The First Thanksgiving (the original account).--

With Americans celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow, I thought that I'd rerun (and slightly update) my post from last year.

It is worth remembering the only specific contemporary account of the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, that of Edward Winslow. His letter was dated December 13, 1621.

I include most of a paragraph about farming methods because it indicates some of the foods that they would have served:

We set the last spring some twenty acres of Indian corn, and sowed some six acres of barley and peas, and according to the manner of the Indians, we manured our ground with herrings or rather shads, which we have in great abundance, and take with great ease at our doors. Our corn [i.e., wheat] did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown, they came up very well, and blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom.

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.

There are some interesting things and some ambiguities in this account. The only recreation mentioned besides feasting is exercising their arms (guns). Note also that four men in one day shot almost enough fowl to last a week. Both of these points would tend to undercut the claims in Arming America that guns were not accurate enough to be of much use and that people didn't care about guns.

This page speculates about the probable menu. There is also a more general account of the harvest time written decades later by William Bradford.

Actual color photograph of Pilgrim John Howland ---->

Last year, in a long, interesting post, Patrick Spero tells of a late 17th century account that omits the Indians as guests and places the date of the first formal Thanksgiving in the fall of 1622, not 1621. Yet there is little reason to doubt the date of Winslow's 1621 account, since his letter was dated in December 1621 and is in sequence with other letters that place the events being described in 1621, not 1622. It would seem highly unlikely that the year on his letter is wrong. The various influences on Thanksgiving traditions and the revisionist tendencies of later reporters make a fascinating story in themselves.

UPDATE: My post concerned the "the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth." Not surprisingly, several bloggers or posters have pointed to other pre-1621 Thanksgivings celebrated by Native Americans, Spanish explorers, or other European visitors and settlors in what is now the United States.