Was there a feast? Did it look like the image created by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris entitled “The First Thanksgiving.” Well, yes and no. The above image is a romanticized view of what may have actually transpired. There are several obvious inaccuracies in the picture. For example, members of the Wampanaog tribe did not dress as pictured above but instead were described in Mourt’s Relation as being “naked, only a skin about their middles” Of course, during the winter months they relied on mantles, made of deerskin, to warm themselves. The Pilgrims, however, did wear a variety of colored clothing (rather than the black outfits they are so often portrayed as wearing). Although present day descriptions of the relationship between the Pilgrims and the Wampanaog sometimes resemble a coruncopia of negativity, accounts found in Mourt’s Relation reveal a very different relationship. What is Mourt’s Relation? It is often referred to as the Journal of the Pilgrims. It was primarily written by Edward Winslow, but other noteables, such as William Bradford may have contributed as well. William Bradford, in his own journal known as the History of Plymouth Plantation, also described an account of a feast shared by the Pilgrims and the Wampanaog. The description from his journal can be found after the following entry from Mourt’s Relation.
Was there a feast of thanksgiving that was attended by both the Pilgrims and the Wampanaog? The following entry was written on December 11, 1621:
A LETTER SENT FROM NEW ENGLAND TO A FRIEND IN THESE PARTS, SETTING FORTH A BRIEF AND TRUE DECLARATION OF THE WORTH OF THAT PLANTATION; AS ALSO CERTAIN USEFUL DIRECTIONS FOR SUCH AS INTEND A VOYAGE INTO THOSE PARTS.
“Loving and Old Friend,
Although I received no letter from you by this ship, yet forasmuch as I know you expect the performance of my promise, which was, to write unto you truly and faithfully of all things, I have therefore at this time sent unto you accordingly, referring you for further satisfaction to our more large Relations.
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 divers others. We set the
last spring some twenty acres of Indian corn, and sowed some six acres of barley and pease; and according to the manner of the Indians, we manured our ground with herrings, or rather shads, 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 pease 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.
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, Massasoyt, 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 the goodness of God we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”
The same journal entry indicates that the Pilgrims and the Wampanaog tribe had an amicable relationship. In the same entry which described the feast, the comment was made:
“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 they come to Some of us have been fifty miles by land in the country with them, the occasions and relations whereof you shall understand by our general and more full declaration of such things as are worth the noting. Yea, it hath 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 Massasoyt, 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; so that seven of them at once have sent their messengers to us to that end. Yea, an isle at sea, which we never saw, hath also, together with the former, yielded willingly to be under the protection and subject to our sovereign lord King James. So that there is now great peace amongst the Indians themselves, which was not formerly, neither would have been but for us; and we, for our parts, walk as peaceably and safely in the wood as in the highways in England. We entertain them familiarly in our houses, and they as friendly bestowing their venison on us.”
Read the entire text of Mourt’s Relation as found in Alexander Young’s Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers of the Colony of Plymouth (1841) here:
Description of the Feast from William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation:
“They begane now to gather in ye small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health & strenght, and had all things in good plenty; for as some were thus imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersised in fishing, aboute codd, & bass, & other fish, of which yeytooke good store, of which every family had their portion. All ye som̅er ther was no wante. And now begane to come in store of foule, as winter aproached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besids water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they tooke many, besids venison, &c. Besids they had aboute a peck a meale a weeke to a person, or now since harvest, Indean corne to yt proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largly of their plenty hear to their freinds in England, which were not fained, but true reports.”