The History of Thanksgiving

In the past, the east coast of the United States was inhabited by Native Americans. What is now Massachusetts and Rhode Island was the home to the Wampanoag people and their tribes for over 12,000 years. Many European settlers visited this area way before the Mayflower arrived. The natives thrived here, and hunted, fished and harvested many crops for generations.

A group of English Protestants decided to break away from the church of England and moved to Holland, and eventually received funding to sail the Atlantic and settle in this new world they heard about.


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101 men, women and children departed on a ship and spend 66 days at sea riding the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. They were headed for the area that is now New York City. The windy weather, however, caused them to stop prematurely in what is now known as Cape Cod.

These new settlers, called the Puritans, prepared for the long winter that lay ahead of them. They gathered what they could use for survival. Samoset and Squanto, from the Abenaki tribe visited with the settlers and spoke their language and helped them prepare for the coming cold weather. They helped them grow corn and fertilize their fields with fish. They became friends and in 1621 joined together to stay safe from other tribes.

Four settlers went hunting in the fall in search of food for the celebration of harvest. The Wampanoag people heard shots fired and thought there was trouble brewing. Their leader, Massasoit was alerted and brought with him 90 men to check on the English settlers and see if war was coming.

Upon their visit they found out the gunshots were only from hunting and gathering for the harvest. Massasoit also sent men to hunt for the feast. They all ate together the meal of corn, deer, shellfish and roasted meat. Today Americans feast on things like turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes and of course cranberry sauce. Most families end it off with pumpkin or apple pie.

Two years later in 1623, the first recorded Thanksgiving feast took place when the natives and settlers praised God for making it rain after having a drought for two months.

We all have pictures in our heads of Pilgrims with tall black hats, silver buckled shoes and black clothing, and of Native Americans with suede Indian clothing and feather headdresses. This is far from the truth of how they dressed. The clothing was colorful and bright, and they danced and sang and played games.

Thanksgiving as we know it today started in 1846 when Sarah Josepha Hale, a magazine editor, wanted an annual national holiday. She realized that the harvest gathering of 1621 was incorrectly known as the first Thanksgiving.

Many years later in 1863 President Abraham Lincoln declared two national Thanksgivings. One was in the month of August, and it was in honor of the Battle of Gettysburg, the other was in November and it was to give thanks for general blessings.

Families today gather for a wonderful day of feasting, together time and games. Many families enjoy the traditional Macy’s Day Parade to start the day, and board games, outside activities or movies after the feast is over.


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