The First Thanksgiving Dinner1621
The Start of an American TraditionIn November, 1620. when the first New England colonists landed near Plymouth, Massachusetts, it was too late to plant any crops. Thus, by the following spring, disease and the long, harsh New England winter had killed nearly half of the original settlers. Many others were too weak to begin planting the crops that would supply enough food for the coming winter months. The Plymouth settlers probably would not have survived at all had it not been for two people. One was Governor William Bradford, whose good sense and firm leadership kept the colony together. The other was Samoset, a member of the Pemaquid Indian tribe from Maine, who had wandered into the weakened Plymouth colony in March, 1621. He and other friendly Indians taught the colonists to plant crops and prepare such foods as succotash (a mixture of beans and corn), cranberry pudding. wild turkey, corn meal, and a variety of squash and pumpkin dishes. It was after the first good harvest in 1621 that Governor Bradford called for a feast of "thanksgiving." All the members of the colony some 40 men, women and children and about 90 Indians. dressed in animal skins and gaily colored turkey feathers. joined in the celebration. The Indians brought deer meat. called venison. and wild turkeys. These were cooked on spits turned over open fires. The colonial women made johnnycakes, a cornmeal bread, and the men supplied geese, ducks, and fish. Other foods included lobsters, oysters, clams, roast corn, and maple syrup. Rum and cider were favorite beverages. Long tables were set up outdoors for eating together, and the fires burned and the food roasted for three days of celebration. Colonists and Indians alike gave thanks for the good harvest, which meant survival and an easier winter ahead. That was the first Thanksgiving dinner. Although the other colonies, and later the states, also observed this custom, it did not become a national holiday until President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed "a day of thanksgiving" on the last Thursday in November, 1863. He did so largely because of one woman, Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book. who had worked for many years promoting the idea of a national Thanksgiving Day. Today, Americans still celebrate Thanksgiving after harvest time. Since 1941, it has been observed as a legal national holiday on the fourth Thursday in November.
Illustration: Pilgrims and Indians gather to give thanks.
© 1979. Panarizon Publishing Corp. USA
Illust: Pilgrim Soc, Plymouth, Mass.
Printed in Italy 03.012.01.19