The First Thanksgiving, Edward Winslow, 1621

The First Thanksgiving, Edward Winslow, 1621

[Paragraph regarding the first Thanksgiving] Our harvest being collected our governor sent four men fowling together so we might rejoice together in a more special way after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. In just one day the hunters killed as much fowl as if their hunting party had been larger. The fowl fed the company almost a week at which time, among other recreations, we drilled with our fire arms. Many of the Indians joined us including Massasoit, the greatest king, and some ninety of his men. We all entertained and feasted together for three days. The Indians went out and killed five deer which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, the captain, and others. 

The letter that follows this introduction was sent by Edward Winslow from Plymouth Plantation to George Morton in December 1621 as part of what came to be published by Morton with other material as A Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plimoth in New England, 1622, henceforth abbreviated A Relation. The book is specifically identified as having been published by “G. Mourt” at the end of its “To the Reader” section, thus the true identity of Mr. Mourt has been debated given the difference in spelling between Morton and Mourt. The issues involved in Mourt’s identification are addressed by H. M. Dexter in the edition of A Relation he edited for publication in 1865. The ship carrying Winslow’s work to England was the Fortune which had recently arrived in Plymouth. The letter and other material in A Relation were likely taken to England by Robert Cushman and given to George Morton. It is a wonder that A Relation made it to England because the Fortune was seized by the French as it neared the English coast and robbed of anything valuable, but it was later released after a short time of capture. One particularly valuable and bulky part of the cargo was clapboards hewn from the rich forests of America and there were some casks filled with pricey beaver and other pelts.

Edward Winslow was born in 1595. He married Elizabeth Barker and at the time of their arrival in Plymouth they were guardians for a little girl named Ellen who was the sister of Richard More. The family also had two male servants named George Soule and Elias Story. Winslow was educated in an Anglican school. He was a printing apprentice, however, he did not complete his training before leaving England for Holland to reside with other separatists. He worked in printing in Leyden with fellow separatist William Brewster until they boarded the Mayflower for Plymouth. Elizabeth Winslow died shortly after arrival in Plymouth. Edward then married Susanna White who was a widow and the mother of the first child born in the colony, Peregrine White. Winslow was a governor of Plymouth Colony and highly influential for the success of the community. He died aboard ship near Jamaica in 1655.

George Morton would arrive in Plymouth in July 1623 aboard the Anne with his wife Juliana Carpenter Morton and their five children—Nathaniel, Patience, John, Sarah, and Ephraim. Morton received seven acres in the land division of Plymouth in 1623. But the difficulties of New England life quickly took its toll on Mr. Morton as it did so many other colonists because he died in June 1624.

The letter provides an interesting overview of life for the first year of Plymouth Plantation. Most importantly for this article there is a paragraph about the first Thanksgiving, but do not look for the word because it is not in the letter.

As compared with other early seventeenth-century authors, Edward Winslow is not one of the better writers. The following text has been modernized and the more cumbersome lengthy sentences have been broken into shorter statements. Also, the paragraphing has been modified. In one location an ellipsis, three periods in a row, will be found in the place of about four lines of text which I could not understand sufficiently to compose in a coherent form. There are many ambiguities in Winslow’s text at least partially due to his composing it for a friend whom he assumes knows certain facts, issues, and events which are mysteries to modern readers. In several locations I have turned to paraphrasing and completely rewriting sentences for the sake of clarity. Some archaic terminology has been explained in [ ].

Sources for this introduction include the Plimoth Plantation website and William Bradford’s journal as cited in last years article on Thanksgiving. The edition of A Relation edited by Dexter was located in PDF on Internet Archive; Winslow’s letter is on pages 192-203 of the PDF, which are pages with the dual numbering of 60 & 131 through 142 & 65 of the original book as scanned to PDF (when you see the PDF you should understand what I mean). Note that there have been several editions of A Relation over the years including abridged versions which Dexter mentions in the introduction to his edition, and he has observed that some editions are not very well done.  Dexter includes in his extensive footnotes a list of the passengers who arrived in Plymouth on the Fortune

The original Plimoth (Plymouth) Plantation is a living museum which can be visited to experience the world of Winslow and the colonists. The village provides a wonderful experience through its buildings, grounds, and interpreters. At a separate location near Plymouth Rock there is a replica of the Mayflower which may lead visitors to revise their understanding of how large a vessel needs to be before it can be called a ship.

The images of both Edward Winslow and the title page of A Relation were located in The Story of The Pilgrim Fathers 1606-1623 as told by Themselves, their Friends, and their Enemies, which was written by Edward Arber, published in London in 1897, and found in digital form on Internet Archive.


New-England to a friend in these parts [England],

setting forth a briefe and true Declaration

of the worth of that Plantation;

As also certaine useful Directions

for such as intend a Voyage

into those Parts.


Loving and old Friend, although I received no letter from you by this ship [Fortune], yet forasmuch as I know, you expect the performance of my promise which was to write unto you truly and faithfully of all things. I have therefore at this time sent unto you accordingly referring you for further satisfaction to our more large relations [the rest of A Relation]. You shall understand that in the short time we few have been here, we have built seven dwelling houses, four buildings for the use of the plantation, and have made preparation for several others. We sowed last spring some twenty acres of Indian corn and some six acres of barley and peas. According to the manner of the Indians, we fertilized our ground with herrings, or rather shads, which we have in great abundance and catch with great ease near our homes. Our corn did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn and our barley was fairly good, but our peas were not worth gathering. We feared that they were sown too late. They came up very well, and blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom.

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