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Pilgrims & The First Thanksgiving

The Story of Pilgrims and The First Thanksgiving with historical reproductions for Children Montessori Cultural Study | Holidays | History | kindergarten, Lower elementary

Four centuries ago, the Pilgrims’ perilous journey aboard the Mayflower, seeking religious freedom and enduring hardships, laid the foundation for the first Thanksgiving celebration in Plymouth, marking a pivotal event in American history and impacting over 30 million descendants today.

Welcome to a captivating journey through history as we delve into one of the seminal events that shaped the American narrative: the Pilgrims’ Mayflower voyage and the first Thanksgiving. I have spent countless hours of reading books and researching this pivotal historical event so that I can deliver a comprehensive and engaging summary.

So, whether you are an educator, a teacher, or a parent, buckle up as we embark on a time-traveling adventure. We’ll be cruising through the stormy seas of the Mayflower, exploring the perils the Pilgrims had to face and uncovering the roots of that Thanksgiving feast we all know and love.

This blog post aims to unravel the intricacies of the Pilgrims’ voyage, their resilience in the face of adversity, and the origins of the Thanksgiving tradition. Whether you’re an educator seeking a resource for the classroom or a parent eager to share a rich historical narrative with your children, join me in exploring the roots of a tradition that has stood the test of time.

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The Pilgrims’ Journey Begins

Around a century ago, in England, a time of great discontent prevailed among the people. They yearned for the freedom to pray to God in their own way, yet their king insisted that they use his prescribed prayers. Refusal often led to imprisonment. Faced with this religious oppression, these aggrieved Englishmen decided to seek a new homeland. They left their beloved homes behind and set sail for a distant land known as Holland. It was during this time that they began to refer to themselves as “Pilgrims.”

Pilgrims escaping King James of England persecution fleeting to Holland

A New Beginning in Holland

Pilgrims are wanderers, constantly pursuing a place where they can live according to their beliefs and find happiness. They often remarked, “from place to place, toward heaven, their dearest country.” In Holland, the Pilgrims found a peaceful respite, but life was far from easy. They faced poverty and the challenge of adapting to a new culture. The children began to grow up speaking Dutch like the local children, and sometimes, they became resistant to attending church.

September 1620 Pilgrims are sailing on Mayflower Ship

The Story of Pilgrims and The First Thanksgiving eBook

The Mayflower Voyage

Recognizing the need for a fresh start, the Pilgrims decided to set their sights on America. They secured two vessels, the Mayflower and the Speedwell, for their journey across the ocean. However, Speedwell encountered issues and had to return home early.

The Mayflower also had to return briefly to redistribute some of the passengers from the Speedwell. Eventually, in 1620, the Mayflower set sail alone to the New World, carrying a hundred and two passengers, from eldest to youngest, including men, women, and children. The Mayflower voyage was long, cold, and uncomfortable, with the relentless rocking of the ship causing many tears and discomfort.

Mayflower Storm November 1620. The voyage was long, cold, and uncomfortable, with the relentless rocking of the ship causing many tears and discomfort.
Mayflower Storm November 1620. The voyage was long, cold, and uncomfortable, with the relentless rocking of the ship causing many tears and discomfort.

The Gift of Oceanus

Yet, amid the challenges, a sparkle of joy emerged. In the middle of the vast ocean, a Pilgrim baby was born and was fittingly named “Oceanus.” Whenever the children grew weary and irritable from the arduous journey, they found solace in playing with Oceanus, bringing smiles and happiness back to their faces.

Land at Last: The Mayflower Compact

Finally, after two difficult months at sea, the Mayflower spotted land. Voyagers may have dreamed of lush green meadows and vibrant flowers, but they faced a stark reality. It was a cold November, and the land appeared barren, covered in rocks and sand.

Aboard the Mayflower, the Pilgrims had a significant decision to make. They found themselves outside the boundaries of the established Virginia Company, so they drafted a document known as the Mayflower Compact. The document’s drafting was a pivotal moment, marking their commitment to self-governance in the new world.

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The Story of Pilgrims and The First Thanksgiving eBook
The Story of Pilgrims and The First Thanksgiving eBook

Exploring the New Land

A group of Pilgrim fathers, led by the courageous Captain Myles Standish, ventured ashore to explore. They encountered Native Americans, who retreated at their approach. The Pilgrims discovered Indian huts and buried stores of corn. After several expeditions from the ship, they found a suitable place to settle, marked by “fields and little running brooks.”

The Arrival and The First Winter

The Pilgrims disembarked on Plymouth Rock and began building their first dwelling on Christmas Day. However, the initial winter was harsh. Bitter cold, heavy snow, and a lack of resources took a toll. Many Pilgrims, already weary from the long journey, suffered cold and hunger, with insufficient and unsuitable food.

Surviving the First Winter

Sickness spread through the community, with one after another falling ill. Brave Myles Standish and the others did their best to care for the sick, but by spring, half of them had perished and found solace in “heaven, their dearest country.”

