Thanksgiving in Plymouth

with Barbara Rainey, Dennis Raine...more | November 13, 2008

The first Thanksgiving wasn’t all about football, feasting, family, and fun like it is today! To the exhausted Pilgrims, it was a time to stop and thank God for His benefits—shelter, provision, and the kindness of a native American who saved them from starvation. Today’s dramatic reading will have you celebrating side-by-side with the Pilgrims!

The first Thanksgiving wasn’t all about football, feasting, family, and fun like it is today! To the exhausted Pilgrims, it was a time to stop and thank God for His benefits—shelter, provision, and the kindness of a native American who saved them from starvation. Today’s dramatic reading will have you celebrating side-by-side with the Pilgrims!

Thanksgiving in Plymouth

With Barbara Rainey, Dennis Raine...more
November 13, 2008
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: When you think back to Thanksgiving in years past, what comes to mind?

[musical transition]

Woman: One time we made a whole new dish and got to eat part of it before it was knocked onto the floor.  One of the kids was running through the house, and the plate busted, and it was very good – and it was – but we didn't get to eat very much of it, because it ended on the floor.

[musical transition]

Man: I remember one time when I was helping cook, I put some food coloring in the gravy.  I don't remember now – I think it was green, and nobody in the family appreciated it.

Man: I grew up in Minnesota.  I went down to – we moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and was invited over to some people's home.  It was the first Thanksgiving we were there, and I was looking around the table, and they didn't have mashed potatoes.  What they had is oyster dressing.

[musical transition]

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, November 13th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  I know Company French Toast is part of what you think of whenever you think of Thanksgiving.  Did they have Company French Toast at the first Thanksgiving, do you know?  Was that a part of the menu?

Dennis: I would doubt it.  I think they were just happy to have a meal.

Bob: It's a Rainey family tradition, but it doesn't date all the way back to the 1600s, right?

Dennis: No, and if you want to get the recipe for Company French Toast, you can go to our website,, and get it.

Bob: That's your famous recipe – where did you get the recipe?  Do you remember?

Barbara: I borrowed it from a friend, so it's not mine originally, which most recipes aren't, anyway.  They're usually …

Bob: Just passed down from one to the next.

Dennis: Bonnie Skinner, as I recall.

Barbara: Mm-hm, that's where it came from.

Bob: Well, it's on our website at, and you serve it as the brunch on Thanksgiving.

Barbara: We have brunch on Thanksgiving morning around 10:00, and I make an egg casserole, and this Company French Toast recipe, and we have some fruit and sometimes bacon, and I can't remember what else, but we have a big brunch, and then we have our Thanksgiving meal later in the afternoon about – sometimes as late as 3:00.

Bob: So by that time brunch has worn off, and everybody is ready to dig in.

Barbara: Yup, exactly.

Bob: Well, the reason we're focused on the food today is because this week we've been listening to the story of the first Thanksgiving, all the way from the pilgrims in Holland finding their way on the Mayflower to the New World, getting settled, and today we're going to hear the part of the story where they celebrate the first Thanksgiving with a shared meal with the Indians, right?

Barbara: Mm-hm.

Bob: And that's a real story like we've heard about it in elementary school?

Barbara: That's right.  It really happened.  The pilgrims decided to celebrate that they had a harvest because they planted crops in the spring, and the crops came to fruition.  They were able to reap a harvest, and they wanted to celebrate and give thanks to God for His goodness in allowing them to grow their own food.  And so they prepared a day of Thanksgiving and a day of rejoicing and celebrating what God had done.

Bob: And that Thanksgiving was – if you mark the year from Thanksgiving to Thanksgiving, they had gone through a very difficult winter in which a number of the colonists had died and, actually, as we pick up the story, spring is coming, and I guess the next year between the end of that winter and the Thanksgiving celebration, conditions were a little easier for survival, but it was still a challenge, wasn't it?

Barbara: Yeah, things had improved because the weather had warmed, and so therefore the need for shelter, even though they still had it, wasn't as desperate as it was in the winter.  And so they began to get some buildings built, and they were able to get their crops planted, and so by the time the first Thanksgiving that we know about rolled around, it was in early fall.  It wasn't in November.  It was probably in late August or September sometime when they actually had the first Thanksgiving celebration.

Bob: Well, we're going to hear part 4 of the story of the pilgrims today, and it culminates with that Thanksgiving feast, that celebration.

[musical transition]

Narrator: Hope began to grow again as temperatures rose slightly in early March.  A few families began preparations for planting their crops, but the most memorable event in March, perhaps of the whole winter, was the arrival, on March the 16th, of a single, nearly naked Indian brave.  Unlike other Indians who ran away when confronted, this man strode boldly to the door of the meeting house and, to the surprise of all, cried out, "Welcome," in English.

