The First Thanksgiving

Richard Howland Maxwell, Governor General

General Society of Mayflower Descendants

On the fourth Thursday of November each year, Americans recall a moment in Pilgrim history which is usually termed the first Thanksgiving. Two of those who lived that occasion have described it in writing. The better known description comes from Governor William Bradford’s journal:

They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.

Another description was written by Pilgrim Edward Winslow in a letter to a friend dated 11 December 1621:

Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labours. 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 amongst the rest their greatest king, Massasoit with some 90 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.

On the occasion described by these Pilgrim leaders, the English immigrants enjoyed friendship with their nearest native neighbors: the Wampanoags. Much has happened in the intervening centuries to divide us immigrants from those whose ancestors were here long before ours. We pray each Thanksgiving Day that God might lead all of our peoples back to friendship and peace.