The first known American Thanksgiving was the celebration of Communion in 1578 by British explorer Martin Frobisher and the preacher Robert Wolfall in gratitude for surviving their effort to find a Northwest Passage. It marked the end of their third exploration and was held on what is now called Nunavut on Baffin Island.
The first formal harvest festival in North America was created in Montreal by Samuel Champlain when he proclaimed the Order of Good Cheer in 1606. Fourteen years later, in 1620, the Pilgrims arrived at the tip of Cape Cod. They were ill-prepared, lacking essential skills and on the brink of starvation. The local Wampanoags fed them and taught them how to fish, showing that no good deed goes unpunished. The following year, 1621, the newcomers had a good harvest. They celebrated what is traditionally recognized as the first American Thanksgiving by inviting the Wampanoags to the feast.
The Seven Years' War between Great Britain and France spilled over to the North American in 1754 when George Washington ambushed a French Canadian contingent and killed their leader (see below). The American revolution in 1776 forced American settlers loyal to the crown off their New England farms. They found safety in Canada, bringing with them the tradition of roast turkey. Immigrants from Ireland, Scotland and Germany blended their own harvest traditions with Thanksgiving.
Early American settlers are revered by many, but there is another side to the story. If you would like to learn more about the French and Indian War that led up to the American Revolution, read on.
The French and Indian War, called the War of Conquest by the French Canadians, was a border war fought 1754-1763 along the frontier between Nova Scotia and Virginia. The Seven Years' war in Europe was being fought on two fronts: between Prussia and Austria and between England and France. A third front opened at confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, the site of present-day Pittsburgh. Click map to expand to readable scale.
It started when Lieutenant Colonel George Washington's colonial force, with the help of his Indian friends, surrounded a force of 35 Canadians, attacked them and killed their leader, Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville. George Washington had been sent to protect the construction of a British fort at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers. The Canadians sent Jumonville to warn Lt. Col. Washington that the fort was encroaching on French-claimed land. Washington was alerted to Jumonville's approach by Tanacharison, the leader of a band of Mingo warriors, and they joined forces to surround the Canadian camp. Some of the Canadians were killed in the ambush, and most of the others were captured. Jumonville was among the slain and the French were outraged. Washington's subsequent surrender to the French at the fall of Fort Duquesne included a statement admitting that Jumonville had been assassinated.
Native Americans, like most cultures, celebrate the end of a harvest season. Today, Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on the day Americans call Columbus Day. The American custom of celebrating Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November was standardized by President Roosevelt in 1941.
The Mayflower was the ship that transported the English Separatists, better known as the Pilgrims, from a site near the Mayflower Steps in Plymouth, England, to Plymouth, Massachusetts, (which would become the capital of Plymouth Colony), in 1620.There were 102 passengers and a crew of 25–30. The vessel left England on September 6, 1620 (Old Style)/September 16 (New Style), and after a grueling 66-day journey marked by disease, which claimed two lives, the ship dropped anchor inside the hook tip of Cape Cod (Provincetown Harbor) on November 11/November 21.
The Mayflower was originally destined for the mouth of the Hudson River, near present-day New York City, at the northern edge of England's Virginia colony, which itself was established with the 1607 Jamestown Settlement] However, the Mayflower went off course as the winter approached, and remained in Cape Cod Bay.
On March 21/31, 1621, all surviving passengers, who had inhabited the ship during the winter, moved ashore at Plymouth, and on April 5/15, the Mayflower, a privately commissioned vessel, returned to England. In 1623, a year after the death of captain Christopher Jones, the Mayflower was most likely dismantled for scrap timber in Rotherhithe, London. The Mayflower has a famous place in American history as a symbol of early European colonization of the future United States. According to popular history, English Dissenters called Pilgrims undertook the voyage to escape religious persecution in England.The story of the Mayflower as symbol of religious freedom is a staple of any American history textbook. Americans whose roots are traceable back to New England often believe themselves to be descended from Mayflower passengers. The main record for the voyage of the Mayflower and the disposition of the Plymouth Colony comes from William Bradford, who was a guiding force and later the governor of the colony.
