The idea of an annual National Day of Thanksgiving was started with George Washington in 1789. However, with subsequent Presidents, observance of Washington’s proclamation faded, and by 1855 only 16 states celebrated the holiday. That was until 1863, at the urging of New Hampshire’s Sarah J. Hale, Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November a "National Day of Thanksgiving". Since then, the holiday has evolved into our present iconic American tradition
However, the current traditional festive menu only slightly reflects the original 1621 Plimoth Plantation’s Harvest Festival which was its inspiration. Then, there were no potatoes, apples, or sugar (the iconic cranberry sauce would not appear for another 50 years). With the communal oven still on the “to do list”, there were no pies, tarts, or bread stuffing. There was wild turkey, but it was far from the centerpiece. In fact, the feast consisted mostly of meats (numerous waterfowl, deer, swan, passenger pigeon, etc.) which were boiled, roasted, or both, and an abundance of seafood (mussels, lobsters, clams, fish, eel, etc.) accompanied with herbs and onions. Indian corn was plentiful but served as a porridge or was used as a thickener for meat broth. The garden “side dishes” were lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots, and perhaps peas. Pumpkins would have been hollowed out, filled with a custard like substance, and roasted whole on hot ashes. Squash and other gourds were eaten sliced, boiled, roasted, or dried. Native tubers, nuts, and berries rounded out the menu in a variety of ways. The Pilgrims' main beverage was beer, but it was in short supply. So, water was the fall back drink.
In all, about 143 people attended Plimoth's 1621 three-day long feast. After a harrowing winter, the surviving Pilgrims only consisted of 22 men, 4 women, and 25 children. The feast was a community affair with the Wampanoags providing five deer and other native foods. With the support and help of Squanto and the Wampanoags, this tiny group had survived their first year in an isolated foreign land. Truly, they had much for which to be thankful.
The Chesterfield Historical Society's Board has much to be thankful for too. During this trying time, the support of our membership and the community has made our work still productive and fulfilling. We wish you and yours a safe and healthy Thanksgiving Holiday.