The History of The First Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is a holiday that Americans have celebrated for over 400 years. The Thanksgiving Day that we think of today is quite different from the First Thanksgiving, which occurred between September 21 and November 11, 1621. The story that you might have heard about the First Thanksgiving might not be the same as the true history as things didn't work out so perfectly, but in the end, English settlers did have a bountiful feast with the Wampanoag tribe. The Native Americans and settlers ate some of the foods that we eat today on Thanksgiving Day, but there was a lot of food that wasn't available to them at the time, such as cranberry jam and potatoes.
There are several interesting facts surrounding the First Thanksgiving that you probably have never heard before. So if you want to find out more about the history of the First Thanksgiving, check out this article!
The Plymouth colonists were referred to as Brownists before they decided to settle in America. Brownists were Puritan separatists who didn't believe in the ways of the Catholic Church and decided to create their own. They thought that church should be something that you voluntarily attend as a community and not something that is forced by the state.
The Brownists had a hard time living in England during the mid-1500s to early 1600s as the Church of England didn't take kindly to people who opposed the Catholic Church. Sadly, several Brownists were hung or put in jail for their beliefs.
Brownists Printing Press
Robert Brown, the founder of the Brownists, felt that the Catholic Church had too much power over the people of England and decided to write a couple of books that went against the Catholic Church's values. This was seen as a threat to the Catholic Church and treated anyone who associated with the Brownists badly.
This made it extremely hard to make a living if you were a Brownists and led the English separatists to think about other countries where they might be more welcomed. When reports were coming back about the Americas, the Brownists thought that it would be the best place to start over.
Puritans Wanted A New Life
The Brownists and even Puritans were being hounded by the English Catholic Church and were not able to hold any titles, and were not the wealthiest of people. They knew that they needed to get as far away from England as possible but didn't have the funds to do so.
The Brownists ended up asking King James I to help fund their expedition to the Americas to help spread the word of God. King James I demanded the colony pay back the funds for the expedition in taxes from fishing once they found a place to settle, which they gladly accepted.
First Attempt To Leave England
There were around 120 Brownists and Puritans that made their first attempt to leave England in August of 1620. The group of Puritans were able to purchase two older ships with the funds that they received from King James I. These ships were not in the best condition, but they were the only ships that the Puritans could afford as they needed supplies for the journey across the sea.
The group of Puritans ended up departing England sometime in August of 1620, but things didn't end up going as well as they had planned, as their ships were not sea-worthy.
Speedwell was one of the ships that the Puritans tried to use to cross over to America. The Speedwell was built in 1577 and was used during the Spanish Armada. The ship was decommissioned after the war with the Spanish was over, and it even participated in a couple of battles.
When the Puritans got ownership of the Speedwell, the ship was in bad shape and would not be able to get across the Atlantic Sea. Shortly after they departed from England, the Speedwell started to take on water, forcing the Puritans to turn back around.
The Mayflower was the second ship that the group of Puritans purchased to cross the Atlantic ocean. The Mayflower was used as a trading merchant ship before it came into the hands of the Puritans. The ship was in much better shape than the Speedwell but was still not considered to be worthy for their long journey ahead.
The Mayflower is the ship that the group of Puritans decided to take, as the repairs on the Speedwell would have delayed the group by months. This was their last hope to cross over the Atlantic as they were running out of money.
Forced To Take One Ship
The Puritans decided to leave behind around 20 members of their group with the Speedwell as they agreed to wait for the Speedwell to be repaired and they would join them once it was complete. The group ended up leaving sometime in September of 1620 with 102 passengers on board, more people than they would have liked.
The journey to the New World was going well for the group as they had no trouble making it halfway across the Atlantic Ocean, but things ended up turning bad for the group as they were caught in a violent storm.
Bad Luck At Sea
The Puritans made it halfway across the Atlantic Ocean with ease but ended up being caught in a storm that severely damaged the Mayflower. The would-be colonists thought that they would have to sail back to England as one of the ship's masts snapped in half.
