3b. William Bradford and the First Thanksgiving

The Jamestown and Plymouth first settlers experienced great human suffering. Planting crops in November was too late. Many settlers died of malnutrition and scurvy the first winter. Of the 102 original Mayflower passengers, only 44 survived. The Pilgrims had remarkable courage and persevered.

By early 1621, the Pilgrims built crude huts on the shores of Plymouth Bay. Neighboring Indians began to build relations with the Pilgrims. Squanto, a local Indian, served as an interpreter with the local tribes. Squanto taught the pilgrims to fertilize the soil with dried fish remains to produce a stellar corn crop.

Massasoit, the chief of the nearby Wampanoags, signed a treaty of alliance with the Pilgrims. In exchange for assistance with defense against the feared Narragansett tribe, Massasoit supplemented the food supply of the Pilgrims for the first few years.

Successful colonies require successful leadership. In Plymouth colony, that leader was William Bradford. After the first governor elected under the Mayflower Compact died during the harsh winter, Bradford was elected governor for the next thirty years.

Under Bradford’s guidance, Plymouth suffered less hardship than their English compatriots in Virginia. Relations with the local natives remained relatively smooth in Plymouth and the food supply grew with each passing year.

By autumn of 1621, the pilgrims had much for to be thankful. After the harvest, Massasoit and about ninety other Indians joined the pilgrims for the great English tradition of the Harvest Festival. The participants celebrated for several days, dining on venison, goose, duck, turkey, fish, cornbread, and corn. This tradition was repeated at harvest time in the following years. President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national celebration in 1863.

Source: 3b. William Bradford and the First Thanksgiving
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