Plymouth Colony Secretary and William Bradford’s nephew.

The Thanksgiving in 1623 was held in response to the good news of the arrival of additional colonists and supplies. The latter event probably occurred in July 1623 and consisted of a full day of prayer and worship and probably very little revelry.

The Pilgrims

The story of the Pilgrims seeking religious freedom has become the central theme of the history and culture of the United States and the Thanksgiving Day.

The Pilgrims were the early settlers of the Plymouth Colony in present-day Plymouth, Massachusetts, United States. Their leadership came from the religious congregations of Brownists” (named after Robert Browne), a common designation for early English Dissenters, and Separatists from the Church of England before 1620.

The Puritans were a significant group of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries, including English Calvinists. Puritanism was founded by some Marian
exiles from the clergy shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, as an activist movement within the Church of England and maintained their membership in and allegiance to the Church of England. The term “Puritan” was coined in the 1560s, as a term of abuse for those who found the Elizabethan Religious Settlement of 1559. Puritans did not originally use the term for themselves.

From the late 16th century onwards, the word “Puritan” was applied to a number of Protestant churches, and religious groups within the Anglican Church. However, the
members of churches that did not agree with the Puritans knew themselves as members of particular churches or movements.

In this essay I use the term “Brownists” and “Separatists” for the English Dissenters who separated from the Church of England in the 16th and 17th century who were not “Puritans”.

Robert Browne of Lilford

Robert Browne of Lilford
Robert Browne of Lilford

Robert Browne (1550 – 1633) considered ‘The Father of the Pilgrims‘ is important in American history because his concept of separation of the Church from the State initiated the first step in American democracy. Hence, he is also known as ‘The Grandfather of the Nation‘.

He was born at Tolethorpe Hall in Rutland, England, into a wealthy, prominent Northamptonshire family, the Brownes (Elmes) of Lilford.

By 1580, Browne became a leader in the movement for a congregational form of organization for the Church of England. He rejected the puritan view of reform from
within the Church, and started to look outside the established Church. In 1581, Browne attempted to set up a separate Congregational Church in Norwich, outside the Church of England. In April 1581, while preaching in the Bury St. Edmund, Suffolk area, authorities arrested Browne for unlicensed preaching and imprisoned him by the order of Bishop Freake of Norwich. William Cecil, Baron Burghley, his kinsmen, interceded for his release.

Between May and August 1582, due to hostility from the local church authorities most of the congregation moved from the politically volatile England to the relatively calm and tolerant Middelburgh in Zeeland, Holland. On arriving in Holland, members of the congregation suffered from illness. There they formed a church on what they conceived to be the New Testament model. However, within two years the community in Holland broke up due to internal dissensions.

Robert Browne published at Middelburgh two of his most important works: “A Treatise of Reformation without Tarying for Anie” in which he asserted the right of the church to affect necessary reforms without the civil magistrate’s authorisation; and “A Booke which sheweth the life and manners of all True Christians” which set out the theory of Congregational independency.

Both books were immediately banned in England by the English authorities. By the middle of 1583, they issued a Proclamation against buying, selling or possession of the works of Robert Browne. At Bury St Edmunds, the authorities arrested, tried, and hanged John Copping and Elias Thacker, former members of Browne’s Norwich congregation, for selling Browne’s seditious writings.

Browne was an active Separatist from 1579 to 1585 only. He returned to England and to the Church of England, and got employed as a schoolmaster and parish priest. Browne’s companions and followers who hung on to his earlier separatist concepts now looked upon him as a renegade.

However, the term “Brownists” became a common designation for early Separatists from the Church of England before 1620. The Brownists are briefly mentioned in Shakespeare’s play, Twelfth Night written around 1600–02, where Sir Andrew Aguecheek says: “I had as lief be a Brownist as a politician‘ (III, ii). The Browne family seat, Tolethorpe Hall, is now home to the Stamford Shakespeare Company.

Richard Clyfton

Richard Clyfton was born around 1553 near the Nottinghamshire village of Babworth. Ordained as a minister in 1586 he was named pastor of All Saints’ Parish Church in Babworth, near East Retford, Nottinghamshire, England. He held this position from 1586 to1605.

In the 1590s, Clyfton started to preach dissenting religious views and conducted services using prayers that were not in the officially authorized Book of Prayers. He soon gathered followers from the surrounding towns and villages. His congregation held Separatist beliefs comparable to nonconforming movements led by Robert Browne, John Greenwood and Henry Barrowe. In 1593, Barrowe and Greenwood were hung at Tyburn for sedition.

William Brewster of Scrooby and William Bradford of Austerfield who later launched the “Pilgrim adventure” were inspired by the preaching of Richard Clyfton.

Unlike the Puritan group who maintained their membership in and allegiance to the Church of England, Separatists held that their differences with the Church of England were irreconcilable and that their worship should be organized independently of the trappings, traditions and organization of a central church such as the Church of England.

In 1593, Barrowe and Greenwood were hung at Tyburn for sedition.

William Brewster

William Brewster

Scrooby is a small village, on the River Ryton and near Bawtry, in the northern part of the English county of Nottinghamshire. At the end of the sixteenth century, William Brewster, the Archbishop’s bailiff, who was also the postmaster of the village occupied the Manor House at Scrooby belonging to the Archbishops of York.

Part of William Brewster’s home, Scrooby Manor, still exists today
Part of William Brewster’s home, Scrooby Manor, still exists today

William Brewster, heard Clyfton preach. Impressed by Clyfton’s services, Brewster joined Clyfton’s Babworth congregation and participated in Separatist services.

Around 1602, young William Bradford, living in the Yorkshire village of Austerfield some ten miles from Babworth joined Brewster “to enjoy Mr. Richard Clifton’s illuminating ministry.”

From 1595 to 1606 Brewster served Archbishop Matthew Hutton who was sympathetic towards Puritans but not to the Separatists.

In 1604, the Hampton Court Conference denied substantially all the concessions requested by Puritans, save for an English translation of the Bible. In 1605, following
the Conference, Clyfton was declared a “nonconformist and nonsubscriber” and was deprived of his position at Babworth. Brewster invited Clyfton to live at his home.

Services were held with Richard Clyfton as pastor, John Robinson as teacher and William Brewster as the presiding elder.

In 1606, Brewster arranged for a congregation of Separatists, led by John Smyth in Gainsborough, to meet privately at the Scrooby manor house. John Smyth, about 20 years younger than Richard Clyfton was an ordained minister and graduate of Cambridge University. In 1600, he was appointed as a preacher of the city of Lincoln, but lost the position soon afterwards because of his unorthodox views. Even though both the Scrooby group and the Gainsborough group were Separatists, their views were not entirely and necessarily the same.

Around this time in 1606, after Archbishop Matthew Hutton’s death, Tobias Matthew, one of King James’ chief supporters at the 1604 conference was elected as his replacement. Mathew promptly started a campaign to purge the archdiocese of nonconforming influences, both Separatists and those wishing to return to the Catholic faith.He replaced disobedient clergymen and confronted, fined, and imprisoned prominent Separatists.

Scrooby member William Bradford, who kept a journal of the congregation’s events that was later published as Of Plymouth Plantation wrote:

But after these things they could not long continue in any peaceable condition, but were hunted & persecuted on every side, so as their former afflictions were but as flea-bitings in comparison of these which now came upon them. For some were taken & clapt up in prison, others had their houses besett & watcht night and day, & hardly escaped their hands; and ye most were faine to flie & leave their howses & habitations, and the means of their livelehood.

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Next → Part 2 – Life in Holland

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