Jean Leon Gerome Ferris The First Thanksgiving Explication Essay

The first Thanksgiving was a harvest celebration held by the pilgrims of Plymouth colony in the 17th century.

Many myths surround the first Thanksgiving. Very little is actually known about the event because only two firsthand accounts of the feast were ever written.

The first account is William Bradford’s journal titled Of Plymouth Plantation and the other is a publication written by Edward Winslow titled Mourt’s Relations.

What is known is that the pilgrims held the first Thanksgiving feast to celebrate the successful fall harvest. Celebrating a fall harvest was an English tradition at the time and the pilgrims had much to celebrate.

The 53 pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving were the only colonists to survive the long journey on the Mayflower and the first winter in the New World. Disease and starvation struck down half of the original 102 colonists.

These pilgrims made it through that first winter and, with the help of the local Wampanoag tribe, they had a hearty supply of food to sustain them through the next winter.

When Was the First Thanksgiving Celebrated?

Although the modern day Thanksgiving feast takes place on the third Thursday of November, the first Thanksgiving did not. This feast most likely happened sometime between September and November of 1621.

No exact date for the feast has ever been recorded so one can only assume it happened sometime after the fall harvest. The celebration took place for three days and included recreational activities.

“The First Thanksgiving 1621,” oil painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, circa 1912-1915

Who Was at the First Thanksgiving?

Guests at the feast included 90 Wampanoag Indians from a nearby village, including their leader Massasoit.

One of these Indians, a young man named Squanto, spoke fluent English and had been appointed by Massasoit to serve as the pilgrim’s translator and guide. Squanto learned English prior to the pilgrim’s arrival after he was captured by English explorers and spent time in Europe as a slave.

Neither Bradford or Winslow’s account indicate whether the Indians were actually invited to the celebration or how they learned of it. Many historians have simply assumed they were invited. Edward Winslow’s account merely states:

“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 fruits 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 amongst 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.”

The names of the pilgrims present at the First Thanksgiving:

Attendees:

Women:
Eleanor Billington
Mary Brewster
Elizabeth Hopkins
Susanna White Winslow

Men:
John Alden
Isaac Allerton
John Billington
William Bradford
William Brewster
Peter Brown
Francis Cooke
Edward Doty
Francis Eaton
[first name unknown] Ely
Samuel Fuller
Richard Gardiner
John Goodman
Stephen Hopkins
John Howland
Edward Lester
George Soule
Myles Standish
William Trevor
Richard Warren
Edward Winslow
Gilbert Winslow

Teenagers and Children:
Mary Chilton
Constance Hopkins
Priscilla Mullins
Elizabeth Tilley
a maidservant name Dorothy
Francis & John Billington
John Cooke
John Crackston
Samuel Fuller
Giles Hopkins
William Latham
Joseph Rogers
Henry Samson
Bartholomew, Mary & Remember Allerton
Love & Wrestling Brewster
Humility Cooper
Samuel Eaton
Damaris & Oceanus Hopkins
Desire Minter
Richard More
Resolved & Peregrine White

What Did the Pilgrims Eat on the First Thanksgiving?

Many dishes served during modern Thanksgiving meals were not present at the first Thanksgiving. The colonists didn’t have potatoes, nor did they have butter or flour necessary for making pies. The pilgrims hadn’t even built their first oven by the time of the first Thanksgiving. Cranberries might have been served but only for color or tartness, instead of as a sweet sauce.

Neither Bradford or Winslow’s writing reveal what was actually served at the first Thanksgiving meal, besides fowl and deer, but guesses can be made based on the types of food they often wrote about such as mussels, lobsters, grapes, plums, corn and herbs.

There is no actual proof that the colonists ate turkey at the feast either. Turkey wasn’t even associated with the Thanksgiving holiday until an editor of a magazine called Godey’s Lady’s Book came across Edward Winslow’s writings about the feast in the 1840s.