Pilgrims surviving the First Winter Plymouth

Who was Captain Myles Standish

Captain Myles Standish was a military officer and one of the Mayflower passengers. He is best known for his role as the military leader and chief military advisor to the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony. Although he was not the captain of the Mayflower, he played a significant part in the early years of the colony, particularly in matters of defense and relations with Native Americans. Standish’s leadership and military expertise were instrumental in ensuring the survival of the Plymouth settlement in the challenging early years.

A New Beginning with Help from Native Americans

But with the arrival of spring, the situation improved. The sun’s warmth melted the snow, and new life began to emerge. Friendly Native Americans had visited during the winter, and a Native called Squanto joined the Pilgrims, teaching them to plant crops.

Squanto’s Role

Squanto’s contribution was invaluable. He had learned English after being captured and enslaved by English explorers, and he helped the Pilgrims adapt to their new environment, teaching them essential skills like farming and fishing. This partnership between the Pilgrims and Native Americans marked a foundation of mutual respect and cooperation.

The Fish Trick

Squanto, a Native American who had a significant impact on the Pilgrims, showed them how to use fish as a natural fertilizer for their crops. Squanto taught the Pilgrims the Native American agricultural technique of burying fish alongside their corn seeds. The decaying fish provided valuable nutrients to the soil, which helped improve crop yields. This knowledge shared by Squanto was crucial in helping the Pilgrims establish a successful agricultural system in the New World and ensure their survival during their early years in Plymouth Colony. It’s an important part of the shared history between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims.

A Happy Summer and the First Thanksgiving

When summer arrived, the Pilgrim children found joy in Plymouth’s natural beauty – wildflowers, birds, butterflies, and cool pine forests. In autumn, the Pilgrim fathers harvested their crops, providing enough to sustain them through the upcoming winter.

The Feast and Thanksgiving

Filled with gratitude, they expressed their thanks to God for the bounties of the land and the opportunities they had been granted. The Pilgrim mothers proposed a grand Thanksgiving celebration, inviting the friendly Native Americans to join them.

The First Thanksgiving Celebration

The first Thanksgiving was a grand affair. The Pilgrims’ hunting yielded an abundance of wild ducks, geese, and wild turkeys. They also had deer meat, as the local forest teemed with these creatures. The Pilgrim mothers baked bread, cakes, and fish, and clams from the sea were added to the feast.

Friendly Native American Guests

Ninety Native Americans, including their chief Massasoit, accepted the invitation, bearing five deer as a gift. Their attire and painted faces might have been intimidating, but they had dressed in their finest for the occasion.

Before every meal, Pilgrims and Native Americans thanked God together. The Native Americans sang and danced, and everyone, including the children, engaged in races and games. They even held contests to see who could shoot arrows and bullets farthest and truest.

The Story of Pilgrims and The First Thanksgiving eBook

The Story of Pilgrims and The First Thanksgiving with historical reproductions for Children Montessori Cultural Study | Holidays | History | kindergarten, Lower elementary
The Story of Pilgrims and The First Thanksgiving with Historical Reproductions for Children Montessori Cultural Study | Holidays | History | kindergarten, Lower Elementary.

Throughout the celebration, the Pilgrim fathers and mothers felt a deep sense of happiness and gratitude, overshadowing the hardships they had endured since their arrival. It had been a long and trying journey, but they finally came together and celebrated the first Thanksgiving, a tradition that would continue for nearly four centuries.

The Legacy of Thanksgiving

Every year, as generations have passed down the story of the brave Pilgrims to their children, Thanksgiving has been observed in our nation. It’s a time when fathers and grandfathers share this tale and teach their children to be proud and grateful for the legacy of the Mayflower’s journey to our country.

Significance of The Mayflower

The Mayflower is significant in American history as the ship that transported the first English Puritans, known as the Pilgrims, from England to North America in 1620. This voyage played a critical role in the early colonization of the Americas. 

Pilgrim’s Ancestors

Surprisingly, more than 30 million people can trace their family roots to the Mayflower’s crew and passengers. Pilgrims’ ancestors include U.S. presidents such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, George Bush Sr, George W. Bush, and Zachary Taylor, as well as well-known figures like actors Clint Eastwood, Bing Crosby, Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and Richard Gere. In September 2020, we marked the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s journey, a pivotal event commemorated each year on Thanksgiving, making it an integral part of United States history.


About four hundred years ago, the Pilgrims embarked on a journey from England to America aboard the Mayflower, seeking religious freedom. The challenging voyage, marked by cramped conditions and a fierce storm, tested their resilience. Upon reaching Plymouth, the Pilgrims faced a harsh winter, with half succumbing to sickness. Native American Squanto’s assistance with farming proved crucial for their survival. The Pilgrims celebrated their first successful harvest with a feast, marking the inaugural Thanksgiving, a tradition enduring for centuries. The Mayflower’s significance in American history lies in transporting the Pilgrims and establishing a foundation for colonization. Surprisingly, over 30 million people today trace their ancestry to the Mayflower, including notable figures. The 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s journey in 2020 underscored its pivotal role in United States history, celebrated annually on Thanksgiving.

Interesting Historical Facts

Mayflower Compact: After anchoring at Cape Cod, the Pilgrims realized they were outside the boundaries of the established Virginia Company. In response, they drafted the Mayflower Compact, a significant early step towards self-governance in America. This document bound the settlers to follow laws they created for the common good of the colony.

