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Thanksgiving and what cats have to do with it

Thanksgiving and what cats have to do with it

Posted by Patricia on 23rd Oct 2022

You may recall from history class that the Mayflower landed on the shores of America in 1620. But did you know some of the passengers who disembarked were of the feline persuasion?

The cats had served as the ship's mousers, keeping the food supply safe for the 102 humans aboard. What is now known as the American Shorthair breed are the ancestors of those Mayflower kitties. These guys were witnesses to "first contact" with Native American Indians already living on this land. They probably enjoyed scraps from the alleged first meal shared by the Indians and the pilgrims. According to Food52, "Only two surviving documents reference what was eaten at that meal: freshly killed deer, assorted wildfowl, a bounty of cod and bass, and flint, a native variety of corn harvested by the Native Americans, which was eaten as corn bread and porridge."

The early American Shorthair cats were likely in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776. Although their signatures were not sought, some of the felines did witness the United States Continental Congress formally adopting the Declaration of Independence as America's founding document.

In 1861, Abraham Lincoln became the first U.S. President to bring cats into the White House, giving felines bragging rights over dogs. Lincoln had been gifted "Tabby" and "Dixie" by then-Secretary of State William Seward. He later rescued three orphaned kittens while meeting with General Grant during the Civil War. A true animal advocate!

The American Shorthair cat has endured since the Mayflower landed on our shores and today can easily live 15 to 20 years. Scientists say their "hybrid vigor," provided by the combination of the domestic shorthairs of European felines and the shorthairs born here, gives them a lower risk for inherited issues.

When you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner this year with your relatives and friends, don't leave out the cats (or dogs.) While it's generally safe to give them bites of what the first meal may have contained, including chicken, turkey, tuna, and corn, it's best to leave out bones from those protein sources. Other foods to avoid that wouldn't have been on the menu in 1620 include raisins, onions, and artificial sweeteners.

Today's shorthair cats probably wouldn't qualify for membership in the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. Yet their ancestors were there to witness everything that came before and after that fateful winter day when the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Bay, Massachusetts.

Quote to remember: "This year, you should give thanks to your cat for allowing you to be their servant - err, I mean, their human." - Your cat



"American Shorthair: America's First Cat"

Michelson Found Animals

"Dos and Don'ts: Feeding Your Pet on Thanksgiving"

The Mayflower Society

"General Society of Mayflower Descendants Since 1897"


"What Food Was *Actually* Served at the First Thanksgiving"