The First Thanksgiving by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

The First Thanksgiving by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

The Legend

Every November, young children in America are introduced to a colorful, hopeful story. One autumn day in 1621, the pilgrims celebrated a plentiful harvest with members of the Wampanoag tribe. This was a feast of thanksgiving where Englishmen and Native Americans came together as friends, expressing gratitude for the aid freely given during the harsh early years of the colony.

The History

The Wampanoag tribe led by Massasoit had just signed a treaty with the Plimouth colonists. Upon hearing the sound of hunting rifles, 90 members of the tribe anticipating war ventured to the English colony only to stumble upon the pilgrims celebrating their first successful harvest. So, the Wampanoag joined the feasting, but the atmosphere must have been tense because neither group fully trusted the other.

The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth (1914) by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe

The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth (1914) by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe

The Holiday

For the year of 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving to emphasize the theme of family and brotherhood amidst the brutal, bitter Civil War. At that time, there was great interest in Plimouth colony, which Lincoln capitalized on. FDR, furthermore, declared the fourth Thursday in November a national holiday that was then formalized by Congress in 1941. In fact, the modern holiday owed much of its origins to politics and public relations.

The Legacy

Even though the actual history of the Thanksgiving holiday has been twisted, many of the sentiments remain valuable. Friendship, family and gratitude have been emphasized in harvest festivals for generations. For many families, following the Puritan tradition, the holiday is devoted to prayer and religious observance. For others, Thanksgiving means travel, food, and shopping. Regardless of beliefs, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on the bounty of life.  

Resources:

National Geographic – First Thanksgiving

Indian Country Today – The Wampanoag Side

Plimouth Plantation- Thanksgiving History

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