I have read of some who are loathe to celebrate Thanksgiving, because of later injustices done to the native Americans. The issue is succinctly summed up by Michael Medved for PragerU:
Therefore, I resolved to go to primary sources to uncover the truth of the first Thanksgiving history. An accusation I have seen, coincidentally all on secular and ideologically radical biased media outlets, is that the natives who shared in the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims were afterwards slaughtered by them. What could be the motive for spreading so egregious a lie? Everywhere we look, we see a flood of words with, it seems, a dual focus of tearing down both our biblical foundations and our patriotic spirit in American history and institutions.
And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. Rev 12:15
This symbolic language pictures a flood from the enemy’s mouth; for it is words that come from mouths. And this notation occurs in the very chapter of Revelation dealing with the arrival of the children of God in America! See here.
The fact of the peace treaty between the natives and the Pilgrims of Plymouth, unbroken for over fifty years, or in other words, for the entire duration of that first generation of Pilgrim Fathers and Mothers, I found repeated in these sources:
The Plimoth Plantation Museum
The Pilgrim Chronicles: An Eyewitness History of the Pilgrims and the Founding of Plymouth Colony by Rod Gragg
The Hand of God in American History by Robert Ellis Thompson
History of the United States, Vol. I by H. W. Elson
The Beginners of a Nation by Edward Eggleston
And these were only the ones I could access, as most of my library is still packed in storage from Hurricane Irma.
For the real, and miraculous, history of that first Thanksgiving, please enjoy this excerpt describing that fateful event from the thoroughly researched Pilgrim Chronicles, listed above. I recommend it highly. It is copiously illustrated and footnoted, and tells the whole story from beginning to end. A list of living books for families and children to enjoy together follows the excerpt.
Upon the arrival of the English at Plymouth Plantation (November 1620):
Despite their debatable decision to raid the Indians’ store of corn and other items, many historians would credit the Pilgrims with establishing a far better record of relations with Native Americans than that of most other European colonists in America. The English monarchy reportedly did not want to imitate the brutal methods by which the Spanish had conquered and occupied their New World claims.
Unlike many European colonists, who had no regard for Indian lands, the Pilgrims tried to do more than was required by the Doctrine of Discovery, claiming only what appeared to be unused land, and treating Indian-occupied property with comparative respect. Acting within those controversial parameters, the Pilgrims established a model for dealing with Native American people that would be unsurpassed by most European and American authorities in the three centuries to come. As twenty-first-century Pilgrim expert Jeremy D. Bangs would observe of Plymouth Colony: “There is no general pattern of ruthless defrauding of the Indians, despite the obvious expectation that in the end most of the territory would become the property of the English. . . .”
In February of 1621:
When Massasoit arrived at Plymouth, the Pilgrim leaders treated Massasoit with the respect afforded a head of state. They seated him on a rug and pillows in one of the Pilgrim homes, and referred to him as the tribal “king.” Their respect and diplomacy were successful: Chief Massasoit agreed to a peace treaty that would be rarely duplicated in the American Colonial Era—both sides would honor it for more than half a century.
Massasoit’s decision to make peace with the Pilgrims would prove critical to the survival of Plymouth Colony. At the time of the treaty, the Pilgrims could muster barely twenty men to serve in the colony’s militia. Despite their firearms and artillery, they were massively outnumbered by the Indians. Why did Massasoit not order a massacre of the Pilgrims and wipe out the weak, struggling colony in its infancy? Why was Plymouth spared the repeated attacks and bloodshed that marked the early history of Virginia’s Jamestown Colony? Was it the Pilgrims’ generally respectful attitude toward the Native Americans, or the diplomacy they afforded Massasoit? Or did Chief Massasoit simply decide to exercise restraint? Again, to William Bradford, it was all an act of divine grace, in which “the powerful hand of the Lord did protect them.”
The terms of the peace treaty:
1. That neither he nor any of his should injure or do hurt to any of our people.
2. And if any of his did hurt to any of ours, he should send the offender, that we might punish him.
3. That if any of our tools were taken away when our people are at work, he should cause them to be restored, and if ours did any harm to any of his, we would do the likewise to them.
4. If any did unjustly war against him, we would aid him; if any did war against us, he should aid us.
5. He should send to his neighbor confederates, to certify them of this, that they might not wrong us but might be likewise comprised in the conditions of peace.
6. That when their men came to us, they should leave their bows and arrows behind them, as we should do our pieces when we came to them.
After William Bradford was made governor upon the death of Governor Carver in the spring of 1621:
In one of his first acts as Plymouth’s governor, he dispatched Edward Winslow— guided by Squanto—on a successful diplomatic mission to Chief Massasoit, which reinforced the relations established by the recent peace treaty. He dispatched another team on a mission that established a measure of peace with other tribes in the region, and he also reimbursed the Nausets for the corn that the Pilgrims had taken from them during their first days ashore.
After their first harvest in 1621, Edward Winslow wrote to friends back in England:
You shall understand that in this little time that a few of us have been here, we have built seven dwelling houses, and four for the use of the plantation, and have made preparation for (numerous) others. We set the last spring some twenty acres of Indian corn, and sowed some six acres of barley and peas, and according of the Indians, we manured our ground with herrings, or rather shad, which we have in great abundance, and take with great ease at our doors. Our corn did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, but our peas (were) not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown. They came up very well, and blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom. . . . We have found the Indians very faithful in their covenant of peace with us, very loving and ready to pleasure us. We often go to them, and them come to us; some of us have been fifty miles by land in the country with them. . . . Yea, it has pleased God so to possess the Indians with a fear of us, and love unto us, that not only the greatest king amongst them, called Massasoit, but also all the princes and peoples round about us, have either made suit unto us, or been glad of any occasion to make peace with us . . . and we for our parts walk as peaceably and safely in the wood as in the highways of England. We entertain them familiarly in our houses, and they as friendly bestowing their venison on us. They are a people without any religion or knowledge of any God, yet very trusty, quick of apprehension, ripe-witted, just. …
For the temper of the air, here it agrees well with that in England, and if there be any difference at all, this is somewhat hotter in summer. Some think it to be colder in the winter, but I cannot out of experience so say; the air is very clear and not foggy, as has been reported. I never in my life remember a more seasonable year than we have here enjoyed, and if we have once but (cows), horses, and sheep, I make no question but that men might live as contented here as in any part of the world. For fish and fowl, we have great abundance; fresh cod in the summer is but coarse meat with us; our bay is full of lobsters all the summer and affords variety of other fish; in September we can take a hogshead of eels in a night, with small labor, and can dig them out of their beds all the winter. We have mussels and (others) at our doors. Oysters we have none near, but we can have them brought by the Indians when we will; all the springtime the earth sends forth naturally very good (salad greens). Here are grapes, white and red, and very sweet and strong also. Strawberries, gooseberries, raspberries, etc. Plums of three sorts, with black and red, being almost as good as a damson; abundance of roses, white, red, and damask; single, but very sweet indeed.
In gratitude for the Pilgrims’ plentiful 1621 harvest, Governor Bradford called for a thanksgiving observance— the event that would inspire the American tradition of Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims were not the first Europeans to hold a thanksgiving event in the New World—although they appear to have been the first to do so in New England. In New Spain, Catholic colonists had assembled to give thanks to God for their survival, and so had the Anglican settlers at Jamestown. It was the Pilgrims of Plymouth, however, who would be credited with establishing America’s distinctive Thanksgiving holiday—thanks to a joyful observance some time in the autumn of 1621.
The Christian tradition of observing a time of thanksgiving was based on the Jewish feast days recorded in the Old Testament. The Feast of Harvest—also called Firstfruits—and the Feast of Tabernacles—also known as Ingathering—celebrated God’s grace and provision at harvest time. It was a time of rejoicing when all work ceased as on the Sabbath, and the people gathered in worship, offered the firstfruits of their labors to the Lord, extended mercy to the poor, and gave thanks to God. The New Testament called on believers to personally maintain an attitude of thanksgiving, and the early Church observed times of thanksgiving. Later, on Lammas Day in Medieval England, churchgoers brought a loaf of bread or a lamb to Mass in thanksgiving for harvest time.
Following the Reformation, Protestants replaced the annual Catholic festivals with days of prayer, fasting, and thanksgiving. A typical seventeenth-century thanksgiving was described by Puritan theologian Thomas Wilson, an English pastor at Canterbury, in an influential work entitled A Christian Dictionarie. Published less than a decade before the Pilgrims established Plymouth Colony, the book recorded the meaning of a thanksgiving observance in the early 1600s. An authentic thanksgiving observance, it noted, included an “acknowledging and confessing, with gladness, of the benefits and deliverances of God, both toward ourselves and others to the praise of his Name.” It also included “Remembrance of the good done to us . . . Confessing God to be the Author and giver of it . . . being glad of an occasion to praise him, and doing it gladly, with joy.”
