What is the real origin of Thanksgiving?

The Pilgrims greet the Native Americans. 
Source: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images from history.com/topics/thanksgiving/history-of-thanksgiving


The Pilgrims greet the Native Americans. Source: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images from history.com/topics/thanksgiving/history-of-thanksgiving

Nadia Libreatori, Staff Writer

There are many different stories of what really happened during Thanksgiving. After researching different sources, I came up with a list of consistent factors of what is believed to have occurred on Thanksgiving. I will say it is a lot different than the stories we were told growing up.

To begin, in 1621 Plymouth colonists (Pilgrims) and Wampanoag Indians were believed to share a harvest feast that is now known as Thanksgiving.  For many centuries, days of Thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states until in 1863, mid Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday to be celebrated every third Thursday of November.

In September 1620, the Mayflower left Plymouth, England with 102 passengers. All passengers were people seeking a new home where they could practice their religion freely. Others came for the promise of prosperity and land ownership this new home could give them, although many did not survive the trip due to many foreign illnesses and pandemics. During their long trip to new land that took many months, the Pilgrims ate seal, lobster, and swans on the Mayflower.

Finally, on December 16, 1620, the Plymouth colonists settled in Massachusetts Bay where they began making a village at Plymouth Rock. One thing many people don’t know about the Pilgrims is the fact that they came to Plymouth Rock with knowledge of the region already. This was due to mapping.

When the Pilgrims finally came in contact with the Native Americans, Squanto took the lead in helping the Pilgrims survive. Squanto taught the colonists how to farm and fish which is eventually what saved them from starvation. Squanto also taught the Pilgrims in the Spring how to harvest berries and other crops to live off of.  Another thing not known by many Americans is the fact that Squanto was actually kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery. He was then sent to England as a slave, which is where he learned his English, this is the main reason he was able to talk to the Pilgrims. He then escaped and found his way back to his village in 1619, only to find that the majority of his tribe were wiped out by the plague.

When it comes to the actual Thanksgiving feast, a lot is unknown. Everything we know for certain comes from two written records, Edward Winslow’s Mourt’s Relation and William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation. Neither of the two go in very much detail of what happened.

One thing that is for sure is that none of the records go along with the modern tale of the Pilgrims having a Thanksgiving meal to thank the Native Americans. Also, Bradford’s resource is the only one that mentions anything about turkey and neither resources mention the word “Thanksgiving”.

Harvest celebrations were practiced in Europe by the Pilgrims and also by the Native Americans, which means the concept of Thanksgiving was known to both.

What really occurred on “Thanksgiving” is still and probably will forever be a mystery. Until then, the modern tale of the Thanksgiving feast will have to do.

Sources for this article include thought.com and history.com.