The Role of Squanto: Squanto, also known as Tisquantum, played a crucial role in helping the Pilgrims. He was a Patuxet Native American who had learned English after being captured and enslaved by English explorers. He taught the Pilgrims essential skills like farming, fishing, and navigating their new environment, significantly contributing to their survival.

Wampanoag Alliance: The Wampanoag tribe, led by Chief Massasoit, formed a critical alliance with the Pilgrims. It was through this partnership that the Pilgrims survived their first challenging years in America. This cooperation and mutual respect were a cornerstone of early relationships between Native Americans and European settlers.

Thanksgiving Menu

The first Thanksgiving feast wasn’t quite the same as modern Thanksgiving dinners. It included a variety of wild game like deer, turkey, ducks, and geese, as well as fish and shellfish. There’s also evidence that Native Americans contributed crops like maize (corn), beans, and squash.

Were There Pumpkins At the First Thanksgiving Dinner?

While the specific details of the first Thanksgiving menu are not well-documented, historical records suggest that pumpkins were likely present during the feast. Pilgrims and Native Americans would have had access to a variety of foods, including pumpkins, which were native to the region and commonly used in Native American cuisine. While there might not have been the pumpkin pies we associate with modern Thanksgiving, it’s plausible that pumpkins were part of the diverse array of foods enjoyed during the harvest celebration.

cornucopia The Story of First Thanksgiving
Cornucopia The Story of First Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Symbols: The cornucopia, or horn of plenty, is a common symbol of Thanksgiving. It represents abundance and the harvest. It’s often filled with fruits, vegetables, and grains. The Pilgrim hat, with its buckle, is another popular symbol associated with Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving as a National Holiday

Thanksgiving wasn’t officially recognized as a national holiday until President Abraham Lincoln declared it in 1863 during the Civil War. This was part of an effort to unite the country during a difficult time, and the date was set as the last Thursday in November.

Thanksgiving Parade: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, one of the most iconic aspects of modern Thanksgiving, started in 1924. It originally featured live animals from the Central Park Zoo. Now, it’s known for its giant helium balloons and performances.

Fun fact about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

A fun fact about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is that it originally started in 1924 as a Christmas parade, not a Thanksgiving one. The parade was organized by Macy’s employees and featured live animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo. It was so successful that Macy’s decided to make it an annual event, and it evolved into the Thanksgiving Day Parade we know today. Over the years, it has become a beloved tradition, featuring giant character balloons, marching bands, and performances, officially marking the start of the holiday season for many people.

Turkey Pardoning Tradition: The tradition of the President of the United States pardoning a turkey before Thanksgiving started with President Truman in 1947. Since then, it has become an annual White House event.

Regional Traditions: Thanksgiving can have unique regional traditions and dishes. For instance, in New England, you might find dishes like clam chowder or seafood stuffing. In the South, you might see dishes like sweet potato pie and cornbread stuffing. These regional variations add a diverse and flavorful aspect to the holiday.

Who Were Passengers of the Mayflower

The passengers of the Mayflower, which sailed to the New World in 1620, were a mix of English Separatists and other individuals seeking religious freedom and better opportunities in the American colonies. The group is often collectively referred to as the “Pilgrims.” Some of the notable passengers included:

  1. William Bradford: He became the second governor of Plymouth Colony and is known for writing “Of Plymouth Plantation,” an important historical account of the Pilgrims’ journey and early years in America.
  2. John Carver: He was the first governor of Plymouth Colony but died in his first year.
  3. Myles Standish: He was a military leader and an important figure in the early years of the colony.
  4. Squanto: A Native American who played a crucial role in helping the Pilgrims by teaching them about farming and establishing relations with local Native American tribes.
  5. William Brewster: He was an elder of the Separatist congregation and played a significant role in the religious life of the community.
  6. Edward Winslow: He was one of the leaders of the Plymouth Colony and served multiple terms as governor.
  7. Mary Brewster: The first woman to give birth on the Mayflower during the voyage.
  8. Dorothy Bradford: The first Pilgrim woman to arrive in the New World, although she tragically fell overboard and drowned shortly after.

In addition to these individuals, there were approximately 102 passengers on the Mayflower, including men, women, and children. They came from various backgrounds and shared a common desire for religious freedom and the hope of building a better life in the New World. Their arrival in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts, marked a significant chapter in American history.


In conclusion, the journey of the Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower, the challenges they faced, and the first Thanksgiving celebration in Plymouth nearly four hundred years ago laid the groundwork for a tradition that continues to resonate today. From the diverse menu of wild game, seafood, and locally sourced produce to the simplicity of their cooking methods, the inaugural feast was a testament to gratitude and resilience. As we gather around our modern Thanksgiving tables, it’s fascinating to reflect on the origins of this cherished holiday, rooted in history and celebrated with traditions like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The Mayflower’s voyage and the Pilgrims’ perseverance mark a pivotal chapter in American history, reminding us to appreciate the spirit of unity, gratitude, and community that has endured through the centuries.


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