Although the famous 1621 celebration at Plymouth was the first of its kind for the Pilgrims in America, it was not their first thanksgiving observance. During their years in Holland, the Separatist Pilgrims had repeatedly witnessed Leiden’s annual October third day of thanksgiving, when the city’s Protestants gave thanks to God for Leiden’s deliverance from a brutal 1574 siege by the Spanish army. The Separatists also celebrated their own thanksgiving observances in Holland, beginning soon after their arrival with an event designed to thank God for their escape from English persecution. They carried the practice to the New World, where they held thanksgiving observances in obedience to Scripture, such as Psalm 107:
O give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good: for His mercy endureth forever. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy; and gathered them out of the lands. . . . They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; they found no city to dwell in. Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them. Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them out of their distresses. And He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation. Oh that men would praise the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!
To prepare for the colony’s autumn thanksgiving observance, Governor Bradford dispatched a four-man hunting party to obtain game for the celebration. The hunters returned with a week’s supply of “waterfowl” and “wild Turkeys.” Added to the event’s menu was a supply of venison, which was contributed by Pokanoket Indians. Chief Massasoit and more than ninety members of the tribe attended the celebration. Although they outnumbered the Pilgrims two to one, the Indians were “entertained and feasted” as honored guests by the Pilgrims, who now viewed the Pokanokets with little fear. Hosting the Pokanokets may have been more than simple friendship and diplomacy: the Pilgrims may also have felt biblically bound to extend hospitality to non-believers or “strangers”—as directed by the book of Deuteronomy: “And thou shalt rejoice in thy feast, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy servant, and thy maid, and the Levite and the stranger. . . .” If the celebration featured other foods normally consumed by the Plymouth colonists, it would have also included beaver, baked clams, lobster, cod, bass and other fish, Indian corn, peas, beans, cabbage, onions, parsnips, English cheese, porridge, biscuits, and corn-based hasty pudding. Typical beverages would have been ale and spring water.
Thanksgiving, Pilgrim-style, was more than a simple meal—it was a three-day event. Like most seventeenth century English people, Separatists and Puritans loved field sports, and the 1621 thanksgiving celebration featured sports activities—or “recreations,” as Edward Winslow called them. If the festivities followed the usual Puritan pattern, they included wrestling, foot-races, and jumping contests. The festival’s entertainment also included the use of firearms. Winslow reported that “we exercised our arms,” which may have referred to target-shooting or a firing demonstration for Massasoit and his Pokanokets. The event’s three-day length was unique: typical Puritan thanksgiving observances could go for a day or an entire week. It was normally preceded by a worship service, although Winslow made no reference to a service in his account of the 1621 event. It was very unlikely that his omission meant that the devout Pilgrims failed to worship; more likely, Winslow simply assumed that his readers understood Separatist practices. With their pastor, John Robinson, still in England, the thanksgiving worship service very likely would have been conducted by the Pilgrims’ spiritual leader, Elder William Brewster.
The faith-based nature of the Pilgrims’ 1621 event was clearly demonstrated by the pattern they would later establish with numerous other thanksgiving observances. Two years later, for example, when a prolonged drought threatened the colony’s crops and survival, Plymouth’s magistrates called for a day of prayer and fasting, which Winslow recorded:
To that end a day was set apart by public authority, and set apart from all other employments, hoping that the same God who had stirred us up hereunto, would be moved hereby in mercy to look down upon us, and grant the request of our dejected souls. . . . For though in the morning when we assembled together, the heavens were as clear and the drought as like to continue as ever it was; yet (our exercise continuing some eight or nine hours) before our departure the weather was over-cast, the clouds gathered together on all sides, and on the next morning distilled such soft, sweet, and mild showers of rain, continuing some fourteen days, and mixed with such seasonable weather as it was hard to say whither our weathered corn or drooping affections were most quickened or revived. Such was the bounty and goodness of our God.
With similar sentiment, Winslow concluded his account of the Pilgrims’ original 1621 thanksgiving observance:
Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, among other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming among us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, for whom 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. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want. . . .
Governor Bradford would also later describe that first Thanksgiving in Plymouth Colony:
They now began to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength, and had all things in good plenty. For as some were employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish of portion. All the summer there was no want, and now began to come in (a) store of fowl as winter approached, of which this place did about when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl, there was (a) great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck (of) meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. (It) made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.
Excerpted from The Pilgrim Chronicles: An Eyewitness History of the Pilgrims and the Founding of Plymouth Colony, by Rod Gragg
The Pilgrim Chronicles by Rod Gragg
Homes in the Wilderness by Margaret Wise Brown
The Thanksgiving Primer by Plimoth Plantation
The Year of the Pilgrims by Genevieve Foster
Pilgrim Voices by Peter and Connie Roop
The Landing of the Pilgrims by James Daugherty
The Light and the Glory by Peter Marshall
Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford