Before the arrival of the Pilgrims and Puritans the Wampanoag people gave thanks, feasts, and ceremonies for the Creator's gifts of a successful harvest, hope for a good growing season in the spring, and for other good fortune such as the birth of a child.
In 1621, after a year of sickness and scarcity the Pilgrims along with the Wampanoag tribe, gave thanks to God and celebrated His bounty with feasting and celebration. To these people of strong Christian faith this was not merely a feast, but a joyous outpouring of gratitude. E.W. Winslow, a Pilgrim and later Governor of New England who had lost his wife to the elements in the new land, wrote a letter to his friend in England saying, "Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might, after a special manner, rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, among other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming among us, and among the rest their greatest king, Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted; and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation, and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty...These things I thought good to let you understand that you might on our behalf give God thanks who hath dealt so favourable with us."
In 1622, Winslow's letter was printed in a pamphlet that historians commonly call Mourt's Relation. Winslow's and William Bradford's accounts were written between November 1620 and November 1621. They described in detail what happened from the landing of the Pilgrims at Cape Cod, their exploring and eventual settling at Plymouth, to their relations with the surrounding Indians, up to the first Thanksgiving and the arrival of the ship Fortune. Mourt's Relations was first published in London in 1622 by George Morton. This publication of the first Thanksgiving was lost during the Colonial period and rediscovered in Philadelphia around 1820. Because of Winslow's letter historians have long contended that it was the first Thanksgiving celebrated in America.
The holiday changed as the strictly held customs of the Puritans of the 17th century evolved into the 18th century's more cosmopolitan New Englander. By the 1700's the emotional significance of family united around a dinner table over shadowed the civil and religious importance of Thanksgiving. As the people began to migrate westward New England's holiday traditions spread to the rest of the nation. It was not until 1941, under the leadership of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Congress established the 4th Thursday of November as the national Thanksgiving holiday.
We at National Write Your Congressman wish you all a very blessed Thanksgiving 2013.