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The First Thanksgiving
by Dr. Chuck Missler

The early settlers who braved the privations of those difficult years were a fabulous lot, indeed. We can hardly imagine the burdens they endured to make a new life for themselves in a new land. Their turning point began one Friday in the middle of March of 1621.


An indian, wearing nothing but a leather loincloth, strode up their main street to the common house, and to their startled faces boomed in flawless English, “Welcome.”

His name was Samoset, a sagamore (or chief) of the Algonquins. He had been visiting the area for the previous eight months, having learned his English from various fishing captains who had put in to the Maine shore over the years.

He returned the following Thursday with another Indian who also spoke English, and who was to prove “a special instrument of God for their good, beyond their expectation.” His story was to prove no less extraordinary than the saga of Joseph being sold into slavery to Egypt. His name was Tisquantum, also called Squanto.


His story began in 1605 when Squanto and four other Indians were taken captive, sent to England, and taught English to provide intelligence background most favorable places to establish British colonies.

After nine years in England, Squanto was finally able to return to America on Captain John Smith's voyage in 1614. But upon his arrival, he was lured and captured by a notorious slave trader, Captain Thomas Hunt.

Squanto and 27 other Indians were then taken to Malaga, Spain, a major slave-trading port. He was bought and rescued by local friars and introduced to the Christian faith. Thus, God was preparing him for the role he would ultimately play at Plymouth.

He was able to attach himself to an Englishman bound for London, and there he joined the family of a wealthy merchant and ultimately embarked for New England in 1619. He stepped ashore six months before the Pilgrims landed in 1620.[1]

When he arrived he received the most tragic blow of his life. Not a man, woman, or child of his tribe was left alive! During the previous four years, a mysterious plague had broken out among them, killing every last one.[2] So complete was the devastation that the neighboring tribes had shunned the area ever since.

The Pilgrims had settled in a cleared area that belonged to no one. Their nearest neighbors, the Wampanoags, were about 50 miles to the southwest.

Stripped of his identity and his reason for living, Squanto wandered aimlessly until he joined the Wampanoags, having nowhere else to go and having lost all reason for living. But God had other plans.

God's Provision

Massasoit, the sachem (or chief) of the Wampanoags, entered into a peace treaty of mutual aid with the Plymouth colony that was to last as a model for forty years. When Massasoit and his entourage left, Squanto stayed.

He had found his reason for living. These English were helpless in the ways of the wilderness. Squanto taught them how to catch eels, stalk deer, plant pumpkins, refine maple syrup, discern both edible herbs and those good for medicine, etc.

Perhaps the most important thing he taught them was the Indian way to plant corn. They hoed six-foot squares in toward the center, putting down four or five kernels, and then fertilizing the corn with fish: three fish in each square, pointing to the center, spoke-like. He told them to guard the field against the wolves (who would try to steal the fish), and by summer they had 20 full acres of corn that would save every one of their lives.

Squanto also taught them to exploit the pelts of the beaver, which were in plentiful supply and in great demand throughout Europe. He even guided the trading to insure they got full prices for top-quality Pelts.

The corn was their physical deliverance; the beaver pelts would be their economic deliverance.

The First Thanksgiving

The Pilgrims were a grateful people—grateful to God, to the Wampanoags, and to Squanto. Governor Bradford declared a day of public Thanksgiving, to be held in October.

Massasoit was invited and unexpectedly arrived a day early—with ninety Indians! To feed such a crowd would cut deeply into their stores for the winter, but they had all learned through all their travails that God could be trusted implicitly.

And it turned out that the Indians did not come empty handed: they brought five dressed deer and more than a dozen fat wild turkeys. They helped with the preparations, teaching the Pilgrim women how to make hoecakes and a tasty pudding out of cornmeal and maple syrup. In fact, they also showed them how to make one of their Indian favorites: white, fluffy popcorn!

The Pilgrims, in turn, provided many vegetables from their gardens: carrots, onions, turnips, parsnips, cucumbers, radishes, beets, and cabbages.

Also, using some of their precious flour and using some of the summer fruits which the Indians had dried, the Pilgrims introduced them to blueberry, apple, and cherry pie. Along with sweet wine made from wild grapes, it was, indeed, a joyous occasion for all concerned.

The Pilgrims and Indians happily competed in shooting contests, foot races, and wrestling. Things went so well (and Massasoit showed no inclination to leave) that this first Thanksgiving was extended for three days.

The moment that stood out the most in the Pilgrim's memories was William Brewster's prayer as they began the festival. They had so much for which to thank God: for providing for all their needs; for their friendship with the Indians—so extraordinary when compared to the colonists at Jamestown; and especially for His provision of Squanto, their teacher, guide, and friend that was to see them through those critical early winters.

A National Institution

By the end of the 19th century , Thanksgiving Day had become an institution throughout New England. It was officially proclaimed as a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Traditionally celebrated on the last Thursday in November, it was changed by an act of Congress in 1941 to the fourth Thursday of that month.[3]

Originally observed to acknowledge the provision of God, let us also make this national holiday a time to thank Him for our own provision—our families, our sustenance, and, above all, our redemption in His Son!

Lets also pray that He might restore the religious freedom that those early Pilgrims cherished so dearly—and that the current enforced paganism that has invaded our land be curtailed. This country is now becoming what the Pilgrims had fled from.

Much of this article was excerpted from The Light and the Glory, Peter Marshall and David Manuel, Fleming H. Revell Co., Old Tappan, NJ, 1977. For a thrilling and inspiring account of the incredible measures God provided in the founding of our once-great country, this book is a “must read.”

Notes: (clicking on note number returns to related text)

[1] The Pilgrims lived that first winter aboard ship and suffered the loss of 47 colonists.

[2] This epidemic, from 1615 to 1617, is believed to have killed 95,000 Indians, leaving only about 5,000 scattered along the coast.

[3] Canada first adopted Thanksgiving as a national holiday in November, 1879, and it is now celebrated there on the second Monday in October.

Copyright Information:
As printed in "Personal Update," Coeur d'Alene, ID: Koinonia House, Volume 5, No. 11, November 1995. Reprinted with permission. © Koinonia House, P.O. Box D, Coeur d'Alene, ID 83816-0347. For further information and available materials call 1-800-KHOUSE1 (1-800-546-8731) or email at Used with permission.

To cite this page:

Missler, Chuck. The First Thanksgiving, JoshuaNet, . <>