The history of Thanksgiving in the New World starts with a winter forest in the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts.
The Mayflower dropped anchor on November 21, 1620, having left England more than two months before.
On December 26, 1620, after exploring the area, the boat was moved to the site that would be New Plymouth.
There are only two written accounts of the 1621 Thanksgiving: First is Edward Winslow’s account, which he wrote in a letter dated December 21, 1621. The complete letter was first published in 1622, and is chapter 6 of Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth.
Winslow writes “Our corn did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, but our peas not worth 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 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. 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.”
The second description was written by William Bradford in his History of Plymouth Plantation.
Bradford writes “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. And besides water fowl 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 the harvest, Indian corn to that proportion.”
As you can see from these two quotations, the only foods specifically mentioned by the Pilgrims are: corn (this could have been wheat), Indian corn, barley, peas (if any were spared), water fowl, five deer, fish (bass and cod), and wild turkey.
The holiday of Thanksgiving is about the help of neighbors and a bountiful harvest of local foods.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!
- From Ricky, Cathy, Nolan, and Callie Ensley and the Polk County Extension staff