A Little Truth

A Study by Professor Sabri Bebawi, PhD

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The event that Americans commonly call the “First Thanksgiving” was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in October 1621. This feast lasted three days, and—as accounted by attendee Edward Winslow—it was attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims. (Retrieved 11,22,2017 from google.com.)

It originated as a harvest festival. Thanksgiving has been celebrated nationally on and off since 1789, after Congress requested a proclamation by George Washington. It has been celebrated as a federal holiday every year since 1863, when, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.  Together with Christmas and the New Year, Thanksgiving is a part of the broader fall/winter holiday season in the U.S. (Retrieved 11.22.2017 wikipedia)

Many myths surround the first Thanksgiving. Very little is actually known about the event because only two firsthand accounts of the feast were ever written.

The first account is William Bradford’s journal titled Of Plymouth Plantation and the other is a publication written by Edward Winslow titled Mourt’s Relations.

What is known is that the pilgrims held the first Thanksgiving feast to celebrate the successful fall harvest. Celebrating a fall harvest was an English tradition at the time and the pilgrims had much to celebrate.

The 53 pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving were the only colonists to survive the long journey on the Mayflower and the first winter in the New World. Disease and starvation struck down half of the original 102 colonists.

These pilgrims made it through that first winter and, with the help of the local Wampanoag tribe, they had a hearty supply of food to sustain them through the next winter.

When Was the First Thanksgiving Celebrated?

Although the modern day Thanksgiving feast takes place on the third Thursday of November, the first Thanksgiving did not. This feast most likely happened sometime between September and November of 1621.

No exact date for the feast has ever been recorded so one can only assume it happened sometime after the fall harvest. The celebration took place for three days and included recreational activities. (Retrieved: 11.22.2017 from http://historyofmassachusetts.org/the-first-thanksgiving/)

Guests at the feast included 90 Wampanoag Indians from a nearby village, including their leader Massasoit.

One of these Indians, a young man named Squanto, spoke fluent English and had been appointed by Massasoit to serve as the pilgrim’s translator and guide. Squanto learned English prior to the pilgrim’s arrival after he was captured by English explorers and spent time in Europe as a slave.

Neither Bradford or Winslow’s account indicate whether the Indians were actually invited to the celebration or how they learned of it. Many historians have simply assumed they were invited. Edward Winslow’s account merely states:

“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits 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 amongst 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.”

The names of the pilgrims present at the First Thanksgiving:


Eleanor Billington
Mary Brewster
Elizabeth Hopkins
Susanna White Winslow

John Alden
Isaac Allerton
John Billington
William Bradford
William Brewster
Peter Brown
Francis Cooke
Edward Doty
Francis Eaton
[first name unknown] Ely
Samuel Fuller
Richard Gardiner
John Goodman
Stephen Hopkins
John Howland
Edward Lester
George Soule
Myles Standish
William Trevor
Richard Warren
Edward Winslow
Gilbert Winslow

Teenagers and Children:
Mary Chilton
Constance Hopkins
Priscilla Mullins
Elizabeth Tilley
a maidservant name Dorothy
Francis & John Billington
John Cooke
John Crackston
Samuel Fuller
Giles Hopkins
William Latham
Joseph Rogers
Henry Samson
Bartholomew, Mary & Remember Allerton
Love & Wrestling Brewster
Humility Cooper
Samuel Eaton
Damaris & Oceanus Hopkins
Desire Minter
Richard More
Resolved & Peregrine White

(Retrieved: 11.22.2017 from http://historyofmassachusetts.org/the-first-thanksgiving/)

How amazing little do we know about true history.  The feast celebrated by the pilgrims in 1621 was never actually called “Thanksgiving” by the colonists. It was simply a harvest celebration. A few years later, in July of 1623, the pilgrims did hold what they called a “Thanksgiving.” This was simply a religious day of prayer and fasting that had nothing to do with the fall harvest.

Over the years, the names of the two events became intertwined and by the late 1600s many individual colonies and settlements, began holding “Thanksgiving feasts” during the autumn months.


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