The group was able to find a spare mast in the hull of the Mayflower, but when they attempted to repair the mast, it was unsuccessful. Morale was low on the Mayflower, but after searching the ship some more, the Puritans found a metal screw that allowed them to fix the mast and continue on their journey.
The Puritans Prayed Constantly
During the rough ten months that the group of Puritans were at sea, they often prayed most of the time as the journey was not easy even for the sturdiest of men. The main reason why the Puritans wanted to settle in the New World was that they would have religious freedom.
There were several religious groups that started to settle in the New World at the time, which led the Puritans to want to do the same. This group knew that the journey wouldn't be easy and not all of them would survive, but it was worth it to them as they wanted freedom.
The Settlers Finally Reach America
The settlers reached the New World sometime in November and anchored around what is known today as Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The settlers were weary from their long journey across the Atlantic Ocean and wanted to find a place to settle but were unsure where exactly they wanted to.
The colony of settlers tried to travel south, where more settlers had made home but were forced to stay off the coast of Massachusetts as winter storms didn't allow them to travel down towards the Hudson River. They knew that they needed to find suitable land soon.
The Mayflower Compact
The Mayflower Compact is considered to be the first constitution ever created in history as it was an agreement between the settlers of Plymouth Colony, which was the new name the group called themselves. There were 41 male passengers that signed the document, which stated that the group of Puritans would work together and it was the first governing document of New Plymouth.
The Mayflower Compact was signed on the Mayflower, hence the name, which was anchored in Provincetown Harbor. Many historians agree that this was the first constitution signed and paved the way for the United States to be created.
Winter Made Everything Worse
The Plymouth colony started to suffer from attrition as the Mayflower was not built for cold winters, which made the ship nearly impossible to live on. The colony agreed that they needed to find suitable land fast, as they would not survive the winter aboard the Mayflower.
At this point, the Plymouth colony was running out of food and goods quickly, so it was either they stayed and died on the Mayflower or risked settling on foreign land. Living conditions on the Mayflower were unbearable for most, especially the women and children.
Searching For Suitable Land
Since the Plymouth colony wanted to find a safe and strategic area to settle in, they often would sleep on the shores during the cold winter nights so that they wouldn't freeze on the ships. The Plymouth colony knew that there were natives in the area as they often saw villages and other Native American monuments.
The settlers were unsure if these natives were friendly and often traveled under the cover of the night so as to not be spotted when they camped on the shores, but these natives knew precisely where they were at all times as it was their land for hundreds of years.
Attacked From Unfriendly Native Americans
One night while the Plymouth colony was camped on shore, they were attacked by unfriendly Native Americans that started to shoot arrows at them from the forest. The men of the colony grabbed their muskets and fired back to ward their attackers off, which they did.
Luckily no one was injured during the attack, but it made the colonists weary of the local natives. After the attack, the colonists knew that they needed to settle somewhere as they would eventually be killed if they stayed on the shores with no proper defenses.
The Plymouth colony settled in a bay that they named New Plymouth. They decided on the land to settle in because it had all the things that they were looking for in suitable lands such as rivers, trees, and a defensible position.
The Plymouth colonists also built on top of a previously owned Native American village that was once prominent in the region. The settlers were finally happy that they found a place to settle and were glad to say goodbye to their lives on the shore and on the Mayflower.
Illness And Disease
Although the Plymouth colonists were able to settle down in New Plymouth, they were still suffering from illness and disease as the winter was brutal in 1620. The settlers did build a little town for themselves but still needed a source of food.
The Plymouth colonists were suffering more than they imagined they would as they thought that the group would settle someplace warmer. The colonists were very sturdy people and often prayed to get through their suffering. Luckily things would eventually turn out well for the colony as spring was around the corner.
