Origins of ThanksgivingThe first interesting thing to point out is that the feast shared with the Wampanoag Indians and the first mention of Thanksgiving are really not the same event. During the first winter in 1621, 46 of the 102 pilgrims died. Thankfully, the following year resulted in a plentiful harvest. The pilgrims decided to celebrate with a feast that would include 90 natives who helped the pilgrims survive during that first winter. One of the most celebrated of those natives was a Wampanoag who the settlers called Squanto. He taught the pilgrims where to fish and hunt and where to plant New World crops like corn and squash. He also helped negotiate a treaty between the pilgrims and chief Massasoit.
This first feast included many fowl, though it is not certain that it included turkey, along with venison, corn, and pumpkin. This was all prepared by the four women settlers and two teenage girls. This idea of holding a harvest feast was not something new to the pilgrims. Many cultures throughout history had held feasts and banquets honoring their individual deities or simply being thankful for the bounty. Many in England celebrated the British Harvest Home tradition.
The First ThanksgivingThe first actual mention of the word thanksgiving in early colonial history was not associated with the first feast described above. The first time this term was associated with a a feast or celebration was in 1623. That year the pilgrims were living through a terrible drought that continued from May through July. The pilgrims decided to spend an entire day in July fasting and praying for rain. The next day, a light rain occurred. Further, additional settlers and supplies arrived from the Netherlands. At that point, Governor Bradford proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving to offer prayers and thanks to God. However, this was by no means a yearly occurrence.
The next recorded day of Thanksgiving occurred in 1631 when a ship full of supplies that was feared to be lost at sea actually pulled into Boston Harbor. Governor Bradford again ordered a day of Thanksgiving and prayer.