Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Pilgrim's Thanksgiving in 1621

The traditional "First Thanksgiving" in North America has always been the one in Plymouth in 1621 celebrated by the "Pilgrims" who came from England and Holland in 1620. There were earlier celebrations, as David Bowles and others have pointed out.

Caleb Johnson has an excellent summary of the Pilgrim's first Thanksgiving celebration in 1621 at On his radio program today, Dennis Prager read Edward Winslow's letter, written 12 December 1621, describing the first celebration in Plymouth:

"Our corn [i.e. wheat] did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown. They came up very well, and blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom. 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 fruit of our labors.

"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 they 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."

The second description was in the history Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford written in about 1641:

"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 exercising 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 of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports."

Caleb Johnson's page has a list of the foods probably eaten at the first Plymouth Thanksgiving. Contrast the variety of the foods available to them at the time with what we eat at our Thanksgiving celebrations today.

Today I thought about the hardships that these hardy Plymouth settlers endured to travel to North America and to survive the first winter. I had at least six ancestors at this first Plymouth Thanksgiving:

* Susanna (--?--) (White) Winslow (ca 1590-1680?)
* Peregrine White (1620-1704)
* George Soule (1593-1669)
* Richard Warren (ca 1580-1628)
* Francis Cooke (1583-1663)
* John Cooke (1607-1695)

I am very thankful for their courage and sacrifice, and for their good example of sharing a feast with Massasoit and his people.

No comments: