Today in History
You Ever Wanted To Know About “The First Thanksgiving”
Thanksgiving Day in our country is special!
It is interesting to note that my spell checker always puts a red line under the word thanksgiving suggesting it be capitalized!
(It did!)” An editorial in our local paper stated that, “ As far as we know, a national day of thanksgiving
remains a holiday observance unique to the North America.” And there are a lot of opinions about that first one.
The editorial quoted above reads: “Gov. William Bradford...proclaimed the first day of Thanksgiving in the autumn of 1621.”
This, as well as other errors regarding the first proclaimed thanksgiving, appear in the above mentioned article.
Many articles from other sources that discuss that event have made similar mistakes so, how do we know what really happened?
Easy: we have reprints of Bradford’s manuscript dating from 1898 when it was first put into “modern” print by the State of Massachusetts.
Would you like to know what really happened? The story below is from
Of Plimouth Plantation; Morison’s edition, published 1952: 1
Edward Winslow’s2 letter of 11 Dec. 1621 to a friend in England describing this “First Thanksgiving” is printed in
Mourt’s Relation pp. 60-65:
“Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labours.
They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week.
At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Idians coming amongst us, and amongst the reat their greatest king, Massasoit with some 90 men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted.
And they went out and killed five deer which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our Governor and upon the Captain and others.”
(This report placed as a footnote in Morison’s edition has been edited to reflect the English of our day by Morison, as has the whole of
Of Plimouth Plantation. Nevertheless it retains Bradford’s unique way of writing.
This is the best publication of Bradford’s manuscript which I have read.
The Massachusetts’ edition retains Bradford’s spelling-“pre-Noah Webster”!)
As you can see from this report the Pilgrims were given time by Gov. Bradford to rejoice but there is no mention of a proclamation nor does this sound like the kind of celebration we now call “A Day of Thanksgiving.”
This, however, is often confused with another day of thanksgiving about which Bradford writes in his manuscript.
We will now read what he wrote in his manuscript. I will take this from Massachusetts’ edition so that you can savor Bradford’s unique spelling just as he wrote
This, however, is not in the old English script in which it was originally written being the same as used in the Geneva Bible which was read by the Pilgrims as well as all of the other colonists until the King James became available many years later.
Incidentally, this is actually one of Bradford’s footnotes.
I may not here omite how, notwithstanding all their great paines & industrie, and ye great hops of a large cropp, the Lord seemed to blast, & take away the same, and to threaten further & more sore famine unto them, by a great drought which continued from
ye 3. Weeke in May, till about ye midle of July, without any raine, and with great heat (for ye moste parte), insomuch as ye corne began to wither away, though it was set with fishe the moysture whereof helped it much.
Yet at length it begane to languish sore, and some of ye drier grounds were parched like withered hay, part whereof was never recovered.
Upon which they sett a parte a solemne day of humiliation, to sek ye Lord by humble & fervente prayer, in this great distress.
And he was pleased to give them a gracious & speedy answer, both to their owne, & the Indeans admiration, that lived amongst them.
For all ye morning, and greatest part of the day, it was clear weather & very hotte, and not a cloud or any signe of raine to be seen, yet toward evening it begane to overcaste, and shortly after to raine, with shuch sweete and gentle showers as gave them cause of rejoyceing, & blesing God.
It came, without either wind, or thunder, or any violence, and by degrees in yt abundance as that ye earth was thorowly wete and soked therwith.
Which did so apparently revive & and quicken ye decayed corne & othere fruits, as was wonderful to see, and made ye Ineans astonished to behold; and afterwards the Lord sent them shuch seasonable showers, with interchange of faire warme weather as through his blessing, caused a fruitful & liberall harvest, to their no small comforte and rejoycing.
For which mercie (in time conveniente) they also set aparte a day of thanksgiveing.
This being overslipte in its place, I thought meet here to inserte ye same.3
(Mr. Morison tells us that “discovering his error....[he] drew his pen across it, and wrote beneath, ‘this is to be here rased out, and is to be placed on page 103, wher it is inserted.’”)
This day of thanksgiving was in 1623 so what has come down to us is a combination of the two days of “rejoycing,” the second of which was, indeed, a proclamation by Governor Bradford and apparently, was not attended by the “Indeans” though, of course, could have been.
The newspaper editorial closed with these comments with the necessary correction as to the dates.
There was no Thanksgiving in 1622, but there was...in 1623-to give thanks for the end of a drought.
Bradford proclaimed the first day of Thanksgiving in the autumn of 1623.
It was not an occasion for congratulations, or celebration of good luck, but an occasion for prayers and praise of Thanksgiving--not to each other, but to the Creator for the blessing of survival.
And in 1630 the Massachusetts colony established for the first time the day of Thanksgiving as an annual observance.
More than two centuries later, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national observance.
(From an editorial in the “Redding Record Searchlight” in 1988.)
The Pilgrims had much to be thankful for in the midst of great need.
The wisdom of William Bradford in those trying times show why the Pilgrims not only survived but became the real founders of our country.
Bradford’s words are worth remembering: “All great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and must be both enterprised and overcome with answerable courages.”
Most certainly the Founders of our country understood that and knew on Whom to rely.
Let us emulate them.
“A NEW EDITION: The complete text, with Notes and an Introduction by Samuel Eliot Morison, New York, Alfred A. Knopf (publisher),” p. 90.
Winslow was a Pilgrim who served as their ‘Ambassador at Large.’
Gov. Wm. Bradford, Of Plimouth Plantation, the title page of which reads: “‘BRADFORD’S HISTORY OF PLIMOTH PLANTATION,’ From the Original Manuscript, WITH A REPORT OF THE PROCEEDINGS INCIDENT TO THE RETURN OF THE MANUSCRIPT TO MASSACHUSETTS---Printed UNDER THE DIRECTION OF THE SECRETARY OF THE COMMONWEALTH (of MASSACHUSETTS) BY ORDER OF THE GENERAL COURT, BOSTON: WRIGHT & POTTER PRINTING CO., STATE PRINTERS, 18 Post Office Square, 1898,” p. 170-171. (Words in parentheses ed.’s)
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