Thanksgiving 1621: The “First” Thanksgiving

It’s November 2017, and it’s time to introduce our new Historical Theme of the Month at Gazette665: Thanksgiving Through The Decades. I’ve collected four primary source excerpts about Thanksgiving celebrations in different eras of American History and will be sharing them every Friday this month.

What better decade to start than the 1620’s? After-all, in 1621, the colonists at New Plymouth settlement had a harvest celebration that has been dubbed “the first Thanksgiving” (even though there were thankful harvest gatherings in plenty of other cultures and locations in World History!).

Have you read primary sources about that first American Thanksgiving celebration? William Bradford and Edward Winslow – who were really there – wrote some brief accounts which form our understanding of that special event. (Looking for more blog posts about the Pilgrims? We’ve got a stash in our archive; just click here.) Continue reading

Thanksgiving Kid’s Books: Three Young Pilgrims

Continuing with our list of favorite children’s picture books for the Thanksgiving season, here’s one that my mom read to me. It remains one of my all-time favorites, and stands the test of historical scrutiny remarkably well. I just love it when an author takes the time to really research – even if it’s just for a kid’s book!

Three Young PilgrimsThe Book: Three Young Pilgrims

Title: Three Young Pilgrims

Author & Illustrator: Cheryl Harness Continue reading

Thanksgiving Kid’s Books: “Pilgrim Cat”

This November, I thought we’d do something different for our theme of the month. I’ve rounded-up my four favorite picture books about the Pilgrims of Plymouth and will share the book and why it’s on our “top four” list. These are the books I’ve read to siblings, students at living history days, and young cousins on Thanksgiving Day. They’re a great investment to entertain and educate the youngsters in your life. (And who doesn’t love great artwork and short, memorable stories!)

If you’re looking for purely historical blog posts about the Pilgrims (AKA Separatists and Strangers) check-out our archive from 2015!

Let’s head to the picture book shelf and see what we can learn and enjoy from “kid’s books.” Continue reading

What Did They Really Eat At The 1st Thanksgiving?

Well, it wasn’t pumpkin pie with whipped cream…

Hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving celebration! Maybe you even had a chance to share some of the new things you’ve been learning about the Pilgrims with your family. I’m going to keep this blog post short ‘n sweet today since you might be rushing around to get a Black Friday deal.

I always wondered what did the Pilgrims and their Native American friends really eat at the First Thanksgiving? We can’t know exactly, for-certain-sure because the folks who were there didn’t write it down. But looking at the foods of the era and what was available in the Cape Cod area we can make a few guesses.

During a living history presentation (2005), Sarah shows the typical eating utensils that would've been used by the Pilgrims.

During a living history presentation (2005), Sarah shows the typical eating utensils that would’ve been used by the Pilgrims – trencher, knife, spoon, and large napkin.

I particularly like the suggested menu from “The Thanksgiving Primer” which was published by Plimoth Plantation Publications in 1987. Notice how many fresh vegetables there are!

A Possible 1621 Menu (with Annotation by Yours Truly)

Olives, black & green (brought from the Old World)


Bread of Indian Corn (the long way of saying “cornbread” – this would’ve been completely New World cuisine)

Cheate Bread (bread made using a sourdough starter)

Seethed Fish (“seeth” means boiled according to a 1594 cookbook)

Roast Venison (Chief Massasoit sent his men deer hunting; so it’s safe to assume there was venison on the menu)

Roast Fowl Served Up With A Sauce (maybe turkey, maybe duck?)

Boiled Sallet (this means a “boiled salad” – yep, boiled spinach and lettuce, according to a 1591 cookbook. I bet the kids would’ve loved that yesterday! Just joking…)

Dish of Jerusalem Artichokes

Boiled Onions

Standing Dish of Pompions (stewed pumpkin…not flavored with sugar and spices)

Furmenty (kind of like a rice pudding, but made with wheat)

Prune Tart (hmm…what to do with dried plums…or maybe not…)

Wine, Beer, Cider (keep in mind that water was filthy in the Old World; the Pilgrims would’ve been used to mixing a little wine, beer, or cider with their water for a cleansing effect.)

Some year…

Okay, this might sound a little silly, but on my historical “try-this” bucket list, I want to cook a traditional 1621 Feast and serve it on Thanksgiving. It would be unique, a little “non-traditional”, but I think it would so fun! Maybe someday…

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. So what do you think? Want to try a 1621 Feast next year or will you be staying with the modern traditions?


A Day of Thanksgiving (Civil War Style)

Happy Thanksgiving!


During the Civil War, both American presidents – Jefferson Davis of the Confederacy and Abraham Lincoln of the United States – issued proclamations for “days of thanksgiving.” One of the Lincoln’s announcements became the basis for our modern holiday.

Learn more about America’s heritage of giving thanks and read the actual words of the Davis and Lincoln in this new blog post featured on Emerging Civil War.

I hope you’ll enjoy: Two Presidents’ Invitations To Give Thanks

Have a lovely day of celebration and gratitude!

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah


Working Hard: Building Plymouth Colony

Last week I challenged you to learn something new about the Pilgrims…something that would help you see them as real people, not mythological giants casting a long shadow on history. We have explored their travel delay, and today we’ll study their work. The Pilgrims believed in working hard. While they lacked some of the skills necessary to succeed in the New World, they were accustomed to providing for their families and completing tasks to help their community.

A replica of a Pilgrim home (Plimoth Plantation Living History Village)

A replica of a Pilgrim home (Plimoth Plantation Living History Village)

The Protestant Work Ethic

Did you ever wonder: What made Plymouth successful as a colony?  What made it different from the earlier English colonization attempts at Roanoke and Jamestown?  There are many factors that can be taken into consideration when answering these questions: the climate, friendly native tribes, better leadership, etc.

