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Thanksgiving and the pilgrims

Thanksgiving and the pilgrims

The First Thanksgiving, reproduction of an oil painting by J.L.G. Ferris, early 20th century

Thanksgiving and the pilgrims
“Celebrated at the expense of Native Peoples who had to give up their lands and culture for America to become what it is today.” Linda Coombs, Aquinnah Wampanoag, 1997. The Pilgrims did not call this harvest festival a “Thanksgiving,” although they did give thanks to God. To them, a Day of Thanksgiving was purely religious. The first recorded religious Day of Thanksgiving took place in 1623 in response to a providential rainfall.

Thanksgiving and the pilgrims

Illustration of Thanksgiving Day


4 MARRIED WOMEN : Eleanor Billington, Mary Brewster, Elizabeth Hopkins, Susanna White Winslow.
5 ADOLESCENT GIRLS : Mary Chilton (14), Constance Hopkins (13 or 14), Priscilla Mullins (19), Elizabeth Tilley (14 or15) and Dorothy, the Carver’s unnamed maidservant, perhaps 18 or 19.
9 ADOLESCENT BOYS : Francis & John Billington, John Cooke, John Crackston, Samuel Fuller (2d), Giles Hopkins, William Latham, Joseph Rogers, Henry Samson.
13 YOUNG CHILDREN : Bartholomew, Mary & Remember Allerton, Love & Wrestling Brewster, Humility Cooper, Samuel Eaton, Damaris & Oceanus Hopkins, Desire Minter, Richard More, Resolved & Peregrine White.
22 MEN : 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.

The Puritans were a group of people that came to America from England. Unhappy with the Church of England, they thought it was becoming too much like the Catholic Church. They wanted to change it and make it more «pure» by removing the ceremony and music.

Besides, education was very important for the Puritans. They felt that all children should be able to read and all children were required to learn to read. Reading was very important so that everyone could read the Bible.

The fact that the Puritans established a community in the wilderness based upon the Bible was no surprise. Politics and religion was not a problem for Puritans in the New World. Their religious, social and political life was in a collective and cooperative unity. It was all part of their communal life in the colonies.

Sunday afternoon was also a time for politics and discussions. It was a time to discuss and decide what needed to be done in the colony.

The Puritans were very strict in their beliefs and the father was the ruler in the family. The wife took care of the house and raised the children. The mother was very strict with her children. If children behaved badly it was considered as the result of parents who did not follow God and did not discipline their children properly.

The letter of William Hilton, passenger on the Fortune. (The letter was written in November of 1621). From Alexander Young’s Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers. Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1841.

Loving Cousin,
At our arrival in New Plymouth, in New England, we found all our friends and planters in good health, though they were left sick and weak, with very small means. The Indians round about us peaceable and friendly. And the country very pleasant and temperate, yielding naturally, of itself, great store of fruits, as vines of divers sorts in great abundance. There is likewise walnuts, chestnuts, small nuts and plums, with much variety of flowers, roots and herbs, no less pleasant than wholesome and profitable. No place hath more gooseberries and strawberries, nor better. Timber of all sorts you have in England doth cover the land, that affords beasts of divers sorts, and great flocks of turkey, quails, pigeons and partridges
In addition, many great lakes abounding with fish, fowl, beavers, and otters. The sea affords us great plenty of all excellent sorts of sea-fish, as the rivers and isles doth variety of wild fowl of most useful sorts. Mines we find, to our thinking; but neither the goodness nor quality we know. Better grain cannot be than the Indian corn, if we will plant it upon as good ground as a man need desire. We are all freeholders; the rent-day doth not trouble us; and all those good blessings we have, of which and what we list in their seasons for taking.

Our company are, for most part, very religious, honest people. The word of God sincerely taught us every Sabbath. So that I know not any thing a contented mind can here want. I desire your friendly care to send my wife and children to me, where I wish all the friends I have in England; and so I rest.

Your loving kinsman,

William Hilton

What do historians know about Thanksgiving?

There are many myths surrounding Thanksgiving. Here are nine things we know are true about the holiday. First, Thanksgiving was a harvest celebration in 1621 that lasted for three days. However, the feast most likely occurred between Sept. 21 and Nov. 11. Approximately 90 Wampanoag Indians and 52 colonists – the latter mostly women and children – participated.

The Wampanoag, led by Chief Massasoit, contributed at least five deer to the feast. Cranberry sauce, potatoes – white or sweet – and pies were not on the menu. The Pilgrims and Wampanoag communicated through Squanto, a member of the Patuxet tribe, who knew English because he had associated with earlier explorers. Besides meals, the event included recreation and entertainment. There are only two surviving descriptions of the first Thanksgiving. One is in a letter by colonist Edward Winslow. He mentions some of the food and activities. The second description was in a book written by William Bradford 20 years later. His account was lost for almost 100 years.

Abraham Lincoln named Thanksgiving an annual holiday in 1863.

Thanksgiving and the pilgrims