The First Thanksgiving
by Albert F. Blaisdell and Francis K. Ball
A story of the time long ago when the Pilgrims of Plymouth invited
the Indian chief Massasoit and his followers to share their
ALL through the first summer and the early part
of autumn the Pilgrims were busy and happy.
They had planted and cared for their first fields of corn.
They had found wild strawberries in the meadows, raspberries
on the hillsides, and wild grapes in the woods.
In the forest just back of the village wild turkeys
and deer were easily shot. In the shallow waters of
the bay there was plenty of fish, clams, and lobsters.
The summer had been warm, with a good deal of
rain and much sunshine; and so when the autumn came
there was a fine crop of corn.
"Let us gather the fruits of our first labours and rejoice
together," said Governor Bradford.
"Yes," said Elder Brewster, "let us take a day upon
which we may thank God for all our blessings, and invite
to it our Indian friends who have been so kind to
The Pilgrims said that one day was not enough; so
they planned to have a celebration for a whole week.
This took place most likely in October.
The great Indian chief, Massasoit, came with ninety
of his bravest warriors, all gayly dressed in deerskins,
feathers, and foxtails, with their faces smeared with
red, white, and yellow paint.
As a sign of rank, Massasoit wore round his neck a
string of bones and a bag of tobacco. In his belt he
carried a long knife. His face was painted red, and
his hair was so daubed with oil that Governor Bradford
said he "looked greasily."
Now there were only eleven buildings in the whole of
Plymouth village, four log storehouses and seven little
log dwelling-houses; so the Indian guests ate and slept
out of doors. This was no matter, for it was one of
those warm weeks in the season we call Indian summer.
To supply meat for the occasion four men had already
been sent out to hunt wild turkeys. They killed
enough in one day to last the whole company almost
Massasoit helped the feast along by sending some of
his best hunters into the woods. They killed five deer,
which they gave to their paleface friends, that all might
have enough to eat.
Under the trees were built long, rude tables on which
were piled baked clams, broiled fish, roast turkey, and
The young Pilgrim women helped serve the food to
the hungry redskins.
Let us remember two of the fair girls who waited on
the tables. One was Mary Chilton, who leaped from
the boat at Plymouth Rock; the other was Mary Allerton.
She lived for seventy-eight years after this first
Thanksgiving, and of those who came over in the Mayflower
she was the last to die.
What a merry time everybody had during that week!
It may be they joked Governor Bradford about stepping
into a deer trap set by the Indians and being jerked
up by the leg.
How the women must have laughed as they told
about the first Monday morning at Cape Cod, when
they all went ashore to wash their clothes!
It must have been a big washing, for there had been
no chance to do it at sea, so stormy had been the long
voyage of sixty-three days. They little thought that
Monday would afterward be kept as washday.
Then there was young John Howland, who in mid-ocean
fell overboard but was quick enough to catch
hold of a trailing rope. Perhaps after dinner he invited
Elizabeth Tilley, whom he afterward married, to sail
over to Clarke's Island and return by moonlight.
With them, it may be, went John Alden and Priscilla
Mullins, whose love story is so sweetly told by Longfellow.
One proud mother, we may be sure, showed her bright-eyed
boy, Peregrine White.
And so the fun went on. In the daytime the young
men ran races, played games, and had a shooting match.
Every night the Indians sang and danced for their
friends; and to make things still more lively they gave
every now and then a shrill war whoop that made the
woods echo in the still night air.
The Indians had already learned to love and fear
Captain Miles Standish. Some of them called him
"Boiling Water" because he was easily made angry.
Others called him "Captain Shrimp," on account of
his small size.
Every morning the shrewd captain put on his armour
and paraded his little company of a dozen or more soldiers;
and when he fired off the cannon on Burial Hill
the Indians must have felt that the English were men
of might thus to harness up thunder and lightning.
During this week of fun and frolic it was a wonder if
young Jack Billington did not play some prank on the
Indians. He was the boy who fired off his father's gun
one day, close to a keg of gunpowder, in the crowded
cabin of the Mayflower.
The third day came. Massasoit had been well
treated, and no doubt would have liked to stay longer,
but he had said he could stay only three days. So the
pipe of peace was silently passed around.
Then, taking their presents of glass beads and trinkets,
the Indian king and his warriors said farewell to their
English friends and began their long tramp through
the woods to their wigwams on Mount Hope Bay.
On the last day of this Thanksgiving party the Pilgrims
had a service of prayer and praise. Elder Brewster
preached the first Thanksgiving sermon. After
thanking God for all his goodness, he did not forget the
many loved ones sleeping on the hillside.
He spoke of noble John Carver, the first governor,
who had died of worry and overwork.
Nor was Rose Standish forgotten, the lovely young
wife of Captain Miles Standish, whose death was caused
by cold and lack of good food.
And then there was gentle Dorothy, wife of Governor
Bradford, who had fallen overboard from the Mayflower
in Provincetown harbour while her husband was
coasting along the bleak shore in search of a place for
The first Thanksgiving took place nearly three hundred
years ago. Since that time, almost without interruption,
Thanksgiving has been kept by the people of
New England as the great family festival of the year.
At this time children and grandchildren return to the
old home, the long table is spread, and brothers and
sisters, separated often by many miles, again sit side
To-day Thanksgiving is observed in nearly all the
states of the Union, a season of sweet and blessed memories.