~(I am trying to be historically accurate and non-biased in this description.
It is not meant to be for a debate between the Indians and the Europeans - just a fair-minded look at what it was like in that harvest year of 1621. This is not the place for a political debate or to be anti-one group or another.
If you can't accept this or would rather choose to debate, there are many other sites to accommodate you. This is not one of them.)~
I realize that not everyone celebrates Thanksgiving as a religious holiday, but that doesn't take away the fact that in America and other countries it truly is
a religious holiday, and has been celebrated as such since even before
that most famous and most popular celebration took place back in 1621. The fact that Europeans have been giving thanks for their bounteous feasts for
centuries before the 1620 pilgrim excursion across the ocean is true from not only early writings, but paintings and etchings from times long past as well.
And they did give thanks to God (and, for some, it wasn't necessarily the God of Abraham), for the bountiful feast at hand and for those who helped in the growing and harvesting of it. Yet, many people today believe the pilgrims were giving thanks to the Indians. One only need to learn of their religious beliefs to see the puritans, who advocated strict religious discipline, would not
have given thanks to
the Indians themselves, but rather to God
the Indians to them to ensure their survival. Puritans would not give thanks to mere mortal man.
And we, in our house, give thanks to that same God the pilgrims did nearly 400 years ago.
The View from the Wampanoag:
When the Wampanoag watched the
Mayflower’s passengers come ashore at Patuxet, they did not see them as a
threat. “The Wampanoag had seen many ships before,” explained Tim Turner,
Cherokee, manager of Plimoth Plantation’s Wampanoag Homesite and co-owner of
Native Plymouth Tours. “They had seen traders and fishermen, but they had not
seen women and children before. In the Wampanoag ways, they never would have
brought their women and children into harm. So, they saw them as a peaceful
people for that reason.”
But they did not greet them right
away either. The English, in fact, did not see the Wampanoag that first winter
at all, according to Turner. “They saw shadows,” he said. Samoset, a Monhegan
from Maine, came to the village on March 16, 1621. The next day, he returned
with Tisquantum (Squanto), a Wampanoag who befriended and helped the English
that spring, showing them how to plant corn, fish and gather berries and nuts.
That March, the Pilgrims entered into a treaty of mutual protection with
Ousamequin (Massasoit), the Pokanoket Wampanoag leader.
A bit about Thanksgiving feasts:
Although this feast is considered by many to the very first Thanksgiving celebration, it was actually in keeping with a long tradition of celebrating the harvest and giving thanks for a successful bounty of crops.
It wasn't just Europeans who had thanksgivings: Native American groups throughout the Americas, including the Pueblo, Cherokee, Creek and many others organized harvest festivals, ceremonial dances, and other celebrations of thanks for centuries before the arrival of Europeans in North America.
Historians have also recorded other ceremonies of thanks among European settlers in North America, including British colonists in Berkeley Plantation, Virginia. At this site near the Charles River in December of 1619, a group of British settlers led by Captain John Woodlief knelt in prayer and pledged "Thanksgiving" to God for their healthy arrival after a long voyage across the Atlantic. This event has been acknowledged by some scholars and writers as the official first Thanksgiving among European settlers on record.
Whether at Plymouth, Berkeley Plantation, or throughout the Americas, celebrations of thanks have held great meaning and importance over time.
Tim Turner said what most people do not
know about the first Thanksgiving is that the Wampanoag and Pilgrims did not
sit down for a big turkey dinner and it was not an event that the Wampanoag
knew about or were invited to in advance. In September/October 1621, the
Pilgrims had just harvested their first crops, and they had a good yield. They
“sent four men on fowling,” which comes from the one paragraph account by
Pilgrim Edward Winslow, one of only two historical sources of this famous
harvest feast. Winslow also stated, “we exercised our arms.” “Most historians
believe what happened was Massasoit got word that there was a tremendous amount
of gun fire coming from the Pilgrim village,” Turner said. “So he thought they
were being attacked and he was going to bear aid.”
What is thought to have been served at this most celebrated Thanksgiving in 1621:
When the Wampanoag showed up, they
were invited to join the Pilgrims in their feast, but there was not enough food
to feed the chief and his 90 warriors. “He [Massasoit] sends his men out, and
they bring back five deer, which they present to the chief of the English town
[William Bradford]. So, there is this whole ceremonial gift-giving, as well.
