Here’s what Winslow writes……our harvest being gotten in, our Governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a more speciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labours; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest King Massasoyt, with some nintie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted and they went our and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestwed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine, and others. And although it be not always so plentifull, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodnesse of God, we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plentie.
Winslow’s account tells us that the intent was to rejoice after the harvest, it lasted three days, there was fowl and deer to eat, Massasoit and 90 warriors (amongst others) attended, the Wampanoag went out and killed 5 deer, there were recreations which included shooting muskets, and they entertained and feasted the Wampanoag.
Important questions like these can change how we view the First Thanksgiving. But what doesn’t it tell us? I want to know what else they ate, what were the “other recreations”, did the Wampanoag and Pilgrim children play, and where did the Wampanoag sleep?
But what I REALLY want to know is whether the Wampanoag were actually invited to the event. If you go back and read the letter you may be surprised. To me, it sounds like the colonists could have been having their own celebration and the Wampanoag arrived. Maybe the Wampanoag were drawn by the unusual amount of gunfire? Or maybe Massasoit was visiting in the area on diplomatic business? What if the Wampanoag went out and killed the five deer because there wasn’t enough food for the over 90 unexpected guests (there were only about 50 colonists)?
Important questions like these also can change how we view the First Thanksgiving. After all, how many of us grew up thinking that the whole reason for the First Thanksgiving was for the Pilgrims to thank the Wampanoag for their help in surviving their difficult first year?
What do you think really happened at the First Thanksgiving? To find out more, visit our Plimoth Plantation website www.plimoth.org. There you’ll find Thanksgiving resources, articles, and videos. Children can launch their own investigation in our online activity You are the Historian: Investigating the First Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving!Kim VanWormer is the Director of Education and Public Programs at Plimoth Plantation.< Constitution Daily Thanksgiving StoriesThe Founding Fathers really didn’t want the turkey as our national symbolHappy 226th birthday to Washington’s Thanksgiving proclamation!The real story behind the presidential turkey pardonWho started Thanksgiving and other holiday trivia!