Thanksgiving, one of the most popular holidays in the United States, is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. It’s commonly known as a time to eat turkey and pumpkin pie with family, and watch parades and American football on TV. Dig a little deeper, however, and it’s earliest beginnings may surprise you.

Looking for a new home

In early 17th century England, a group of Pilgrims seeking religious

freedom set sail for the New World on a ship called the Mayflower. After 65 harrowing days at sea, the 44 pilgrims, accompanied by 66 others (one having died at sea), sighted land on November 10th. The pilgrims decided to settle in Plymouth (Massachusetts) due to the large harbour and the likelihood of finding food, even though the threat of attack by a local Native American tribe loomed in their minds.

That first winter nearly decimated the Pilgrims. Many died from the extreme cold and lack of food. By the time the spring thaw arrived, there were fewer than 50 of the original men, women and children who had made the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.

A fortuitous encounter

In March of 1621, an Abnaki Indian by the name of Samoset entered the Pilgrim settlement and surprised them by speaking English. Soon after another Indian named Squanto, who also spoke English, met the Pilgrims. The traditional story says that Squanto taught the newcomers how to grow crops and find enough food to survive. By that fall, they had a bounty of food, and so shared a feast with nearly 100 local Indians that lasted three days. Soon after, an annual day of thanksgiving was proclaimed, a practice that continued from the American Revolution to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

The other side of the story

Many historians agree that just one generation following the feast in 1621, the alliance that had been formed between the Pilgrims and the Indians broke apart, which led to many violent and deadly clashes that lasted many years. This trend only increased as large numbers of English colonists began to spread throughout the New World, eventually asserting control over the land.

The Thanksgiving story told to school children today often glosses over the harsh reality that the colonists and Indians were often at war. So when celebrating the holiday with your family, it’s good to remember there’s more than one side to the story.

Happy Thanksgiving!