Why we celebrate Thanksgiving in America

The story of the Pilgrims who came to America to escape religious persecution in 1620 is the story of the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621. The Plymouth colony invited the Wampanoag Tribe to a feast that lasted 3 days. There are five key reasons that we as Americans can celebrate Thanksgiving, the first American holiday.


Thanksgiving is a story of religious freedom.  The core group of Pilgrims that settled in Plymouth Massachusetts were separatist Puritans who left England and then the Netherlands to escape religious persecution from King James I of England. This group from Plymouth, England departed so late in the year, September 1620, which highlights their desperation to escape religious persecution.


 Thanksgiving is also a story of self-government.  

While anchored off of Cape Cod, 41 adult males signed the Mayflower Compact on November 21, 1620. It was the first document to establish self-government in the New World. There was dissension in the ranks by non-Puritans after they abandoned Virginia as their final destination, thus breaking the original contract. The Puritans then determined to establish their government. The Mayflower Compact was based simultaneously upon a majoritarian model and the settlers’ allegiance to the King. It is a social contract for the sake of order and survival. Self-government started 400 years ago.


Thanksgiving is a miracle story.

The Thanksgiving story begins in 1608 when a young Patuxet Indian named Tisquantum is captured by European merchants and sold into slavery. Captain Thomas Hunt sold the native American commonly called Squanto to Spanish Monks. The monks taught him their language and their Catholic faith. They later sent him to London England to seek a way home. After 5 years, he traveled back to the New World in 1618 as a native guide. Arriving back in his home town, he found the Wampanoag Tribe had been wiped out by a plague. . With no family left, he was adopted into the Pilgrim community.

Squanto is the English speaking Christian native American who taught the Pilgrims to hunt, fish, and plant crops after their devastating first winter in the New World The first Thanksgiving feast in 1621 was celebrated for three days. Listen to the video on YouTube – Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving.


The Wampanoag Tribe and the Plymouth Pilgrims established a treaty that lasted for generations until King Philip’s War began in 1675. The war is named for Metacom, the Wampanoag chief who adopted the name Philip because of friendly relations between his father Massasoit and the Mayflower Pilgrims. 


The historical account of the Pilgrims and their early years is well documented.

One of the signers of the Mayflower Compact was William Bradford. He served as Governor of Plymouth Colony intermittently from 1621 to 1657. William Bradford’s Journal, “Of Plymouth Plantation 1620 -1646”, is the most authoritative account of the Pilgrims and their early years. It includes an account of the first Thanksgiving between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags led by Massasoit, and the original Mayflower Compact.

Thomas Prince, a clergyman, and historian eventually obtained the Bradford manuscript and deposited it at the Old South Meeting House in Boston in the mid-1750s. Lost during the American Revolutionary War, Charles Deane of the Massachusetts Historical Society reached out to Reverand Joseph Hunter in London about historical writings including passages attributed to the Bradford manuscript. Hunter obtained the manuscript from the Bishop of Oxford Samuel Wilberforce.

Charles Deane commissioned a copy of the manuscript and it arrived in Boston on August 3, 1855.

On May 26, 1897, the original manuscript was presented to Governor Wolcott of Massachusetts in a 

public ceremony in the Massachusetts State House. It is currently in the Massachusetts State Library in Boston. In 1912 the Massachusetts Historical Society published a final authorized version of the text.


Finally, Thanksgiving became a national holiday after action taken by our first Congress and our first President. On September 28, 1789, the first federal Congress, two years after the Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787, passed a resolution asking President George Washington to recommend a day of Thanksgiving.  On October 3, 1789, President Washington issued his Thanksgiving Proclamation, designating for “the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving” to be held on “Thursday the 26th day of November 1789.”


Thanksgiving, the American celebration of God’s blessing on our country, was resolved by the first federal Congress and proclaimed by our first President George Washington in 1789. The Thanksgiving celebration of God’s Bounty from the land one year after the Pilgrims arrived,  by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Tribe, became a holiday of the United States of America two years after its beginning. God Bless America.

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© 2018 Rick Roth for Florida House of Representatives
Paid by Rick Roth, Republican for Florida House of Representatives, District 85.