An Original Thanksgiving Meal

Painting of the first Thanksgiving

Painting of the first Thanksgiving | U.S. New Zealand Embassy

Every Thanksgiving many Americans celebrate with an enormous feast . Surely you will be covering your table with Thanksgiving staples such as cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and, of course, a turkey. 

While we eat these dishes in honor of the first Thanksgiving in 1621, when the Wampanoag tribe and the Pilgrims in the Plymouth Colony shared a meal, it is likely that none of these foods were actually present.  Instead, waterfowl, fish, and crustaceans were among the main courses that were passed around, showing just how important clean water was to the first Thanksgiving, and to early American life as a whole.

Turkey was not popularized as a major Thanksgiving dish until the early 1800s.  Back in 1621, the feast, which lasted three days, was comprised of foods that could easily be obtained in the region, and the local waters were an excellent resource for finding these.

Rather than turkeys, the birds that were most likely eaten were ducks and geese.  These birds were migrating south, and they found excellent habitat in the clean rivers, streams, and lakes of the Plymouth area.  Without these clean waters attracting birds to Massachusetts, the first Thanksgiving meal would have been much less impressive than it actually was.

American Eel

American Eel| U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Below the surface of these rivers and streams, as well as the Atlantic Ocean, the Pilgrims and members of the Wampanoag tribe found even more to add to their dinner table.  Clams, cod, lobsters, and eels were plentiful in the clean, undisturbed waters, and the early Americans took full advantage of this.

Squanto was a member of the Patuxet tribe who settled with the colonists in Plymouth, and he helped to teach them how to catch menhaden, a fish that was foreign to the Europeans.  Through this cooperation, the Pilgrims and Native Americans were able to reap all the rewards that their local clean waters provided them, and the abundant seafood helped them to produce their marvelous, and now legendary, feast.

American Rivers is thankful for our country’s rivers and streams, and we are very thankful for our supporters who help us to promote and protect these wonderful natural resources.  Through our efforts, we hope to keep the waters that run through the United States clean and healthy, so they can continue to provide us with sustenance, and we can continue to celebrate them for years to come.