Natives Also Dealt With Illness and Disease
The Native Americans were dealing with disease and illness just as the settlers did but at a more significant level. Once Europeans first came across the Atlantic, they brought with them many diseases that were not seen by the natives.
These diseases spread throughout each native tribe and dwindled their population significantly. Whole villages were wiped out by diseases which made the natives fear the Europeans as they had never been hit with such diseases before. This led many tribes to surrender their land as they didn't have the numbers to defend it.
Several Colonist Perished
There were originally 120 Puritans that left England to pursue a new life in the New World, and sadly, only 47 ended up surviving, as most perished during the journey and the winter months. The colonists were in low morale, but one thing that they had on their side was God, which was a big deal to them and probably the main reason why they pushed on forward.
The colonists were quite relieved when winter passed as the weather was more favorable for them to plant crops.
Native American Raiding Parties
When the Native Americans found out about where the settlers ended up settling, New Plymouth became a big target for Native American raiding parties. The natives would either attack from the forest surrounding New Plymouth or from the coast, as they were skilled fishermen and sailors.
The colonists were armed with muskets and plate armor, but it just wasn't enough to fend against multiple attacks. The Plymouth colonists knew that they needed to create some defense against these attacks as their numbers were dwindling.
Settlers Fortified Plymouth
Since the New Plymouth settlers were tired of getting attacked by Native American raiding parties, they decided to fortify New Plymouth as it was their only option. The colonists built walls around the town and even removed a couple of cannons from the Mayflower to help with the defenses.
This was what the settlers needed as the Native American raiding parties died down quickly as the town's defenses were strong. At this point, the settlers thought that all natives were hostile toward them, but luckily they were wrong about that.
Settlers Get Used To Their New Lives
Once the attacks from the natives stopped, the Plymouth settlers were able to settle in their new lives. The colonists found that the surrounding land was beautiful and something that they had never seen before. They knew that they had struck gold as New Plymouth was surrounded by pristine wilderness.
The only thing that made the colonists not venture far was all the native tribes that were in the area. They knew that, eventually, they would need to make peace with these people if they both wanted to live together, but they didn't know how to communicate with them.
Settlers Tried Farming
The Plymouth settlers were successful at planting only corn in the region but were struggling to farm the crops from the region as they had no idea what these plants were. The settlers wanted to cultivate these crops from the region as they found that they were delicious, such as spinach and lettuce.
The settlers did notice that every native village that was seen often was supported by a healthy farm with local crops and wanted to know the secret behind their farming but still didn't know how to communicate with them.
William Bradford was the first governor of the Plymouth colony that helped plan the city in the beginning stages. Bradford was a Puritan at heart and was grateful that he was able to flee the religious persecution of King James I.
Bradford wanted to create one of the best colonies in the New World and stayed as governor of the Plymouth colony for 30 years. Bradford also played an influential role in creating a friendship between the colonists and the natives. Bradford's house stood for many years after his passing and became a historical site.
Myles Standish was an important figure in the Plymouth colony as he was an English military officer that advised the colony on military matters. When it came to keeping the colonists safe, Standish was prepared all the time as he was an experienced soldier.
Standish played a big part in fortifying New Plymouth and even participated in a couple of raids against the unfriendly native tribes. The colonists would have not been prepared for such matters if they didn't have Standish by their side. Standish was not liked much by the others in the Plymouth colony as they saw him as a brutal man.
Meeting of Samoset
One day the settlers of New Plymouth were caught off guard as one Native American man walked into the center of town with no ill intention. The men of the colony thought that this was some trick and raised their muskets. But what surprised them even more, was that the native man actually spoke English.
The man greeted the colonists and said that his name was Samoset. Samoset explained that he had learned his broken English from other Europeans that were in the region and often traded with them. The settlers were happy to find that Samoset was a friendly native.
Samoset sat with the settlers for quite some time and explained what he could about the land and its people, as his English wasn't the best. Samoset warned the colonists that other native tribes in the region will not be as friendly towards them as his tribe was.
