The First Thanksgiving Feast myths and facts
The First Thanksgiving Feast by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris


Myth 1: Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Cranberry Sauce and Popcorn were served at the First Thanksgiving feast

Pilgrims and Indians most certainly did not eat Turkey, mashed Potatoes, Cranberry sauce and popcorn. In the journals of Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow it is noted that the colony’s governor, William Bradford, sent four men on a “fowling” mission who returned with ducks, geese enough to last a week. Also it is documented that Wampanoag guests arrived with an offering of five deer. Since the feast coincided with autumn harvest, local bounties of onions, beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots and peas might have been on the menu.

Corn was also plentiful but it was mostly eaten then as a cornmeal, boiled and pounded into a thick corn mush or porridge that was occasionally sweetened with molasses. While local fruits did consist of cranberries, however, there might not have been cranberry sauces at the first feast. Culinary Historians also indicate that the boiling cranberries with sugar to make an accompaniment did not start till about 50 years after 1621. Potatoes were certainly not on menu on the first thanksgiving feast. The Spanish introduced the potatoes in Europe in 1570 and it is certainly unlikely that Potatoes were introduced/ transported to Plymouth anytime near 1621. Instead of Potatoes, the natives might have brought other root plants such as turnips to the feast. Pumpkins were eaten by both the Pilgrims and the Natives. However the lack of butter, wheat and ovens suggests the absence of Pumpkin pies. However, there are accounts of settlers hollowing out the pumpkins and filling them with milk, spices and honey; and then roasting the squashes.

The “first” Thanksgiving feast might have in fact consisted of seafood. Mussels were abundant along the shore and easy to harvest and cook. Similar foods such as Lobster, bass, clams and oysters might have also been served in the feast. These seafoods are not found in the contemporary thanksgiving feast menu.

Myth 2: The First thanksgiving happened in October and not November and probably lasted 3 days and was not celebrated every year hence.

The origin of thanksgiving is mostly thought to be in the 1621 treat. But the first “real” Thanksgiving actually happened two centuries later. The three-day Plimoth feast as described by Edward Winslow was dubbed as the “First Thanksgiving” in 1841 by Alexander Young. Winslow mentioned in his letter that “it was clear that [the 1621 feast] was not something that was supposed to be repeated again and again. It wasn’t even a Thanksgiving, which in the 17th century was a day of fasting. It was a harvest celebration.” The harvest feast of 1621 was held somewhere mid-September to late- October. The U.S. President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving Day a national holiday in 1863 and the present date of celebration (the Fourth Thursday of November) was established by President Franklin Roosevelt (and the Congress) in 1941.

Myth 3: The Indians Wore Nothing but Loincloth!

Most books feature the Native People in buckskin and a feathered headdress flying in the wind. However, that is not how people of Wampanoag dressed in 1600s. The basic Wampanoag clothing was the Breechcloth made from soft deerskin. In cold weather men and women wore mantles fastened at one shoulder and wrapped around the body. Women also wore skirts made from deerskin. Leggings were worn in cooler weather made of deerskin. Moccasinash were worn on the feet in cold weather or rough terrain. The robes of Wampanoag people were often decorated with paint and quills.

Myth 4: The Pilgrims always dressed in Black.

Typically all Thanksgiving images show Pilgrims wearing Black clothes. Back in 1600s it was not easy to dye cloth solid Black and such Black clothes were often kept for special occasions, festivals and Sundays. However, the regular clothes were much more colorful. About half of the Pilgrims who celebrated the first thanksgiving were young children ages one to sixteen. Boys and Girls wore gowns with long sleeves. Children also wore Biggins made of wool or linen to keep them warm. Boys aged 6 or 7 were supposed to wear Breeches like adult men. The Pilgrims didn’t wear Buckled hats and shoes as buckles were expensive at that time. Laces were much common tie up material. Everyone wore stockings and garters. Also Aprons were worn by to keep their clothes clean. Women and girls wore coifs over there head. Cloaks and long coats of wool were common in cold weather.

Myth 5: The Natives and Pilgrims were Best friends and the Pilgrims invited the Natives for the thanksgiving feast.

Well there is some confusion as to whether the Natives were really invites to the “first” Thanksgiving party. As the pilgrim chronicles have it, Pilgrims were celebrating their first autumn harvest by firing guns and cannons. This probably scared the Natives who then arrived with the Wampanoag chief, ready for the supposed war. The present day picture of Pilgrims and Indians making merry at the feast table reflects the efforts of President Abraham Lincoln to pacify civil war environment.

We hope that your Myths about the “First” Thanksgiving have been dispelled by now. If we left out any other common myth do point out in comments!