Stories of the Pilgrims - M. B. Pumphrey

The First Thanksgiving

The summer days were full for the busy Pilgrims. In the fields there were only twenty men and a few boys to do all the work. There was corn to hoe, and there were gardens to weed and care for. When time could be spared from this work, there were barns to be built, and the fort to finish.

The brave men worked from morning till night preparing for the next long winter. The sun and the rain helped them. The crops grew wonderfully, and soon the hillsides were green with growing corn, and wheat, and vegetables.

When the warm days of early summer came, there were sweet wild strawberries on the sunny hills. A little later, groups of boys and girls filled their baskets with wild raspberries and juicy blackberries from the bushes on the edge of the forest. Sugar was too scarce to be used for jellies and preserves, but trays of the wild fruits were placed in the sun to dry for winter use.

The fresh green of the wheat fields began to turn a golden brown. The harvest was ripening. Before long the air rang with the steady beat of the flail, as the Pilgrims threshed their first crop of golden grain.

Soon the corn was ready to be cut and stacked in shocks. Then came the early frosts, and the Pilgrims hurried to gather the sweet wild grapes from vines which grew over bushes and low trees near the brook. The frost had opened the prickly burs and hard brown coats of the nuts, and every day Squanto went with a merry group of boys to gather chestnuts, hickory nuts, beechnuts, and walnuts.

At last the harvest was all gathered in. The Pilgrims rejoiced as they saw the bountiful supply of food for the winter. Some of the golden ears of corn they hung above the fireplace to dry for seed. The rest they shelled and buried in the ground, as Squanto showed them how to do.

As the evenings grew longer and cooler, the Pilgrims often went in to spend an hour or two at Elder Brewster's. The men piled great logs upon the fire. Then the girls and boys drew the chairs and benches nearer the huge fireplace, and all would sit in the twilight and talk.

Sometimes they spoke of old times in England or Holland, but usually it was of their work and the life in the new home. On this November evening all talked of the harvest which had just been stored away.

"Friends," said Governor Bradford, "God has blessed our summer's work, and has sent us a bountiful harvest. He brought us safe to this new home and protected us through the terrible winter. It is fit we have a time for giving thanks to God for His mercies to us. What say you? Shall we not have a week of feasting and of thanksgiving?"

"A week of thanksgiving!" said the Pilgrims. "Yes, let us rest from our work and spend the time in gladness and thanksgiving. God has been very good to us."

So it was decided that the next week should be set aside for the harvest feast of thanksgiving, and that their Indian friends should be asked to join them.

Early the next morning Squanto was sent to invite Massasoit with his brother and friends to come the following Thursday.

When he returned, a party of men took their guns and went into the woods for two days of hunting. They would need many deer and wild ducks to feed so large a company.

Far away in the forest they heard the sound of wild turkeys. They hurried on in that direction, but the sound seemed as far away as ever.

Squanto knew how to bring the turkeys nearer. He made a kind of whistle out of a reed. When he blew it, it sounded like the cry of a young turkey.

"Squanto blow. Turkeys come. Then Squanto shoot! Ugh!" said the Indian, as he showed the Pilgrims his whistle.

When the men came back from their hunt they brought a bountiful supply of game, There were deer, rabbits, wild ducks, and four large turkeys.

The next few days were busy ones in Plymouth kitchens. There were the great brick ovens to heat, and bread to bake, and game to dress.

"Priscilla shall be chief cook," said Mistress Brewster. "No one can make such delicious dishes as she."

As soon as it was light on Wednesday morning, a roaring fire was built in the huge fireplace in Elder Brewster's kitchen. A great pile of red-hot coals was placed in the brick oven in the chimney.

Then Mary Chilton and Priscilla tied their aprons around them, tucked up their sleeves, and put white caps over their hair. Their hands fairly flew as they measured and sifted the flour, or rolled and cut cookies and tarts.

Over at another table Remember Allerton and Constance Hopkins washed and chopped dried fruits for pies and puddings. Out on the sunny doorstone Love Brewster and Francis Billington sat cracking nuts and picking out the plump kernels for the cakes Priscilla was making. What a merry place the big kitchen was!

When the oven was hot, the coals were drawn out, and the long baking pans were put in. Soon sweet, spicy odors filled the room, and on the long shelves were rows and rows of pies, tarts, and little nut cakes.

In the afternoon all of the girls and boys took their baskets or pails and went to the beach to dig clams. "Clams will make a delicious broth. We shall need hundreds of them," said Priscilla.

[Illustration] from Stories of the Pilgrims by M. B. Pumphrey

"The boys and girls . . . went to the
beach to dig clams"

While they were gone, some of the men brought boards, hammers, and saws and built two long tables out-of-doors near the common-house. Here the men would eat, and a table would be spread in the elder's house for the women and children.

It was Thursday morning, and the Pilgrims were up early to prepare for the guests they had invited to the feast of thanksgiving. The air was mild and pleasant, and a soft purple haze lay upon field and wood.

