Click Next for National Day of Mourning!
The 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 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.
On Sept. 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."
The long 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.
The long 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
Although 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.
The first 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.
On March 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
His name 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.
Squanto's 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 harvest 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.
The Pilgrims 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 celebrate.
The Pilgrim 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.
The following 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 of food.
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.
The custom 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
Information from: Thanksgiving on the Net