When you give it as a gift, it is more than just food,” said Kathleen Wall, a
Colonial Foodways Culinarian at Plimoth Plantation.
The harvest feast lasted for three
days. What did they eat? Venison, of course, and Wall said, “Not just a lovely
roasted joint of venison, but all the parts of the deer were on the table in
who knows how many sorts of ways.” Was there turkey? “Fowl” is mentioned in
Winslow’s account, which puts turkey on Wall’s list of possibilities (William Bradford does mention turkey in his account below). She also
said there probably would have been a variety of seafood and water fowl along
with maize bread, pumpkin and other squashes. “It was nothing at all like a
modern Thanksgiving,” she said.
feast in general then consisted of fish (cod, eel, and bass) and shellfish clams, lobster, and mussels), wild fowl (ducks, geese, swans, and, yes, turkeys), venison, berries, and fruit, vegetables (peas, pumpkin, beet root, and maybe onion), harvest grains (barley and wheat), and the beans, dried Indian corn (maize), and squash.
A Description of the feast from those who were there:
William Bradford of Plymouth Plantation:
Thus they found the Lord to be with them in all their ways, and to bless their outgoings and incomings, for which let His holy name have the praise forever, to all posterity. 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 of Plymouth Plantation:
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.
The Wampanoag information came from this site.
Once again (and I shouldn't have to even write this a first time much less a second time, but times being what they are, the necessity is there), I am not looking for a Pilgrim/Indian political debate here. I am just attempting to point out the historical information of the occurrence on that fall day in 1621 for both sides and hope this post will be taken in that manner. By
putting the two together we can then get a much better description, which is what this post is about in the first
place. I do not want this post to become part of the typical European-bashing so prevalent these days (or Indian-bashing for that matter), for I feel that is just as bad as the one-sided myth that was taught as truth for years. Both ways are just as bad as each other.
I, instead, wanted to concentrate on the positive and not so much on the negative.
There are enough other sites out there if you want to see only the negative.
If you can't handle this or even understand my point, then off with you - go find another site more suitable to your needs.
By the way, the excellent photograph and description below is from the Wampanoag site:
"While many paintings of “the First
Thanksgiving” show a single long table with several Pilgrims and a few Native
people, there were actually twice as many Wampanoag people as colonists. It is
unlikely that everyone could have been accommodated at one table. Rather,
Wampanoag leaders like Massasoit and his advisors were most likely entertained
in the home of Plymouth Colony’s governor, William Bradford." (from the Indian Country site linked above)
the United States in Congress assembled,
It being the indispensable duty of
all nations, not only to offer up their supplications to Almighty God, the
giver of all good, for His gracious assistance in a time of distress, but also
in a solemn and public manner, to give Him praise for His goodness in general,
and especially for great and signal interpositions of His Providence in their
behalf; therefore, the Unites States in Congress assembled, taking into their
consideration the many instances of Divine goodness to these States in the
course of the important conflict, in which they have been so long engaged, -
the present happy and promising state of public affairs, and the events of the
war in the course of the year now drawing to a close; particularly the harmony
of the public Councils which is so necessary to the success of the public
cause, - the perfect union and good understanding which has hitherto subsisted
between them and their allies, notwithstanding the artful and unwearied
attempts of the common enemy to divide them, - the success of the arms of the
United States and those of their allies, - and the acknowledgment of their
Independence by another European power, whose friendship and commerce must be
of great and lasting advantage to these States; Do hereby recommend it to the
inhabitants of these States in general, to observe and request the several
states to interpose their authority, in appointing and commanding the
observation of THURSDAY the TWENTY-EIGHTH DAY OF NOVEMBER next as a day of
SOLEMN THANKSGIVING to GOD for all His mercies; and they do further recommend
to all ranks to testify their gratitude to God for His goodness by a cheerful
obedience to His laws and by promoting, each in his station, and by his
influence, the practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great
foundation of public prosperity and national happiness.
Done in Congress at Philadelphia,
the eleventh day of October, in the year of our LORD, one thousand seven
hundred and eighty-two, and of our Sovereignty and Independence, the seventh.
[New York, 3 October 1789]
By the President of the United
States of America, George Washington, a Proclamation.
