Nov 05

The First Thanksgiving in Cape Cod – A Bit of Thanksgiving History

Cape Cod

Cape Cod

A Cape Cod Thanksgiving brings about a certain nostalgia.

As you and your family get ready to feast on turkey and more, take a moment to think back on what the first Thanksgiving might have been like. On Cape Cod, the first Thanksgiving feast could have happened mere miles away, right in Plymouth, MA.

Facts About Thanksgiving

The first Thanksgiving, 1621, oil painting by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris, 1932.

The first Thanksgiving, 1621, oil painting by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris, 1932.

Many historians have stated that the Wampanoag Indians and Plymouth colonists shared a fall harvest feast together, back in 1621. This became a symbol of the interaction and cooperation between the Native Americans and English colonists.

Many folks believe that particular feast to be the very first Thanksgiving celebration. But the truth is, it was really maintaining a long tradition of celebrating the giving thanks and harvest for successful bounties of crops.

Historians have also researched other acts of thanks among European settlers in North America. This has even included British colonists at the Virginia Berkeley Planation. It was there that some British settlers had kneeled, prayed and pledged Thanksgiving to God. They gave thanks for arriving safely after the great travel across the Atlantic. Now some scholars actually acknowledge this event as marking the first official Thanksgiving throughout European settlers on record.

Thanksgiving celebrations, especially Thanksgiving feasts, symbolize important meaning over time – regardless if at the Berkeley Plantation or Plymouth.

What Was On The Menu?

Plimoth Plantation at Plymouth, MA

Plimoth Plantation at Plymouth, MA

It is fairly safe to say that pilgrims back then were not eating buttery mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie! But on the other hand, historians are not entirely sure about what items were included on a full Thanksgiving feast.

In 1621 Edward Winslow, in “A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth”, gave a very detailed description of the “First Thanksgiving”:

“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 amongst us, and among 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 upon 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.”

Historian Richard Pickering is the deputy director of Massachusetts’ Plimoth Plantation. According to him, the colonists’ feasts could have also included mussels, lobster, fish, eel, turnips, radishes, Indian corn, and spinach. Wow that really is a great feast!

And Pickering adds, “Oh, and there wasn’t a Thanksgiving pilgrim buckle in sight,”.

Traditional Turkey

A fruity, glazed, roasted turkey makes for a beautiful Thanksgiving feast.

A fruity, glazed, roasted turkey makes for a beautiful Thanksgiving feast.

In modern day Thanksgiving celebrations, why are items such as pumpkin pies, stuffing and turkeys such necessities?

Pickering comments on this, “The Thanksgiving we practice today has more to do with myth than reality”. In the 1860s President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday. The food we eat now at Thanksgiving is more in line to the cooking from the 1860s, surprisingly enough.


Make reservations for a spectacular Thanksgiving dinner at the best Cape Cod hotel – and take advantage of a holiday package being offered by many hotels on Cape Cod.

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