Thanksgiving Painting
Primary Sources
Wamsutta's Speech
Review Questions

                    HISTORY AND MYTH

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Traditional Story of the First Thanksgiving

The story below is the way that the story of the "First Thanksgiving" is usually told.  Read the story and click the vocabulary words to read their meanings.

The Story of the First Thanksgiving

       Around four hundred years ago, many people in England were unhappy because their king would not let them pray to God as they liked. The king said they must use the same prayers as he did, and if they refused they were persecuted, imprisoned, or even killed.

      These Englishmen left their homes and went far off to a country called Holland. In Holland they were happy but they were very poor, and when the children began to grow they became less godlike and did not want to pray anymore. After much talking and thinking, these English people decided to embark on a pilgrimage to the New World, America.

      They set out on a small ship called the Mayflower to take them across the sea. There were about 100 people on board the tiny ship. It was crowded, cold, and uncomfortable. The sea was rough. They were two months sailing over the Atlantic Ocean.  At last the Mayflower came in sight of land. The month was November and it was cold.  There was nothing to be seen but snow, rocks, and hard, bare ground.  They were tired and cold from their long journey, and hungry too. No one had enough food to eat. Many of them became sick, and by springtime, almost half of the people died.

      In spring the sun shone brightly. The snow melted and the leaves and flowers began to emerge. Some friendly Indians had visited the Pilgrims during the winter. One of the kind Indians was named Squanto. He stayed with the Pilgrims and taught them how to plant their corn, peas, wheat, and barley.

      The summer came, and the days were long and bright. The Pilgrim children were very happy in their new home, Plymouth Rock. When it was autumn, the fathers gathered the barley, wheat, and corn that they had planted, and found that it had grown so well that they would have quite enough for a long winter that was coming. "Let us thank God for it all," they said.  Then they decided to have a grand thanksgiving party and invite the friendly Indians.

      They prepared wild ducks and geese, and great wild turkeys. There was deer meat, bread, and cakes. They had fish and clams from the sea nearby
.  The friendly Indians all came with their chief. They were dressed in deerskins and some of them had the furry coat of a wild cat hanging on their arm. Their long black hair fell loose on their shoulders and was trimmed with feathers or foxtails.

      Before they ate, the Pilgrims and the Indians thanked God together for all his goodness.

      And so the story goes of the first Thanksgiving celebrated in Plymouth Colony nearly 400 years ago.  As you sit down with your friends and family this Thanksgiving, remember this original tale and give thanks for all of God's abundant blessings.

Now, watch this video version of the traditional Thanksgiving story:

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Video source (accessed 11/26/2012):

Use the vocabulary words to answer the questions below:
  • 1. In the story, what did the Pilgrims find when they first arrived in America?
  • 2. Who helped the Pilgrims to plant food?
  • 3. Who decided to have a thanksgiving party?
  • 4. Who gave the food at the party?
  • 5. Who received the food at the party?

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