This year marks the 400th anniversary of the 1621 feast between the Pilgrims and Native Americans at Plymouth Colony. In 1621, Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. According to historians, Governor William Bradford invited a group of Native Americans to a feast to celebrate the colony’s first successful corn harvest. Wampanoag Chief Massasoit was among the invited people.
No one is 100% sure about the menu of that feast, but some of the food is listed in a letter sent by colonist Edward Winslow to family back in England. History.com quotes the letter as 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 fruits 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 amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst 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.”
Historians believe that various wildfowl may have been served, such as duck, goose, swan, as well as seafood such as fish, lobster, clams, and mussels. Modern day Thanksgiving traditions include staples such as turkey dinner, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and an endless variety of other foods.
Along with the kinds of food being different, the celebrating of Thanksgiving varied between 1621 and today.
According to the website of the United States House of Representatives, George Washington issued a proclamation for “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer” on Thursday November 26, 1789. Seventy-four years later, Abraham Lincoln encouraged Americans to celebrate the third Thursday in November as a day of thanksgiving, followed by Congress making Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1870. Each state was able to designate the specific day to celebrate the holiday. Finally in 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt signed a bill into law making the fourth Thursday of November the day to celebrate Thanksgiving.
The people of Cecil County apparently learned the date of the holiday by reading the local newspapers. In 1842, the Cecil Whig published a proclamation from then-governor Francis Thomas. He declared Thanksgiving Day to be Wednesday, December 14 and recommended that “all people of Maryland abstain from all secular employment and publicly engage in Thanksgiving praise and prayer to the Almighty.” Most of the holidays afterward were on Thursday, and held in November.
In 1848, the Sons of Temperance of North East offered a Thanksgiving and Temperance Dinner. They invited members and interested citizens. Distinguished speakers would deliver addresses to the crown and the day would end with a dinner at Mrs. Lum’s.
In 1885, the Midland Journal contained an advertisement for a Thanksgiving concert, lecture, and Dairy Maids Reception. The event would take place at Harmony M.P. Church in Rowlandsville, beginning at 7 pm. First, the Reverend S.B. Southerland of Baltimore would deliver a lecture. He would be followed by a concert by the church’s choir. Finally, the Dairy Maids would hold their reception of cake and milk.
The 1886 proclamation by the governor included this: “All the people of Maryland are expected to relinquish their usual employment, go to church, and eat roast turkey, celery, and cranberry sauce.”
Current citizens of Cecil County will include many activities different from those in the past. Today’s Thanksgiving Day celebrations, may include watching football, eating, and spending time with family and friends.