In September 1620, a small ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, carrying on board 102 passengers. Of those were assortments of religious secessionists venturing to a new home to freely practice their faith and others lured in by the false promises of prosperity and land ownership of the New World. After an uncomfortable crossing from England, the ship dropped anchor near the edge of Cape Cod, far north from the initial destination at the mouth of the Hudson River. A month later, the Mayflower crossed the Massachusetts Bay, where the Pilgrims, as they are now commonly known, began the establishment of constructing a village at Plymouth.
Throughout the first brutal winter, most of the colonists remained on board the ship, where they suffered from exposure, scurvy and outbreaks of contagious diseases. Consequently, only half of Mayflower’s original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England spring. In March, the remaining settlers moved on ashore, where they received a friendly greeting from an English speaking Abenaki Indian. A few days later, he returned with another Native American who was able to serve as a translator, Tisquantum. He was a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery. Surprisingly, Tisquantum escaped from England and returned to his homeland able to speak English. Once back home, Tisquantum taught the pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract the sap from maple trees, catch fish and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe, which endured for more than fifty years. Presently, the remains of the tribe are an example for the harmony between the European colonists and Native Americans.
After the Pilgrims’ learned to harvest corn effectively, Governor William Bradford organized a feast and invited a group of the colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Now remembered as America’s “first Thanksgiving”— even though the Pilgrims did not used the term at the time— the bountiful gathering lasted for three days. Although no records exists of the historic banquet menu, Edward Winslow noted in his journal that Governor Bradford sent four men for the preparation of the festival, and the Wampanoag tribe incorporated five deer. Historians suggested many of the dishes were most likely prepared using traditional Native American spices and cooking techniques. Due to insufficient supplies, the Pilgrims did not have an oven on board and sugar supplies dwindled by the fall of 1621. The first Thanksgiving did not feature desserts, which in present day has become a signature contemporary.
The second celebration was held in 1623 to mark the end of a long dreadful drought that threatened the year’s harvest. The act of fasting before Thanksgiving dinner became a common practice in New England settlements. During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress established several days to celebrate Thanksgiving; however, in 1789 George Washington constructed the first official Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government of the United States. In the proclamation, he expected everyone to praise the country’s independence and the ratification of the U.S. constitution. His successors John Adams and James Madison carried the tradition on assigning days to give thanks during their presidencies.
In 1817, New York became the first state to officially adapt an annual Thanksgiving holiday; each celebrated on a different day. However, many southerners were not aware of the tradition. Renowned writer Sarah Joseph Hale launched a campaign to raise awareness on establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday. For three decades, the author published countless editorials and sent multiples letters to governors, senator, presidents, and politicians. Abraham Lincoln finally responded to Hale’s...
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