When we Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, we think of the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving held in 1621 at Plymouth Plantation. It was a three day celebration of feasting and prayer to thank God for an abundant harvest. The Puritans celebrated days of prayer and celebration in England in autumn after a successful harvest so it wasn’t a new idea. It also wasn’t the first time that Thanksgiving had been celebrated in North America. The Spanish held Thanksgiving celebrations at St. Augustine as early as 1565. The Virginia Colony in Jamestown held their first Thanksgiving celebration in 1607 and after 1610 it became a yearly observance. Jamestown was the original destination of the Pilgrims but the Mayflower was blown off course by high winds and great waves. They sighted land in September of 1620 and a group landed at Plymouth (although not a Plymouth Rock). They didn’t stay at Plymouth but explored the shoreline around Cape Cod into what’s now Boston Harbor until November of 1620. With the weather getting colder, Plymouth didn’t look so bad to them. Because of bad weather and low provisions the Pilgrims decided to go ashore and winter it out at Plymouth. The winter of 1620-21 was disastrous for the Pilgrim colonists. The clothing they brought wasn’t heavy enough to withstand the cold. Almost half of the group died from starvation and sickness. A member of the Patuxent tribe named Squanto helped the suffering pilgrims as best he could. He instructed them on how to cultivate and grow corn. He also showed them the best places to catch fish and eel. The Wampanoag people led by their chief Massasoit also helped the Pilgrims, giving them deer hide clothing and bear skin blankets to keep warm.
Over the spring and summer of 1621 the colonists were able to erect great houses and other structures to live in. The corn and beans they planted grew and was ready for harvest in the fall. As was their custom they decided to have a feast of thanksgiving at the same time of year they had held their celebrations in England and Holland. According to the journal of William Bradford the Governor of the colony the Pilgrims ate corn, yams, wild berries, and cabbage. The Wampanoag brought five deer. There was water fowl in plenty, along with fish, oysters, and wild turkey. There was wine, beer, and ale to drink. The pilgrim’s sugar supply had been exhausted so they were unable to bake pies or cookies. They did have honey to sweeten their yams and wild duck. There was plenty to eat and much to be thankful for.
It really doesn’t matter where the first Thanksgiving took place. It’s a time for all of us to consider our blessings, enjoy the memories, and give thanks for the abundance we have. To all of you, HAPPY THANKSGIVING!
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