 Stunned by his boldness and use of English, yet still wary of his intentions, the pilgrims hesitantly invited him in and offered him a plate of food and some brandy.  The Indian ate and drank enthusiastically.  After his meal, the Indian informed his hosts that he knew English food and customs through contacts with English fishermen.  The settlers learned that his name was Samoset.

He was a chief the Algonquins, and his home tribe was further up the coast to the north in what is now Maine.  He said that the Indians who had inhabited this area were called the Pawtuxets.  They were a large Indian tribe who had murdered every white man who had ever landed in their territory.  But four years before the pilgrims arrived, the tribe suffered a mysterious plague, and everyone had died.

Neighboring tribes were so surprised by the tribe's misfortune and total demise that they avoided the area, fearing they, too, would be killed by the plague.  As a result, no one lived on the land, and no one owned it.  It was another example of God's remarkable provision for the pilgrims.  Samoset went on to explain about the other Indian tribes in the surrounding area.

The nearest Indians lived about 50 miles south of Plymouth.  They were the Wampanoags, which means "people of the dawn."  They were a friendly tribe headed by their chief, Ousamequin Massasoit.  With Samoset's help, the pilgrims planned to make contact with braves from the Wampanoags to trade for animal skins.  Near the end of March, with the weather improving and the worst of the influenza outbreak over, the surviving pilgrims assessed their winter losses.

Several entire families had perished in the epidemic, 15 of 19 women were dead, and only four couples had both spouses survived.  The children had fared best.  Of 10 girls, nine survived, and only eight of 23 boys died.  Nearly half of those who had arrived on the Mayflower now lay in the shallow graves dug on a windswept hill beside the sea.

With the days lengthening and the temperatures warming, the pilgrims turned their attention to planting the crops desperately needed if they were to survive a second winter in America, but they were interrupted by the reappearance of their new friend, Samoset, who arrived at the settlement with five Indians.

Though the pilgrims didn't know it at the time, one of these Indians would play perhaps the largest role in the survival of New England.  Bradford wrote of him that he was a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectation.  His name was Tesquantum, or "Squanto" for short.  Squanto also spoke English because years earlier he had been captured by a treacherous sea captain and taken to Europe as a slave.  Since Squanto had been away when the plague wiped out his tribe, he was the lone surviving Pawtuxet.

Because Squanto's English was quite good, he was asked to take the role of lead translator when the pilgrims met Massasoit.  Within a week, a meeting was arranged where gifts were exchanged, a pipe smoked, and an agreement reached that guaranteed peace between the pilgrims and this Indian tribe.  This peace pact would last for 50 years.

As the days passed, both Indians and pilgrims met frequently in the nearby woods without incident.  The pilgrims rested more easily.  Squanto stayed on in Plymouth and adopted these families as his own, "never leaving them until he died," Bradford wrote.  It was clear they needed his help and his invaluable practical knowledge.  He showed the pilgrims how to catch eels and fish at the river to use as fertilizer for their planting of corn.  This crop would save their lives in the winter to come.  He taught them how to plant pumpkins and tap the maple trees for syrup.  And for their economic benefit, he introduced them to the trade of trapping beaver for their pelts.  This skill, too, would be important for their future survival.

In early April, Captain Jones decided it was time to sail the Mayflower home to England.  With the spring sunshine restoring the health of the colonists, he felt it was now safe to leave.  Even after all the hardships and many deaths, every pilgrim in the colony elected to stay in Plymouth rather than return to the homeland.

With increasing hours of daylight and recovered strength, everyone in the colony soon enjoyed a pleasing weekly rhythm of work and worship.  Six long days the pilgrims tilled, hunted, fished, mended, built, cooked, and washed.  The only break in routine each week was on Sunday, when the group faithfully observed the Sabbath.

On this day ordinary work clothes were exchanged for more colorful attire.  Unlike the somberly clothed Puritans who, in the years to come, would settle further to the north, the Plymouth colonists wore brightly colored dresses, suits, and hats and garments of blue, red, green, and violet and yellow.  The congregation sang and prayed and listened to a rousing sermon by their elder, William Brewster.

Springtime turned the thoughts of some away from the grief of lost husbands and wives to new love.  The first remarriage occurred in May between two of the widowed – Edward Winslow and Susannah White.  The wedding reception gave everyone an opportunity to laugh, sing madrigals, and enjoy special food and drinks.

Another potential romance almost turned tragic.  Two young men, both named Edward, fell in love with a beautiful 15-year-old girl named Constance.  The rivalry became so intense that the two suitors decided a duel was the only way to decide who should win the girl.  The two Edwards met on the beach and began to fight with daggers and swords.  Both drew blood, but their shouts alerted other colonists.  Several men came running and separated the two before either was killed.  Apparently Constance was unimpressed.  She chose not to marry either Ed.

