What Was the First Thanksgiving Like?

Sometimes we assume holidays have always been the way we experience them, but Thanksgiving is a good example of how you can’t view historical events through a contemporary lens.  I took time out from eating and football-watching to check my email, and I found details about that first celebration on today’s Time magazine News Brief.  Apparently, we have little in common with the first recorded Thanksgiving other than lots of food.   Details are a bit sketchy because there are only two primary eyewitness accounts, but we know the principals were Pilgrims and Native Americans and they gathered at Plymouth in 1621.  The rest of the story, as far as we know it, may surprise you.

Quoting from the News Brief as written by Melissa Chan:

1. More than 100 people attended
The Wampanoag Indians who attended the first Thanksgiving had occupied the land for thousands of years and were key to the survival of the colonists during the first year they arrived in 1620, according to the National Museum of the American Indian. After the Pilgrims successfully harvested their first crops in autumn 1621, at least 140 people gathered to eat and partake in games, historians say. No one knows exactly what prompted the two groups to dine together, but there were at least 90 native men and 50 Englishmen present, according to Kathleen Wall, a colonial foodways culinarian at Plimoth Plantation. They most likely ran races and shot at marks as forms of entertainment, Wall said. The English likely ate off of tables, while the native people dined on the ground.

2. They ate for three days
The festivities went on for three days, according to primary accounts. The nearest village of native Wampanoag people traveled on foot for about two days to attend, Wall said. “It takes so long to get somewhere, that once you get there you stay a while,” she said.

3. Deer topped the menu
Venison headlined the meal, although there was a healthy selection of fowl and fish, according to the Pilgrim Hall Museum, which cited writings by Plymouth leaders Edward Winslow and William Bradford. There was a “great store of wild turkeys” to be eaten, as well as ducks and geese, wrote Bradford, who was the governor. Winslow said Massasoit, the leader of the Wampanoag people, contributed five deer to the dinner.

4. It wasn’t called Thanksgiving
There’s no evidence that the 1621 feast was called Thanksgiving, and the event was not repeated for at least a decade, experts say. Still, it is said to be the inspiration behind the now traditional annual gathering and a testament to the cooperation of two groups of people. It showed “two communities that are diplomatically connected coming together,” said Richard Pickering, Plimoth Plantation’s deputy executive director. Abraham Lincoln officially declared Thanksgiving a national holiday by proclamation in 1863.

5. The peace was short-lived
Early European colonizers and Native Americans lived in peace through a symbiotic relationship for about 10 years until thousands of additional settlers arrived, Pickering said. Up to 25,000 Englishmen landed in the New World between 1630 and 1642, after a plague drastically cut the native population by what’s believed to be more than half, he said.

The arrival of new settlers prompted a fight for land and rising animosity. War exploded in 1675, years after Massasoit and Bradford died and power fell to their successors.

So while we give thanks for the bountiful lifestyles we lead, those early settlers were simply glad to have survived.  Also, like Columbus Day, this has to be a bittersweet holiday for Native Americans.  In any event, it’s important to keep in mind what our ancestors had to endure for us to be here today, enjoying a remarkable technology-driven civilization they never could have imagined.  And that goes for both the immigrants and the natives.

After all, that’s why we study history.  And happy Thanksgiving!

The complete article can be found at  http://time.com/4577425/thanksgiving-2016-true-story/?xid=newsletter-brief.



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