The Mayflower was used mostly as a cargo ship in the trade of goods (often wine) between England and France, but also Norway, Germany and Spain] Like many ships of the time (such as the Santa Maria) the Mayflower was most likely a carrack with three masts, square-rigged on the foremast and mainmast but lateen-rigged on the mizzenmast. The ship's dimensions are unknown but estimates based on its load weight and the typical size of 180-ton merchant ships of its day suggest a length of 90–110 feet (27.4–33.5 m) and a width of about 25 feet (7.6 m).
At least between 1609 and 1622 it was based in Rotherhithe, London, England and mastered by Christopher Jones, who commanded the ship on its famous transatlantic voyage. The Mayflower had a crew of twenty-five to thirty along with other hired personnel. The names of five are known, John Alden among them. William Bradford, in the only known account of the Pilgrim voyage, wrote that Alden "was hired for a cooper [barrel-maker], at South-Hampton, where the ship victuled; and being a hopefull yong man, was much desired, but left to his owne liking to go or stay when he came here; but he stayed, and maryed here."
After leaving the separatists at Plymouth the Mayflower sailed back to England and was perhaps broken up for scrap lumber in Rotherhithe in 1623, only a year after Jones's death in March 1622. Some sources have said the Mayflower Barn near Jordans in Buckinghamshire, England, a village with some Quaker history, was built from these timbers, but while the barn likely was built with wood drawn from some unknown ship, any link with lumber from the Mayflower has not been documented and moreover, the farm was named before the ship.
Plymouth Colony Continuing westward, the shallop's mast and rudder were broken by storms, and their sail was lost. Rowing for safety, they encountered the harbor formed by the current Duxbury and Plymouth barrier beaches and stumbled on land in the darkness. They remained at this spot—Clark's Island—for two days to recuperate and repair equipment. Resuming exploration on Monday, December 11/December 21, 1620, the party crossed over to the mainland and surveyed the area that ultimately became the settlement. The anniversary of this survey is observed in Massachusetts as Forefathers' Day and is traditionally associated with the Plymouth Rock landing legend. This land was especially suited to winter building because the land had already been cleared, and the tall hills provided a good defensive position. The cleared village, known as Patuxet to the Wampanoag people, was abandoned about three years earlier following a plague that killed all of its residents. Because the disease involved hemorrhaging, the "Indian fever" is assumed to have been fulminating smallpox introduced by European traders. The outbreak had been severe enough that the colonists discovered unburied skeletons in abandoned dwellings. With the local population in such a weakened state, the colonists faced no resistance to settling there.
The exploratory party returned to Mayflower, which was then brought to the harbor on December 16/December 26. Only nearby sites were evaluated, with a hill in Plymouth (so named on earlier charts) chosen on December 19/December 29. Construction commenced immediately, with the first common house nearly completed by January 9/January 19. At this point, single men were ordered to join with families. Each extended family was assigned a plot and built its own dwelling. Supplies were brought ashore, and the settlement was mostly complete by early February. Between the landing and March, only 47 colonists had survived the diseases they contracted on the ship. During the worst of the sickness, only six or seven of the group were able and willing to feed and care for the rest. In this time, half the Mayflower crew also died. William Bradford became governor in 1621 upon the death of John Carver, served for eleven consecutive years, and was elected to various other terms until his death in 1657. The patent of Plymouth Colony was surrendered by Bradford to the freemen in 1640, minus a small reserve of three tracts of land. On March 22, 1621, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony signed a peace treaty with Massasoit of the Wampanoags. The colony contained roughly what is now Bristol County, Plymouth County, and Barnstable County, Massachusetts. When the Massachusetts Bay Colony was reorganized and issued a new charter as the Province of Massachusetts Bay in 1691, Plymouth ended its history as a separate colony.
The centerpiece of contemporary Thanksgiving in the United States and Canada is a large meal, generally centered around a large roasted turkey. The majority of the dishes in the traditional American version of Thanksgiving dinner are made from foods native to the New World, as according to tradition the Pilgrims received these foods from the Native Americans. However, many of the classic traditions attributed to the first Thanksgiving are actually myths introduced later.