In August, during some conflict among Indian tribes, the friend of the pilgrims, Squanto, was taken hostage and threatened with death.  Under the leadership of Miles Standish, an armed detail left Plymouth to rescue him.  In the middle of the night, the pilgrims burst into the village where Squanto was a hostage.  After a brief fight in which several Indian braves suffered sword wounds, Squanto was rescued unharmed.  This aggressive military action made such an impression on all of the area tribes that, within days, new peace treaties were agreed to by all parties.

By October 1621, the corn planted that spring was ready for harvest.  The fields yielded a large crop that would keep the colony from starvation in the coming winter.  Their hearts were full of gratitude for their renewed health, for the abundant harvest, and for the peace they enjoyed with the Indians.

William Bradford, who, at only 30 years of age, had been elected leader of the colony after the death of John Carver that summer, was thankful for the harvest.  As the new governor, he declared that Plymouth should hold a Thanksgiving festival and invite the settlement's Indian friends as special guests.  A date was set, and an invitation delivered to Chief Massasoit.  To make sure there was adequate food, the pilgrim men went hunting and fishing.  In just a day, enough wild turkeys, eels, geese, lobster, partridge, and shellfish were gathered to guarantee a great feast. 

But when Massasoit arrived with 90 hungry braves all smeared with ceremonial bear grease, the pilgrims became worried.  How could they feed that many people?  And if they used too much of their previous stockpiled corn, would they have an adequate food supply to survive the winter?  Fortunately, the Indians along the Atlantic coast also were accustomed to celebrating the harvest with what they called "the green corn dance."  They thought the pilgrim festival must be the white man's version of this observance.

So when Massasoit and his men arrived at Plymouth, they, too, went to the woods and seashore to gather food.  Soon five deer and more fish and seafood were presented for roasting.  The pilgrims breathed a sigh of relief and began preparing the meal.

When it was time to eat, the menu was impressive – venison, goose, lobster, eel, oysters, clam chowder, parsnips, turnips, cucumbers, onions, carrots, cabbage, beets, radishes, and dried fruit that included gooseberries, strawberries, cherries, and plums.  Some of the fruit was cooked inside dough to make a crude pie.  The newly harvested corn was ground and served in the form of ash cakes, or hoecakes – a thin slice of bread baked in a fire on the plate of a hoe.

A special treat was supplied by the Indians.  They placed corn on hot coals, and the kernels blew into white puffs – popcorn.  The Indians dribbled maple syrup over the white snack and made popcorn balls.  The beverage was a fresh wine made by the pilgrims from the summer's fruit crop.  But before they began to eat, their spiritual leader offered a prayer to the God who had so clearly and miraculously led them to this place. 

Though they had suffered much, their experience was remarkably better than others who had attempted to colonize on the American shores.  Plymouth had lost 50 percent of its numbers, but Jamestown and Virginia had lost 90 percent.  The Plymouth settlers had successfully built a little community and grown crops to provide for themselves while other colonies were totally dependent for supplies of the arrival of ships from England.

Yes, God had blessed them abundantly, and they sincerely offered Him their thanks and praise.

William Brewster: May we live by thee, live for thee, never be satisfied with Christian progress but only insomuch as we resemble Christ, and may conformity to His principles temper and conduct grow hourly in our lives.  Amen.

Narrator: The feasting continued over a three-day period during which both Indians and pilgrims participated in games and exhibitions of shooting skill with bows and arrows and guns.  The pilgrim boys joined the races and wrestling matches of the Indians and, in turn, the Indians learned how to play stool ball, a game resembling croquet played with a ball and wickets.

At night the Indians slept in nearby fields.  The relationship between the settlers and Indians was now so solid and peaceful that the pilgrims no longer posted guards.  When the fun and feasting ended, both Indians and colonists agreed they wanted to have a similar feast the following year.

[musical transition]

Bob: That is part 4 of the Thanksgiving story from the book, "Thanksgiving, A Time to Remember."  Actually, from the new audio book, "Thanksgiving, A Time to Remember."  I guess we should say it's not read by the author, right?

Barbara: That was not my voice we were hearing.

Dennis: She's not Scottish.

Bob: You wrote the book but we did have someone else do the reading.

Barbara: And it's good that we did.  He sounds very authentic.

Dennis: No doubt about it.

Bob: And hearing that story recounted is cause for thanksgiving, isn't it?

Barbara: Mm-hm, it really is.  It's such a great reminder to hear what these people went through and endured for our benefit, and it causes us to be thankful.

Bob: Mm-hm, and you have to imagine, Dennis, that as the crops did come in that first year, and as there was food to eat, we take for granted so much.  I'm sure they did not take for granted that good harvest.

