How Long Did the First Thanksgiving Last?

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The first Thanksgiving, a feast held in November 1621 to celebrate the Pilgrims' first corn harvest, lasted for three days. The amount of time the celebration took to prepare is not known, but before the feast Governor William Bradford sent four settlers to hunt fowl, and Massasoit, a leader of the Native Americans who were invited to the feast, sent some of his men to hunt deer.

After sailing from England on the Mayflower in September 1620, the Pilgrims spent a brutal first winter on the coast of New England. By the spring of 1621, only half of the colonists remained alive. A Native American named Squanto, who spoke English, taught the Pilgrims how to fish, grow corn and extract maple syrup from trees. He also helped establish peace and friendship between the colonists and the Wampanoag tribe, of which Massasoit was chief. By the time of the first corn harvest, thanks to the help of their aboriginal neighbors, the Pilgrims were prospering.

The first Thanksgiving menu bore little similarity to modern Thanksgiving feasts. Though wild turkey was probably one of the dishes, it was not the main course. Other wild birds the Pilgrims ate included duck, geese and swan. Massasoit's hunters supplied five deer for the feast, and the revelers probably roasted some on spits and cooked some into venison stew. There was likely an abundance of shellfish, such as mussels, oysters, lobsters, clams and bass. The freshly harvested corn was removed from the cob, turned into cornmeal and boiled into porridge. The tables were full of local produce, such as onions, beans, cabbage, carrots, lettuce and spinach. Though pumpkin was available, the Pilgrims did not have the flour and butter necessary to make pie.