November 26, 2019
The First Thanksgiving
As Americans prepare to spend this Thanksgiving with friends and family, there are many traditions that will be shared at tables across the country. The origins of Thanksgiving date back to November 1621 when Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians gathered in Plymouth, Massachusetts, for a three-day autumn harvest celebration. However, that “first Thanksgiving” was quite different from the holiday today and with some surprising history.
Did You Know …
Some historians argue that the first Thanksgiving was not in Plymouth? In 1565, a Spanish fleet arrived in Florida and established a new settlement at St. Augustine. In commemoration, the 800 Spanish settlers celebrated by sharing a meal with the Timucuan people native to the area.
The first Thanksgiving was a relatively small affair? Only half of the original 102 colonists who arrived on the Mayflower survived the journey and first winter in the New World. So only 22 men, four women and more than 25 children and teenagers were in attendance. In contrast, there were some 90 Wampanoags. Accounts say the Wampanoag had been farming on the other side of the brook from the colony and may have made a diplomatic visit to the Pilgrims.
Among the native Americans were two who spoke English? Samoset was a minor Abenakki tribal leader from Maine who likely learned the language from English fishermen in the Cape Cod area. Samoset made the initial contact with the Pilgrims. Squanto was Patuxet, a band of the Wampanoag. He was among 20 of his tribe who were kidnapped by the English. When Squanto returned to New England, he became a translator for Wampanoag in diplomacy and trade, and showed the Pilgrims how to plant corn and where to fish.
The first Thanksgiving meal barely resembled the ones eaten today? Records show that there was no turkey served. The meal consisted of wild fowl caught by the Pilgrims and deer brought by the Wampanoag. The menu would have also included local seafood, such as mussels, lobster, and fish, which were plentiful in the area. While pumpkin was likely included, there was no pumpkin pie, as there was no butter, wheat flour, or ovens for baking.
The first Thanksgiving was documented? The first account is William Bradford’s journal titled, “Of Plymouth Plantation,” and the other is a publication written by Edward Winslow, called “Mourt’s Relations.”
The first official Thanksgiving was commemorated by George Washington? Months after taking office, President George Washington wrote to James Madison asking for his advice on how to approach the Senate about a day of thanksgiving. In September 1789, a joint resolution was introduced to request that the President recommend such a commemoration. Days later, Washington proclaimed the first nationwide Thanksgiving to be celebrated on November 26, 1789.
To learn more about this holiday, read Thanksgiving Day – An American History.