Dennis: No, and many times, Bob, I think because we have grocery stores, we are so used to just going and picking out our food and taking it home.  Now, we may not be able to afford all the different slices and cuts of meat we'd like to take home, but we can generally have enough food throughout each day so that we're not wondering where the next meal was coming from.

But as they celebrated Thanksgiving, and as they had this plentiful feast, they were actually celebrating God's provision – His provision of Samoset and Squanto and how He provided people to guide them and lead them and show them a way and how to survive in the midst of circumstances that – well, they didn't know anything about.

Bob: That's a pretty miraculous part of the story, isn't it, really?  That they would find anyone who was able to communicate, who had had any exposure.  It's almost angelic that God would provide for them that link between the colonists and the Indians.

Barbara: It's really true, because the chances – if we want to look at it in that perspective of them meeting someone who spoke English and knew English customs was just practically zero.  And so it really is a remarkable example of God's provision for them, that He would have this Indian man who had been captured and taken to England and had lived in England for a number of years, learned English customs, English ways, and English language, and then he was able to go back to his homeland and had not been there for very long before the pilgrims arrived.  And so when he showed up, they were able to communicate with him, and he knew the land because he had grown up there.  But he knew their language, so it was a remarkable link that they needed in order to survive.

Bob: In fact, when you stop and think about it, there are so many aspects of this story that we've been hearing this week that are remarkable – it really is – I mean – it's beyond remarkable, it is providential.  You see the hand of God at work in the passage, in the landing, in the meal, in how it all came together, and you've done a great job recounting all of that for us in your book, which is called "Thanksgiving, A Time to Remember," that we have in our FamilyLife Resource Center. 

In fact, I want to encourage our listeners, if  you don't have a copy of the book, we've put a special package together that we'd love to send to you.  It includes the hardback book, which is beautifully illustrated, including some original watercolors from Barbara.  There is also the audiobook that we've been listening to this week, the dramatized version of this story.  There is an instrumental music CD.  I think there is one track on it that has vocals, as well, but most of it is instrumental.

And then our team has put together a recipe for a the spiritual side of your Thanksgiving meal together.  This is a step-by-step process by which you can engage your family around the themes of gratitude and thanksgiving and help coach them to express thanksgiving to one another and thanksgiving to God during this season.

All of that's available when you contact us at and request it from us.  You get to the home page on our website, look for the box on the right side of the screen that says "Today's Broadcast," and that will take you to an area of the site where there is more information about all the resources that we have available here at FamilyLife.  Or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY, and just ask for help from someone on our team, and we'll make arrangements to have whatever resources you need sent to you, and we really hope you have a great Thanksgiving celebration as a family this year.

Let me also mention real quickly that Barbara has just completed work on a book that we have now in our FamilyLife Resource Center for Christmas called "When Christmas Came."  It includes your reflections and your meditations on John 3:16, which we don't often think of as a Christmas verse, but it really is.  It also includes some additional new watercolor work that you have done.  It's a beautiful book, and there is more information about that book on our website,, as well.

We also want you to know that we are so thankful for those of you who listen to this daily program and who, from time to time, will get in touch with us and express your gratitude for how God is at work through this program in your marriage or in your family.  Maybe you've been to one of our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences or been involved in one of our Homebuilders small group studies; maybe you've found help online at our website,; or maybe it's this daily radio program that God has been using in your marriage and in yourlife.

We love hearing from you, and we especially appreciate those of you who are able to help with our financial needs as a ministry.  We are listener-supported, so your donations are significant and help keep us on the air in this city and in other cities all across the country.

This month, if you are able to help with a donation of any amount, we'd love to send you a prayer guide for parents called "While They Were Sleeping."  It equips you to pray specifically for your children each week, praying for different character qualities in their lives.  If you'd like to receive a copy of the prayer guide, when you make a donation online at, be sure to write the word "sleep" in the keycode box on the donation form.  Or call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone and just ask for the prayer guide for parents called "While They Were Sleeping."  Again, we're happy to send it out to you, and we appreciate your financial support.

Tomorrow, most of us think that when the Thanksgiving meal is over, the holiday is over, but we'll hear the rest of the Thanksgiving story tomorrow.  I hope you can be with us.

Thanks to our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow. 


We are so happy to provide these transcripts for you. However, there is a cost to transcribe, create, and produce them for our website. If you've benefited from the broadcast transcripts, would you consider donating today to help defray the costs?

Copyright © FamilyLife. All rights reserved.


Fun, engaging conversations about what it takes to build stronger, healthier marriage and family relationships. Join hosts Dave and Ann Wilson with FamilyLife Today® veteran cohost Bob Lepine for new episodes every weekday.

About FamilyLife Today® View today’s resources




Recent Episodes