Pilgrim Hall Museum to Display First Thanksgiving Documents

Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, MA
Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts

The Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts, will give visitors a rare opportunity to see original documents and signatures of Pilgrims who celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621. These items will be on display for two days only, Thursday, Nov. 28 (Thanksgiving Day) and Friday, Nov. 29 from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

The collection includes the handwriting of leaders William Bradford and Myles Standish, and of Massasoit, the sachem or leader of the Wampanoag. It also includes signatures of two brothers who were children at the time, Resolved White and Peregrine White. The documents will be displayed along with a rare original copy of the book that was the inspiration for the Thanksgiving holiday, Mourt’s Relation.

Mourt's Relation
Mourt’s Relation, 1622, journal of Pilgrims settlement at Plymouth Colony including the first Thanksgiving.

This journal was written during 1620 and 1621 as a detailed accounting of the landing of the Mayflower inside the tip of Cape Cod, the Pilgrims’ exploration of the area and settling of Plymouth Colony. It describes the hardships they faced and their celebration of the first Thanksgiving. Published in 1622, the extended title is: A Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plymouth in New England. It became known as Mourt’s Journal because the publisher’s name was George Morton.

Edward Winslow, who would hold several government positions during his life at Plymouth Colony including serving as three-time governor, wrote of the celebration that took place after the bountiful harvest had been gathered. In Mourt’s Journal, he described how four men brought back enough fowl to feed everyone for almost a week. During that time, people enjoyed various recreations with “many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest of their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted.”

Winslow concluded his description by saying that some members of the Wampanoag left the feast to go hunting and returned with five deer for the Pilgrims. “And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at 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.”

There is only one other primary source of that first Thanksgiving in addition to Mourt’s Relation. William Bradford, who served Plymouth Colony as a five-time governor, described their food in his book, Of Plimouth Plantation. They had plenty of cod, bass and other fish during the summer, and fowl, venison and wild turkeys in winter. “And besides waterfowl there was a great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc.”

First Thanksgiving
The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth by Jennie A. Brownscombe (1914) [this work is in the public domain in the U.S.]

Pilgrim Hall Museum tells the story of the first settlers and of the Wampanoag. The friendship between the native “People of the Dawn” and the English arrivals who established Plymouth Colony worked for the good of both groups. The Pilgrims were in a strange land and needed help surviving the bitter winter. The Wampanoag were very knowledgeable about the southeastern New England winters since they had lived in the region for thousands of years. Massasoit was seeking alliances with other native groups and the Pilgrims for protection against the Narragansetts, a powerful nation from what is now Rhode Island.

Squanto, another member of the Wampanoag, served as interpreter. He had learned English in London after having been kidnapped in New England and sold into slavery in Spain. He then escaped, returned to London and eventually to his native land. He also served as the guide to the Pilgrims.

Pilgrim Hall has the distinction of being the oldest public museum continually in operation in the United States. It was opened in 1824, after the Pilgrim Society incorporated in 1820 in Massachusetts for the purpose of creating a monument in memory of the virtues, enterprise and unparalleled suffering of the Pilgrims; “and for the erection of a suitable building,” for the organization’s meetings. It is fully accredited by the American Association of Museums (AAM).

The story of the Pilgrims is filled with hardships and emotions. Whether it is the love story of Priscilla Mullins and John Alden or the diplomatic co-existence of multiple cultures and languages, there is something in it for everyone. To learn more about the exhibit of documents signed by those who celebrated the first Thanksgiving, please click the events schedule link listed below.

By Cynthia Collins

Sources:

Pilgrim Hall Museum – Events Schedule

Pilgrim Hall Museum

Thanksgiving history

The Wampanoag

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