On November 11, 1620, the Mayflower dropped anchor in a natural harbor on the inside of the northern tip of Cape Cod. There it stayed. The location was not the Pilgrims’ first choice; they had planned to settle near the mouth of the Hudson.
The area where the ship made landfall had belonged to the Pawtuxet, a fierce tribe that took intense delight in murdering anyone who would dare invade their territory. A sickness, however, had wiped them out, leaving their land free for the taking. (Other Indians, fearing “bad spirits,” would have no part of it.) The Pilgrims didn’t even have to clear fields for planting. They were already there for them.
The nearest neighbors were the Wampanoag, a civilized tribe ruled by Massasoit. The chief and his people accepted the Pilgrims and helped them. Squanto, a lone survivor of the Pawtuxet, made his home with these new inhabitants and taught them how to survive in this new and challenging land.
Although the bounty of the summer of 1621 brought a time of heartfelt gratitude (the first Thanksgiving), the Pilgrims’ obligation to repay the backers who had financed their voyage, left them dangerously close to starvation. Food stores had all but disappeared.
At one point, a daily ration of food for a Pilgrim was 5 kernels of corn. With a simple faith that God would sustain them, no matter what, they pulled through. History records that not a single one of them died from starvation that winter. Not a one.
The harvest of 1623 brought a surplus of corn, so much that the Pilgrims were able to help out the Indians for a change. So joyous were they that they celebrated a second Day of Thanksgiving and again invited Massasoit to be their guest.
He came, bringing with him his wife, several other chiefs and 120 braves. All sat down to a feast of 12 venison, 6 goats, 50 hogs and pigs, numerous turkeys, vegetables, grapes, nuts, plums, puddings and pies. But, lest anyone forget, all were given their first course on an empty plate.
WATCH this VIDEO about the history of Thanksgiving!