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article imageA brief history of 'Thanksgiving' in America

By R. Francis Rubio     Nov 23, 2010 in Food
While there is no record detailing exactly what the Pilgrims prepared for their "Thanksgiving Celebration," historians widely believe that the traditional fare of turkey and pie were not on the settlers menu.
In September of 1620 a small group of passengers prepare to leave port in Plymouth, England in search of a new life, one without the fear of religious oppression and the promise of freedom and prosperity.
These 102 brave souls, (a mix of assorted religious separatists) sold all their belongings, said goodbye to the only life they've ever known and boarded their ship of dreams named Mayflower and set sail for the "New World."
After 66 days braving the treacherous waters of the Atlantic and living with the uncertainty of their fate day-by-day the Pilgrims, (as they come to be now know as) dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod and planned their future.
Arriving far north of the intended destination the ship remained off the coast as the captain and crew regained their bearings and one month of sailing later they made their historic landing at Plymouth.
The first winter in the new land proved to be devastating for the colonists as the majority of them chose to remain aboard ship while the settlement was being built, in turn they suffered from exposure, scurvy along with outbreaks of contagious disease. Only half of the settlers lived to see the spring that year but the ones that did moved ashore after the weather broke in March.
To their surprise and amazement a few days later the colonists were visited by an English speaking Abenaki Indian welcoming them to the land. Several days after that meeting the Pilgrims were introduced to another Native American by the name of Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who recently escaped the bonds of slavery after being kidnapped by an English Captain some years before.
Squanto welcomed the settlers and taught them how to cultivate corn along with many other skills to aid in their survival such as extracting sap from maple trees, how to fish the abundant rivers of the North East and avoid poisonous plant life. Most importantly, Squanto helped the Pilgrims forge an alliance with the local Wampanoag tribe, an alliance which spanned for more than 50 years aiding in the prosperity of the settlement.
Jean Leon Gerome Ferris s depiction of the original American Thanksgiving.
Jean Leon Gerome Ferris's depiction of the original American Thanksgiving.
Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930)
After the first successful harvest in November of 1621, Governor William Bradford decided to organize a celebration, a festive three-day feast remembered today as America's first "Thanksgiving." The Governor gathered together the colonists along with a group of their Native American allies including Massasoit, Chief of the Wampanoag tribe for the celebration.
The only written account of the festivities comes from Pilgrim Edward Winslow's journal in which he describes how Governor Bradford sent out a party of four men on a "fowling" expedition prior to the celebration and that the Wampanoag guests arrived bearing five deer.
Due to the lack of ovens on the Mayflower and the dwindling sugar supply by the fall of 1621 historians suggest that the traditional dinner and deserts we have today may not have been on the menu during the event. Many believe the feast more likely consisted of a variety of traditional Native American fare such as deer, lobster, seal and swan along with local fruits and vegetables.
Although, even as most Americans are familiar with Pilgrim's story many are not aware the the first ever recorded European Thanksgiving celebration in the "New World" was held in Newfoundland on May 27, 1578, followed by similar services at the Popham Colony in Maine and Jamestown in 1607.
In 1789 a Congressional Joint Committee approved a motion by Representative Elias Boudinot of Massachusetts, similar to the 1777 decree to declare a day of Thanksgiving and informed the President. On October 3 President Washington proclaimed "a day of public thanksgiving and prayer" to be held on Thursday, November 26th of that year with the next three Presidents following similar a path.
Throughout the history of "Thanksgiving" up until the time of the Civil War, Americans continued celebrating their thanks one or more days a year with no official day declared, until after a nearly 36 year campaign by author of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”- Sarah Josepha Hale persuaded Abraham Lincoln in 1863 to proclaim November 26 as the nation's official day of "Thanksgiving," to be observed the final Thursday in November each year.
Thanksgiving has been celebrated various different ways at different times according to the era and local traditions but the meaning has always remained the same, a time to give thanks.
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