Student: What was the first Thanksgiving like? What food did they eat? What did the people dress like? Did the people have an accent? What did the children eat? Did the pilgrims do it for fun? What Indian tribe did the pilgrims eat with?
Elizabeth: Our first harvest of Indian corn in New England was cause for rejoicing in a special manner. Among other entertainments, the men exercised their arms. We had waterfowl enough to eat for a week.
The men of our town come from all parts of England, those from the north like William Bradford our governor speak differently from those from the west like Mr. Winslow.
Our manner of dress is as it was in England, although our clothes are now much worn. We look for new supply from England soon.
Plimoth Plantation: The Native American people who lived in the area were the Wampanoag. Plymouth colony was built on the Wampanoag village of Patuxet.
Student: How many Pilgrims were at the first Thanksgiving?
Elizabeth: Before we set corn in the spring about half of our company died. Now, after harvest, we number about 50 or thereabouts.
Student: What foods are served?
Damaris: We ate our fill of duck and geese and deer, and porridges of Indian corn.
Student: Did the children play games with the Indian children?
Plimoth Plantation: The English men, who wrote the journals and letters that help us to understand Plymouth Colony in 1621, didn't write much about children. So we simply do not know if English children and Wampanoag children played or worked together.
Damaris: I often have work to do and have not much time to play. Sometimes my sister Constance will blow bubbles through an old tobacco pipe for me but she too has cooking and pounding of corn, and many other things to be about if we are to have enough to eat.
Student: How was life there? And can you please tell me the story about the first Thanksgiving?
Damaris Hopkins: Mother and father are happier now that we have brought in a good harvest of Indian corn. This is very strange corn that I have never seen before, all party colored, but the porridge of Indian corn likes me well and fills my belly.
Elizabeth Hopkins: Our first harvest in New England was a fit occasion to rejoice. Our Governor sent men fowling and they killed sufficient duck and geese to feed us for almost a week. Many of the Indians came amongst us, even their greatest king Massasoit with ninety men or thereabouts. There were many more Indians than English!
Student: I was just wondering what the Pilgrims were wearing the day of Thanksgiving?
Damaris: I wear the same thing every day for it is all I have that fits me now. Mother says when supply comes I will have new shoes and hose.
Elizabeth: Some were better supplied than others with clothing when they came, but most have clothes to work in and their best things. Much of what we brought with us is now well worn and clouted [patched]. Please God we should see supply of cloth and clothes come from our Adventureres before winter falls.
Student: Where was the First Thanksgiving Feast held?
Elizabeth: Methinks every table in New Plymouth was laden with food at one time or another for we did not have one feast but several days of entertainments in celebration of our first harvest here. Upon one day, the Governor entertained the chief men at his table. Another day my husband entertained some of the Indians and some of our neighbors at our table.
Plimoth Plantation: In 1621, the Plymouth colonists celebrated their first successful harvest in their newly built town. We know they ate, we know they entertained many Wampanoag but how and where exactly is unknown. It is likely that many meals took place at different times in different places over the course of the week. It is also likely that important men, both Native and English, ate together, and that people of lower status ate together.
Student: Were the Pilgrims thankful for the friendship of the Wampanoag and Squanto? I know the first "Thanksgiving" was not a "day of thanks." But did the Pilgrims give thanks for their friendship with Squanto and for being alive on that day?
Damaris: At every meal we say grace and give thanks for the blessings of God. Each day I begin and end the day with prayers.
Elizabeth: God sent Tisquantum as an instrument of our furtherance here. Thus it is to God that we give thanks.
Plimoth Plantation: You are correct in saying that the first "Thanksgiving" was not a "day of thanks;" it was a harvest celebration. You are also correct in thinking that the colonists might have given thanks during that celebration. They did "in a special manner rejoice" which means they followed their Christian custom of grace and thanksgiving at meals. The Wampanoag also had customs of giving thanks for the daily gifts from the Creator.
Student: Why did the Pilgrims not eat pumpkin pie on the first Thanksgiving?
Elizabeth: I have not ever cooked pompion into a pie but rather do stew it or fry it. If you can afford spice as ginger and sugar, your stewed pompion will taste like apples!
Plimoth Plantation: As hard as it is to imagine, the pumpkin pie that we now eat at Thanksgiving just hadn't been invented yet.
Student: Did the kids get to sit at the dinner table?
Damaris: I sit upon a form [bench] at table
Student: Who is the Pilgrim leader who invited the Wampanoag Indians to the first Thanksgiving?
Plimoth Plantation: Why the Wampanoag came to the English colony during the colonists' harvest celebration in 1621 is unknown. There is no record that they were invited by the English governor William Bradford. Plymouth colony was, after all, in the middle of the Wampanoag Homeland, so the Wampanoag didn't need a reason or excuse to be there
Student: Is there any reference to music at the first Thanksgiving celebration? If so, what was it?
Plimoth Plantation: There is no reference to music in the only existing description of the harvest celebration in New Plymouth in 1621. The writer, colonist Edward Winslow, says, "amongst other recreations we exercised our arms" and Massasoit came with 90 men "whom for three days we entertained and feasted." What were these recreations and entertainments? We will never know for certain but it is likely that music was part of it since both the English and Wampanoag had long traditions of singing at gatherings. Ordinary Englishmen of the 1620s often sang psalms as well as country tunes in unison, rounds or harmonies.
