The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth
by Jennie A. Brownscombe. (1914)
A mythologized painting showing
Plymouth settlers feasting with Plains Indians.


Spicy, aromatic whiffs of pumpkin pie, plum pudding, and candied sweet potatoes mingle with and enhance the hearty, mouth-watering smell of roasted, stuffed turkeys. Thanksgiving, a harvest festival thanking the Creator for a bountiful year, has remained virtually unchanged since the pilgrims in Massachusetts shared that first feast with Chief Massoit and some of his braves.

On Staten Island, New York, as in homes across the nation, people will gather in love and harmony to give thanks. Holiday fare on the Island will not differ greatly from traditional foods, except for the addition of ethnic dishes, such as home-made ravioli, succulent tomato sauce, crusty loaves of Italian bread, lasagne and delectable pastries indigenous to the New York area. In Italian homes, especially, a nine course meal is not unusual.

The turkey will dominate the day, whether served in homes, hospital rooms, soup kitchens for the needy, or meals on wheels for housebound senior citizens. Restaurants across the Island will also defer to the turkey, serving those who wish to celebrate, but hate to cook. Thanksgiving is a holiday that reminds people of the past, celebrates the present, and offers hope for the future; a day that gratifies body and soul.

Although Governor William Bradford, of the Plymouth Colony issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation in 1621, the concept of giving thanks is as old as the need for worship, and dates back to the time when humanity realized its dependence upon a Higher Power.The colonists of Plymouth observed three days of feasting, games and contests following their plentiful harvest in the autumn of 1621. The journal of Governor Bradford describes the preparations for that first Thanksgiving: “They began now to gather in the swell harvest they had, and to fit their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty… Besides waterfowl, there was a great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. . . . Which made many afterward write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned, but true reports.”

Staten Island, at that time, was a beautiful lush wilderness, sparsely inhabited by the Aqehonga Indians, who fished, hunted deer, raccoon, and fowl, and harvested corn, pumpkins, berries and fruit. Settlers arriving from England and Holland in 1630, added sausage, head cheese and pies to the abundant game and vegetation on the Island. Twenty years ago, it was common practice for butchers to hang plucked turkeys in store windows, while grocers displayed fresh produce and jugs of apple cider.

On October 31, 1777, the Continental Congress appointed Samuel Adams, Richard Henry Lee, and Daniel Roberdau, to draft a resolution “to set aside a day of thanksgiving for the signal success lately obtained over the enemies of the United States.” Their solution was accepted on November 1,1777.

George Washington issued a presidential proclamation appointing November 26,1789, as a day of general thanksgiving for the adoption of the constitution. The first national Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1863, due to the unrelenting efforts of Mrs. Sarah J. Hale. While editor of The Ladies Magazine in Boston, she penned countless editorials urging the uniform observance throughout the United States, of one day dedicated to giving thanks for blessings received throughout the year. She mailed personal letters to the governors of all the states, and to President Lincoln, persuading many governors to set aside the last Thursday in November as a day of Thanksgiving. Her editorial was titled,”Our National Thanksgiving”, and began with a biblical quote: “Then he said to them, go your way and eat the fat and drink the sweet wine and send persons unto them for whom nothing is prepared; For this day is holy unto the lord; neither be ye sorry, for the joy of the lord is your strength.” Nehemiah, VIII:10

President Lincoln, moved by Mrs. Hale’s editorial and letter, issued the first National Thanksgiving Proclamation on October 3, 1863, which reads in part: “The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of almighty God.” Lincoln designated Thanksgiving as a day “to subdue the anger which has produced and so long sustained a needless and cruel rebellion.” The northern states, in response to the proclamation, held services in churches of all denominations, and gave appropriate sermons.

President Roosevelt, on December 26, 1941, approved the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving, to be observed in every state and the District of Columbia.