When this editor, Sarah Josepha Hale, read Winslow’s writings, she decided to bring this historic celebration back to life. Up until then, Thanksgiving was only a regional New England holiday and wasn’t celebrated across the country like it is today. Hale began publishing recipes and articles about the feast.

Shortly after, in 1854, Hale heard about Bradford’s book, which had gone missing during the Siege of Boston in 1775 and resurfaced in the library of Fulham Palace in London that year.

Hale focused her attention on the brief sentence about the colonist’s hunt for wild turkeys that fall: “And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc,” Bradford wrote.

Despite the fact that Bradford never stated they ate turkey at the Thanksgiving feast, Hale started publishing articles about Thanksgiving dinners with roasted turkey and the two became synonymous.

Many people believe Thanksgiving became a reoccurring celebration for the pilgrims. Whether this is true or not is unclear. There are no other accounts of the pilgrims holding any more harvest celebrations after 1621. It is possible that the feasts happened, but if it did it wasn’t recorded.

Why Is it Called Thanksgiving?

The feast celebrated by the pilgrims in 1621 was never actually called “Thanksgiving” by the colonists. It was simply a harvest celebration. A few years later, in July of 1623, the pilgrims did hold what they called a “Thanksgiving.” This was simply a religious day of prayer and fasting that had nothing to do with the fall harvest.

Over the years, the names of the two events became intertwined and by the late 1600s many individual colonies and settlements, began holding “Thanksgiving feasts” during the autumn months.

When Did Thanksgiving Become a National Holiday?

Continental Congress declared the first national Thanksgiving on December 18, 1777 and then in 1789, George Washington declared the last Thursday in November a national Thanksgiving as well. These were merely declarations and not official holidays. Future presidents did not continue the Thanksgiving declaration.

“First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” oil painting by Jennie A. Brownscombe, circa 1914

Thanksgiving didn’t become a national holiday until Hale began writing letters to each sitting president starting in 1846. She wrote letters to five presidents: Zachary Taylor, Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln asking them to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday.

Abraham Lincoln was the only president to listen and supported legislation making it a national holiday in 1863. America was in the middle of its bloody Civil War at the time and Lincoln hoped the new holiday would unify the bitterly divided country. The holiday was finally a success and Thanksgiving has continued ever since.

Sources:
“Primary Sources For The First Thanksgiving At Plymouth.” Pilgrim Hall Museum, n.d., www.pilgrimhall.org/pdf/TG_What_Happened_in_1621.pdf
Armstrong, Elizabeth. “The First Thanksgiving;.” The Christian Science Monitor, 27 Nov. 2007, www.csmonitor.com/2002/1127/p13s02-lign.html
Santino, Jack. All Around the Year: Holidays and Celebrations in American Life. University of Illinois Press, 1994.
Winslow, Edward and William Bradford. Mourt’s Relations Or the Journal of the Plantation at Plymouth. John Bellamy, 1622.

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the writer and publisher of the History of Massachusetts Blog. Rebecca is a freelance writer and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Visit this site's About page to find out more about Rebecca.

View all posts by Rebecca Beatrice Brooks →

 

The first Thanksgiving 1621

  • Title: The first Thanksgiving 1621 / J.L.G. Ferris.
  • Creator(s): Ferris, Jean Leon Gerome, 1863-1930, artist
  • Date Created/Published: Cleveland, Ohio : The Foundation Press, Inc., c1932.
  • Medium: 1 photomechanical print : halftone, color.
  • Summary: Pilgrims and Natives gather to share meal.
  • Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-4961 (color film copy transparency) LC-USZ62-15195 (b&w film copy neg.)
  • Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright office, 11/91.
  • Call Number: LOT 4579 [item] [P&P]
  • Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
  • Notes:
    • K17395 U.S. Copyright Office.
    • Reproduction of oil painting from series: The Pageant of a Nation.
    • No. 6.
    • Copyright by The Foundation Press, Inc., Cleveland, Ohio.
  • Subjects:
  • Format:
  • Collections:
  • Bookmark This Record:
       http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2001699850/

View the MARC Record for this item.

Rights assessment is your responsibility.

