Mayflower's Legacy: Thanksgiving Reflection and the Diplomacy of the New World

Mayflower's Legacy: Thanksgiving Reflection and the Diplomatic Foundations of the New World

In the year 1620, during the month of September, a merchant ship known as the Mayflower embarked on a significant journey from the port of Plymouth in England. Traditionally, the Mayflower transported goods such as wine and dry items, but on this particular voyage, it carried an extraordinary cargo–102 people who sought to forge a new life on the distant shores of the Atlantic Ocean.

Among the diverse group of passengers, approximately 40 individuals were identified as "Saints." These were Protestant Separatists with a unique mission – to establish a new church in a place they referred to as the New World. Their aspirations led them to board the Mayflower, driven by the hope of religious freedom and a fresh beginning.

In the present day, we commonly recognize these courageous pioneers as "Pilgrims." The journey of the Mayflower and the endeavors of these early colonists have become a significant chapter in history, marking the beginning of a new era in the exploration and settlement of the Americas.

Pilgrims signing

The Mayflower journey in 1620 was a major event in history. It united English Pilgrims seeking religious freedom with Native Americans, paving the way for the start of Thanksgiving. This article explores the multifaceted aspects of the Mayflower voyage, the Pilgrims' challenges, the crucial role played by Native Americans, and the genesis of the Thanksgiving tradition.

The Mayflower's Historic Voyage and the Pilgrim Pioneers:

In the early 17th century, England was undergoing religious upheaval. The Pilgrims, a group of Separatists seeking religious autonomy, faced persecution for their dissenting views. And initially they chose to flee to the Dutch Netherlands. They eventually set their sights on the New World, where they hoped to establish a community based on their beliefs. This marked the beginning of the Mayflower journey.

On 16th September 1620, with support from the Virginia Company's funding, a diverse group of about 100 individuals, many of whom sought religious freedom in the New World, embarked on a significant journey aboard the Mayflower, setting sail from England. This historical voyage aimed to establish a new way of life across the Atlantic.

The Mayflower reached New England on November 11, 1620, following a 66-day journey. Originally planning to settle near the Hudson River in New York, the Pilgrims had to change their course due to hazardous shoals and unfavorable winds, leading the ship to find refuge at Cape Cod, situated in present-day Massachusetts. Following a scouting expedition, the group, comprising Pilgrims and other passengers, found their way to Plymouth Harbor in late December. The Pilgrims faced an unforgiving winter, and many succumbed to illness and harsh conditions. This period of hardship set the stage for a critical turning point in their survival.

MayFlower Ship

This marked the genesis of the first lasting European settlement in New England, and those who laid its foundation are renowned as the Pilgrim Fathers or simply the Pilgrims.

Mayflower's Legacy: Ancestors and Famous Descendants

However, it's important to note that the Mayflower accommodated a diverse mix of passengers. Alongside the Pilgrims were servants, contracted workers, and families in pursuit of a fresh start in the land of opportunity.

Noteworthy figures among the Mayflower passengers included William Bradford and Myles Standish. Bradford emerged as one of the key founding leaders of the budding colony, eventually assuming the role of governor for a remarkable three-decade span. Standish, recognized for his military expertise, took on the vital role of the colony's military leader, contributing significantly to the establishment and early defense of Plymouth Colony.

About 10 million people living in America and 35 million people worldwide can trace their family history back to the original passengers on the Mayflower. People like Myles Standish, John Alden, and William Bradford are among their ancestors. Some famous names in this Mayflower family tree include Humphrey Bogart, Julia Child, Norman Rockwell, and U.S. Presidents John Adams, James Garfield, and Zachary Taylor. The Mayflower's journey not only marked the quest for religious freedom but also laid the groundwork for the diverse tapestry of settlers who would shape the American story in the years to come.

Squanto's Mediation: Bridging Cultures in Pilgrim-Native American Relations

When the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth in 1620, they met the Wampanoag and other Native American tribes who had been living in the region for centuries. Initially, there were some peaceful interactions and alliances facilitated by figures like Squanto, who acted as a mediator. 

Landing of the Pilgrims

Squanto, a pivotal figure, played a crucial role in fostering mutual understanding between the Pilgrims and Native Americans. Through cultural exchange and shared experiences, Squanto helped bridge the gap of knowledge and communication, facilitating cooperation and empathy.

