Most of us are familiar with the traditional story of the first Thanksgiving where William Bradford proclaims a day of Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock to celebrate the Pilgrim’s survival. With the help of some friendly Indians, nearly half the Pilgrims had survived that first terrible year in the New World. Now, they gathered to thank God for life and for a harvest so abundant that it would see them through the next difficult winter. In 1621, they were thankful like we often sing at Thanksgiving—
“Come, you thankful people, come; raise the song of harvest home. All is safely gathered in ere the winter storms begin.”
They were thankful to have survived but what most folks don’t know is that this feast at Plymouth Rock was not the first Thanksgiving celebrated in America.
The first recorded thanksgiving actually took place in Virginia more than 11 years earlier, and it wasn’t a feast. The winter of 1610 at Jamestown had reduced a group of 409 settlers to just 60 sick souls. The survivors prayed for help, without knowing when or how it might come. When help arrived, in the form of a ship filled with food and supplies from England, a prayer meeting was immediately held to give thanks to God.
They held hands and sang Psalm 100—
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues to all generations.
Perhaps, it would serve us well to follow their example this Thanksgiving!