When the Pilgrims departed Holland for the New World, their biggest fear was possible attack by Native American Indians. That fear lessened in the Spring of 1621 when an Abenaki Indian named Samoset walked into the Plymouth settlement and called out in English, "Welcome." The next day he returned with another brave named Squanto who had spent time in England and therefore spoke even better English.
Squanto taught the settlers how to survive in their new home: which plants were poisonous and which were medicinal; how to tap maple trees for sap; and how to plant corn and other crops.
By harvest time in October, there was more than enough food to put away for the winter, so the Pilgrims invited their new Native American friends to join them in a harvest feast. Wampanoag Chief Massasoit brought 90 braves to the celebration filled with food, games and races. It lasted three days.
However, the first real Thanksgiving feast came in 1623. That year, the Pilgrims experienced a hot, dry spring and summer. Crops wilted in the fields. The governor called for a day of fast and prayer and rain came and saved the crops. To celebrate, November 29 was proclaimed a day of thanksgiving, beginning what Americans now know as Thanksgiving Day.
"Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience; now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three, and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor, and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings."
- William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Colony,
Thanksgiving proclamation, 1623
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