|Edward Winslow, 1651|
The group of pilgrims had been Separatists (sometimes referred to as Non-Conformists) - Christians who felt they could no longer remain in the Church of England, because they believed it had adopted practices which were incompatible with the teachings of the Bible (Separatists held views generally similar to the Puritans, with the primary difference being that Puritans attempted to reform the Church from within, rather than separating from it).
This group of Separatists had spent ten years in Holland, to avoid the persecution they suffered in England. However, fearing they would lose their English language and culture, they decided to seek an English settlement in the New World, and embarked on the Mayflower in 1620. The Pilgrims were led by Captain William Bradford and Elder William Brewster. Brewster acted as spiritual leader of the group, as they did not have a qualified pastor. There is an interesting recitation of the reasons for the venture to New England near the conclusion of a letter by Mayflower passenger Edward Winslow (the letter primarily deals with unrelated matters).
Winslow also provides the only contemporaneous description of the 1621 Thanksgiving, in a letter dated December 12, 1621 (the language has been modernized):
Our corn [i.e. wheat] did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown. They came up very well, and blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom. Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.
This account is confirmed by William Bradford's account, written about 20 years later, in his History Of Plymouth Plantation.
In the USA, several presidents proclaimed a Thanksgiving holiday, and several states had made Thanksgiving a state holiday, but Thanksgiving was celebrated as a national holiday, the last Thursday in November, by proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.
Please join with us in celebrating this Thanksgiving Day.