The First Thanksgiving Meal

In the spirit of today's holiday, I'd like to share excerpts from two articles I've written over the past few years on the subject of Thanksgiving. Both appeared in Barnstable Patriot publications - the first published in 2002, and the second in 2004.

Gosnold's Hope: The Story of Captain Bartholomew Gosnold "There is a lot about the first Thanksgiving that we do not know. Many of our contemporary views of this 1621 event are shrouded in folklore and lost to many years of tradition that has culminated with parades and football games.

"Perhaps the most common misinterpretation is the month when the dinner took place. Today we celebrate the holiday at the end of November, yet historians feel that it most certainly took place in late September following the first successful harvest.

"Another area of debate is whether or not turkey was served, and what in fact was on the menu that day. Some scholars suggest that the Pilgrims consumed  fish and shellfish, and it is quite possible that some seafood was served. Yet it is believed that venison and wild fowl, and possibly turkey, were part of the main course.

"The tale goes that the Native Indians who attended the early autumn dinner brought a half dozen deer for the feast. Corn would most certainly have been part of the meal, as it was planted during the first growing season with the help of the Natives as we all learned back in school. Other vegetables might have included beans and pumpkin. Fruits could have consisted of native cranberries, blackberries, gooseberries, and perhaps grapes."

In a recent article on Bartholomew Gosnold's 1602 voyage and exploration of Cape Cod (and Martha's Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands), I included the following on a feast that Gosnold and his men shared with the Natives in the Spring of that year:

"...On Cuttyhunk is where the men built their settlement. And it was here where a Thanksgiving-type celebration supposedly took place. Apparently, one day a number of Natives paddled their canoes out to the island to trade with the English. The Natives stayed for perhaps a couple of days, during which time a large meal was prepared and eaten together - some thirty Englishmen and over fifty Indians in attendance. The English later noted the 'gentle disposition' of the Natives. "

To learn more about this story, check out the book Gosnold's Hope: The Story of Bartholomew Gosnold by Harold C. Wilson.

Jack Sheedy

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