The First Thanksgiving?

plateIf you are a reader of this blog, you’ll know that I’m a direct descendant of Edward Bangs, the shipbuilder, who sailed into Plymouth Harbor with his wife Rebecca aboard the Anne on July 10, 1623. What you may not know is that I’m also a direct descendant of John Jenney, the miller and barrel maker, who arrived with his wife Sarah Carey aboard the Little James a few weeks later. The Anne and the Little James were the third and forth ships to arrive in Plymouth Colony. They followed the Mayflower in 1620 and the Fortune in 1621.

Knowing that my ancestors arrived as passengers on two of the first four ships to the New World, I’ve often felt slighted because the traditional “First Thanksgiving” is attributed to those that sailed aboard Mayflower. This happened in 1621, nearly two years before Mr. Bangs and Mr. Jenney arrived. The First Thanksgiving was similar to what we think of today in terms of our dinner tables. In Of Plymouth Plantation, written between 1630 and 1651, William Bradford describes this feast:

“They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides, they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.”[1]

Bradford did not, however, refer to this event as thanksgiving. To him and the other Pilgrims, what we now know refer to as the First Thanksgiving was actually a harvest festival. To the Pilgrim mind, thanksgiving was a religious celebration. They were two separate and distinct things. It wasn’t until much later that the two merged into today’s Thanksgiving.

If I use the Pilgrim definition of Thanksgiving as a religious celebration, then the First Thanksgiving did not happen in 1621. It happened in 1623. Early Plymouth Colony records state that the first observance of a Day of Thanksgiving in the religious sense (and called by that name) was held on July 30, 1623, the result of a life saving rainfall.[2]

Knowing this, it is highly probable that – at a minimum – Edward Bangs and the crew of the Anne celebrated the first Day of Thanksgiving in the New World. John Jenney and the Little James may have as well.

I guess I shouldn’t feel so slighted after all…

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


[1] Pilgrim Hall Museum website, About the Pilgrims, The “First Thanksgiving” at Plymouth, retrieved November 27, 2015 from

[2] Religion and American Cultures: An Encyclopedia of Traditions, Diversity, and Popular Expressions, Volume 1, ed. Gary Laderman, Luis D. León, (ABC-CLIO, 2003), page 611



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