The first international Thanksgiving was held in Washington, D.C. in 1909. It was the brain-child of Rev. Dr. William T. Russell, rector of St. Patrick’s Church of Washington. Dr. Russell called it a Pan American celebration, and it was attended by representatives of all the Latin American countries. The Catholic Church was chosen for the services, since Catholicism is the religion of the Latin American countries.

St. Patrick’s Church published an account of the celebration, noting that “it was the first time in the history of the Western World that all the republics were assembled for a religious function…When asked what prompted Dr. Russell in planning a Pan American Thanksgiving celebration, Dr. Russell said, “My purpose was to bring into closer relations the Republics of the Western World. As Christianity had first taught the brotherhood of man, it was appropriate that the celebration should take the form of a solemn mass.” The Pan American celebration continued from year to year.

Some Eastern cities adopted the old world custom of dressing children in the over-sized clothes of their elders, masking their faces, and having them march through the streets blowing tin horns. The children often carried baskets, and solicited fruits and vegetables from house to house to help celebrate the day. This tradition was adapted from an old Scotch wassail custom.

The warm, loving atmosphere of this holiday has been immortalized in song, literature, and poetry, such as the well-known poem by Lydia Maria Child: “Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go. . . .”

Thanksgiving signals the onset of the joyous holiday season which continues until New Year’s Day. The only sad note is the number of people killed on the highways each year, en route to their destinations. Thanksgiving also proclaims the arrival of Santa Claus, who assumes temporary residence at the Staten Island Mall, which will be ablaze with Christmas decorations. Those shoppers brave enough to venture out on “Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, can take advantage of Island sales.

Today, more than ever, Thanksgiving is intrinsic to our time. The need to give thanks is profoundly American. As a people, we have pursued idealism, struggled for individual freedoms, and enjoyed the fruits of capitalism. Like the starship “Enterprise” on Star Trek, Americans have “dared to go where no man has gone before.” The act of giving thanks acknowledges the greater force that inspires this nation, encouraging and demanding excellence. This Thanksgiving, when stomachs are bulging with savory, traditional food, and hearts are full with love for family and friends, it is fitting to give thanks.

Stand up on this Thanksgiving Day, stand
upon your feet. Believe in man. Soberly and
with clear eyes, believe in your own time and
place. There is not, and there never has
been a better time, or a better place to live.

Micki Peluso began writing after a personal tragedy, as a catharsis for her grief. This lead to several publications in Victimology: An International Magazine & a 25 year career in Journalism. Her first book was published in 2008; a funny family memoir of love, loss and survival, called, . . .AND THE WHIPPOORWILL SANG which won the Nesta CBC Silver award for writing that builds character. She’s presently finishing a collection of short fiction, slice of life stories & essays, in a book called, DON’T PLUCK THE DUCK.


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9 thoughts on “…AND WE THANK THEE

  1. Kenneth Weene

    If there’s one thing I am especially thankful for today, it is The Write Room Blog. I am especially thankful for the great members, who have become dear friends. For those who are Americans, I wish you the happiest of Thanksgivings. For those who are from other places, and yes we have a disparate group, I simply wish you much happiness.

  2. Micki Peluso

    Thanks Ken, Kathleen and Monica. This is how I became a journalist for my newspaper. I had a fat “Book of Day’, and wrote a commentary about just about every holiday that exists. It was less boring than reporting on local news. Of course I did commentaries on the news where I could express my feelings instead of doing straight news. Today almost all news has been reduced to commentary–which is sad.

  3. Bryan Murphy

    I’m thankful to you for this explanation, Micki. I’d often wondered what the fuss was about. In England, where those settlers originated, our idea of the Puritans comes from how they acted later on in the 17th century, during the decade when they held power, so it’s hard for us to imagine them indulging in any kind of celebration, never mind gluttony. I guess the climate of the “New World” did them good. Or maybe they just imitated the locals.