His guidance and teachings in survival skills, coupled with the Pilgrims' introduction of European practices, led to a reciprocal exchange of wisdom and resources. This mutual understanding laid the foundation for alliances, treaties, and shared interests, contributing to the advancement of a new society in the face of challenges. His knowledge of local agriculture and survival skills proved invaluable as he taught the Pilgrims how to cultivate crops and adapt to the challenges of the New England environment.

However, as more English settlers arrived and established permanent settlements, tensions began to escalate. The growing English population led to conflicts over land and resources, as the Pilgrims sought to expand their settlements and establish control over the territory.

Over time, mutual understanding deepened as cultural barriers were gradually broken down. The Pilgrims gained a greater appreciation for Native American customs, spirituality, and communal way of life. Likewise, the Native Americans began to understand the Pilgrims' motivations, religious beliefs, and the challenges they faced as settlers in a new land.

Plymouth Colony: New England's First English Settlement

Plymouth Colony, also called Plimouth, was the first lasting English settlement in New England. It lasted from 1620 to 1691 and was the second lasting English settlement in America, after Jamestown Colony. People from the Mayflower ship settled there. Captain John Smith had checked out and named the area before they arrived.

Happy Thanksgiving

Squanto's help allowed the Plymouth colonists to focus on building their settlement, learning essential skills like planting corn and fishing. Within five years, Plymouth became self-sufficient through agriculture, fishing, and trade. However, as more settlers arrived, relations with Native Americans soured, leading to conflicts like King Philip's War in 1675. Over time, Plymouth's original ideals gave way to trade-focused influences, and it eventually merged with Massachusetts in 1691 after its influence declined.

Thanksgiving Tradition: Honoring Pilgrims and Native Americans

Every fourth Thursday of November, people across the United States observe Thanksgiving, a national holiday dedicated to honoring the early settlers and Native Americans who joined in a significant harvest feast.

In the autumn of 1621, the Pilgrims experienced a bountiful harvest. This success was a direct outcome of the cooperation and collaboration between the Pilgrims, who were the English settlers, and the Wampanoag, a Native American tribe in the region. To celebrate this, the Pilgrims and the Pokanokets famously came together for a harvest feast, now regarded as the foundation of the Thanksgiving holiday. Pokanokets refers to the indigenous people, specifically a group of Native Americans, who were part of the Wampanoag Confederacy. The Wampanoag people inhabited the region that is now present-day New England in the United States.

This collaboration is often cited as a symbol of unity and mutual assistance between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag during that time and now remembered as America’s first Thanksgiving. While the first Thanksgiving wasn't an annual event at the time, it laid the foundation for a tradition of expressing gratitude for a good harvest to enriched culture.

Thanksgiving Proclamations in American History:

Even though the idea of Thanksgiving in America originated in the New England colonies, its origins can be linked to both Native Americans and across the Atlantic. In ancient times, the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans celebrated and honored their Gods with feasts following the autumn harvest. Thanksgiving also shares similarities with the ancient Jewish harvest festival known as Sukkot. Here is a brief overview of the sequential renovation of American Thanksgiving culture:

President George Washington (1789 and 1795):

In 1789, President George Washington issued the first national Thanksgiving proclamation on October 3. This proclamation was a response to a request from the U.S. Senate, expressing gratitude for the successful ratification of the Constitution. In 1795, Washington issued a second Thanksgiving proclamation, urging citizens to reflect on the nation's blessings and offer thanks for the conclusion of the Whiskey Rebellion.

President Abraham Lincoln (1863):

On October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln, influenced by Sarah Josepha Hale's persistent efforts, proclaimed the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving. This proclamation aimed to foster unity during the Civil War and express gratitude for the nation's blessings.

Sarah Josepha Hale

President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1941):

President Franklin D. Roosevelt officially established Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday of November in 1941. This fixed the date for the national holiday, ensuring that Thanksgiving would be observed on a consistent day each year.

These proclamations, marked by gratitude, unity, and acknowledgment of national blessings, have shaped the enduring tradition of Thanksgiving in the United States.


The Mayflower's journey in 1620 brought Pilgrims and Native Americans together and changed American history. It was more than just the start of a settlement in New England—it had a lasting impact on countless families around the world. Thanksgiving, which began with a shared feast, represents gratitude and togetherness, reminding us of the valuable lessons from the Mayflower's historic voyage. As we celebrate Thanksgiving, we look back on a history shaped by working together, understanding different cultures, and the enduring spirit of thankfulness.