The story behind the first Thanksgiving

by Gary Kennedy

For some of us, Thanksgiving isn’t a space in time, day, week, month or year. In older times it was being thankful for a good harvest which was derived from a year of hard work which would supply the people for the coming months with food. Most crops were obtained in the late part of September to early October, depending on the crop. After this, harvest and storage of food stores were followed by hard winters.

I can’t explain why Thanksgiving Day was given the date of the fourth Thursday of November. I do know that the first winter the colonists endured was wrought with misery and death. Approximately 50 percent of the original 102 pilgrims, as they were known, perished of disease and the elements. The second season they fared much better having built some lodging and making new friends, the Abnaki Indians. The most unbelievable event occurred at this meeting as the Native American who greeted them did so in English. Later the Pilgrims were introduced to a Native American by the name of Squanto who was a member of the Pawtuxat tribe who also spoke English. This became a learning opportunity well needed by the very weak Pilgrims.

Squanto had years previously been kidnapped by the English and sold into slavery. Squanto had the knowledge of both worlds and even though he had been kidnapped and sold into English slavery, he was willing to teach the remaining Pilgrims the art of survival in this new world. After years of being a slave he was eventually sold to a sea captain which allowed him the opportunity to return to the new world, which for him was very familiar. That in itself was a reason to be thankful for the survivors of the Mayflower. Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to grow corn, catch fish and tap maple trees for their sap. Corn was the first vegetable, with fish racks for fertilizer, and maple syrup and honey were the first sources of sugars. Squanto taught the avoidance of poisonous plants and he also introduced the pilgrims to the Wampanoag which was another local Indian tribe. This friendly-relationship lasted for at least 50 years.

Governor William Bradford, the first of the Mayflower political figures, organized a celebratory feast in which Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag and a few others were invited. This Native Americans event is remembered as America’s first Thanksgiving and lasted for three days. The official name of Thanksgiving hadn’t been given at this point. The chronicler who gave us most of this information was a Pilgrim named Edward Winslow. When festivities concluded, Chief Massasoit sent some of his men out to hunt and they gave as a gift five deer, which in itself was a blessing. This year turned out well for the pilgrims. Not all years were this great but we won’t visit that area and spoil the spirit here.

Eventually, in 1789, George Washington issued the first proclamation by the National Government of the United States. This had mostly to do with the conclusion of the country’s War of Independence and successful ratification of the US Constitution. President James Madison and John Adams followed suit. In 1817, New York became the first state to officially adopt an annual Thanksgiving holiday.

The writer and author Sarah Hale who wrote, “Mary had a Little Lamb,” launched the campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. For 36 years she pushed for this to happen and finally she reached the ear of Abraham Lincoln, and in 1863 it became so. Although Thanksgiving has lost a lot of its religious over tones it still remains a family/friend event with lots of gaiety and food. The typical meal is still turkey, potatoes, squash, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce and various pies, especially pumpkin.

Since 1924, Macy’s of New York puts on the most famous of parades, with marching bands and floats. Now just let me say, “go and join your family and friends and devour those delicious foods which you will surely remember the day after.” I will leave you with this one positive note and that is, “they haven’t made me change the name of this holiday yet.” Have a great holiday our friends, and don’t forget to thank the one who makes all things possible. I promise to continue this story next year. God be with you and yours and God Bless America.


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1 reply
  1. Laurie Columbia
    Laurie Columbia says:

    THE FIRST TV DINNER WAS MODELED AFTER A THANKSGIVING FEAST. The first official “TV Dinner”-branded TV dinner was created by Omaha-based C.A. Swanson & Sons and hit the market in 1954. The meal consisted of turkey, gravy, cornbread stuffing, sweet potatoes, and buttered peas, and sold for 98 cents.


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