  4. James Secor

    Myths are wonderful, powerful and meaningful, often carrying forward great gobs of knowledge. But the Thanksgiving myth we perpetuate is a faux reality in toto. Yes. It is a holiday that brings people together, esp families; and this has been wonderful for me,as I have no family–had had no family for years until I became partnered with Doreen. I’m in. Just on her side this is 5 kids, 12 grandkids and 29 g-grankids. This year, we were in one child’s new home, maybe 1/2 completed but live-in-able; the prior home was burned to the ground a couple years ago. The extended family is all but unknown to me, though it see People. BUT the myth, the out-and-out-lie of the “first thanksgiving” sets on my teeth on edge. The Pilgrims did not invite the indians; the indians invited themselves and made the occasion a real celebration; otherwise, it would have been a 3-day prayerfest. The Pilgrims didn’t know how to farm, didn’t bring the right tools, were saved by the indians’ knowledge and help or “our” story would be different, indeed. The indians brought the sickly, lazy white people through a horrible winter–and what did these whites, so overburdened with the grace of god and their release from the oppression of Europe do? They massacred the indians–not immediately, you understand, within a year or so–they massacred their saviors, you could say, because they were barbarians and not Christian and, according to the going thing with Christianity the world over, they could be gotten rid of (or made slaves) in the name of God. By the time of James Fennimore Cooper, most all of the indians in New England had been wiped out. That’s the reality of the faux myth. The killing continued into the late 19th century; the racism continues. That we sweep this under the table as we gobble down food–first year I did not overeat–and celebrate the lie underlying how great we are and the God believed to have led whites to the New World, we are perpetuating our hypocrisy. . .or perhaps that should be the myth of our wonderful and glorious nature. Even today we cut the indians out of the picture. And we treat them like shit. — For some of us, escaping the horror of an abusive family, that truly never ends when physical escape occurs, just having one person to support and care for us is a speechless wonder we sometimes don’t believe. We, and perhaps the refugees who have found life and “family” here, could not be more thankful. We, too, are more reality-based, whether we give thanks to some uber-being or not. Let’s not be pukey sentimental like a TV show and go off spewing good works to everyone less fortunate than us, to our eternal mea culpa guilt satisfaction, dragging slug slime behind us; but wouldn’t it be nice if the forgotten and unfortunate were factored into this celebration? No guilt wallowing; just actually GIVING thanks, rather than keeping it to ourselves in the name of a lie.

  5. Micki Peluso

    Bryan, I agree with you about the Puritans–not quite so pure in their thoughts and deeds. I often think our country might have avoided slavery if other groups had settled here first. And then there might have been more healers and doctors if they didn’t keep burning them as witches. Hmm. . . . Bryan did your England, not the most tolerant of countries , force the puritans to come to America and make a mess of things?” 🙂 And can we send back to you all the bigoted, racist decendents of them. About the only thing we got from them is the idea that later became a day of ‘Thanksgiving.’ Of course Columbus wasn’t faring too well inthe southern part of the country either but that’s another tale.

  6. Micki Peluso

    Oh my goodness, Jim,
    Settle down before you give yourself apoplexy. Everyone that attended school knows that the Indian Squanto and others of his tribe and other tribes welcomed the strangers from England and kept them from starving. And we all know what they got for their troubles. And it was the same with all countries who came to America–named after the real founder–and decided to literally rip their lands from them. If you had a chance to read the entire article before you freaked out, you noticed that Politicians like Sanuel Adams, George Washington ,and Theodore Roosevelt set up the Thanksgiving dates for political agenda, not Indian relationships. We can’t change history and we are seeing today that by not learning it well, we are always repeating it. That said, I think it’s nice to celebrate one day a year — for any reason–to count our blessings in the hope that we are blessed with more in the future. I think Squanto might’ve liked that too.

  7. linniescorner

    Micki – this is a wonderfully rich, historical perspective on Thanksgiving, whether history reported it accurately or not. We cannot change history after it has been written, but if we each ensure that we celebrate the steadfast values that this significant day has been set aside for, then we have something wonderful to pass on to future generations. Though Canadians observe the harvest in October, I, for one, am acutely aware that in these times, the American Thanksgiving is the personification of patriotism, thankfulness and goodwill


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