|"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe|
In 1621, a gathering of 53 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans in Plymouth, Massachusetts forever changed the way we Americans would celebrate the fourth Thursday each November.
While the Pilgrims were accustomed to regular feasts, this feast of 1621 held special significance. This feast, differing from all others, was a 3-day celebration to specifically thank God for their very first harvest in the New World. With help from their Native American neighbors, the Pilgrims not only survived that year, they would later thrive and become the great nation we know today.
What do we know about that First Thanksgiving? While there is no documentation on exactly when that First Thanksgiving was held, experts at Plimoth Plantation believe it would have occurred sometime between September 21 and November 11.
Two colonists gave personal accounts of the 1621 feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Pilgrims, most of whom were Separatists (English Dissenters), are not to be confused with Puritans who established their own Massachusetts Bay Colony nearby (current day Boston) in 1628. Both groups were strict Calvinists, but differed in their views regarding The Church of England. Puritans wished to remain in the Anglican Church and reform it, and Pilgrims wanted complete separation from the church.
William Bradford, in Of Plymouth Plantation wrote:
"They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to the proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports."
Edward Winslow, in Mourt's Relation wrote:
"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which we brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."