Pilgrims, who celebrated the first Thanksgiving
in America, were fleeing religious prosecution
in their native England. In 1609 a group of
Pilgrims left England for the religious freedom
in Holland where they lived and prospered. After
a few years their children were speaking Dutch
and had become attached to the dutch way of
life. This worried the Pilgrims. They considered
the Dutch frivolous and their ideas a threat
to their children's education and morality.
So they decided
to leave Holland and travel to the New World.
Their trip was financed by a group of English
investors, the Merchant Adventurers. It was
agreed that the Pilgrims would be given passage
and supplies in exchange for their working for
their backers for 7 years.
6, 1620 the Pilgrims set sail for the New World
on a ship called the Mayflower. They sailed
from Plymouth, England and aboard were 44 Pilgrims,
who called themselves the "Saints", and 66 others,
whom the Pilgrims called the "Strangers."
trip was cold and damp and took 65 days. Since
there was the danger of fire on the wooden ship,
the food had to be eaten cold. Many passengers
became sick and one person died by the time
land was sighted on November 10th.
trip led to many disagreements between the "Saints"
and the "Strangers". After land was sighted
a meeting was held and an agreement was worked
out, called the Mayflower Compact, which guaranteed
equality and unified the two groups. They joined
together and named themselves the "Pilgrims."
they had first sighted land off Cape Cod they
did not settle until they arrived at Plymouth,
which had been named by Captain John Smith in
1614. It was there that the Pilgrims decide
to settle. Plymouth offered an excellent harbor.
A large brook offered a resource for fish. The
Pilgrims biggest concern was attack by the local
Native American Indians. But the Patuxets were
a peaceful group and did not prove to be a threat.
winter was devastating to the Pilgrims. The
cold, snow and sleet was exceptionally heavy,
interfering with the workers as they tried to
construct their settlement. March brought warmer
weather and the health of the Pilgrims improved,
but many had died during the long winter. Of
the 110 Pilgrims and crew who left England,
less that 50 survived the first winter.
16, 1621 , what was to become an important event
took place, an Indian brave walked into the
Plymouth settlement. The Pilgrims were frightened
until the Indian called out "Welcome" (in English!).
was Samoset and he was an Abnaki Indian. He
had learned English from the captains of fishing
boats that had sailed off the coast. After staying
the night Samoset left the next day. He soon
returned with another Indian named Squanto who
spoke better English than Samoset. Squanto told
the Pilgrims of his voyages across the ocean
and his visits to England and Spain. It was
in England where he had learned English.
importance to the Pilgrims was enormous and
it can be said that they would not have survived
without his help. It was Squanto who taught
the Pilgrims how to tap the maple trees for
sap. He taught them which plants were poisonous
and which had medicinal powers. He taught them
how to plant the Indian corn by heaping the
earth into low mounds with several seeds and
fish in each mound. The decaying fish fertilized
the corn. He also taught them to plant other
crops with the corn.
in October was very successful and the Pilgrims
found themselves with enough food to put away
for the winter. There was corn, fruits and vegetables,
fish to be packed in salt, and meat to be cured
over smoky fires.
had much to celebrate, they had built homes
in the wilderness, they had raised enough crops
to keep them alive during the long coming winter,
they were at peace with their Indian neighbors.
They had beaten the odds and it was time to
Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of
thanksgiving to be shared by all the colonists
and the neighboring Native Americans. They invited
Squanto and the other Indians to join them in
their celebration. Their chief, Massasoit, and
90 braves came to the celebration which lasted
for 3 days. They played games, ran races, marched
and played drums. The Indians demonstrated their
skills with the bow and arrow and the Pilgrims
demonstrated their musket skills. Exactly when
the festival took place is uncertain, but it
is believed the celebration took place in mid-October.
year the Pilgrims harvest was not as bountiful,
as they were still unused to growing the corn.
During the year they had also shared their stored
food with newcomers and the Pilgrims ran short
The 3rd year
brought a spring and summer that was hot and
dry with the crops dying in the fields. Governor
Bradford ordered a day of fasting and prayer,
and it was soon thereafter that the rain came.
To celebrate - November 29th of that year was
proclaimed a day of thanksgiving. This date
is believed to be the real true beginning of
the present day Thanksgiving Day.
of an annually celebrated thanksgiving, held
after the harvest, continued through the years.
During the American Revolution (late 1770's)
a day of national thanksgiving was suggested
by the Continental Congress.
In 1817 New
York State had adopted Thanksgiving Day as an
annual custom. By the middle of the 19th century
many other states also celebrated a Thanksgiving
Day. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln appointed
a national day of thanksgiving. Since then each
president has issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation,
usually designating the fourth Thursday of each
November as the holiday.
Wishes " Page.