The first Thanksgiving
After two months at sea in the winter of 1620, the Mayflower passengers landed at what is now Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Only half of the ship’s passengers survived the journey across the Atlantic to the New World. In March of 1621, after waiting out the winter on the ship, the passengers finally went ashore to establish the Plymouth colony.
During this entire process, an English speaking Indian named Squanto helped the colonists learn how to fish, hunt, and plant. Governor William Bradford said, “Squanto...was a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectation.”
In November of 1621 after months of working with local Indians learning to hunt, fish, and survive, the colony experienced an abundant harvest. Governor Bradford then organized a celebratory feast to give God thanks for all of His many blessings. Thus the first Thanksgiving feast took place.
Our one and only shot at communism
The next year in 1622 the harvest wasn’t as plentiful as the previous. Not to mention 35 new settlers arrived not long after this time of thanksgiving. This caused a strain on the food supply and made the colonists have to ration food. To this point, the settlers farmed collectively and evenly rationed out the harvest. This seemed to hinder productivity. Through God's wisdom, the colony decided to abandon collective farming and instead give each family a plot of land to farm. By giving each family their own farmland they were encouraged to work even harder since they had to live off their own harvest.
Governor Bradford wrote:
“the experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Platos & other ancients, applauded by some of later times; – that the taking away of property, and bringing in community into a commonwealth, would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God.”
So America did try communism for a year and it didn’t go so well. This new form of planting gave the settlers an abundant harvest.
The drought and God's providence
Once the settlers implemented this new and innovative form of personal farming and harvesting they were hit with a roadblock. A drought came over the land and stunted most of the crops.
The governor wrote,
“the Lord seemed to blast, & take away the same, and to threaten further & more sore famine unto them, by a great drought which continued from the 3 week in May, till about the middle of July, without any rain and with great heat (for the most part) insomuch as the corn began to wither away.”
The colonists knew it would take God's providence in order for the desperately needed rain to come. They set apart a day of prayer to seek the Lord and He was quick to answer them. Governor Bradford said, “…toward evening it began to overcast, and shortly after to rain, with such sweet and gentle showers, as gave them cause of rejoicing, & blessing God.”
America’s official day of thanks
Fast forward nearly four centuries and the tradition continues.
On October 20, 1864 President Lincoln proclaimed:
Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may then be, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe. And I do further recommend to my fellow-citizens aforesaid that on that occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the Great Disposer of Events for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land which it has pleased Him to assign as a dwelling place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.
To most of us, Thanksgiving just means visiting family and eating endless turkey and dressing. If you’re like me then you eat until you can’t anymore then enjoy an afternoon nap on grandmother’s couch.
Whatever your Thanksgiving plans are remember the providence and favor that God placed on the colonists in 1621 and the years after. The same God who blessed them is continuing to rain down His favor on us every day. We have much to give thanks for.