The First Thanksgiving


Turkey Dinnerby Margaret Junkin Preston

“And now,” said the Governor,
gazing abroad on the piled-up store
Of the sheaves that dotted the clearings
and covered the meadows o’er,
“Tis meet that we render praises
because of this yield of grain;
Tis meet that the Lord of the harvest
be thanked for his sun and rain.”

“And, therefore, I, William Bradford
(by the grace of God today,
And the franchise of this good people),
Governor of Plymouth, say,
Through virtue of vested power–
ye shall gather with one accord,
And hold, in the month of November,
thanksgiving unto the Lord.”

“He hath granted us peace and plenty,
and the quiet we’ve sought so long;
He hath thwarted the wily savage,
and kept him from wrack and wrong;
And unto our feast the Sachem shall be bidden,
that he may know
We worship his own Great Spirit,
who maketh the harvests grow.”

“So shoulder your matchlocks, masters–
there is hunting of all degrees;
And, fishermen, take your tackle,
and scour for spoils the seas;
And, maidens and dames of Plymouth,
your delicate crafts employ
To honor our First Thanksgiving,
and make it a feast of joy!”

“We fail of the fruits and dainties–
we fail of the old home cheer;
Ah, these are the lightest losses,
mayhap, that befall us here;
But see, in our open clearings,
how golden the melons lie;
Enrich them with sweets and spices,
and give us the pumpkin-pie!”

So, bravely the preparations went on
for the autumn feast;
The deer and the bear were slaughtered;
wild game from the greatest to least
Was heaped in the colony cabins;
brown home-brew served for wine,
And the plum and the grape of the forest,
for orange and peach and pine.

At length came the day appointed;
the snow had begun to fall,
But the clang from the meeting-house belfry
rang merrily over all,
And summoned the folk Of Plymouth,
who hastened with glad accord
To listen to Elder Brewster
as he fervently thanked the Lord.

In his seat sate Governor Bradford;
men, matrons, and maidens fair,
Miles Standish and all his soldiers,
with corselet and sword, were there;
And sobbing and tears and gladness
had each in its turn the sway,
For the grave of the sweet Rose Standish
o’ershadowed Thanksgiving Day.

And when Massasoit, the Sachem,
sate down with his hundred braves,
And ate of the varied riches
of gardens and woods and waves,
And looked on the granaried harvest–
with a blow on his brawny chest,
He muttered, “The good Great Spirit
loves his white children best!”