November 1621: First Thanksgiving weather

By Blake Mathews, Weather producer, meteorologist, bmathews@wjxt.com
Published On: Nov 20 2012 09:24:51 AM EST
Updated On: Nov 20 2012 09:25:39 AM EST
Pilgrims with Bibles walking down path

Library of Congress

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

Thanksgiving, in the modern era, is usually marked by a big dinner with friends and family and capped off by a nail-bitting NCAA football game on ESPN.

While the 'reflecion' and 'being thankful' part of Thanksgiving is often well intentioned, rarely does it seem to be practiced. Just ask those camping in front of a retail store waiting to get their hands on electronics that they don't need. However, the first Thanksgiving of 1621 was very much a time of celebration but many of the modern day main courses such as turkey were probably absent; rather relying on indigenous wildlife/crops to the area: duck, seafood and corn.

Not much is known about what took place at Plymouth Plantation on the first Thanksgiving. In fact, the Pilgrams often celebrated 'Thanksgiving' as a religious custom--giving thanks to God on a regular basis through prayer, not feasting. The American 'Thanksgiving' that we celebrate probably stems from the first successful harvest in the autumn of 1621.

The Mayflower landed in Massachusettes rather than New York Harbor thanks to incliment weather after 65 days at sea. According to Scholastic.com, a violent autumn storm arose and blew the ship off course. After stopping in Newfoundland for supplies, they landed in Provincetown and began to prepare for the winter.

Scholars don't know much about this time period or the weather that governed their everyday lives. According to Stormfax.com, 'The winter of 1620-'21 was "a calm winter, such as was never seen here since," wrote Thomas Dudley of Massachusetts Bay in 1630. Edward Winslow, one of the original Pilgrims, also wrote about the "remarkable mildness" of that first winter in Good Newes from New England, published in 1624. There was testimony by others to a mild end of December, a moderate January, a brief cold spell with sleet and some snow in early February, followed by definitely mild conditions and an early spring.'

The fact that there is little documentation of the first Thanksgiving weather around October of 1621 probably means that the weather was no factor in events that took place between the English and the native Indians. It was probably neither hot or cold. The weather was probably not stormy, either. Those same weather patterns, almost 400 years later, indicate that pleasant conditions were more the rule than the exception with many of the trees clothed in reds and oranges.

The subsequent winters afterwards are left to guess as there is little mention of them though one can say with certainty that the winter months were dreaded by the 'New Englanders.'

The weather this Thanksgiving in our part of the world as well as in the former Massachusetts Bay Colony may very well reckon the weather conditions on the first Thanksgiving with cool, tranquil autumn conditions. In fact, weather across 90 percent of the country looks fairly nice with the exception of the Pacific Northwest. 

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