The First Thanksgiving 1621-2021
This year marks the 400th
Anniversary of what we now celebrate as Thanksgiving. Pilgrims referenced the event in two written accounts. a letter from Edward Winslow to England in December, 1621, and chronicles in Of Plymouth Plantation
by William Bradford, both give us insight into their circumstances in Fall, 1621.
Their harvest feast, in the English tradition, was held over the course of three days, and it included feasting, games and military exercises. Historians think it would have been held sometime between late September and mid-November.
The winter took a huge toll on the Pilgrims, and nearly half of the Mayflower passengers died in their first year in the New World, leaving only about 50 colonists. “King Massasoit, with some ninety men” also attended the feast.
Governor Bradford sent a party of men to go “fowling” to bring back food for the feast, and their native American guests brought five deer and presented them to the colonists. Winslow also wrote that cod, lobsters, eels, and mussels, were plentiful. He mentioned harvesting good crops of corn and barley, and an earlier spring gathering of herbs for salads, berries, grapes and plums.
The Native Americans and The Pilgrims
According to William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation, the first communication between the indigenous people and the Pilgrims was when Samoset came to Plymouth on March 16, 1621, and talked with the colonists in broken English. Within a week, Squanto (Tisquantum) and Massasoit (Ousamequin) came to the colony.
Squanto had been captured as a slave by an English ship, had lived at a Spanish monastery until the monks freed him, and then had returned to his home after five years of exile. He was the last member of the Patuxet tribe, who were wiped out from sickness during his absence, and he lived with the Wampanoag. He interpreted for King Massasoit, and a treaty was formed between the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims on March 22, 1621, which lasted for decades.
Squanto showed the Pilgrims the techniques for hunting, fishing and farming. It is unlikely that the Pilgrims in the Plymouth Colony would have survived had it not been for the help of Squanto and the Wampanoag.
Giving thanks was an important part of the culture of both the Wampanoag people and the Pilgrims. While the future of the two groups would be fraught with conflict, the first Thanksgiving was a celebration among allies.
While half of the original 102 Mayflower passengers died the first winter of 1620-1621, it is estimated that 35 million people today can trace their origins back to their Mayflower ancestors.
The Mayflower Society has published books with descendants of the first four to six generations of the Mayflower passengers documented. One of our CCGS members was surprised to learn about her Mayflower ancestors. After researching one of her pioneers who came to Clermont County in 1801, she was able to make the connection to several Mayflower passengers.
Do you have a Mayflower ancestor? Begin researching your Clermont County ancestors today to find out!
The images are from the CCGS October Display at the Administration Building, Batavia, Ohio