In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as the first Thanksgiving celebration in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held on the last Thursday each November.
THANKSGIVING AT PLYMOUTH
In September 1620, an 80-foot 4 masted sailing vessel called the Mayflower, left Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers. These passengers were made up of an assortment of religious separatists seeking a new home where they could freely practice their faith and other individuals lured by the promise of prosperity and land ownership in the New World. After a treacherous and uncomfortable crossing that lasted 66 days, they dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod, far north of their intended destination at the mouth of the Hudson River, today the location of New York City. One month later, the Mayflower crossed the Massachusetts Bay, where the Pilgrims, as they are now commonly known, began the work of establishing a village at Plymouth.
Lobster, seal, deer, and swans were on the Pilgrims’ menu.
Throughout that first brutal winter, the majority of colonists remained on board the ship, some even stealing corn from the Indians they had encountered then bringing it back to the vessel. They suffered from exposure, scurvy, and outbreaks of contagious disease. Only half of the Mayflower’s original 102 passengers (51 men, 21 boys, 20 women and 10 girls) and crew of 26 lived to see their first New England spring.
In March, the remaining settlers moved ashore, where they received an astonishing visit from an Abenaki Indian who surprised them by greeting them in English. Several days later, he returned with another Native American, Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland on an exploratory expedition. Squanto taught the Pilgrims, greatly weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe, which would endure for more than 50 years and tragically remains one of the sole examples of harmony between European colonists and Native Americans.
In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful, Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast and invited a group of the fledgling colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Now remembered as American’s “first Thanksgiving”—although the Pilgrims themselves may not have used the term at the time—the festival lasted for three days.
While no record exists of the historic banquet’s exact menu, the Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow wrote in his journal that Governor Bradford sent four men on a “fowling” mission in preparation for the event and that the Wampanoag guests arrived bearing five deer. Historians have suggested that many of the dishes were likely prepared using traditional Native American spices and cooking methods. Because the Pilgrims had no oven and the Mayflower’s sugar supply had dwindled by the fall of 1621, the meal did not feature pies, cakes or other desserts, which have become a hallmark of contemporary celebrations.
In 1789 President George Washington called for a day of National Thanksgiving to celebrate the successful end of the American Revolutionary War and in 1863 President Abraham Lincoln declared the first official day of Thanksgiving to be the last Thursday in November later changed to the fourth Thursday of the month.
So, as we dine with friends and family this Holiday Season, let’s think back to the cold harsh conditions these brave men and women endured. Today, there are over 35 million direct descendants of the Pilgrims with many famous notables including President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
All of us at ServiceMark Heating Cooling & Plumbing are humbled when we remember the conditions our ancestors fought and what they did to suffer through and start a nation which endures and grows to this day! Your friends at ServiceMark want you to enjoy the peace and security of your home and family and know that we stand by, as always, to assist all your home comfort issues no matter when.