On NOVEMBER 21, 1620 (NS), the Pilgrims signed the Mayflower Compact and began their Plymouth Colony.
Of the 102 Pilgrims, only 47 survived till Spring.
At one point, only a half dozen were healthy enough to care for the rest.
In the Spring of 1621, the Indian Squanto came among them, and showed them how to catch fish, plant corn, trap beaver, and was their interpreter with the other Indian tribes.
Governor William Bradford described Squanto as "a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectation."
"The settlers ... began to plant their corn, in which service Squanto stood them in good stead, showing them how to plant it and cultivate it.
He also told them that unless they got fish to manure this exhausted old soil, it would come to nothing ... In the middle of April plenty of fish would come up the brook ... and (he) taught them how to catch it."
Pilgrim Edward Winslow recorded in Mourt's Relation that in the Fall of 1621:
"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, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, 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 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 goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."
Bradford described the same event:
"And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc.
Besides, they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion."
The idea of a Fall day of thanksgiving may have come to the Pilgrims after they moved to Leiden, Holland, in 1609.
Dutch citizens there annually gave thanks to God for William of Orange, in 1574, ending the bloody Spanish Furies, where Spain's "Iron Duke" of Alba had butchered tens of thousands.
Dutch historian Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs (Ph.D. Leiden, 1976), in his article "1621: A Historian Looks Anew at Thanksgiving," documented that Jan Orlers, a friend of Pilgrim elder William Brewster, wrote of Leiden's Thanksgiving:
"Every year throughout the city a General Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving ... held and celebrated on the Third of October, to thank and praise God Almighty that he so mercifully had saved the city from her enemies."
Also in Leiden was a community of Jews who had been driven out of Spain.
At the University of Leiden, a rabbi taught students Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac, just as the Pilgrim elder William Brewster taught students English.
Pilgrims would have seen Jews celebrating the annual Thanksgiving Feast of Tabernacles or "Sukkot" in September–October.
Pilgrims identified with Jews, who fled from Pharaoh across the Red Sea in search of their Promised Land, as the Pilgrims fled from the King of England across the sea in search of their Promised Land.
The Israelites had self-government, called the Hebrew Republic, for four hundred years before the asked for a king. This was an example to the Puritan Reformers and to the Pilgrim separatists.
When Harvard and Yale were founded in New England, Hebrew was taught.
Historian Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs explained how Pilgrims thank God:
"Our knowledge of the 1621 Thanksgiving comes from Winslow and Bradford.
Winslow's choice of words, understood by his contemporaries, implies to us that the Pilgrims gave thanks to God for their preservation and for the plenty that gave hope for the future.
Winslow specifically tells us that the colonists sat down with their Native neighbors and enjoyed several days of peaceful rejoicing together. It is a history with potent symbolism, and it needs neither apology nor distortion ..."
"When Winslow described the Pilgrims' intention, 'after a more special manner to rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labors,' he was alluding to John 4: 36 and to Psalm 33.
The first is, 'And he that reapeth, receiveth wages, & gathereth fruit unto life eternal, that both he that soweth, & he that reapeth, might rejoice together.'"
On November 9, 1621, 37 more Pilgrims arrived on the ship Fortune.
The joy of greeting this second group of Pilgrims was quickly dampened when it was discovered they brought with them no food or supplies.
This resulted in the second winter having a "starving time," where at one point, each person was rationed just five kernels of corn a day.
Attempting to repay the "merchant adventurers" who financed their trip, the Pilgrims filled the Fortune with £500 worth of furs, but tragically the ship was captured by French pirates, leaving the Pilgrims in greater debt.
In 1622, the friendly Indian Chief Massasoit became ill. Pilgrim leader Edward Winslow visited and doctored him. He thankfully regained health, which contributed to a peace which lasted over 50 years.
Edward Winslow was especially grateful, because the Indian tradition was, if a person doctored a chief and the chief died, that person died too.
Two years after the Pilgrim landing, there was a drought in 1623. Edward Winslow recorded in Alexander Young’s Chronicles of the Pilgrims (Boston, 1841):
"Drought and the like considerations moved not only every good man privately to enter into examination with his own estate between God and his conscience, and so to humiliation before Him, but also to humble ourselves together before the Lord by Fasting and Prayer." ***
Hope you enjoyed this Thanksgiving article with little known facts as much as I have. I give full credit and thanks to Bill Federer and his American Minute blog! Please share on your social media by clicking the small icons below.
Have a blessed Thanksgiving,
Elva Cobb Martin, a mother and grandmother, lives in South Carolina with her husband and a senior mini-dachshund named Lucy, and a sea green bird named Atticus. She is the upcoming 2020 president of her state chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers, a retired teacher, minister, and now calls herself a full-time writer. Better make that rewriter. A life-long student of history, her favorite city, Charleston, inspires her stories of romance and adventure. She desires to share exciting love stories of courageous characters and communicate truths of the Christian faith to bring hope and encouragement. Link to her three novels and one Bible Study on Amazon. http://amzn.to/2pOgVHI