10 Historical Untruths About the First Thanksgiving


More Pilgrims than Indians Attended the Feast

A woodcut showing a couple in traditional Puritan dress. MPI/Getty Images
A woodcut showing a couple in traditional Puritan dress. MPI/Getty Images

Needless to say, the Pilgrims get a lot of attention when it comes to telling the story of the first Thanksgiving. They held the feast and it was designed to celebrate their triumph in surviving the first year in the New World, as well as that all-important harvest score. After a perilous journey that landed them in New England in December 1620, the 101 Pilgrims who came to America on the Mayflower had shrunk to just 53 men, women and children by the time of the original harvest festival. Those remaining certainly had a lot for which to be thankful [sources: Plimoth Plantation, Shenkman].

These Pilgrims were a distinct group of settlers from the Puritans who came over from England and with whom they are often confused. Also known as "separatists," the Pilgrims were Brits who crossed the Atlantic and established Plymouth Colony after completely separating from the Church of England. While many sought religious freedom, others came in search of riches, adventure or simply a new life [sources: Plimoth Plantation, Shenkman].

Puritans, on the other hand, settled in Boston a decade later, having traveled to North America with the sole purpose of practicing their religion -- still an offshoot of the Church of England -- in their own way. Unlike the Pilgrims, the Puritans felt that their homeland's religion could still be reformed [sources: Plimoth Plantation, Shenkman].

With that point settled, it is important to note that the Pilgrims were not the only ones who partook in the early Thanksgiving festivities. With 90 men in tow, the Wampanoags present at the first turkey day outnumbered their new allies almost two to one. That's not to mention the role they had in ensuring that the event even happened. If not for the help of Squanto and others, that harvest celebrated in 1621 may not have been. The European seeds the Pilgrims planted died but the corn supplied by Chief Massasoit thrived [sources: Plimoth Plantation, Shenkman, Armstrong].