Reprinted below are portions of the diary kept in the Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford, governor of the colony for all but five years from 1621 to 1656, and the unofficial historian of the Plymouth Plantation during that period.
The first portion describes the hardships that confronted settlers during the winter of 1620-21, their first winter on American soil:
“But that which was most sad and lamentable was that in two or three months time half of their [the settlers’] company died, especially in January and February, being depth of winter, and wanting houses and other comforts; being infected with the scurvy and other diseases which this long voyage and their inaccomodate condition had brought them.
“So as there died sometimes two or three a day in the aforesaid time, that of one hundred and odd persons, scarce fifty remained. And of these, in the time of most distress, there were but six or seven sound persons who to their great commendations, be it spoken, spared no pains night or day, but with abundance of toil and hazard of their own health fetched them wood, made them fires, dressed them meat, made their beds, washed their loathsome clothes, clothed and unclothed them. In a word, did all the homely and necessary offices for them which dainty and queasy stomachs cannot endure to hear named; and all this willingly and cheerfully, without any grudging in the least, showing herein their true love unto their friends and brethren; a rare example and worthy to be remembered.”
Gov. Bradford’s diary from the following spring records the first planting, assisted by Wampanoag Indians who had befriended the colonists:
“Afterward they (as many as were able) began to plant their corn, in which service Squanto [the first Indian to present himself to the colonists] stood them in great stead, showing them both the manner how to set it and after how to dress and tend it: also he told them, except they got fish and set it with it in these old grounds, it would come to nothing. And he showed them that in the middle of April they should have store enough come up the brook by to take it, and where to get other provisions necessary for them. All which they found true by trial and experience. Some English seed they sowed, as wheat and peas, but it came not to good, either by badness of the seed or lateness of the season or both, or some other defect.”
Gov. Bradford’s account of the first Thanksgiving, which he had called to bless the first harvest, only hints at the celebration described in other colonial accounts. Tradition has it that the meal consisted of venison stew, wild turkeys stuffed with corn bread, baked oysters, sweet corn, pumpkin baked in a bag and flavored with maple syrup, and ended with a specialty produced by the Indians who had shared in the feast — popcorn.
“They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercises in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proposition. Which made many afterward write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.”