Dr. Patricia Moseley Stanford

First Harvest Thanksgiving of the Pilgrims

In the fall of 1621, their first fall in the New World, the Pilgrims began to gather in the small harvest they had. When the harvest was in, Governor Bradford sent four men out fowling, so they "might, after a special manner, rejoice together. " In one day the men killed enough fowl to serve the Company for almost a week.

The Pilgrims invited Massasoit and his Indian friends to join them in their Harvest Thanksgiving. When the Indians saw that the Pilgrims needed more meat, Massasoit sent his men out hunting. The Indians killed five deer, which they brought to the Plantation.

For three days the Pilgrims and their Indian guests gorged themselves on venison, roast duck, goose and turkey, clams and other shellfish, eels, cornbread, hasty pudding, leeks, watercress and other "sallet herbes," with wild plums and dried berries for dessert. The feasting involved the preparation of large quantities of food by only four married women and five teenage girls who had survived the great sickness during the first winter. They must have been exhausted, trying to feed a hundred and forty hungry people for three days.

The gathering was enlivened by contests of skill and strength: running, jumping, wrestling, contests of marksmanship, musket drills, games and singing. The Indians performed their dances and the little army of Englishmen performed their military review.

In, spite of their numbers having been cut in half by sickness and death, the Pilgrims found reasons for thankfulness. They were well recovered in health and strength, and they had made firm friends with the Indians, who had been so helpful to them in their time of need. They lifted their thanks to their Creator for the gifts of abundant food, health and good prospects.

At each fall harvest we should remember the courageous example set forth by the Pilgrims and the Indian friends who helped them in their time of need. From these small beginnings evolved our heritage of American democracy.