“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… 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.“
Edward Winslow, November of 1621.
You might notice that Edward didn’t mention Thanksgiving, but rather “in a special manner rejoice together.” The people we know as Pilgrims, who were known to the people of their day as Separatists, and who referred to themselves as Saints, had a completely different meaning for Thanksgiving. It wasn’t a day to rejoice together in a special manner. It was a solemn day of prayers. They had plenty of those before their first Harvest festival, which today we refer to as the first Thanksgiving.
The first Thanksgiving Celebration was actually held in 1863. It was the brainchild of Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, who is more famous for penning the well-known poem, Mary Had a Little Lamb. She wrote to President James Polk in 1846 to push for a National Celebration of Thanksgiving. He ignored her request. When Zachary Taylor became President, she presented the idea to him and he, too, ignored it. Sarah Hale was a determined woman, though, and she continued to present her idea unsuccessfully to Presidents Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan.
When she presented the idea to President Lincoln, he was quick to see an opportunity in it. He thought that he could use the theme of Pilgrims and Indians happily eating together to calm things down during the Civil War when people were divided. It was a nice unity story for him to tell, and he loved making up stories. So, in 1863 he signed into action “A National Day of Thanksgiving and Praise.” Thus, was born the first Thanksgiving Celebration.
In truth, on that first harvest celebration 400 years ago, the local Indians weren’t actually invited. The Pilgrims were shooting off guns in celebration, and the Wampanoag Indians had a treaty with the Pilgrims that each would come to the aid of the other if they were attacked. So, when the Indians heard gunfire, 90 warriors headed for the Pilgrim village. When they showed up, they were welcomed because they showed up with five deer. Don’t believe that picture of all the ladies in their cute bonnets rushing around to feed everyone, either. Of the 28 women who came across on the Mayflower, 24 died before that first harvest. And more likely than not, Massasoit and his tribe of Wampanoag Indians only stayed for three days because the Pilgrims had beer.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
Peace & Love, and all of the above,