THE FIRST AMERICAN THANKSGIVING

In the spring of 1621, the colonists planted their first crops in Patuxet's abandoned fields. While they had limited success with wheat and barley, their corn crop proved very successful, thanks to Squantum who taught them how to plant corn in hills, using fish as a fertilizer as he had seen in Newfoundland.1

Through the treaty with Massasoit which Squantum facilitated, the Pilgrims enjoyed peace and an exchange of knowledge with their neighbours, the Pokanoket. They felt hope for the future and wish that those back home were "partakers of our plenty."

In October of 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest with feasting and games, as was the custom in England. The celebration served to boost the morale of the 50 remaining colonists and also to impress their allies. Among the Native People attending were Massasoit and 90 Wampanoag men.

Described by Edward Winslow, in Mourt's Relation

"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."2

Described by William Bradford, in Of Plimoth Plantation
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 a 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. 3

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1. It has been claimed that the First Thanksgiving in North America was held in Newfoundland on May 27, 1578 by the explorer Martin Frobisher. "Canada's first Thanksgiving" > >
The claim is that Martin Frobisher "in the last of his three unsuccessful attempts to find a northwest passage, celebrated the first thanksgiving North America on the shores of Newfoundland—and Rev. Wolfall conducted the service..." For this claim is also made in The Mayflower Quarterly, November 1995, p. 282. Perhaps that is an additional reason for the traditional 24th of May holiday in Newfoundland.

2. Mourt's Relation which was written mainly Edward Winslow (although William Bradford appears to have written the descriptions above) between November 1620 and November 1621. It was first published in London in 1622, presumably by George Morton (hence the title, Mourt's Relation).

Corn and drying rack
Corn and Drying Rack

3. First Harvest (1621) William Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation, c.1650, found on The Modern History Source Book Site.