The settlers were pretty familiar with this as they were often attacked by unfriendly natives. Samoset reassured them that there were still some good tribes in the region but warned them to be weary of others as they were not friendly towards his tribe.
When Samoset returned to New Plymouth, he brought along a friend that would change the way the settlers looked at natives. His name was Tisquantum, but he went by the name of Squanto. Samoset wanted the settlers to meet Squanto as he could speak perfect English. The settlers were even more surprised when they heard Squanto talk, as his English was as good as theirs.
Squanto greeted the settlers and asked all the questions that they had about the new land they had settled in. Squanto knew that he had formed a relationship with the colonists and often visited New Plymouth.
Squanto's English Knowledge
When Squanto was a young man, he was captured by Spanish explorers that shipped him to Spain and sold him into slavery. Squanto was then purchased by an English merchant who lived in Spain and came to like him and even taught him perfect English.
Squanto spent many years learning English and became a fluent English-speaking native. Since Squanto had formed a friendship with the English trade merchant, the merchant decided to send Squanto back home as he felt that he needed to be back with his people.
Disease Wiped Out Squanto's Tribe
The British merchant that taught Squanto English fulfilled his word and purchased Sqaunto's freedom so that he could return to his people in the Americas. Squanto was thrilled that he would be able to finally go back home, as it had been years since he was captured by the Spanish.
Once Squanto arrived at his village, which was named Patuxet, he soon realized that all of the people in his tribe had died from a disease. Squanto was devastated to find that he was the last member of his tribe and eventually asked Massasoit, the leader of the Wampanoag tribe, for refuge.
Massasoit was the leader of the Wampanoag tribe, which were the native people that inhabited the land that the colonists settled in. Massasoit was the reason why Samoset and Squanto greeted the colonists, as he had always been friendly towards Europeans in the past and often traded with them.
Squanto ended up introducing Massasoit to William Bradford, the governor of New Plymouth. Massasoit brought many furs and pelts as a gift, while the settlers offered weapons and other garments in return. This was the beginning of a friendship that would eventually lead to the First Thanksgiving.
Pilgrim-Wampanoag Peace Treaty
The Pilgrim-Wampanoag Peace Treaty was signed on March 22, 1621, and was one of the first peace treaties with native tribes in the region. Since the settlers were able to communicate with the Wampanoag tribe with the help of Squanto, they decided to sign a peace treaty between the two peoples as they saw no need for violence.
The treaty was signed by Massasoit, William Bradford, and several other members of both the natives and the colonists. At first, Massasoit didn't want peace between the people but knew that his people had grown weak and did not want war.
A Deep Relationship Forms Between The Settlers And The Wampanoag Tribe
Squanto, Samoset, and Massasoit were the main reason why the settlers ended up forming a deep relationship with the Wampanoag tribe. The Wampanoags taught the settlers many things about the land and its history and even helped them with farming, which was vital.
The settlers also shared the knowledge of things that the natives were not familiar with, such as gunpowder and metals. The relationship between the Wampanoag tribe and the Plymouth settlers lasted for years, and the two learned a lot from each other. This was one of the first deep bondings between natives and Europeans.
Native Americans Asked For Protection
Along with the peace treaty that was signed between the Wampanoag tribe and the Plymouth settlers, the Wampanoag tribe asked the settlers for protection from the unfriendly tribes in the region. The Wampanoag tribe was very weak at this point as disease had riddled the land, which left few remaining survivors.
The Narraganset tribe was the Wampanoag tribe's sworn enemy and had become stronger in recent years. This led Massasoit to ask for protection which the Plymouth colonists gladly accepted. This was another thing that deepened the ties between the settlers and the Wampanoag tribe.
