The First Harvest in Plymouth
This is the story of the first harvest dinner in the new world shared by the pilgrims and their new friends.
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 ye goodly & pleasant citie," writes their historian Bradford, "which had been their resting place near 12 years, but they knew they were pilgrims and looked not much on those things, but lift up their eyes to ye Heavens and quieted their spirits."
When, after many vexing days upon the deep, 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. And 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.
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 bounteous Nature now spread before them.
The woodlands were arrayed in gorgeous colors, brown, crimson, and gold, 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, and 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, amongst these 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 first harvest 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 sweete 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,
Was hither brought, and sown in every field;
As wheat and rye, barley, oats, beans, and pease
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."
Thus a royal feast it was the Pilgrims spread that first golden autumn at Plymouth, a feast worthy of their Indian guests.
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.
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