The History of Thanksgiving

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The History of Thanksgiving

Lizzie P., Staff Writer

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Thanksgiving is a holiday celebrated every year on the fourth Thursday of November where people come together to celebrate good fortunes they have experienced in past and present times. Although, the very first Thanksgiving may not have been what many people think it is.

    It is unclear where the first thanksgiving actually was held and when, but historians know that it happened in one of two places. It has been a very contentious debate whether the first Thanksgiving was held in Jamestown, Virginia or Plymouth, Massachusetts. It all depends on what you count as “Thanksgiving.” Technically, the first Thanksgiving happened in Jamestown on December the fourth of sixteen-nineteen. However, many people don’t consider this gathering as “Thanksgiving” due to the fact that there was no feast, but a religious ceremony of prayer. There is little information about this Thanksgiving, considering the fact that the people during it were busy trying to survive on a land unknown to them, rather than rejoicing and feasting, let alone documenting the time.

    The Thanksgiving in Plymouth was held in the November of sixteen-twenty-two. This time of Thanksgiving was instead a feast that lasted three days. It was the Thanksgiving feast that most people remember as the first Thanksgiving. The event also marked a small period of peace between the English settlers and the Native Americans that lived on the land.

     In a memoir by the English settler Edward Winslow, he remarks how, “…our Governor [leader of English settlers] sent four men on fowling [hunting]…so we might…rejoice together…after we had gathered the fruits of our labor [the crops they had planted]…at which time…many of the Indians [Native Americans] coming amongst us, and amongst…their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted…and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the Plantation [the English settlement] and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captain and others.” According to Winslow, it was a time of thanks between the two groups. In the memoir it was described as a happy occasion compared to the Thanksgiving in Jamestown, which is why many people choose to remember it instead.

    However, it may not have been such a happy occasion for all Native Americans. Before the Massachusetts Thanksgiving, back in sixteen-fourteen, the English explorers brought a ship of Native American slaves back to England of the Patuxet tribe. Nearly all of them either died from Smallpox the Europeans left behind or were bound into slavery. When the settlers, also known as the Pilgrims, came to Massachusetts in Plymouth, only one Patuxet person still lived. His name was Squanto and after having learned the Pilgrims’ language from spending time in England, he taught the desperate, barely-surviving settlers how to grow corn and other vegetables using fish fertilizer, gather sap from maple trees, dig and cook clams, as well as identify poisonous plants from ones that could be used for medicine. In return the Pilgrims promised peace with not just Squanto, but with all people of the Wampanoag people. They were the people who originally lived in Massachusetts long before the Pilgrims came, which originally included the people of the Patuxet tribe before their populations were wiped out. To celebrate this friendship, the Pilgrims and the Native Americans had a big feast known as the first Thanksgiving.

    Unfortunately, this friendship didn’t last long. As more English settlers came, they didn’t need the Native Americans’ help. They soon began to fight against each other in a war known as the King Philip’s War. The first Thanksgiving was one of the only periods of peace between the Native Americans and the English Settlers.

    Although the first Thanksgiving has many stories, it was the founding of a holiday celebrated in the U.S. every November. Whether you believe the first Thanksgiving was held in Jamestown or Plymouth, we can all celebrate the wonderful occasion each year of giving thanks! This Thanksgiving, also give thanks to the people who started this annual celebration, whatever you conceive that to be.

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