Did the Pilgrims eat turkey at the first Thanksgiving?
One of our particularly endearing folk images conveys a vision of smiling, broad-hatted Pilgrims and loincloth-clad, befeathered Indians sitting convivially around a log table, feasting on fat turkeys roasted over an open fire. Like many such images, this homely scene blends reality and fiction. Visit Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and learn more about our ancestors and that time period. Pilgrim with Native American In the autumn of 1621, following the dreadful winter of 1620-21 and the following summer’s productive harvest of crops, the surviving 50-odd Pilgrims celebrated and feasted for 3 days, inviting Massasoit and 90 of his tribesmen as well. This wasn’t a religious ceremony in the sense of thanking God for deliverance, but rather a harvest festival reflecting joy over the gathering-in of crops and foods. The exact date can’t be determined from existing narratives, but it wasn’t at the time of our current Thanksgiving Day.
In fact, the pilgrims probably did not eat turkey on their first Thanksgiving.
We do know that they ate venison, wild turkey, clams, lobster, mussels, sea bass, bluefish, corn, squash, and beans. The pilgrims learned these hunting and farming skills from the Wampanoag Indians.
Why do we think that they ate turkey and cranberry sauce at their first Thanksgiving? The Victorians prepared Thanksgiving that way and so it stuck because they made Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. Until the 19th century, Pilgrims weren’t even associated with Thanksgiving–it was simply a day of thanks.