Common Journey is perhaps the most appropriate name for the bread, which has, over the past two hundred years or so, arguably became the national bread of the Bahamas. For the many who came to settle the islands under British rule to its independent state, from its earliest time to present day, have all found themselves, one way or another, on a Common Journey.
Simple in preparation, with only a meagre fire needed to cook it, while possessing an uncommon firmness, adequate enough, to stave off the hunger pangs of everyone from giants to children, Common Journey, better known as Johnny Cake, suited the needs of island life, where poverty was rife.
AN EARLY AMERICAN PREPARATION
It may, or may not come as a surprise to some Bahamians today, but Johnny Cake is not a homemade, native invention of the islands.
The roots of Johnny Cake extend way back to the Pilgrims landing in the new Americas and a helpful, Native American Indian, named Squanto. It was the enslaved Squanto who introduced the English newcomers to something called corn. The new settlers called it “Indian corn.”
SQUANTO WHO SHOWED THE NEW ENGLISH PILGRIMS HOW TO GRIND CORN TO MAKE COMMON JOURNEY!
The Patuxet tribe lived on the western coast of Cape Cod Bay, where in 1614 Squanto was kidnapped by English explorer Thomas Hunt. Hunt brought Squanto to Spain, where he sold him in the city of Malaga. He was among a number of captives bought by local monks who focused on their education and evangelization. Squanto eventually travelled to England and from there returned to North America in 1619. He returned to his native village only to find that his tribe had been wiped out by an epidemic infection; Squanto was the last of the Patuxet.
When the Mayflower landed in 1620, Squanto worked to broker peaceable relations between the Pilgrims and the local Pokanokets. He played a key role in the early meetings in March 1621, partly because he spoke English. He then lived with the Pilgrims for 20 months, acting as a translator, guide, and advisor. He introduced the settlers to the fur trade, and taught them how to sow and fertilize native crops, which proved vital since the seeds which the Pilgrims had brought from England largely failed. As food shortages increased, Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford relied on Squanto to pilot a ship of settlers on a trading expedition around Cape Cod and through dangerous shoals. During that voyage, Squanto contracted what Bradford called an “Indian fever”. Bradford stayed with him for several days until he died, which Bradford described as a “great loss”.
COMMON JOURNEY OR JOHNNY CAKE TRAVELS TO THE BAHAMAS PROBABLY UNDER THE RULE OF THE PROPRIETARY GOVERNORS
Whether the Indians themselves actually made the bread first, offering it to the pilgrims, or the pilgrims, as American heritage tradition tells it, made the Common Journey or Johnny Cakes first is debatable. What we can reasonably infer is that it came to the Bahamas probably during the period of government under the Proprietary Governors of the Bahama Islands (1670–1706) or quite possibly earlier, under the government of William Sayle (1648 – 1657).
(The Tampa Tribune, Thursday, 28 February 1985)
1799 – JOHNNY CAKE IMMORTALISED IN A SONG FOR A FEMALE MARRIAGE
[The following hymn was composed, with great extemporaneous promptitude, on the jestful agreement of two young ladies to marry each other. Such connubial intercourse of females might not altogether suit the fashionable bells of Paris, but with our modest mademoiselles would certainly be more delicate natural and refined. A Connecticut wit, has consecrated such as solemnity with the ensuing stances, to be sung on the occasion.]￼
“DEIGN friendly Hymen I to descend,
And bless this female pair,
Who now, and Wedlock’s silken bands,
Together joined are!
Tho’ nev’er two females were before
Ty’d neck and heels by thee,
Yet grant that they may long enjoy
Grant them a house, below the hill,
Where they shall please to choose;
And all things, that are herein nam’d,
Which they shall want to use;
A pot to boil porridge in,
No matter if ’tis broke,
Or had a leg or two knock’d out
By some unlucky stroke;
To each a knife and one tin’d fork,
And trencher large and good,
On which they may bake Johnny cakes;
And eat their daily food;
Two pewter spoons, two dishes good,
Made in great Simsbury;
A frying pan, in which they may
Their Indian pancakes fry;
Two three legg’d stools, on which just sit,
While they their pancakes eat;
A mortar good to pound their samp;
And pestle, all complete;
A buxom lad at least, eighteen,
Who may their beer draw;
And guard their house from pokers, which
Will fill their souls with awe;
A gentle jade, and if she’s hipp’d,
The gentler she will be,
A pannel, with one sturdy horn,
To ride their friends to see.
Great Hymen! do but grant them these,
They’ll ask of thee no more;
But these will take most readily,
And thank the evermore!”￼
(The Vergennes Gazette and Vermont and New York Advertiser, Thursday, 11 April, 1799)
1914 – JOHNNY CAKE, AN OLD ENGLISH FAIRYTALE RETOLD
(The Washington Post, Sunday, November 15, 1915)
1846 – RECIPE FOR COMMON JOURNEY or JOHNNY CAKE FROM AMERICA TO ENGLAND AND IRELAND