"We could not have had a more beautiful day for our feast," thought Miles Standish, as he climbed the hill to fire the sunrise gun.

Just then wild yells and shouts told the astonished Pilgrims that their guests had arrived. Down the hill from the forest came Massasoit, his brother, and nearly a hundred of his friends, dressed in their finest skins, and in holiday paint and feathers.

The captain and a number of other men went out to welcome the Indians, and the women hurried to prepare breakfast for them.

First Thanksgiving

"The women hurried to prepare breakfast for them"

Squanto and John Alden built a big fire near the brook, and soon the clam broth was simmering in the great kettle.

The roll of the drum called all to prayers, for the Pilgrims never began a day without asking God's blessing upon it. "The white men talk to the Great Spirit," Squanto explained to Chief Massasoit. "They thank Him for His good gifts." The Indians seemed to understand, and listened quietly to the prayers.

Then all sat down at the long tables. The women were soon busy passing great bowls of clam broth to each hungry guest. There were piles of brown bread and sweet cakes; there were dishes of turnips and boiled meat, and later, bowls of pudding made from Indian corn.

While they were eating, one of the Indians brought a great basket filled with popped corn and poured it out upon the table before Elder Brewster. The Pilgrims had never seen pop corn before. They filled a large bowl with this new dainty and sent it in to the children's table.

When breakfast was over, there was another service of thanksgiving, led by Elder Brewster. Then Governor Bradford took his friends to the grassy common where they would have games.

A number of little stakes were driven into the ground, and here several groups of Indians and Pilgrims played quoits, the Indians often throwing the greater number of rings over the stakes.

Then the savages entertained their friends with some wonderful tests in running and jumping. After this Governor Bradford invited the Indians to sit down on the grass and watch the soldiers drill on the common.

The Indians sat down, not knowing what to expect next, for they had never before seen soldiers drill. Suddenly they heard the sound of trumpets, and the roll of drums. Down the hill marched the little army of only nineteen men, the flag of old England waving above their heads.

To right and to left they marched, in single file or by twos and threes, then at a word from the captain, fired their muskets into the air. The Indians were not expecting this, and some sprang to their feet in alarm.

Again came the sharp reports of the muskets. Many of the Indians looked frightened. "Have the white men brought us here to destroy us?" they asked.

"The white men are our friends; they will not harm us," answered Massasoit.

Hardly had he finished speaking when there came a deep roar from the cannon on the fort. The sound rolled from hill to hill. At this the Indians became more and more uneasy. They did not enjoy the way the white men entertained their guests.

Some thought of an excuse to leave the village. "We will go into the forest and hunt," they said. "We will bring deer for the white men's feast."

Captain Standish smiled as he saw the Indians start for the forest. "They do not like the thunder of our cannon," he said.

But the next morning the five Indians returned, each bringing a fine deer.

Saturday was the last day of the feast. How busy the women were preparing this greatest dinner! Of course the men and boys helped too. They dressed the game, brought water from the brook, and wood for the fire.

There were turkeys, stuffed with beechnuts, browning before the fire. There were roasts of all kinds, and a wonderful stew made of birds and other game.

[Illustration] from Stories of the Pilgrims by M. B. Pumphrey

"The Indians had never seen such a feast"

And you should have seen the great dishes of purple grapes, the nuts, and the steaming puddings. The table seemed to groan under its load of good things. The Indians had never seen such a feast. "Ugh!" said Massasoit, as he ate the puffy dumplings in Priscilla's stew. "Ugh! The Great Spirit loves his white children best!"

So the happy day ended, and the Indians returned to their wigwams. The Pilgrims never forgot their first Thanksgiving day. Each year when the harvests were gathered, they would set aside a day for thanking God for his good gifts, and for years their Indian friends joined in this feast.


"Have you cut the wheat in the blowing fields,

The barley, the oats, and the rye,

The golden corn and the pearly rice?

For the winter days are nigh."

"We have reaped them all from shore to shore,

And the grain is safe on the threshing floor."

"Have you gathered the berries from the vine,

And the fruit from the orchard trees?

The dew and the scent from the roses and thyme,

In the hive of the honeybees?"

"The peach and the plum and the apple are ours,

And the honeycomb from the scented flowers."

"The wealth of the snowy cotton field

And the gift of the sugar cane,

The savory herb and the nourishing root—

There has nothing been given in vain."

"We have gathered the harvest from shore to shore,

And the measure is full and brimming o'er."

"Then lift up the head with a song!

And lift up the hand with a gift!

To the ancient Giver of all

The spirit in gratitude lift!

For the joy and the promise of spring,

For the hay and the clover sweet,

The barley, the rye, and the oats,

The rice, and the corn, and the wheat,

The cotton, and sugar, and fruit,

The flowers and the fine honeycomb,

The country so fair and so free,

The blessings and glory of home."