The Thanksgiving Story (Part 1)

November 21, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

The Mayflower II

The Pilgrims who sailed to this country aboard the Mayflower were originally members of the English Separatist Church (a Puritan sect).  They had fled their home in England and sailed to Holland (The Netherlands) to escape religious persecution.  There, they enjoyed more religious tolerance, but they eventually became disenchanted with the Dutch way of life, thinking it ungodly.  Seeking a better life, the Separatists negotiated with a London stock company to finance the pilgrimage to America.  Most of those making the trip aboard the Mayflower were non-Separatists, but were hired to protect the company's interests.  Only about one-third of the original colonists were Separatists.

The Pilgrims set ground at Plymouth Rock on December 11, 1620.  That first winter was devastating.  By the beginning of the following fall, they had lost 46 of the original 102 souls who sailed on the Mayflower.  But the harvest of 1621 was a bountiful one.  And the remaining colonists decided to celebrate with a feast - including 91 Indians who had helped the Pilgrims survive their first year.  It is believed that the Pilgrims would not have made it through the year without the help of the natives.  The feast was more of a traditional English harvest festival than a true "thanksgiving" observance.  It lasted three days.

Governor William Bradford sent "four men fowling" after wild ducks and geese.  It is not certain that wild turkey was part of their feast.  However, it is certain that they had venison.  The term "turkey" was used by the Pilgrims to mean any sort of wild fowl.

Another modern staple at almost every Thanksgiving table is pumpkin pie.  But it is unlikely that the first feast included that treat. The supply of flour had been long diminished, so there was no bread or pastries of any kind.  However they did eat boiled pumpkin, and they produced a type of fried bread from their corn crop.  There was also no milk, cider, potatoes, or butter.  There were no domestic cattle for dairy products, and the newly-discovered potato was still considered by many Europeans to be poisonous.  But the feast did include fish, berries, watercress, lobster, dried fruit, clams, venison, and plums.

This "thanksgiving" feast was not repeated the following year.  But in 1623, during a severe drought, the Pilgrims gathered in a prayer service, praying for rain.  When a long, steady rain followed the very next day, Governor Bradford proclaimed another day of Thanksgiving, again inviting their Indian friends.  It wasn't until June of 1676 that another Day of Thanksgiving was proclaimed.

Return tomorrow for the rest of the Thanksgiving Story (Part 2).


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