The First Thanksgiving ...

and the rest of the story

The Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth Harbor in December 1620 having expected to land farther south in Virginia.  They faced an unusually cold winter with less than adequate clothing.   They lived off what they brought with them, game, eels, shellfish, and food they pilfered from the Indians' stockpiles.

Governor Carver and other leaders had decided to follow a communal form of economy with everyone sharing equally from a communal stockpile.  During the winter many died including Governor Carver and so Bradford became the Governor. 

The first planting came then in the Spring of 1621.  But more ships arrived with few supplies making the portions for each person less and less and the FIRST THANKSGIVING harvest was a meager one.  Daily rations were only about a quarter of a pound of bread for each person.  Nevertheless, the Pilgrims did as was the custom of many agricultural people, give thanks. 

It was also a custom brought with them from the Netherlands where they had lived quite awhile before making the trip. 

"In the spring of 1622, the Colonists complained they were too weak to work raising food.  Although they were, on the whole, deeply religious, some were so hungry that they stole food from their starving fellow-workers.  More ships arrived but few with supplies, just more mouths to feed. Many, many died but they gave thanks and so passed the second Thanksgiving. 

Young men complained because they had to work hard to feed other men and their wives and children.  Strong men who were heads of families griped. They said that even though they put in long hours and raised good crops, they and their children received no more food or clothes than men who were unable or unwilling to put in more than a few hours' work a day. 

After months of bitter complaints, the Governor and chief men of the Colony came to the conclusion that they were making a bad mistake.  As Gov. Bradford said, they had thought they were 'wiser than God.' 

And so, in 1623, they turned away from government dictation and gave each family a parcel of land for its own use.  Then what a change took place! Even the women went into the fields willingly, taking their children along with them.  All--men, women and children--planted as much corn as they felt they could possibly work. 

People who had formerly complained that they were too weak to dig or hoe, declaring that it was tyranny to make them undertake field work, gladly undertook to plant and cultivate for themselves. 

And when the harvest was gathered, instead of famine they had plenty.  And so they all gave thanks to God.  What a Thanksgiving they celebrated!  No wonder they gave up for all time their sharing of poverty....their belief that it was good for all to suffer scarcity together.  They found that it is better for each man to work for himself to produce plenty, because that benefits everyone." 

From The International Nickel Company, Inc.  1950 

P.S.   It was the Puritans that wore the black clothing with buckles on hats and shoes and not the Pilgrims who brought some pretty clothing with them. 


Some of you old-timers may remember that in past Thanksgivings I have sent the correct historical story of the Pilgrims.   I tried to bite my tongue this year, but when I received yet another message of the abundant 1621 Thanksgiving, I couldn't stand it any longer.  Since I sent the last message, I have done some more reading up from the materials we bought while at Plymouth.   Here is some more:

"From late 1620 until the Spring of 1623, largely because the Pilgrims had a common debt to the Englishmen who financed their expedition, everything in the colony was community property."  This then, is another reason the Pilgrims were hard put to have enough for themselves.  I do read in the fall of 1621 "They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength, and had all things in good plenty; for as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod, and bass, and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion.  All the summer there was no want.   And now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound which they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees).  And besides water, fowl, there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc.  Besides they had about a peck of meal a week to a person or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. " 

"... Massasoit with some 90 men, whom for three days we entertained and festered.  And they went out and killed five deer which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our Governor and upon the Captain and others."  Edward Winslow 

Those 90 Indians for 3 days must have made a real dent in their food stores. Some of the above mentioned foods could be preserved.  But in the dead of winter, the game was not abundant and they suffered.  Seed had to be saved for planting for next Spring for their families and for paying back part of the harvest to the English company. 

It does such a disservice to the suffering they endured to ignore the two years of starvation, sickness, and misery.  My husband had 4 ancestors among them. 


*****Footnote from Mel Sinclair*********** 

Laurel Fechner, author of this message was the Clan Historian for Clan Sinclair until her recent death.  We certainly miss her warmth, dedication, and passion for Sinclair history.  Laurel had previously sent this message to the Sinclair Discussion List.


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