The Library of Congress generally does not own rights to material in its collections and, therefore, cannot grant or deny permission to publish or otherwise distribute the material. For further rights information, see "Rights Information" below and the Rights and Restrictions Information page ( http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/res/rights.html ).

  • Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright office, 11/91.
  • Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-4961 (color film copy transparency) LC-USZ62-15195 (b&w film copy neg.)
  • Call Number: LOT 4579 [item] [P&P]
  • Medium: 1 photomechanical print : halftone, color.

Rights assessment is your responsibility.

If an image is displaying, you can download it yourself. (Some images display only as thumbnails outside the Library of Congress because of rights considerations, but you have access to larger size images on site.)

Alternatively, you can purchase copies of various types through Library of Congress Duplication Services.

  1. If a digital image is displaying: The qualities of the digital image partially depend on whether it was made from the original or an intermediate such as a copy negative or transparency. If the Reproduction Number field above includes a reproduction number that starts with LC-DIG..., then there is a digital image that was made directly from the original and is of sufficient resolution for most publication purposes.
  2. If there is information listed in the Reproduction Number field above: You can use the reproduction number to purchase a copy from Duplication Services. It will be made from the source listed in the parentheses after the number.

    If only black-and-white ("b&w") sources are listed and you desire a copy showing color or tint (assuming the original has any), you can generally purchase a quality copy of the original in color by citing the Call Number listed above and including the catalog record ("About This Item") with your request.

  3. If there is no information listed in the Reproduction Number field above: You can generally purchase a quality copy through Duplication Services. Cite the Call Number listed above and include the catalog record ("About This Item") with your request.

Price lists, contact information, and order forms are available on the Duplication Services Web site.

  • Call Number: LOT 4579 [item] [P&P]
  • Medium: 1 photomechanical print : halftone, color.

Please use the following steps to determine whether you need to fill out a call slip in the Prints and Photographs Reading Room to view the original item(s). In some cases, a surrogate (substitute image) is available, often in the form of a digital image, a copy print, or microfilm.

  1. Is the item digitized? (A thumbnail (small) image will be visible on the left.)
    • Yes, the item is digitized. Please use the digital image in preference to requesting the original. All images can be viewed at a large size when you are in any reading room at the Library of Congress. In some cases, only thumbnail (small) images are available when you are outside the Library of Congress because the item is rights restricted or has not been evaluated for rights restrictions.

      As a preservation measure, we generally do not serve an original item when a digital image is available. If you have a compelling reason to see the original, consult with a reference librarian. (Sometimes, the original is simply too fragile to serve. For example, glass and film photographic negatives are particularly subject to damage. They are also easier to see online where they are presented as positive images.)

    • No, the item is not digitized. Please go to #2.

  2. Do the Access Advisory or Call Number fields above indicate that a non-digital surrogate exists, such as microfilm or copy prints?
    • Yes, another surrogate exists. Reference staff can direct you to this surrogate.

    • No, another surrogate does not exist. Please go to #3.

  3. If you do not see a thumbnail image or a reference to another surrogate, please fill out a call slip in the Prints and Photographs Reading Room. In many cases, the originals can be served in a few minutes. Other materials require appointments for later the same day or in the future. Reference staff can advise you in both how to fill out a call slip and when the item can be served.

To contact Reference staff in the Prints and Photographs Reading Room, please use our Ask A Librarian service or call the reading room between 8:30 and 5:00 at 202-707-6394, and Press 3.

 

The first Thanksgiving 1621

  • Title: The first Thanksgiving 1621 / J.L.G. Ferris.
  • Creator(s): Ferris, Jean Leon Gerome, 1863-1930, artist
  • Date Created/Published: Cleveland, Ohio : The Foundation Press, Inc., c1932.
  • Medium: 1 photomechanical print : halftone, color.
  • Summary: Pilgrims and Natives gather to share meal.
  • Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-4961 (color film copy transparency) LC-USZ62-15195 (b&w film copy neg.)
  • Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright office, 11/91.
  • Call Number: LOT 4579 [item] [P&P]
  • Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
  • Notes:
    • K17395 U.S. Copyright Office.
    • Reproduction of oil painting from series: The Pageant of a Nation.
    • No. 6.
    • Copyright by The Foundation Press, Inc., Cleveland, Ohio.
  • Subjects:
  • Format:
  • Collections:
  • Bookmark This Record:
       http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2001699850/

View the MARC Record for this item.

