The Pilgrims’ First Year In America – Setting The Stage For The First Thanksgiving

Against all odds, a small group of Christian devotees found refuge in an unknown land across the ocean from home. This group became settlers that we know as, Pilgrims. These Pilgrims were only generations away from the descendants who eventually challenged the monarchy and fought for the not yet discovered Nation that is America. In what is now known as Plymouth, Massachusetts, what we know about the first year comes from one man, Edward Winslow. His account written and known as Mourt’s Relation is the only first-hand account of the Pilgrim’s first year in Plymouth.

In a letter Winslow wrote to a friend back in England, he describes first-hand what happened to the Pilgrims during their first year in Plymouth. This letter also described a three-day celebration in the autumn of 1621 after their harvest was taken in, in which the Pilgrims shared a meal with a group of Wampanoag Native Americans the group had befriended. Winslow’s account is the only account of the Pilgrim’s first year and the only account of the first Thanksgiving.

With being such a crucial member of the colony for history and creating relations with the local Native Americans, the biggest question might be who is Edward Winslow?

Winslow was born on October 18, 1595, to Edward Sr. and Magdalene (Oliver) Winslow in Droitwich Spa a Western England town. He moved to Leiden, Holland, in 1617 to live amongst the English separatist colony that later produced the Pilgrims. Winslow worked as a printer, and at the time the Mayflower departed for the Americas Winslow was twenty-four and married to his wife Elizabeth Barker. He, his wife, and his younger brother Gilbert all went aboard the Mayflower on September 16, 1620, and after a long trip, they landed in Plymouth Harbor in December during the middle of The Little Ice Age.

The New England winter was different for the Pilgrims and caused scurvy and pneumonia as the colony lacked shelter from the cold, wet weather. Death soon overtook the colony with what is estimated as two or three people dying a day during the first couple of months after landing in New England. Eventually, the death wave hit the Winslows as Edward’s wife Elizabeth died on March 24th at the age of 27 or 28. Though as many others died, one Pilgrim, Susanna White lost her husband, William, in February which gave way to Susanna and Edward marrying in the first wedding in the colony. Edward and Susanna began having children the following year.

In March the Pilgrims met English-speaking Wampanoags Samoset and Squanto, and through Squanto, Winslow was able to meet chief Ousamequin. The relations Winslow fostered turned into friendships and with the Natives’ help, the Pilgrims were able to plant spring crops, which set the stage for the first Thanksgiving.

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