November 22, 2011

Our Ancestors at America's First Thanksgiving

Our ancestors at the first Thanksgiving

I think the first Thanksgiving feast was a great event first because a religious people showed gratitude to God for their blessings.  But also because it showed that two peoples who were very different could help each other and get along.
After the Mayflower landed in the New World in December 1621, sickness claimed more than half of the group.  The Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans lived nearby and could have finished off the weakened survivors.  They were short on supplies too.  Although the Wampanoag had been treated badly by the first groups of settlers who came to their area, they didn't harm the Pilgrims.  Instead they tried to become friends.  After many discussions among the two groups' different leaders, they made a treaty.  This was mutually beneficial.  The settlers gained from the knowledge of the helpful Wampanoag, and it seemed as if they had the better deal.  But the Wampanoag tribe gained by the alliance with the English in their relations with the other Native American tribes.  Feared English weaponry kept any other tribes from attacking the Wampanoag tribe.
After that first year, with the help of the Wampanoag tribe, they had a good harvest.  The Natives knew how to farm the land.  Massachusetts soil was very different from English soil.  The Wampanoag were skilled farmers, fishers, hunters and gathers.  English seeds didn't do well there.  The Wampanoag showed them how to plant native seeds with herring as fertilizer so that they could harvest corn, pumpkin and beans.  They taught the children to look for berries and nuts.  And they showed the men how to hunt for deer, bear and turkey.  Since they didn't have grocery stores, what they harvested and gathered had to keep them alive through the long Massachusetts winter.   This next winter would be much better than their first. 
It was natural for the Pilgrims to want to celebrate.

One settler named Edward Winslow wrote,  

"We set last spring some twenty acres of Indian corn, and sowed some six acres of barley and peas. According to the manner of the Indians we manured our ground with herrings (alewives) which we have in great abundance and take with great ease at our doors. Our corn did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase in Indian corn. Our barley did indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering. We feared they were too late sown. They came up very well and blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom. Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might, after a special manner, rejoice together, after we had gathered in the fruits of our labors. They four in one day killed as many fowl as with little help besides, served the Company for almost a week, at which time, amongst our recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their great king the Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted. They went out and killed five deer, which they brought in to the Plantation, and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others. Although it not always be so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty. -- We have found the Indians very faithful in their Covenant of Peace with us; very loving and ready to pleasure us. Some of us have been fifty miles into the country by land with them. -- There is now great peace amongst us; and we, for our parts, walk as peaceably and safely in the woods here as in the highways in England. - I never in my life remember a more seasonable year than we have enjoyed." (Mourt)

They all had so much to be grateful for.

We have ancestors who were at the first Thanksgiving.  The Billington family was on the Mayflower, and didn't lose anyone over that first deadly year.  They were the only family untouched by the sickness that claimed so many.  John, Ellen, John Jr and Francis feasted with the Native Americans along with the other colonists.  They had a lot to thank Heavenly Father for.  It's an amazing feeling having this connection with the first Thanksgiving in America.
The Pilgrims were successful at settling this new land because of their alliance with the Wampanoag tribe.  They could have fought over their differences.  But the Native Americans made peace with the newcomers, and both sides worked hard to keep good relations.  Wars with the Native Americans weren't a problem until many years later, when the descendants of these settlers took this peace for granted.
Thanksgiving today, like that first one, gives us ample opportunity to express gratitude for all that Heavenly Father gives us, and it also can remind us that people of all backgrounds can get along and help each other.

Clines, Duane A.  "Part 5:  The First Pilgrim Thanksgiving."  The Pilgrims and Plymouth Colony 1620.  2 Nov 2006. n. page. Web.  23 Nov 2012.

Mourt, G.  Mourt's Relation.  1622: London.  Print.  p. 38

Philbrick, Nathaniel.  "Thanksgiving."  Mayflower.  2006: New York.  Print.  pp.  104-120.

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