Rights assessment is your responsibility.

The Library of Congress generally does not own rights to material in its collections and, therefore, cannot grant or deny permission to publish or otherwise distribute the material. For further rights information, see "Rights Information" below and the Rights and Restrictions Information page ( http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/res/rights.html ).

  • Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. No renewal in Copyright office, 11/91.
  • Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-4961 (color film copy transparency) LC-USZ62-15195 (b&w film copy neg.)
  • Call Number: LOT 4579 [item] [P&P]
  • Medium: 1 photomechanical print : halftone, color.

Rights assessment is your responsibility.

If an image is displaying, you can download it yourself. (Some images display only as thumbnails outside the Library of Congress because of rights considerations, but you have access to larger size images on site.)

Alternatively, you can purchase copies of various types through Library of Congress Duplication Services.

  1. If a digital image is displaying: The qualities of the digital image partially depend on whether it was made from the original or an intermediate such as a copy negative or transparency. If the Reproduction Number field above includes a reproduction number that starts with LC-DIG..., then there is a digital image that was made directly from the original and is of sufficient resolution for most publication purposes.
  2. If there is information listed in the Reproduction Number field above: You can use the reproduction number to purchase a copy from Duplication Services. It will be made from the source listed in the parentheses after the number.

    If only black-and-white ("b&w") sources are listed and you desire a copy showing color or tint (assuming the original has any), you can generally purchase a quality copy of the original in color by citing the Call Number listed above and including the catalog record ("About This Item") with your request.

  3. If there is no information listed in the Reproduction Number field above: You can generally purchase a quality copy through Duplication Services. Cite the Call Number listed above and include the catalog record ("About This Item") with your request.

Price lists, contact information, and order forms are available on the Duplication Services Web site.

  • Call Number: LOT 4579 [item] [P&P]
  • Medium: 1 photomechanical print : halftone, color.

Please use the following steps to determine whether you need to fill out a call slip in the Prints and Photographs Reading Room to view the original item(s). In some cases, a surrogate (substitute image) is available, often in the form of a digital image, a copy print, or microfilm.

  1. Is the item digitized? (A thumbnail (small) image will be visible on the left.)
    • Yes, the item is digitized. Please use the digital image in preference to requesting the original. All images can be viewed at a large size when you are in any reading room at the Library of Congress. In some cases, only thumbnail (small) images are available when you are outside the Library of Congress because the item is rights restricted or has not been evaluated for rights restrictions.

      As a preservation measure, we generally do not serve an original item when a digital image is available. If you have a compelling reason to see the original, consult with a reference librarian. (Sometimes, the original is simply too fragile to serve. For example, glass and film photographic negatives are particularly subject to damage. They are also easier to see online where they are presented as positive images.)

    • No, the item is not digitized. Please go to #2.

  2. Do the Access Advisory or Call Number fields above indicate that a non-digital surrogate exists, such as microfilm or copy prints?
    • Yes, another surrogate exists. Reference staff can direct you to this surrogate.

    • No, another surrogate does not exist. Please go to #3.

  3. If you do not see a thumbnail image or a reference to another surrogate, please fill out a call slip in the Prints and Photographs Reading Room. In many cases, the originals can be served in a few minutes. Other materials require appointments for later the same day or in the future. Reference staff can advise you in both how to fill out a call slip and when the item can be served.

To contact Reference staff in the Prints and Photographs Reading Room, please use our Ask A Librarian service or call the reading room between 8:30 and 5:00 at 202-707-6394, and Press 3.

0 thoughts on “Jean Leon Gerome Ferris The First Thanksgiving Explication Essay

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *