In the autumn of 1621, the settlers at Plymouth, Massachusetts were finishing their first year on the American continent. In that time, they had built a village, withstood a mysterious sickness that claimed many lives, learned to fish and hunt, raised vegetables, preserved wild fruit and harvested twenty acres of corn. The settlers, both Pilgrims and families not sharing the Pilgrims’ religious beliefs, had learned to trust and help one another. Governor Bradford called for a day of thanksgiving similar to holidays the Pilgrims had known in Holland.
The Indians of the nearest tribe were invited to join in a feast; the Indians had, after all, shown the Pilgrims how to grow corn. Their advice for taking advantage of the plentiful wild foods and preserving what was gathered was invaluable to the new settlers. So the Pilgrim men brought in extra turkeys and fish and the women, all ten of them, tackled the cooking chores for the gathering. As the native guests began to materialize out of the forest, the settlers were struck by the idea that a miscalculation had occurred. They had not planned on feeding ninety braves—they had no idea there were so many members of the tribe! Some settlers could picture the women collapsing in utter exhaustion after having served the colony’s entire winter food supply at the feast.
But the Indians were not ignorant of Thanksgiving protocol. As they explained to the surprised settlers, Thanksgiving was a long-standing tradition of tribes up and down the Atlantic coast. The Indian celebrations were held at the time of the corn harvest and marked a sort of new year celebration—a time to thank their Creator for a good harvest and to ask for blessings in the future.
They had come to see what might be needed for a first-rate Thanksgiving feast, and having noted the preparations, fanned out to bring in more game. Soon they returned bearing several fat deer and likely, more fish, eels and shellfish as well.
The Pilgrim women were happy to see the men take a hand in cooking; the men turned whole deer on spits over coals. The Indians sampled vegetables new to them—and the wine the Pilgrims had made from wild grapes. For three days, settlers and Indians feasted and joined in games of strength and skill: wrestling, archery contests and footraces.
For the settlers at Plymouth, their first Thanksgiving in America capped a great accomplishment, and was a hint of things to come. Not long after the great feast, an English ship arrived at Plymouth, the first seen since the Mayflower sailed home. On it were new recruits for the little colony. For the Indians, it is fair to say that their first Thanksgiving with the settlers was their last Thanksgiving as the undisputed masters of Massachusetts.

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