Worked Together To Unite The Surrounding Tribes
The Wampanoag tribe and the colonists worked together to unite the surrounding tribes that wanted peace. The two also worked together to get rid of any native tribe that was giving them problems, and it was some of the first times the natives and settlers fought together.
The New Plymouth colony was growing bigger and bigger with each passing month, and the relationship between the natives and the settlers was increasing as well. Although their ideologies were quite different, the two set aside their differences.
Squanto Taught The Settlers How To Farm
Since the settlers were struggling with farming native crops, Squanto taught them how to farm in a way that was never seen before. Squanto advised that the colonists plant certain crops together to allow both to flourish.
Squanto was looked at as a gift from God, as the settlers had no idea how to farm. The settlers were impressed with Squanto's skills and now had enough food to go around for months and enough food to store for the winter. This changed everything for the colonists, and they really showed their appreciation towards Sqaunto as he had become a legend.
Natives Teach Settlers How To Fish
Another thing that the New Plymouth settlers were not very good at was fishing, as none of them were fishers in the past. This was something that the Wampanoag tribe taught the English settlers, as the natives were skilled fishermen that relied heavily on fish.
The settlers were quite impressed with the mastery of fishing that the natives acquired over hundreds of years. The natives also taught the settlers how to track down animals in the region, as they were accustomed to hunting deer every year. The settlers learned a lot from the natives and were thankful for the friendship they had with them.
The First Thanksgiving
The Plymouth colonists were in much better shape to survive through the winter and had an abundance of crops at their disposal thanks to the Wampanoag tribe. Since the year was much better for the colony and the Wampanoag tribe, they decided to have a massive feast between the two. The Wampanoag tribe chose to supply the feast with five deer that they had recently caught.
The colonists supplied the feasts with a couple of game birds, crops from their harvest, and seafood. It is uncertain what made the First Thanksgiving occur, but it did happen in November of 1621.
Thanksgiving Celebration Lasted Three Days
The First Thanksgiving feast was celebrated for three days between the Wampanoag tribe and the Plymouth colonists, even though it wasn't named Thanksgiving at the time. During the three-day celebration, there was an abundance of food as well as friendship. This was the first time natives and settlers had a feast together, which is why it is considered the first Thanksgiving.
The colonists and natives laughed, ate, and even played games together to enjoy the abundant harvest and the deep friendship they had with each other.
Food Was Quite Different From Today
Many of you might wonder what exactly the natives and settlers had for their first Thanksgiving meal. Well, it was quite different from what we eat today for Thanksgiving, but there are still some similarities. Although it was not exactly mentioned, there is a record of one settler writing that men were sent out to hunt game birds which shows that they might have eaten turkey.
There was venison to eat, which was supplied by the natives, and they also brought different corn dishes that they were accustomed to making. There were also beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots, and many other foods.
Something Not Usually On The Menu
Something that is not usually on the menu for Thanksgiving nowadays but was on the first Thanksgiving was seafood, which was pretty abundant in the region. The natives brought bass, clams, lobsters, and oysters, which its people have been eating for hundreds of years.
There were no pies at the first Thanksgiving as, at the time, pies were hard to make and unknown to the settlers. Mash potatoes were another food item that wasn't at the first Thanksgiving feast, as potatoes were not introduced to the colonists until some years later.
Meals Were Mostly Likely Prepped By The Wampanoag Tribe
Most of the meals that were prepped during the first Thanksgiving feast were prepared by the Wampanoag tribe, as the settlers didn't know how to cook most of the crops and animals. The Wampanoag tribe showed everything they had to offer to the settlers and were grateful that they formed a good friendship.
The first Thanksgiving will always be remembered as a feast of friendship and peace between two different types of cultures. The holiday has lived on for hundreds of years thanks to the Plymouth settlers and the Wampanoag tribe. This was really the first time Europeans and natives saw each other as equals.
