The First Harvest-Home in Plymouth
Written By W. DeLoss Love, Jr. (adapted)
After prayer and fasting and a farewell feast, the Pilgrim Fathers left the City of Leyden, and sought the new and unknown land. "So they left the good and pleasant city, which had been their resting place near 12 years," writes their historian William Bradford. "But they knew they were pilgrims and looked not much on those things, but lifted up their eyes to the Heavens, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits.''
When, after many vexing days at sea, the pilgrims first sighted the New World, they were filled with praise and thanksgiving. Going ashore they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven. After that, whenever they were delivered from accidents or despair, they gave God "solemn thanks and praise.'' Such were the Pilgrims and such their habit day by day.
The first winter in the New World was marked by great suffering and want. Hunger and illness thinned the little colony, and caused many graves to be made on the near-by hillside.
The spring of 1621 opened. The seed was sown in the fields. The colonists cared for it without ceasing, and watched its growth with anxiety; for well they knew that their lives depended upon a full harvest.
The days of spring and summer flew by, and the autumn came. Never in Holland or England had the Pilgrims seen the like of the treasures Nature now spread before them. The woodlands were arrayed in gorgeous colors, and swarmed with game of all kinds that had been concealed during the summer.
The little farm-plots had been blessed by the sunshine and showers. Now plentiful crops stood ready for the gathering. The Pilgrims, rejoicing, reaped the fruit of their labors, and housed it carefully for the winter. Then, filled with the spirit of thanksgiving, they held the first harvest-home in New England.
For one whole week they rested from work, feasted, exercised their arms, and enjoyed various recreations.
Many Indians visited the colony. Among them was their greatest king, Massasoit, with ninety of his braves. The Pilgrims entertained them for three days. And the Indians went out into the woods and killed fine deer, which they brought to the colony and presented to the governor and the captain and others. So all made merry together.
And bountiful was the feast. Oysters, fish and wild turkey, Indian maize and barley bread, geese and ducks, venison and other savory meats, decked the board. Kettles, skillets, and spits were overworked, while knives and spoons, kindly assisted by fingers, made merry music on pewter plates. Wild grapes, "very sweet and strong,'' added zest to the feast. As to the vegetables, why, the good governor describes them thus:--
All sorts of grain which our own land doth yield,
Thus a royal feast it was the Pilgrims spread that first golden autumn at Plymouth, a feast worthy of their Indian guests.
Was hither brought, and sown in every field;
As wheat and rye, barley, oats, beans, and peas
Here all thrive and they profit from them raise;
All sorts of roots and herbs in gardens grow,--
Parsnips, carrots, turnips, or what you'll sow,
Onions, melons, cucumbers, radishes,
Skirets, beets, coleworts and fair cabbages.
All slumbering discontents they smothered with common rejoicings. When the holiday was over, they were surely better, braver men because they had turned aside to rest awhile and be thankful together. So the exiles of Leyden claimed the harvests of New England.
This festival was the bursting into life of a new conception of man's dependence on God's gifts in Nature. It was the promise of autumnal Thanksgivings to come.
For answers to these questions, click here.
Answer the following questions based on the text:
- Where did the Pilgrims begin their journey to the New World?
- How did they travel?
- What kinds of problems did they encounter during their first winter?
- What happened when autumn came?
- How long did the first Thanksgiving celebration last?
- What did the Pilgrims do to celebrate?
- Who joined the Pilgrims as their special guests?
- Was thanksgiving a normal part of the Pilgrims' lives? Use the text to justify your answer.
- How did taking time to give thanks improve the lives of the people?
- Why did the Pilgrims willingly leave behind a "good and pleasant city" for a strange new land?
- Why do you think the text describes the first Thanksgiving meal as a "royal feast, ... a feast worthy of their Indian guests"?
- Explain what the text means when it says, "This festival was the bursting into life of a new conception of man's dependence on God's gifts in Nature."
Talk About It
Discuss the following questions. There are no right or wrong answers.
- To what extent do you think religion affected the Pilgrims' daily lives? Point to portions of the story that support your reasoning. Was religion a positive influence? Why or why not?
- Were the Pilgrims responsible for the bountiful harvest? Why or why not?
- Read through the list of foods the pilgrims enjoyed during their Thanksgiving feast. How does it compare to the traditional Thanksgiving dinner of today? Which meal do you think you would enjoy more? Why?
- How could "common rejoicings" smother "slumbering discontents"?
- Is man dependent on "God's gifts in nature" as the Pilgrims believed? Explain your answer.
Write About It
Let your imagination soar. Place yourself in the shoes of the Pilgrims and write about that first year in the New World from their perspective.
- What do you think the Pilgrims gave thanks for when they first landed in the New World? Write a prayer similar to what you think one of them might have prayed.
- Fewer than half the Pilgrims who arrived in the New World survived the first winter. They were unprepared for the cold. They didn't have enough food, and they were being exposed to strange new diseases. Imagine that you were one of the survivors. Write a journal entry describing your feelings.
- When the Pilgrims first celebrated Thanksgiving, they set aside a whole week to give thanks. Imagine you were there. After the hardships of the previous winter, you now have plenty of food in store for the months ahead. Write the sort of letter one of the Pilgrims might have written to tell a family member about the celebration.
Use the Internet, a set of encyclopedias, or other reference books to find the answers to these questions.
- Why did the Pilgrims leave Leyden?
- Who was William Bradford?
- How many Pilgrims made the journey to the New World? How many survived the first winter?
- When did relations between the Pilgrims and the Indians begin to deteriorate?
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