Men invent new ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look forward with enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back. — G. K. Chesterton

Story of the Thirteen Colonies - Helene Guerber

The First American Thanksgiving

Early in the spring the Pilgrims were startled, one day, by the voice of an Indian saying: "Welcome, Englishmen." Looking up, they saw a savage named Samoset, who had boldly walked into their village to greet them with words learned from English fishermen.

The Pilgrims received Samoset so kindly that he came back on the morrow with Squanto, who told the colonists that the Indian chief Massasoit wished to make friends with them. A meeting was appointed, and when Massasoit appeared, a few days later, Standish received him. The drums were beaten loudly, and the Pilgrim soldiers gravely escorted the Indian chief to their principal log hut, where Governor Carver was waiting for them.

Here all the choice articles of the Pilgrims had been gathered together to make a fine show, and a rug and green cushion were laid on the floor for Massasoit to sit upon.

After smoking the calumet, or "pipe of peace," together, the Indian chief and the Plymouth governor—with the help of their interpreters—made a treaty, whereby they promised not to harm but to help each other, and to trade in a friendly spirit.

The Indians now walked freely in and out of the village, where they ate and drank so much that the Pilgrims' scant stock of provisions grew rapidly less. Edward Winslow, one of the Pilgrims, therefore took occasion, on returning Massasoit's visit, to tell him that the Indians were to come to Plymouth only when they bore messages from him. To make sure that the right Indians would always be well treated, Winslow gave Massasoit a ring, which was to serve as passport for his men.

Were you to read Winslow's description of his visit to the Indian chief, you would be greatly amused. Massasoit had no provisions in his wigwam, so he and his guests went to bed hungry. Besides, Winslow and his men had to sleep side by side with the dirty chief and his squaw, and they were so crowded by other Indians that they were very uncomfortable indeed.

In April the Mayflower  went back to England; but although the Pilgrims had suffered so sorely during the winter, they all wrote brave letters to send home, and not one of them asked to go back. After the Mayflower  had sailed away Governor Carver fell ill and died, so William Bradford was elected to take his place. This Bradford made so good a ruler that he was elected again and again, and during the next thirty-six years he was head of the colony nearly all the time.

Squanto soon became a great favorite with the Pilgrims. He played with the children, taught the boys to trap game, and told the settlers to plant their corn as soon as the leaves of the white oak were as large as a mouse's ear. He also taught them to put a fat fish in each hill, to serve as manure for the growing grain, because the ground around there was very sandy.

The colonists now worked diligently, making their fields and gardens over the graves of their dead companions, so that no hostile Indians should ever find out how many had died, or dig up their bones. The crops being all planted, the Pilgrims went on building, made friends with nine Indian chiefs, and traded briskly with the savages for furs.

But day by day the stock of provisions brought from England grew less and less, until they finally saw with dismay that it would be entirely exhausted long before their corn was ripe. So they were put on such scant rations that it is said they sometimes had only six grains of corn for a meal! As they were not good hunters or experienced fishermen, they lived almost entirely on shellfish, Elder Brewster piously giving thanks to God for supplying them with "the abundance of the seas and the treasures hid in the sand."

Although the winter had been very damp, the summer proved so dry that it soon seemed as if the Pilgrims' crops would perish for want of rain. A day of fasting and prayer was therefore appointed, and for nine hours the Pilgrims besought God to help them. Some Indians, hearing that they were going to pray for rain, watched the sky anxiously, and when it finally clouded over and a gentle rain began to fall, they remarked in awe-struck tones that the God of the white men had evidently heard their prayers.

The first Thanksgiving Dinner

Ten days of moisture which followed the day of prayer assured a plentiful harvest, which was safely gathered. The Pilgrims were so grateful for this mercy that they set a day in which to give thanks. After a solemn service they held a great feast, to which Massasoit and ninety other Indians were invited.

At this dinner they ate wild turkeys shot by the colonists, venison supplied by the savages, and pies which the Pilgrim mothers made from yellow pumpkins, as they had no apples. During the next three days all the young people indulged in games and athletic sports, in which the Indians also shared. After this "Thanksgiving Day," as the Pilgrims named it, a feast like it was kept every year in New England. This custom gradually spread from there over the whole country, until now the day is observed in all the states of our Union. The President, who appoints the day, generally chooses the last Thursday in November.


Front Matter

Our Country Long Ago
The Barbarous Indians
The Mounds
Where the Northmen Went
The Northmen in America
Queer Ideas
Prince Henry the Navigator
Youth of Columbus
Columbus and the Queen
"Land! Land!"
Columbus and the Savages
Home Again
Columbus Ill-treated
Death of Columbus
How America Got its Name
The Fountain of Youth
"The Father of Waters"
The French in Canada
French and Spanish Quarrels
The Sky City
Around the World
Nothing but Smoke
Smith's Adventures
The Jamestown Men
Smith Wounded
Pocahontas Visits England
Hudson and the Indians
The Mayflower
Plymouth Rock
The First Thanksgiving
Snake Skin and Bullets
The Beginning of Boston
Stories of Two Ministers
Williams and the Indians
The Quakers
The King-Killers
King Phillip's War
The Beginning of New York
Penn and the Indians
The Catholics in Maryland
The Old Dominion
Bacon's Rebellion
A Journey Inland
The Carolina Pirates
Charter Oak
Salem Witches
Down the Mississippi
La Salle's Adventures
Indians on the Warpath
Two Wars with the French
Washington's Boyhood
Washington's Journey
Washington's First Battle
Stories of Franklin
Braddock's Defeat
Wolfe at Quebec
England and her Colonies
The Stamp Tax
The Anger of the Colonies
The Boston Tea Party
The Minutemen
The Battle of Lexington
Bunker Hill
The Boston Boys
The British leave Boston
Declaration of Independence
A Lady's Way of Helping
Christmas Eve
The Fight at Bennington
Burgoyne's Surrender
Winter at Valley Forge
The Quaker Woman
Putnam's Adventures
Indian Cruelty
Boone in Kentucky
Famous Sea Fights
The "Swamp Fox"
The Poor Soldiers
The Spy
A Traitor's Death
Two Unselfish Women
Surrender of Cornwallis
British Flag hauled down
Washington's Farewell