Whereas it is the duty of all
Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be
grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor-- and
whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to
recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and
prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal
favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to
establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
Now therefore I do recommend and
assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of
these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the
beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be-- That we
may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks--for his
kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their
becoming a Nation--for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable
interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and
conclusion of the late war--for the great degree of tranquility, union, and
plenty, which we have since enjoyed--for the peaceable and rational manner, in
which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our
safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately
instituted--for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and
the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general
for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon
and also that we may then unite in
most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler
of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions-- to
enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several
and relative duties properly and punctually--to render our national government
a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just,
and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed--to
protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn
kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and
concord--To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and
the encrease of science among them and us--and generally to grant unto all
Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of
New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
THANKSGIVING DAY 1814
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED
STATES OF AMERICA, James Madison
The two Houses of the National
Legislature having by a joint resolution expressed their
desire that in the present time of
public calamity and war a day may be recommended to be observed by the people
of the United States as a day of public humiliation and fasting and of prayer
to Almighty God for the safety and welfare of these States, His blessing on
their arms, and a speedy restoration of peace, I have deemed it proper by this
proclamation to recommend that Thursday, the 12th of January next, be set apart
as a day on which all may have an opportunity of voluntarily offering at the
same time in their respective religious assemblies their humble adoration to
the Great Sovereign of the Universe, of confessing their sins and
transgressions, and of strengthening their vows of repentance and amendment.
They will be invited by the same solemn occasion to call to mind the
distinguished favors conferred on the American people in the general health
which has been enjoyed, in the abundant fruits of the season, in the progress
of the arts instrumental to their comfort, their prosperity, and their
security, and in the victories which have so powerfully contributed to the
defense and protection of our country, a devout thankfulness for all which
ought to be mingled with their supplications
to the Beneficent Parent of the
Human Race that He would be graciously pleased to pardon all their offenses
against Him; to support and animate them in the discharge of their respective
duties; to continue to them the precious advantages flowing from political
institutions so auspicious to their safety against dangers from abroad, to
their tranquillity at home, and to their liberties, civil and religious; and
that He would in a special manner preside over the nation in its public
councils and constituted authorities, giving wisdom to its measures and success
to its arms in maintaining its rights and in overcoming all hostile designs and
attempts against it; and, finally, that by inspiring the enemy with
dispositions favorable to a just and reasonable peace its blessings may be speedily
and happily restores.
Given at the city of Washington, the
16th day of November, 1814, and of the Independence of the United States the
President JAMES MADISON
And this, by the way, from President Lincoln 1863
"I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union."
(Other Presidents throughout also gave a Thanksgiving proclamation in the same manner).
And a wonderful Docu-drama about the Pilgrims and their adventure:
Here is my review of this historical story:
This History Channel presentation of the pilgrims is two and a half hours of a well-known and very important part of our American history, although you may not realize how little you actually do know of these separatists and of the times they lived. In fact, it certainly is more movie than documentary and, although interspersed throughout are historians filling in the gaps, this docu-drama is as engulfing and riveting as any full-length period movie I have seen. The lives and times of these early European settlers are authentically portrayed by use of English Shakespearian actors, and the quality shows. Never have I seen any other film put flesh on the bones of the pilgrims to the extent this one does. A social history extravaganza!
The clothing, lighting, effects (especially while on the Mayflower), and, at times, even some of the speech patterns are reflected fairly accurately. I did not see the typical revisionist history so often reflected in many of today's historical depictions. They were very religious folk bent on keeping their practices, even if they had to cross the ocean to do it, and this movie shows that in no uncertain terms.
The Indian dramatization was done very well for the most part, although I would have preferred to have their speech in their original (or close to their original) language and include the use of sub-titles.
Oh well, can't have everything.
As an extra added bonus, by the way, there are a couple of short (too short!) extra's - one features the making of this extraordinary documentary, and the other has outtakes and bloopers.
For teachers and lovers of history I recommend this docu-drama very highly. A wonderful way to learn about our early American history.
And finally, a little "Thanksgiving/Pilgrim" humor that reenactors can especially appreciate:
Happy Thanksgiving to all of my friends who read and follow Passion for the Past! May God Bless and keep all of you.