This description of the life of the Pilgrims following the landing of the Mayflower was written in a letter by pilgrim Edward Winslow (1595-1655) after a year in the new land. During the first winter in New England, Winslow’s wife died, as did almost half of the original settlers. Two months after his wife‘s death, Winslow married Susannah White, who had been widowed during the same period. White was distinguished as the first white woman to give birth in New England, and their wedding was the first in the region. Winslow, who was elected governor of the colony several times, is best known for negotiating a treaty with the Indian Chief Massasoit. The second paragraph of this letter contains the most detailed eyewitness account we have of that first Thanksgiving. Despite the severe hardships and many afflictions of that first year, Winslow is thankful for God’s abundant provision.
Loving and old Friend,
…You shall understand that in this little time a few of us have been here, we have built seven dwelling-houses and four for the use of the plantation, and have made preparation for others. We set last spring some twenty acres of Indian corn, and sowed some six acres of barley and peas; and according to the manner of the Indians, we manured our ground with herrings… Our corn 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.
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, among other recreations, we exercised our arms; many of the Indians coming among us, and among them 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.
We have found the Indians very faithful in their covenant of peace with us, very loving, and ready to please us. We often go to them, and they come to us. Some of us have been fifty miles by land in the country with them… Yea, it has pleased God so to possess the Indians with a fear of us and love unto us, that not only the greatest king among them, called Massasoit, but also all the princes and peoples round about us, have been glad to make peace with us… So that there is now great peace amongst the Indians themselves, which was not formerly, neither would have been but for us; and we, for our parts, walk as peaceably and safely in the wood as in the highways in England. We entertain them familiarly in our houses, and they as friendly bestowing their venison on us. They are a people without any religion or knowledge of any God, yet very trusty, quick of apprehension, ripe-witted, and just.
For the temper of the air here, it agrees well with that in England; and if there be any difference at all, this is somewhat hotter in summer. Some think it to be colder in winter; but I cannot out of experience so say. The air is very clear, and not foggy, as has been reported. I never in my life remember a more seasonable year than we have here enjoyed; and if we have once but kine cows, horses, and sheep, I make no question but men might live as contented here as in any part of the world. For fish and fowl, we have great abundance. Fresh cod in the summer is but coarse meat with us. Our bay is full of lobsters all the summer, and affords a variety of other fish. In September we can take a hogshead of eels in a night, with small labor, and can dig them out of their beds all the winter. We have mussels (near us)… Oysters we have none near, but we can have them brought by the Indians when we will. All the spring-time the earth sends forth naturally very good salad herbs. Here are grapes, strawberries, gooseberries, raspberries, etc.; plums of three sorts, white, black, and red;… The country needs only industrious men to employ; for it would grieve your hearts if you, as I, had seen so many miles together by goodly rivers uninhabited; and withal, to consider those parts of the world wherein you live to be greatly burdened with abundance of people. These things I thought good to let you understand, that you might on our behalf give God thanks, who hath dealt so favorably with us…(continued)
Psalm 103:1-2 — Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
Psalm 100:4-5 — Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Philippians 4:5-7 — Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
A PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING FOR THE HARVEST:
Most gracious God, by whose knowledge the depths are broken up and the clouds drop down the dew: We yield thee hearty thanks and praise for the return of seedtime and harvest, for the increase of the ground and the gathering in of its fruits, and for all the other blessings of thy merciful providence bestowed upon this nation and people. And, we beseech thee, give us a just sense of these great mercies, such as may appear in our lives by a humble, holy, and obedient walking before thee all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen. —Book of Common Prayer