The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth (Detail)
Jennie A. Brownscombe, 1914
Our harvest being gotten in, our governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours...
The Pilgrims wanted to celebrate their harvest according to English custom with a festival of food and reverie. To prepare for the feast, the men hunted and shot a large number of game birds. According to Wampanoag history, the neighboring tribe heard about the tremendous gunfire, thought the Pilgrims were under attack, and came to their aid. Massasoit and 90 warriors arrived at the settlement ready for battle; instead, they joined the 53 surviving colonists in the harvest celebration.
Outnumbering the colonists, the Wampanoag contributed the venison of five deer. Besides the wild game, the menu included cod and bass and the harvested wheat, corn, and barley. Shellfish and native nuts, groundnuts, and berries were plentiful. In addition, the colonists had probably brought seeds to plant English herbs and vegetables, such as parsley, onions, carrots, and turnips. With no oven or flour and a likely depleted sugar supply, the feast would not have included baked desserts.
The feast was not one big sit-down meal, as we know Thanksgiving today. The Wampanoag had walked over 40 miles to reach the colony and would not have left after a single meal. Rather, the Pilgrims and Wampanoag feasted for three whole days. Between meals, they amused themselves with "recreations" that probably included games and displays of strength and skill. They also demonstrated their weapons skills with muskets and bows and arrows.
Massasoit and his warriors returned home when the feast ended, and the Pilgrims returned to their daily work. Thus the Pilgrims celebrated their good health, the fortune of enough food to carry them through the approaching winter, and their hope for the new year.
The First Thanksgiving–1621
by Karen Rinaldo, 1995
DID YOU KNOW?
1. The Pilgrims did not have forks. They ate with spoons, knives, their fingers, and large napkins.