Tomorrow we will observe the Thanksgiving holiday, a tradition that is steeped in myth and legend. There will be parades and football games. But the highlight of the day is an annual dinner feast that we share with family and friends. But before we dig in, we should recall what the celebration is all about.
Not far from Conanicut Island the first Thanksgiving was held in 1621. A group of settlers gathered to celebrate their first harvest in the new land. These pioneers and the Native Americans – the Wampanoag Indians – staged a harvest feast. Historians say it was the Wampanoag who taught these Pilgrims to farm and survive in their new world.
The Pilgrims arrived on the shores of Cape Cod in September 1620. The 120 passengers aboard the Mayflower had endured a long, hard voyage across the Atlantic. It was followed by a rough, trying winter in their new home. Most of the passengers remained aboard ship during the winter. They were cold and suffered disease and scurvy.
When spring arrived, the passengers moved ashore to the village of Plymouth, their new home. The Wampanoag arrived and shared the secrets of survival in the new land. The Native Americans taught the Pilgrims how to hunt and fish and farm.
Now the Pilgrims were preparing for their second winter and wanted to celebrate the bountiful harvest. An account of that first Thanksgiving was written in a letter in 1621 by Edward Winslow:
Our corn 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 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.
For more than 200 years the individual colonies and then the states continued to celebrate thanksgiving. Then, in 1863 – in the middle of our nation’s Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving Day to be observed each November.
An act of Congress officially set aside Thanksgiving as a national holiday to be observed on the fourth Thursday in November.
This Thanksgiving, remember to take a moment and count your blessings. The staff of the Jamestown Press wishes our readers and advertisers a safe and enjoyable holiday.