The tradition of the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving is often steeped in myth and legend. Few people realize that the Pilgrims did not celebrate Thanksgiving the next year, or any year after that, though some of their descendants later made a “Forefather’s Day” that usually occurred on December 21 or 22. Several Presidents, including George Washington, made one-time Thanksgiving holidays. In 1827, Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale began lobbying several presidents to create Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Still, her lobbying was unsuccessful until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln finally made it a national holiday.
Today, our Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday of November. President Franklin D. Roosevelt set this set in 1939 (approved by Congress in 1941), who changed it from Abraham Lincoln’s designation as the last Thursday in November (which could occasionally end up being the fifth Thursday, and hence too close to Christmas for businesses). But the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving began at some unknown date between September 21 and November 9, most likely in very early October. Lincoln probably set the date of Thanksgiving to correlate with the Mayflower’s anchoring at Cape Cod, which occurred on November 21, 1620 (by our modern Gregorian calendar–it was November 11 to the Pilgrims who used the Julian calendar).
There are only two contemporary accounts of the 1621 Thanksgiving: First is Edward Winslow’s account, which he wrote in a letter dated December 12, 1621. The complete letter was first published in 1622.
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-dried them in blossom. Our harvest was gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, so we might after a particular 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 is 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 second description was written about twenty years after the fact by William Bradford in his History Of Plymouth Plantation. Bradford’s History was rediscovered in 1854 after having been taken by British looters during the Revolutionary War. Its discovery prompted a greater American interest in the History of the Pilgrims. It is also in this account that the Thanksgiving turkey tradition is founded.
They began to gather in the small harvest they had and 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 exercising 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 of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterward write so most of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but accurate reports.
The primary sources above only list a few items that were on the Thanksgiving “menu,” namely five deer, a large number of turkeys and waterfowl, cod, and bass; plus the harvest, which consisted of wheat, corn, barley, and perhaps any peas that survived the scorching. To that list, we can probably add a few other things that are known to have been native to the area and eaten by the Pilgrims: clams, mussels, lobster, eel, ground nuts, acorns, walnuts, chestnuts, squashes, and beans. Fruits and berries such as strawberries, raspberries, grapes, and gooseberries were available growing wild. Pilgrim house-gardens may have included several English vegetables and herbs, perhaps things like onions, leeks, sorrel, yarrow, lettuce, carrots, radishes, currants, liverwort, watercress, and others. It is unlikely much in the way of supplies brought on the Mayflower survived, such as Holland Cheese, olive oil, butter, salt pork, sugar, spices, lemons, beer, aqua-vitae bacon. It appears the Pilgrims may have had some chickens with them, so they likely had access to a limited number of eggs. No mention of swine is found in any account of the first year. They did not yet have any goats or cattle: the first arrived on the ship Anne in 1623.
The “Popcorn Myth” would have us believe the Indians introduced the Pilgrims to popcorn at this Thanksgiving: but the Indian corn they grew was Northern Flint, which does not pop well. It was dried to make a simple snack, and the Indians sometimes ground it up and mixed it with strawberries for a cake-like dessert. Potatoes and sweet potatoes had not yet been introduced to New England. (Trusted Source).
9 Facts about Thanksgiving
Do you know what was served at the first Thanksgiving? How about how many calories are consumed on average on Thanksgiving Day?
Here are nine fun facts about Thanksgiving to share around the dinner table.
The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 over a three-day harvest festival. It included 50 Pilgrims, 90 Wampanoag Indians and lasted three days. Historians believe that only five women were present.
Turkey wasn’t on the menu at the first Thanksgiving. Venison, duck, goose, oysters, lobster, eel, and fish were likely served alongside pumpkins and cranberries (but no pumpkin pie or cranberry sauce!).
Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday on October 3, 1863. Sarah Josepha Hale, the woman who wrote “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” convinced Lincoln to make Thanksgiving a national holiday after writing letters for 17 years.
The history of U.S. presidents pardoning turkeys is patchy. Harry Truman is often credited with being the first president to pardon a turkey, but that’s not entirely true. He was the first to receive a ceremonial turkey from the National Turkey Federation – and he had it for dinner. John F. Kennedy was the first to let a Thanksgiving turkey go, followed by Richard Nixon, who sent his turkey to a petting zoo. George H.W. Bush is the president who formalized the turkey pardoning tradition in 1989.
There are four towns in the United States named “Turkey.” They can be found in Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, and North Carolina.
The average number of calories consumed on Thanksgiving is 4,500.
Butterball answers more than 100,000 turkey-cooking questions via their Butterball Turkey Hotline each November and December.
The tradition of football on Thanksgiving began in 1876 with a game between Yale and Princeton. The first NFL games were played on Thanksgiving in 1920.
More than 54 million Americans are expected to travel during the Thanksgiving holiday this year. That’s up 4.8% from last year. These are numbers of a few years back because today’s situation is a little precarious. (Trusted Source)