Many Americans erroneously assume that our nation has been celebrating Thanksgiving since the Mayflower Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. Nothing could be further from the truth.
To begin with, this was not even the first Thanksgiving celebrated in this country. An earlier thanksgiving was offered in prayer alone by members of the Berkeley plantation, an extension of the original Jamestown settlement, near present-day Charles City, Virginia, on December 4, 1619.
The Mayflower landed on December 11, 1620. The first winter was devastating and nearly half of the 102 passengers who had sailed from Plymouth, England died before spring. But the harvest of 1621 was a bountiful one.
This "first" Thanksgiving was celebrated over a period of three days by the Pilgrims and neighboring Wampanoag Indians who supplied much of the food - venison, waterfowl, dried berries, shellfish and cornbread. Governor William Bradford sent "four men fowling" after wild ducks and geese. It is not certain that wild turkey was part of their feast. The term "turkey" was used by the Pilgrims to mean any sort of wild fowl.
Edward Winslow, a Mayflower passenger, wrote in Mourt's Relation:
"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, amongst 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 on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was 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."
This was the only Thanksgiving feast the Pilgrims ever celebrated. In fact, it wasn't until June of 1676 that another Day of Thanksgiving was proclaimed.