Peace Between The Two Peoples Lasted For Years
The peace between the New Plymouth colony and the Wampanoag tribe lasted for years, as the first Thanksgiving created a bond between the two. Squanto, Samoset, and Massasoit played a big part in creating a friendship with the English settlers, and they were, of course, all present during the first Thanksgiving celebration.
The peace lasted for several years, but sadly, things turned sour between the two as more colonists started settling on the land, which made the natives angry as they were being pushed out of their land. The friendship between the Wampanoag and the settlers was only a brief point in history when there was peace.
Thanksgiving Was Something Quite Different For Puritans
Although we have named the feast between the Wampanoag tribe and the settlers the first Thanksgiving, the settlers did not call the feast Thanksgiving as the term Thanksgiving meant something entirely different for them. The Puritans were firm believers in god, and Thanksgiving meant that they would fast for a couple of days in the name of god before Thanksgiving Day.
Then they would spend Thanksgiving day praying all day to the lord as they believed that they needed to suffer just as Jesus did at the cross. This was quite different from what we think of Thanksgiving and something that sounds quite boring for many people nowadays.
Thanksgiving Wasn't Celebrated Every Year
Although the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621, the settlers didn't end up celebrating the Thanksgiving feast every year. It was believed that the feast was only celebrated one more time among the settlers and the Wampanoag tribe.
It wasn't until later on in history that one of the presidents made it an official holiday. Although Thanksgiving wasn't celebrated by the settlers ever again, they were the first to introduce such a meal to the world, which has become one of the most popular holidays in America. These settlers traveled a long way to create a better life for themselves, which they were able to.
Peace Didn't Last
Things ended up falling apart between the settlers and the natives once more Europeans crossed the Atlantic Ocean to settle down in the Americas. Not all Europeans were as friendly as the Plymouth colony and didn't take kindly to natives in the region. This led to a lot of turmoil between the Europeans and natives and was the reason why relations went sour.
Sadly, the Pilgrim Wampanoag Peace Treaty ended several years after it was written, but the peace did last several years between the two.
George Washington Calls For A National Thanksgiving
George Washington was the first president to call for a national Thanksgiving, which he named the Thanksgiving Proclamation. The proclamation was issued on October 3, 1783, as Washington wanted the nation to have a day of public thanksgiving.
The proclamation stated that the day of Thanksgiving was to be held on Thursday, November 26th, which ended up being the first national Thanksgiving in the nation's history. Washington felt that the nation needed a national holiday to give thanks for what they had achieved by crossing the Atlantic ocean. Washington is one of the reasons why Thanksgiving is such a popular holiday today.
Thomas Jefferson Was Against Thanksgiving
Thomas Jefferson was among the few that was against Thanksgiving Day. He disliked the notion of creating a holiday of thanksgiving as he felt that the state was sponsoring religion which was one of the reasons why the United States was created, as the English church had too much power over people.
When Jefferson was the president of the United States, Thanksgiving day was not celebrated as he was serious about his stance. He has famously become America's first president to dislike Thanksgiving day.
Abraham Lincoln Made Thanksgiving An Official Holiday
Although George Washington was the first to declare a national Thanksgiving, Abraham Lincoln was the one that made it an official holiday in the United States. Lincoln decided to issue the Thanksgiving Proclamation that would make the holiday official even though many Americans still celebrated it for years.
Lincoln knew that he needed to unite America as the Civil War recently ended and he called on every American to settle their differences and have a day of Thanksgiving. This was a great way to rally the nation even though it had been split in half for years.
Thanksgiving Has A Deep History
We celebrate Thanksgiving day every year because of many figures in history, such as William Bradford, Squanto, Massasoit, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln. The Plymouth colony and the Wampanoag tribe are the first to thank on the list as they were the pioneers of creating such a great holiday and feast.
George Washington and Abraham Lincoln solidified Thanksgiving day so that every American can celebrate and give thanks every year in November. Thanksgiving has a deep history, and it is no wonder why the holiday is so important in America and even some places around the world.