Thanksgiving began as part of the religion of the English colonists (who had emigrated to Holland because of religious persecution) called Pilgrims who made thanksgiving prayers a part of their religious ceremonies. It was days of prayer, not just feasting.
Contrary to belief, the first thanksgiving feast with Native Americans occurred by a spontaneous desire to celebrate and give thanks for their lifesaving harvest.The local natives had played a big part in their survival of that first winter in 1620. The colonists had landed in December at the beginning of winter, and although they had provisions, there wasn't any harvest of crops to store. Actually, it was poor planning by the London Stock Company that had financed the expedition to found a settlement.
|Landing of the Pilgrims|
The first thanksgiving feast occurred after the first successful harvest. The English colonists who had experienced hardship and how to survive in the New World through their Native American neighbors and every-day living experiences decided that there should be a community feast celebrating the good harvest to be part of the thanksgiving prayer.
The year was 1621.
|Oil Painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, 1899|
Massasoit, the Great Sachem (chief) of the Wampanoag made a two-day journey on foot with his wife and 90 of his tribesmen to visit the Plymouth Colony (in Old English: Plimouth). The Sachem and his tribe, according to the English, prevented the failure of the Plymouth Colony through starvation, experienced in the early years of the settlement. Massasoit had personal and political ties with colonial leaders like John Carver, Stephen Hopkins, Edward Winslow, William Bradford, and Myles Standish. A peace treaty had been signed on March 22, 1621. It also kept the Wampanoag neutral in the Pequot War later in 1636.
|Portraits of the Pilgrim Fathers|
Massasoit had five children, born between 1621 and 1624. His arrival found himself amongst the Pilgrims as they were preparing for the thanksgiving feast, so they were invited to join them.
Part of the background of the first Thanksgiving story is about a native American named Squanto.
When the Wampanoag Confederacy was formed, one of the confederated tribes was Patuxet, which a native by the name of Squanto, would become famous by stories and legends of his exploits (some true), part of the Thanksgiving history, and who crossed the Atlantic Ocean six times visiting England. Born in 1585, he died on November 30, 1622. He and his fellow tribesmen were instrumental in helping the early settlers at Plymouth, somewhere in that vicinity was his birthplace and had seen the arrival of the Mayflower.
In 1605, Captain George Weymoyth, exploring the New England coastline for Sir Ferdinando Gorges, owner of the Plymouth Company, captured five members of the Patuxet, including Squanto, who would be taught English in order to be a guide and interpreter. Squanto returned to New England in 1614 with an expedition led by Captain John Smith. It was at that time he traveled back to the Patuxet and during the trip was abducted by Thomas Hunt, an Englishman and one of Captain Smith's lieutenants. Squanto was captured, along with others, to be taken to Spain to be sold along with fish and corn; but when Squanto tried to sell Squanto and other Native Americans into slavery for £20 each, local friars took away Squanto and his companions saving them from slavery. Squanto was able to convince the friars to allow him to try to return home. He arrived in London and took residence with shipbuilder, John Slany, who he worked for a few years.
Returning at last to his homeland, Squanto discovered that the Patuxet had been exterminated by a plague, caused by either smallpox or leptospirosis. It was because Native Americans had not developed immunity from European diseases.
In 1621, Squanto was the guide and translator for Stephen Hopkins and Edward Winslow as they traveled on diplomatic missions to the Wampanoag. Squanto was captured by Wampanoag while gathering information on a renegade, Corbitant, at a village, but was rescued by Myles Standish and ten settlers from Plymouth. Squanto continued to assist the settlers of Plymouth until his death due to illness in 1622.
In the History of the English Settlement by Governor William Bradford, a eulogy was written on behalf of Squanto:
Here [Manamoick Bay] Squanto fell ill of Indian fever, bleeding much at the nose, which the Indians take as a symptom of death, and within a few days he died. He begged the Governor to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishman's God in heaven, and bequeathed several of his things to his English friends, as remembrances. His death was a great loss.
|Adam Beach as Squanto|
Disney produced a film entitled Squanto: A Warrior's Tale, which is loosely based upon the famous Native American, starring Adam Beach, portraying Squanto, who has played other parts in films about Native Americans, especially notable in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and an award-winning performance in Windtalkers.
His name is familiar to historians and people of Massachusetts, along with the chief Massasoit, for which a Massachusetts community college is named; part of the tale of the first Thanksgiving.
Massasoit died in 1661 from old age, having lived a long and interesting life, respected by the first settlers in the New World, as well as their descendents. His son would take up the English name of Alexander and replaced his father as chief of the Massasoit people, the first people of the state of Massachusetts.
|Massasoit statue near Plymouth Rock|
Edward Winslow wrote a description of the chief, Massasoit, a first impression as part of the Mayflower pilgrims, who would later become an ally and friend of the Pilgrims …
In his person he is a very lusty man, in his best years, an able body, grave of countenance, and spare of speech. In his attire little or nothing differing from the rest of his followers, only in a great chain of white bone beads about his neck, and at it behind his neck hangs a little bag of tobacco, which he drank and gave us to drink; his face was painted with a sad red like murry, and oiled both head and face, that he looked greasily. All his followers likewise, were in their faces, in part or in whole painted, some black, some red, some yellow, and some white, some with crosses, and other antic works; some had skins on them, and some naked, all strong, tall, all men of appearance . . . [he] had in his bosom hanging in a string, a great long knife; he marveled much at our trumpet, and some of his men would sound it as well as they could.
The state name, Massachusetts, is said to originate from the Algonquin language, but the famous chief name, Massasoit, seems to be more part of the name. If it is the origin, it would be fitting, a First American who attended the first thanksgiving feast.
The following video is the story of the colonists who would become the first American immigrants to begin the Thanksgiving Day feast celebration.
The next video is a clip from the Addams Family humorous film, based on cartoon characters created by Charles Addams, depicting their children's version of a Thanksgiving play at a youth camp …
Of course, the Addams Family, has been symbolized as part of another holiday in the United States – Halloween.
Today, Thanksgiving Day, for the most part, is a time for feasting as well, a family gathering, with an added American sport, football, included in the day's activities.
Hope everyone has a great family feast and fellowship on a day set aside that originally was a feast of thanks and celebration for the first successful harvest of the first English settlers on the first day of thanksgiving.
See Also: Patriot Post: History and Legacy of Thanksgiving.