The Pilgrims left England and then Holland because they believed that modern society was a threat to their strict views of Christianity and morality.
In 1620, they journeyed across the Atlantic to Massachusetts. The trip was financed by a group of English investors called the Merchant Adventurers, who agreed to pay the Pilgrims’ expenses in exchange for seven years of labor.
On the Mayflower, the 41 Pilgrims called themselves “the Saints” and dubbed the 61 other passengers and members of the crew “the Strangers.”
In the New World, the first winter was devastating, killing more than than 60 of the 102 Saints and Strangers who left England. The following March, a terrifying thing happened that all had been dreading: a Native American walked into their camp.
“Welcome,” he said, in English, and introduced himself as Samoset. He’d learned some of the language from fishing crews who sailed the American coast.
The next day he left and returned with an Indian named Squanto, who spoke even more fluent English.
It turned out that Squanto had been kidnapped as a child and taken to Spain as a slave, but had escaped to England and eventually returned to his home village in America.
Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn, tap sugar maples, and identify edible, medicinal, and poisonous native plants.
The Pilgrims started becoming self-sufficient and had a good harvest that year and in gratitude invited Squanto and his tribe to a feast. That was the model for the modern Thanksgiving dinner.
Technically, the first Thanksgiving dinner came two years later. When the Pilgrims finally got some rain after a long drought, their governor, William Bradford, proclaimed it a day of thanks-giving.
After the American Revolution, a group proposed celebrating the Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving, but Thomas Jefferson and others opposed the idea, saying that a tiny, starving community of ill-prepared religious fanatics was not an appropriate event to commemorate in a new and optimistic country.
Finally, after a tireless 35-year crusade by a women’s magazine editor named Sarah Josepha Hale, Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation shortly after the battle of Gettysburg in 1863 setting aside the fourth Thursday in November as a national Day of Thanksgiving.