In 1620, the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers—an assortment of religious separatists seeking a home where they could freely practice their faith, and others lured by the promise of prosperity and land ownership. After a treacherous crossing that lasted 66 days, they dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod. A month later, the Mayflower crossed Massachusetts Bay, where the Pilgrims began the work of establishing a village at Plymouth.
Throughout that first brutal winter, most of the colonists remained on board the ship, where they suffered from exposure, scurvy and contagious diseases. Only half of the Mayflower’s original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England spring. In March, the remaining settlers moved ashore, where they received an astonishing visit from a member of the Abenaki tribe who greeted them in English.
Later, he returned with another Native American, Squanto, who taught the Pilgrims how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, fish and avoid poisonous plants.
After the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest, Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast and invited a group of Native American allies. Now remembered as America’s “first Thanksgiving” —the festival lasted three days. Historians have suggested that many of the dishes were likely prepared using traditional Native American spices and cooking methods. Because the Pilgrims had no oven and the Mayflower’s sugar supply had dwindled, the meal did not feature desserts, which have become a hallmark of contemporary celebrations
That feast at Plymouth is widely acknowledged to be one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations. But some historians argue that Florida may have been the true site of the first Thanksgiving. Nearly 60 years before Plymouth, a Spanish fleet came ashore and planted a cross in the sandy beach to christen the new settlement of St. Augustine. To celebrate the arrival, the 800 Spanish settlers shared a festive meal with the native Timucuan people.