The Facts Behind Thanksgiving
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When you mention Pilgrims to anyone, the first thing that they often say is "Oh, you mean those guys who ate turkey with the Indians on Thanksgiving!" The appropriate respose should be yes, and no.  Come with us as we explore what we really know about the day we now call Thansgiving.

Historical Descriptions of th "First Thansgiving"
William Bradford Of Plimoth Plantation
"They begane now to gather in ye small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health & strenght, and had all things in good plenty; for as some were thus imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersised in fishing, aboute codd, & bass, & other fish, of which yey tooke good store, of which every family had their portion. All ye soūer ther was no wante. And now begane to come in store of foule, as winter aproached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besids water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they tooke many, besids venison, &c. Besids they had aboute a peck a meale a weeke to a person, or now since harvest, Indean come to yt proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largly of their plenty hear to their freinds in England, which were not fained, but true reports."
Edwar Winslow (and William Bradford?) Mourt's Relation
"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after have a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the company almost a week, at which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty. "
These are the only descriptions of the First Thanksgiving, which probably should be called the 1621 Harvest Feast instead.  It was a singular event, one which happened only, as far as we know, that one fall in 1621 and also one which, if we trust Bradford, was not of great import. Bradford's chronicle of the Plimoth Colony, Of Plimoth Plantation, does not even mention any Native involvement at all.  Bradford emphasized the paucity of the harvest versus the bounty of the natural resources around them, resources which likely sustained them more that second winter than the meager harvest.  He also places emphasis on the fact that after that terible previous winter when half of their company died, the current fall 1621 state of affairs in the colony was much better. Bradford may have intended to send this report back to England to their investors, the Merchant Adventurers, as sort of a status report on the state of the colony, to show that they were still alive, that they were employed in fishing as they stated that they would be, and that they were well set for the coming winter.
Mourt's Relation, on the other hand, has a much more detailed description of the 1621 Harvest Feast. Winslow chronologically lays out the events of the Feast:
1- the harvest was gotten in
2- the Governor sent out men fowling, shooting enough fowl to last them a week
3- at the same time, they exercised their arms among other things
4- and many of the Indians vame among them, including  their greatest King
    Massasoit, with some ninety men who feated and were entertained by the
    colonists for three days
5- the Natives went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation
    and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain, and others
The description's final sentance sums up one of the purposes of the work overall "And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty." It basically says "Having a great time, wish you were here". Mourt's Relation was written as a propaganda and informational tract
Caleb Johnson's excellent website (Mayflower Web Pages a.ka. Caleb Johnson's Gives the following description of the book:
"Mourt's Relation was written primarily by Edward Winslow, although William Bradford appears to have written most of the first section.  Written between November 1620 and November 1621, it describes in detail what happened from the landing of the Pilgrims at Cape Cod, though their exploring and eventual settling at Plymouth, to their relations with the surrounding Indians, up to the First Thanksgiving and the arrival of the ship Fortune.  Mourt's Relation was first published in London in 1622, presumably by George Morton (hence the title, Mourt's Relation)."  ( It has a tendency to overlook some of the troubles and deaths of the first winter and emphasizes the relations with the natives and the bounty of the land- generally sending the message back to England that New England is a wonderful and bountiful place full of Indians who can be negotiated and dealt with to the advantage of the English.

Harvest Feasts
           Available in New England
           Imported by English
Foodways (how and what may have been cooked)

Copyright November 2007 PARP