The main storyline of the first thanksgiving is one that is well known, especially in America. What’s less well known is the attendance at the event and was it planned that way? Just who was at the first thanksgiving?
Held in the autumn of 1621, the first thanksgiving was certainly a time for the Pilgrims to give thanks. Since landing in Cape Cod in December 1620, they faced extreme hardship. The first winter was particularly brutal, with only about half (53) of the original 102 people from the Mayflower passenger list surviving. This included 15 of the original 19 women dying, leaving only 4 left alive in the colony.
After emerging from the first winter, the Pilgrims were lucky that the local Native Americans (the Wampanoag) were friendly enough to teach them basic survival skills. This included farming local crops and foraging for other sustenance. In addition, trade was essential to prevent the Pilgrims from facing further hardships.
Who Was at the First Thanksgiving?
By the time autumn 1621 rolled around it was time for the Pilgrims to celebrate a successful harvest. A 3 day harvest festival and celebration was in order. Such festivals post-harvest were common around the world at the time, so this was nothing out of the ordinary.
As part of the festival, there were military demonstrations. As the story goes (this part is not known for certain), the Wampanoag heard the guns firing and thought the Pilgrims were under attack. They rushed to their aid, only to find that there was the festival going on. The Pilgrims invited their guests to stay, thus explaining the nearly 90 native Americans in attendance.
Just why did the Wampanoag rush to the Pilgrims aid? To put it simply, the natives were looking for an ally. A devastating plague wiped out up to 90% of the Wampanog people in the decade prior to the Pilgrims arrival. Their enemies were spared the worst of it, which left the Wampanoag in a vulnerable position. The natives hoped that the guns of the colonists would aid them in mutual defense.
Though the first thanksgiving looked very different from the modern version, it nonetheless held the same values and meaning: to give thanks and appreciation for what you have.
Source: Pilgrim Hall