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The Story of Thanksgiving
Pilgrims, who celebrated the first thanksgiving in America, were fleeing religious prosecution in
their native England. In 1609 a group of Pilgrims left England for the religious freedom in
Holland. After a few years their children were speaking Dutch and had become attached to the
dutch way of life. This worried the Pilgrims and they decided to leave Holland and travel to the
New World. Their trip was financed by a group of English investors, the Merchant
Adventurers. It was agreed that the Pilgrims would be given passage and supplies in exchange
for their working for their backers for 7 years.
They set sail September 6, 1620 from Plymouth, England and aboard were 44 Pilgrims, who
called themselves the "Saints", and 66 others ,whom the Pilgrims called the
The journey took 65 days and many passengers became sick. One person died by the time
land was sighted on November 10th. During the long trip many disagreements took place
between the "Saints" and the "Strangers" After land was sighted
in November, a meeting was held and an agreement of truce was
worked out. It was called the Mayflower Compact. The agreement guaranteed equality among
the members of the two groups. They merged together to be recognized as the
"Pilgrims", and elected John Carver as their first governor.
Although Pilgrims had first sighted the land off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, they did not settle
until they arrived at a place called Plymouth. It was Captain John Smith who named the place
after the English port-city in 1614 and had already settled there for over five years. It was
there that the Pilgrims finally decided to settle. Plymouth offered an excellent harbor. A large
brook offered a resource for fish. The Pilgrims biggest concern was attack by the local
Native American Indians. But the Patuxets were a peaceful group and did not prove
to be a threat.
They Pilgrims were ill-equipped to face the winter and the cold, snow and sleet was exceptionally
heavy, interfering with the workers as they tried to construct their settlement.
March brought warmer weather and the health of the Pilgrims improved, but many
had died during the long winter. Of the 110 Pilgrims and crew who left England, less than
50 survived the first winter.
They were saved by a group of local Native Americans who befriended them and helped them
with food. The Pilgrims were at first frightened until the Indian called out
"Welcome" in English. His name was Samoset
and he was an Abnaki Indian. He had learned English from the captains of fishing boats that
had sailed off the coast. After staying the night Samoset left the next day. He soon returned
with another Indian named Squanto who spoke better English than Samoset.
Squanto told the Pilgrims of his voyages across the ocean and his visits to England and Spain.
It was in England where he had learned English.
Squanto's importance to the Pilgrims was enormous and it can be said that they would not
have survived without his help. It was Squanto who taught the Pilgrims how to tap the maple
trees for sap. He taught them which plants were poisonous and which had medicinal powers.
He taught them how to plant the Indian corn by heaping the earth into low mounds with
several seeds and fish in each mound. The decaying fish fertilized the corn. He also taught
them to plant other crops with the corn. The harvest in October was very successful and the
Pilgrims found themselves with enough food to put away for the winter. There was corn,
fruits and vegetables, fish to be packed in salt, and meat to be cured over smoky fires.
By the next winter they had raised enough crops to keep them alive. The winter came
and passed by without much harm. The settlers knew they had beaten the odds and it was
time to celebrate.
They celebrated it with a community feast wherein the friendly native Americans were
also invited. Their chief, Massasoit, and 90 braves came to the celebration which lasted for 3
days. They played games, ran races, marched and played drums. The Indians demonstrated
their skills with the bow and arrow and the Pilgrims demonstrated their musket skills.
It was the kind of a harvest feast, the Pilgrims used to have in England.
The feast included "corn" (wheat, by the Pilgrims usage of the word),
Indian corn, barley, pumpkins and peas, "fowl" (specially "waterfowl"), deer, fish and turkey. Exactly when the festival took place is uncertain, but it is believed the celebration took place in mid-October.
To celebrate - November 29th of that year was proclaimed a day of thanksgiving. This date is
believed to be the real beginning of the present Thanksgiving Day.
Though the Thanksgiving Day is presently celebrated on the fourth Thursday of every
November. This date was set by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939
(approved by Congress in 1941).
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