Because turkey is the most common main dish of a Thanksgiving dinner, Thanksgiving is sometimes colloquially called “turkey day.” In 2006, American turkey growers were expected to raise 270 million turkeys, to be processed into five billion pounds of turkey meat valued at almost $8 billion, with one third of all turkey consumption occurring in the Thanksgiving-Christmas season, and a per capita consumption of almost 18 pounds. Most Thanksgiving turkeys are stuffed with a bread-based stuffing and roasted. Sage is the traditional herb added to the stuffing (also called dressing), along with chopped celery, carrots, and onions. Deep-fried turkey is rising in popularity, requiring special fryers to hold the large bird, and reportedly leading to fires and bad burns for those who fail to take care when dealing with a large quantity of very hot oil. In more recent years it is also true that as the wild population of turkeys has rebounded in most of the US, some will hunt and dress their turkey in the woods and then freeze it until meal preparation. Butterball, a national turkey producer, runs a well-known hotline (the "Turkey Talk Line") for those who need assistance cooking a turkey.
Many other foods are alongside the main dish so many that, because of the amount of food, the Thanksgiving meal is sometimes served midday or early afternoon to make time for all the eating, and preparation may begin at dawn or on days prior. Traditional Thanksgiving foods are sometimes specific to the day, and although some of the foods might be seen at any semi-formal meal in the United States, the meal often has something of a ritual or traditional quality. Many Americans would say it is "incomplete" without cranberry sauce; stuffing or dressing; and gravy. Other commonly served dishes include winter squash; yams; mashed potatoes; dumplings; corn on the cob or hominy; deviled eggs; green beans or green bean casserole; sauerkraut (among those in the Mid-Atlantic; especially Baltimore), peas and carrots, bread rolls, cornbread (in the south and parts of New England), or biscuits, rutabagas or turnips; and a salad. For dessert, various pies are often served, particularly apple pie, mincemeat pie, sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie, chocolate cream pie and pecan pie. In Québec, Tourtiére is usually served alongside as a traditional staple of Quebecois cuisine. There are also regional differences as to the stuffing or dressing traditionally served with the turkey. Southerners generally make their dressing from cornbread, while those in other parts of the country make stuffing from white or wheat bread as the base. One or several of the following may be added to the dressing/stuffing: oysters, apples, chestnuts, raisins, celery and/or other vegetables, sausages or the turkey's giblets. The traditional Canadian version has bread cubes, sage, onion and celery. Rice is also sometimes used instead of bread in some parts of Canada. Other dishes reflect the region or cultural background of those who have come together for the meal. For example, many African Americans and Southerners serve baked macaroni and cheese and collard greens, along with Chitterlings and sweet potato pie. while some Italian-Americans often have lasagne on the table and Ashkenazi Jews may serve noodle kugel, a sweet dessert pudding. It is not unheard of for Mexican Americans to serve their turkey with mole and roasted corn. In Puerto Rico, the Thanksgiving meal is completed with arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), pumpkin flan, potato salad, roasted white sweet potatoes and Spanish sparkling hard cider. Cuban-Americans traditionally serve the turkey alongside a small roasted pork and include white rice and black beans or kidney beans. Vegetarians or vegans have been known to serve alternative entree centerpieces such as a large vegetable pie or a stuffed and baked pumpkin or tofurkey. Many Midwesterners (such as Minnesotans) of Norwegian or Scandinavian descent set the table with lefse and green bean hotdish.
The beverages at Thanksgiving can vary as much as the side dishes, often depending on who is present at the table and their tastes. Spirits or cocktails sometimes may be served before the main meal. On the dinner table, unfermented Apple cider (still or sparkling) and/or wine are often served. Beaujolais nouveau is sometimes served, as "Beaujolais day" falls before American Thanksgiving.]. As with any other day of the year, pitchers of sweet tea are common on Southern tables. In some parts of French Canada it is tradition to serve watered down wine to younger attendees of the Thanksgiving meal.