All through the first summer and the early part of autumn, the Pilgrims were busy and happy. They had planted and cared for their first fields of corn. They had found wild strawberries in the meadows, raspberries on the hillsides, and wild grapes in the woods.
In the forest just back of the village wild turkeys and deer were easily shot. In the shallow waters of the bay there was plenty of fish, clams, and lobsters.
The summer had been warm, with a good deal of rain and much sunshine; and so, when autumn came, there was a fine crop of corn.
"Let us gather the fruits of our first harvest and rejoice together," said Governor Bradford.
"Yes," said Elder Brewster, "let us take a day upon which we may thank God for all our blessings and invite to it our Indian friends who have been so kind to us."
The Pilgrims said that one day was not enough; so they planned to have a celebration for a whole week.
The great Indian chief, Massasoit, came with ninety of his bravest warriors, all gaily dressed in deerskins, feathers, and fox tails, with their faces smeared with red, white, and yellow paint. As a sign of rank, Massasoit wore a string of bones and a bag of tobacco around his neck. In his belt, he carried a long knife. His face was painted red, and his hair was daubed with oil.
There were only eleven buildings in the whole of Plymouth village, four log storehouses, and seven little log dwelling-houses, so the Indian guests ate and slept out of doors. This did not matter for it was one of those warm weeks in the season that we call Indian summer.
To supply meat for the occasion four men had already been sent out to hunt wild turkeys. They killed enough in one day to last the company almost a week.
Massasoit helped the feast along by sending some of his best hunters into the woods. They brought back five deer which they gave to their pale face friends, that all might have enough to eat.
Under the trees were built long, rude tables on which were piled baked clams, broiled fish, roasted turkey, and venison. The young Pilgrim women helped serve the food to the hungry redskins. We shall always remember two of the fair young girls who waited on the first Thanksgiving table. One was Mary Chilton, who leaped first from the boat at Plymouth Rock. The other was Mary Allerton. She lived for seventy-eight years after this first Thanksgiving; of those who came over in the Mayflower she was the last to die.
What a merry time everybody had during that week! How the mothers must have laughed as they told about the first Monday morning on Cape Cod, when they all went ashore to wash their clothes! It must have been a big washing, for there had been no chance to do it at sea, so stormy had been the long voyage of sixty-three days. They little thought that Monday would always after be kept as washing day. One proud Pilgrim mother, we may be sure, showed her baby boy, Peregrine White.
And so the fun went on. In the daytime, the young men ran races, played games, and had a shooting match. Every night the Indians sang and danced for their friends, and to make the party still more lively they gave every now and then a shrill war-whoop that made the woods echo in the still night air.
The third day came. Massasoit had been well treated and would have liked to stay longer, but he said that he could not be away from his camp for more than three days. So the pipe of peace was silently passed around. Then, taking their gifts of glass beads and trinkets, the Indian King and his warriors said farewell to their English friends and began their long march through the woods to their wigwams on Mount Hope Bay.
On the last day of this Thanksgiving party, Elder Brewster preached the first Thanksgiving sermon and all the Pilgrims united in thanking God for His goodness to them.
The first Thanksgiving was nearly four hundred years ago. Since that time, Thanksgiving has been kept by the people of our nation as the great family festival of the year. At this time children and grandchildren return to the old home, the long table is spread, and brothers and sisters, who had been separated, again seat themselves side by side.
Thanksgiving is our season of sweet and blessed memories.