Because of the hardships experienced by the Pilgrims, one would think they had very little to be thankful for. After all, when they landed there was no facility of any kind for refuge and no food already prepared. There was nothing to greet them other than the forest and the Indians.
In 1586, Arthur Barlow one of the settlers on Roanoke Island, described Indians as “very handsome and goodly people and in their behavior as mannerly and civil as any of Europe.” The goals of the sellers were to colonize, Christianize the natives, and develop a local economy.
Without the aid and comfort provided by the Indians, the Jamestown settlers could not have endured what was called “Starting Time.” Survival techniques of the English were learned in Virginia from the natives. Most of the food served at the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth was supplied by the Indians who were invited to the feast.
Immediately upon arrival the Puritans purchased land from the Indians and compensated for damage done by white hunters who burned some wigwams. A name for the chief of the Indians was Sagamores. In 1631 they wore European clothing and ate at the governor’s table. They even helped Pilgrims track down Sir Christopher Gardner for trial, who was accused of bigamy and of holding unorthodox opinions, and they brought him back to Plymouth.
From the Indians, the English learned how to clear forests, how to plant corn and fertilize it with fish, how to build wigwams and birchbark canoes, and how to smoke tobacco. The pilgrims believed that God prospered His children. In the autumn of 1621, they enjoy a bountiful harvest and declared their first Thanksgiving Day.
The pilgrims were very fortunate to have William Bradford as the governor who was elected thirty times in annual elections. He was a self-taught scholar who could read Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, and Dutch. It is interesting to note that his descendants are now numbered by the thousands. Priscilla and John Alden who were immortalized in Longfellow’s “Courtship of Miles Standish, “produced descendants by the tens of thousands.
The idea of Thanksgiving was embraced by many of the colonies; however, they did not observe a day of Thanksgiving at the same time. For instance, Massachusetts held their first Thanksgiving July 8, 1630. This was in part to give thanks for the safe arrival of the first fleet that carried John Winthrop and company to new England. It was an obsession of these early settlers to live a “holy” life. Therefore, Thanksgiving Day was a meal with prayer, but had no games or sports.
The pilgrims invited Massasoit, the Indian chief who entered into a covenant of peace with them, and 90 of his braves to the feast. They contributed five deer for the occasion that became a display of abundance. Pilgrims and Indians set down to the first Thanksgiving Day in America.
Our Thanksgiving Day is not so different. For many families, others are invited to the feast. Everyone brings food. Abundance is celebrated. And in most cases a gesture or prayer of thanks is offered. To this I say, Amen. Happy Thanksgiving.