Student: How did you feel about the Wampanoag children when you first met them? Were you afraid? Did you make friends? How long did it take you to become friends with them?
Plimoth Plantation: Unfortunately the men who wrote down what was happening in New Plymouth in 1621 didn't concern themselves with children much. So we do not know if Wampanaog and colonial children were friends or how they felt about one another. We can imagine that some Wampanoag parents and some colonial parents may not have wanted their children playing together. We can imagine that language might have been a difficulty. And we can imagine that some Wampanoag and some colonial children were curious about one another. But these are all just guesses.
Student: What are some major reasons they celebrated Thanksgiving?
Plimoth Plantation: This question is difficult for Elizabeth to answer from the perspective of 1621 because the first real Thanksgiving among the English hadn't happened yet. The church at Plymouth kept days of humiliation and penance, which were sometimes followed by days of Thanksgiving. In the summer of 1623 they gathered in church to repent before God because He was punishing their sins with a drought. When He forgave them with gentle rains and warm weather, they had a day of Thanksgiving.
What were some of the foods you ate at the Thanksgiving feast? There were turkey birds, goose, duck, fish of many different kinds, good cheeses, and pudding made out of corn.
How many Indians were present at the feast? There were more natives than colonists at the feast. We were about fifty, and they were more than a hundred.
Why was the Thanksgiving feast special to you? Our harvest feast came after we had goodly yield from our plantings. For three days, we feasted with our Pokonoket neighbors.
How long did the Thanksgiving harvest feast last? We feasted for three days. It was a civil harvest feast. Our (religious) thanksgivings are daily observances of the Church, which we could never celebrate with Indians, who are not Christian.
Do you celebrate any holidays besides Thanksgiving? We consider the only Holy day to be Sunday. We do not celebrate Easter or Christmas because they cannot be found in the Bible. Jesus did not tell us the day He was born.
What did you eat at the first Thanksgiving? We had a lot of venison, and we had a lot of fowl — goose, duck, turkey. We also had a lot of fish, such as bass and codfish. We ate and ate and ate for three days! It was the most food I had seen in a year's time!
Why was the Thanksgiving feast special to you? It was a special occasion because it reminded me of home. At home in England, we would always have a harvest feast after the harvest was gotten in. It was important to our colony to celebrate with King Massassoit. We had just made a peace agreement with King Massassoit in the springtime. It was good that we were able to show him friendship. I was glad to have a chance to see these naturals and feast with them. It was very amusing! We had a break from our work. It was a time of rest. And it was a chance to play games and visit with some friends that I had been too busy to visit with.
What part did you play in the preparation of the Thanksgiving feast? Well, there was a lot of slaughtering and butchering to be done. First you must skin an animal, and you have to take out the garbage. With the ducks and the turkeys and the geese I had to pluck many feathers. I had feathers all over me! I had to chop off their heads, and their feet, and prepare the fire to cook them. When I roasted some venison, I had to make a very hot fire. It takes a long time, and lots of patience, to slowly turn the spit to roast the meat. I also scaled the fish and had to take the garbage out, too. It was a lot of cooking, but I was very glad for the food.
What was your first Thanksgiving like? I'm not certain what you mean by the first Thanksgiving. To many here a day of Thanksgiving is a day of fasting and prayer to thank God for delivering you from problems or tragedy like drought or famine. We have not had one of those since we arrived here. This fall, however, we did have a celebration which was more like a harvest feast. There was feasting and sporting for several days! A great many of the Indians came amongst us then — I think there were nearly twice as many Indians as us Englishmen.
How many people attended the Thanksgiving feast?
The feast lasted three days, and there were near to a hundred and a half of us, including ninety Indians and their king, Massasoit.
What did you eat at the feast?
For the harvest feast, we did cook much. Some of the dishes we prepared were wild fowl — geese and ducks that were boiled and roasted. We had fish and shellfish, pompeians (pumpkins), and best of all, fine fat deer that were brought by the Indians to the feast. I had never eaten venison in England, and it is very good.
Did the women and children get to sit and eat with the men and the Indians at the Thanksgiving feast? Did any of the Indian women and children come? Because it wasn't one feast but several days of celebrating, sometimes we did have women and children and Indians all at the same table. Other times, the Governor entertained the most important native men without women or children.
We are having a Thanksgiving feast soon, do you have any suggestions for our dinner? At this season of the year we have venison — that is deer — wild fowl like turkey and duck. These are all good dishes to celebrate the season.
Do you only celebrate Thanksgiving or do you also celebrate other holidays like Easter and Christmas? In our own house, my family keeps Christmas, but it is not kept publicly by the church here. The church here keeps the Sabbath as well as occasionally days of thanksgiving, or days of humiliation.
What are days of humiliation? When God visits a punishment on us, such as a drought that threatens to kill our corn, then we have a day in church where we pray for forgiveness of our sins so that He will lift the punishment.