WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Alderman

The observance of Thanksgiving occurs this week, that uniquely American holiday commemorating the harvest festival of some of our country’s first immigrants, the Pilgrims in 1621. The holiday falls each year on the fourth Thursday of November.

William Brewster

My family descends from two pilgrims who made that dangerous trip on the Mayflower to Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. William “Elder” Brewster, the pastor of the colonists, was one of the original Separatists (as they were named by King James I) who fled – in a dress, mind you – to Holland to escape religious persecution. Brewster secured employment teaching English at the University of Leiden. He, along with other Separatists, secured a printing press, and printed religious books and pamphlets to send back to England. After ten years in exile but still in precarious political and social circumstances, the group decided to send an initial band of settlers to America to establish a colony. To me, evidence of my ancestor’s situation and convictions are tellingly revealed in the names of his children: daughters Love, Fear, Patience, and sole surviving son, Wrestling.

"Howland Overboard," a painting by maritime artist Mike Haywood. Giclee canvas prints are available from the Store.

“Howland Overboard,” a painting by maritime artist Mike Haywood. Giclee canvas prints are available from the Store.

I am also related to John Howland, the pilgrim most famously remembered for having fallen off the Mayflower during a powerful storm. Thankfully for my family, and the families of my very-distant cousins President Franklin D. Roosevelt, both Presidents Bush, poet Ralph Waldo Emerson and actor Humphrey Bogart, Howland was able to grab the topsail halyards, which allowed the ship’s crew enough time to rescue him with a boat-hook. He came to Plymouth as the servant to John Carver, the first governor of the colony and author of the Mayflower Compact. Howland was described by William Bradford as a “lusty young man,” but he was a valued member of the colony who signed the Compact and lived in Plymouth for over fifty years.

As we like to say in our family, we come from a long line of cross-dressers and clumsy hot-heads.

Thanksgiving to most Americans means a dinner table laden with turkey, an afternoon spent intermittently napping off the effects of the turkey and watching football, and a four-day weekend dedicated to bargain shopping. The closest we come to its historicity is the annual airing of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. If you’ve never seen it, head over to YouTube and prepare to be entertained.

Believe it or not, I found a Regency slang term that fits the holiday – barely, and only because food is involved. Although perhaps the law men the pilgrim Separatists fled from were so bedecked as these magistrates.

Alderman (noun)

A roasted turkey garnished with sausages; the garnish represents the gold chain worn by alderman magistrates.

If you know nothing of the American holiday of Thanksgiving, or have the need to feel the warm fuzzies, I present the following for your delectation: This is America, Charlie Brown – The Mayflower Voyagers.


Exhaustive information about my ancestors – and all pilgrims – culled from Mayflower History and years of attending annual Mayflower Society meetings with the female members of my family each November. Further knowledge of William Brewster and John Howland derived from History of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647 by William Bradford and The Plymouth Colony Archive Project.

Regency slang (cant) term from 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose.