Nelson Van Buford – The First Unwanted Thanksgiving Guest

Just inside the park from the 72nd street entrance at Fifth Avenue is Pilgrim Hill, a beautiful spot which is home to one of the most famous statues in Central Park – The Pilgrim.

While many believe this statue commemorates all the Pilgrims who came to North America to seek a new life, The Pilgrim actually pays reluctant tribute to Nelson Van Buford, the most infamous member of the Plymouth Colony and the man who has the distinction of being the very first unwanted Thanksgiving guest.

In 1621 the Plymouth settlers gathered to celebrate a successful harvest and to give thanks for all their good fortune since they settled in their new land, with all members of the colony providing a sumptuous feast of fish, fowl, wild game, fruits, vegetables, and abundant grains.

Esteemed guests from the Native American Wampanoug tribe joined the Pilgrims in the celebration and were warmly welcomed by the colonists in the spirit of peace and brotherhood.

Unfortunately, this was not the case with all the guests.

Nelson Van Buford, a surly yam farmer who lived on the outskirts of the colony, arrived at the celebration as appetizers were being served.  He was not expected to attend as his only reply to an invitation to the party by a colony member was “Get off my land or I’ll kill you!”

Reluctantly the colonists made room for Van Buford at the table as he helped himself to some wine and loudly complained about his trip up the hill from his farm.  When introduced to members of the Wampanoug tribe, Van Buford angrily declared his dislike of eating with foreigners.

To the surprise of everyone, the notoriously stingy Van Buford did bring a contribution to the feast, a basket of raw yams he had pulled from his garden earlier that day.  The yams were happily accepted, but were left in the kitchen with the extra piles of corn and the three bean salad the Wampanoug had brought.

Things came to a head a few hours later when a now violently inebriated Van Buford picked a fight with Native American guest Squanto (whom he referred to as “Squinty”) and then demanded the colonists reimburse him for the yams he had provided.  He stormed back to his farm, vowing never to give thanks with the colonists again.

The following year when Van Buford arrived at the settlement for the Thanksgiving Day feast, the Plymouth Colony pretended not to be home.


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