While all these are factors, the most important thing that made Plymouth Colony a success was an understanding and fulfillment of the Protestant Work Ethic.  While the Jamestown gentlemen expected to have a life of ease and wealth (eventually importing slaves to make this a reality), the Pilgrims came to America expecting to work hard and make a new life in a new land where they could worship God freely.

The Protestant Work Ethic is the belief that work is a gift from God and a means of glorifying Him.  It is the belief that man is called to work and that a person serves God by working diligently and faithfully in his chosen occupation.  This was the belief held by the Pilgrims when they lived in Europe and when they migrated to the New World.

Men’s Work

The Pilgrims acknowledged the Biblical principle that men are the leaders, protectors, and providers.  The Pilgrim men worked hard at their trades in the Old World to provide a living for their families; when they lead their families to America, they continued in the roles as leaders, protectors, and providers by establishing the colony, defending the women and children, building houses, planting fields, hunting, and making peace treaties with the Native Americans.

I think sometimes we imagine the Pilgrims hiding and spending all their time in prayer before their trip to the New World. While it is true the Separatists faced persecution, they did not neglect to provide for their families. Thus, most of the men had a trade or skill set that they used to make an income.

(Note: We call the Plymouth colonists “the Pilgrims” and for sake of word-count I have adopted this practice. However, there were really two groups of “the Pilgrims.” There were the Separatists – the settlers seeking religious freedom – and the Strangers – the settlers simply looking for a better life in America.)

So what did the Pilgrim men do? Here’s a short list:

John Alden – cooper (built barrels)

Isaac Allerton – tailor

William Brewster – the pastor; a printer by trade

John Browne – weaver

Francis Cooke – wool comber (prepared wool for spinning and weaving)

Francis Eaton – house builder

Samuel Fuller – “say-weaver” (wove linens and coverlets); colonial legends claim he was the physician for the colony.

Stephen Hopkins – tanner (leather worker); possibly owned a London shop

Myles Standish – soldier of fortune

This example list shows the Pilgrim had successful jobs in the Old World and many of their skills would be useful in establishing a colony.

Baking bread was a woman's job. Here's a reproduction of an outdoor bake oven (Plimoth Plantation Living History Village)

Baking bread was a woman’s job. Here’s a reproduction of an outdoor bake oven (Plimoth Plantation Living History Village)

Women’s Work

The Pilgrim women accepted the Biblical role for women: keepers of the home, faithful wives, and loving mothers. They continued in their feminine role in the New World, just as they had in their old homes, though in America there were plenty of new challenges.

The Pilgrim ladies worked hard to make new homes in America and to care for their families.  They made the “houses in homes,” worked in the gardens, cooked and baked food, cared for the children, mended the clothes, cleaned the houses, and practiced hospitality to the visiting Native Americans.  Their tiny homes were crowded just with their own families, but the Pilgrim women accepted into their households those who needed care after the long winter.

Only six women survived the first harsh winter. So, yes, six women cooked a three day Thanksgiving feast! Here are the names of those remarkable ladies:

Elinor Billington

Mary Brewster

Dorothy “Carver” (actually a servant of the Carver family; she later married Francis Eaton)

Elizabeth Hopkins

Priscilla Mullins

Susanna Winslow

Kids, want to chop and stack the wood? This would've been a job Pilgrim boys helped with.

Kids, want to chop and stack the wood? This would’ve been a job Pilgrim boys helped with.

Children’s Work

There were no time-wasters like video games in 1620 – indeed, the idea of childhood being a time of freedom and play was a foreign concept back then. So what did the children do?

Children worked alongside their parents in the daily tasks; they learned how to be good providers or homemakers.  They helped care for younger siblings, hauled wood to keep their houses warm, carried water for the cooking, and, when there was time, they learned to read.  The Pilgrims believed that it was very important to read the Bible.

Did you know: after the first winter in Plymouth, the children outnumbered the surviving adults? So we have pretty strong evidence that children played a major role in preparing and serving the first Thanksgiving feast. (Kids, quit complaining about having to dry the dishes after your big meal! At least you didn’t have to chop the fire wood, haul the water, and turn the turkey on a spit over the fire…)

Skills They Didn’t Have

The Pilgrims had trades, good leadership, and faith, but they did lack some skills necessary for colony building.

They were not good hunters; hunting was forbidden in England, since most of the forests were owned by the king and nobility. They were not the world’s best farmers. Neither were they outstanding soldiers.

Make Peace, Get Help

Providentially, the Wampanoag Native American tribe was not hostile to the Pilgrims. Samoset and Squanto came to the colony in the spring of 1621 and helped the Pilgrims learn to hunt, fish, and plant corn properly.

The Pilgrims made a peace treaty with Chief Massasoit and his tribe and both people groups benefitted from the agreement.


The willingness to work hard for the glory of God enabled the Pilgrims of Plymouth to build a successful colony where they could live in freedom. An understanding of the Biblical roles for men, women, and children also contributed to the success of the colony.

In the autumn of 1621 they celebrated their first year in America by hosting a Thanksgiving Feast.  They invited their neighbors from the Wampanoag Tribe who had become their friends and who had taught them many skills needed to survive.  The Pilgrims gave thanks to God for His blessings to them. The Protestant Work Ethic, an understanding of the Biblical roles for men, women, and children, and a thankful attitude toward God for His blessings lead to the success of Plymouth Colony.

Perhaps a new understanding of the work ethics which built America will inspire us to re-discover the blessing of work. 

…doing the will of God from the heart with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord…    Ephesians 6:6-8

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. How does a reminder of America’s founding principle of hard work encourage you? Why do you think this principle is not viewed favorably by many people today?