Thanksgiving: Past and Present

Pre-Paragraph: My goals for this word project are very similar to that of my second. I want to get the highest grade possible, which I will do by revisions and correctly formatting in APA. I want to include at least two in-text citations. I want a strong title that will foreshadow the project. I want to finish on time and give Raeanna enough time to peer edit (using the straub approach), so she doesn’t have to rush. I want to intrigue my audience. I believe I can intrigue my audience when they read the title and by visual pop. I plan for this writing project to be compare and contrast of Thanksgiving between now and then without sounding like I wrote it in first grade, which I can achieve my using in-text citations for ethos. As for my audience historians, those interested with thanksgiving past and present.

Thanksgiving: Past and Present


    As the holiday approaches, most families are looking forward to that once-a-year meal, hallowed by tradition.  Turkey.  Stuffing.  Mashed potatoes and gravy.  Cranberry sauce.  Candied yams.  Green beans, Pumpkin and apple pies.  Those dishes pretty much make up the main components of the traditional Thanksgiving meal.  But are we eating the same things that were eaten at the first Thanksgiving?  Not quite.

Today’s Thanksgiving goes back to the fall of 1621, when the population of the Plymouth Colony joined together with the Wampanoag turkIndians to celebrate the colony’s first successful harvest.  Surprisingly, there are little documents or descriptions of that original celebration extant today.  The only actual first-person account is the following:

“And God be praised we had a good increase… Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always as plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty”(Winslow, 1986, p. 82).

So what did they actually eat?  Turkey, might have been among the offerings, since wild turkey was available, but was likely not the bird of choice.  Duck and geese were far more likely on the table in abundance, with then-plentiful carrier pigeon and swan.  Certainly, the birds were not stuffed with bread. Onions and herbs were used then, or whole chestnuts for the goose. Corn would have made an appearance as grain for bread or porridge. Venison was probably also on the menu. As were lobster, mussels and eel, which were common foods for the Wamponoag Indians and probably for the colonists, as well.  While we don’t know what the colonists planted in pumpktheir gardens in 1621, working backwards from later sources, we can assume turnips, carrots, onions, garlic. Along with squashes, including pumpkins, were all among the harvest and the first Thanksgiving feast. Available fruits probably included blueberries, raspberries, gooseberries, and plums. What can we be sure was not there?  Potatoes and pies, for two.  White potatoes, which come from South America, and sweet potatoes, which made their way from the Caribbean, had not yet migrated to North America. The colonists had no butter or wheat flour with which to make pie crusts or other pastries. Oh, and no cranberry sauce. It would be another fifty years before an Englishman wrote of making a cranberry sauce “… for meat.”  Oh, and while there might have been a very small beeramount of beer, water is what they mostly used to wash down everything.  “What about desserts,” you ask?  As noted above, there was no wheat flour or butter, nor was any sugar left. There were also no ovens. Best guess is that there were possibly custards.  Maybe a pumpkin custard. They would hollow out the shell, then stuff it with the mashed pulp, plus honey and some spices and milk to make the custard, then roast them whole in hot ashes.

There were other things a lot different at that first thanksgiving.  For instance, it was a three-day feast. It was outdoors. Recorded accounts mention 90 Indians and male colonists, but no women or children, at all.

It took more than two hundred and fifty years for our modern vision of Thanksgiving to take hold.  Buckeye Cookerie, a popular cswcookbook published in 1877, contained suggestions for traditional Thanksgiving dishes, didn’t mention turkey much at all.  It did suggest, “… boiled cod, corned beef, and roasted goose as good Thanksgiving choices, accompanied by brown bread, pork and beans, ‘delicate cabbage,’ doughnuts, ‘superior biscuit,’ ginger cakes, and an array of fruits” (Buckeye Cookerie, 1877)

Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of the lady’s magazine, Godey’s Lady’s Book, campaigned tirelessly for a nation Thanksgiving Day, also campaigned for the turkey.  She even wrote novels, which included mouthwatering descriptions of turkey dinners.  For examples, this passage, from her novel Northwood:   “The roasted turkey took precedence on this occasion, being placed at the head of the table; and well did it become its lordly station, sending forth the rich odor of its savory stuffing, and finely covered with the froth of its basting. At the foot of the board, a sirloin of beef, flanked on either side by a leg of pork and loin of mutton, seemed placed as a bastion to defend the innumerable bowls of gravy and plates of vegetables disposed in that quarter. A goose and pair of ducklings occupied side stations on the table; the middle being graced, as it always is on such occasions, by the rich burgomaster of the provisions, called a chicken pie.”

Hale was ultimately successful in her campaigns.  Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, and turkey has been its star ever since.

WP3 Thanksgiving


Gambino, M. (2011, November 11). What Was on the Menu at the First Thanksgiving? Retrieved October 25, 2013, from

Plimoth Plantation. (n.d.). Partakers of Our Plenty. Retrieved October 26, 2013, from

Plimoth Plantation. (n.d.). Thanksgiving History. Retrieved October 26, 2013, from

History. (n.d.). First Thanksgiving Meal. Retrieved October 26, 2013, from

Krulwich, R. (2011, November 23). First Thanksgiving Dinner: No Turkeys. No Ladies. No Pies. Retrieved October 27, 2013, from

Jean Luis Gerome Ferris. (n.d.). First Thanksgiving, 1621.[Painting]. Retrieved October 27, 2013, from

Snoopy and Woodstock. (n.d.). Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.[Digital Image]. Retrieved October 27, 2013 from

Fitness Magazine. (n.d.). BudLight Beer.[Photograph]. Retrieved October 27, 2013 from

The Kitchen. (2013). Thanksgiving Turkey.[Photograph]. Retrieved October 27, 2013 from

Pumpkin, L. (2009). Libby’s Pumpkin Pie.[Photograph]. Retrieved October 27, 2013 from

Post Paragraph- I wanted to write something festive like I did with my Halloween trick or treat article. I have cited correctly and added the word document so my formatting can be seen. I have my in-test citations. I have a title that foreshadows the project but I am not sure it is a strong and creative title and I plan to continue thinking of a better title. I hope I will haven given Raeanna enough time to be able to peer edit without rushing. I believe I have caught my audiences attention, not only with the context of my project but along with the images.


2 thoughts on “Thanksgiving: Past and Present

  1. Hello Meredith, I really like your essay and your organization and flow. But Do you think you should add more visual rhetoric in order to go the extra mile? Do you have to put captions on the images? 🙂

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