In Memory of Thanksgivings Past

Updated on July 18, 2019

A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues.

— Cicero

Whenever someone asks me about my favorite holiday, I immediately think of Thanksgiving. I have always cherished Christmas -- what it symbolizes, the beautiful decorations and the warm spirit of giving. But there is something about Thanksgiving...the simpler gathering of relatives and friends; the sharing of turkey dressed with spices, laughter, and family tradition; and giving thanks for what we have in a non-denominational spirit. It is a holiday experience made truly meaningful when we reach out to others in need.

The origins of the first official Thanksgiving in the United States have been a point of contention for generations. Some argue that it began with the Spanish harvest festival in Florida in 1565. Others maintain it was the 1619 commemoration of the Virginia Colony or similar celebrations held in Maine and Texas. Despite these claims, the Plymouth Bay Colony of Massachusetts is generally venerated as the historical birthplace of this national holiday in America.

Early Plymouth was founded by settlers -- later referred to as "Pilgrims" and the "First Comers" -- who arrived in America on four ships: The Mayflower (1620); the Fortune (1621); the Ann and the Little James (1623). These pilgrims were part of a congregation of religious separatists who fled religious persecution in England. They emigrated to Amsterdam and Leiden in the Netherlands before venturing forth to America.

The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth  with Pilgrims and Native Americans.    By Jennie A. Brownscombe (1914)
The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth with Pilgrims and Native Americans. By Jennie A. Brownscombe (1914)

Typically, the first day of thanksgiving is recognized as the celebration of the first successful Plymouth harvest in 1621. This festival was derived from both European and Native American traditions and lasted for nearly three days. In the fall of 1623, the Pilgrims were less fortunate due to the heat and drought of the preceding months. Consequently, pilgrim Governor Bradford called for a day of prayer and fasting. It rained shortly thereafter, and November 29th was thus declared a day of thanksgiving. This observance combined elements of the harvest festival with thankful prayers to eventually become the holiday we celebrate today.

History provides us with important dates, events, and social change for the Pilgrims, but not necessarily a window into the story of their lives. These early settlers were more than words on a page, images on canvass or names on a passenger list. They were individuals, like you and I, who had faith, hope and dreams of a better life.

In August of 1623, Leiden separatists, John and Sarah Jenney and their three children arrived at the Plymouth Bay Colony on the Little James following a traumatic trans-Atlantic voyage. The Jenney’s and their fellow travelers sought religious and economic freedoms, as well as the opportunity to establish their own communities. They also looked forward to joining friends who had journeyed to America from Plymouth, England on the Mayflower in 1620. Upon arriving at the Colony, the Jenney’s were disheartened to learn that nearly half of the Mayflower’s passengers had perished during the harsh winter of 1621 due to disease and lack of sufficient shelter. Had it not been for the support of local Native Americans, the remaining survivors would undoubtedly have been far less in number.

Written accounts of the Jenney’s are not without mixed reviews. For example, John Bridges, the master of the Little James, wrote in his report: "…for all he {John Jenney} could doe with more help was to lettel for and give tendance to his lazy wife…” Interestingly, Master Bridges neglected to mention that Sarah was seven months pregnant when she began this passage and gave birth to a daughter, Sarah Elizabeth, during the voyage.

Replica of the Jenney Grist Mill
Replica of the Jenney Grist Mill

Local historian, Nathaniel Morton, later wrote that John was “singular of publicness of spirit…a leading man on promoting the general interest of this colony.” Mr. Jenney built the successful corn grist mill of 1636. This mill is often referred to as the first utility in America, and essential to the continued survival of the Plymouth Pilgrims. Its construction also marked the beginning of industry and free trade. A replica now stands on the site of the original Jenney Mill in Plymouth, and is part of the living history tour for visitors, teachers and students.

What is also known about the early Jenney families was their enduring support of freedom and independence. John and Sarah had seven children; their descendants fought in and for the American Revolution. One member of the allied Jenney families who barely out of his teens boarded one of three ships anchored off of Griffin’s Wharf in Boston Harbor one chilly evening in December of 1773. For the next few hours, he and his companions tossed hundreds of chests filled with tea from the British East India Tea Company over the side during what would later be heralded as the Boston Tea Party.

What is not commonly known is that when they first arrived in Plymouth in 1623, some of the passengers of the Little James and the Ann were discouraged by the harsh conditions of frontier life. They returned to England the following year. I appreciate the Jenney’s decision to remain in America for a number of reasons -- not the least of which is that one of their direct descendants was my grandfather.

As a result of John and Sarah’s journey, fifteen generations of Jenney’s and their allied families celebrated Thanksgiving in America as farmers, brewers, yeomen, constables, merchants, entrepreneurs, soldiers, attorneys, seamstresses, artists, homemakers, architects, teachers, physicians, nurses, civil servants, and more. Many led happy, fulfilling lives; some did not.

Regardless of where we are from, our families provide us with the beauty of a living tapestry created over time. Interwoven with stories of hardship and joy, discovery and innovation, protest and social change, they are the genesis of who we are today.

For this special holiday, I give humble thanks in memory of John and Sarah, and their fellow settlers. They had the courage to endeavor through hardships we can only read about and imagine. I am also grateful for the Wampanoag and Patuxet Native Americans who helped the early Pilgrims survive by providing them with food, help with local crops and navigation, and friendship. Of all the blessings of Thanksgivings past, these are among those I hold most dear.

'Thanksgiving Song' - Mary Chapin Carpenter

Many hreaders live in different countries that do not celebrate Thanksgiving. Commenters are welcome and encouraged to share a remembrance of their favorite holiday, and what this celebration means to them.

In the spirit of this special holiday season, and during a time that is so troubled throughout the world, my warmest wishes and peace to all. May we continue to grow by focusing on the needs and concerns of others.

End notes

Quotations and reference source: Compiled from the manuscripts of Bertha W. Clark and Susan C. Tufts; edited by Gurney, Judith Howland Jenney;The Jenney Book; Clark, Tufts and Gurney; Published for the author by Gateway Press, Inc. 1988 Print

Immigrant Ships; Transcribers Guild; Anne & Little James;

© 2011 Genna East


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    • profile image

      Genna East 

      18 months ago

      Thank you, Nell. My apologies for not seeing your comment sooner! Happy Christmas and Happy New Year! :-)

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      19 months ago from England

      I don't really have a favorite holiday apart from summer vacation. but knowing that my GG's went to Massachusetts does make me wish we had Thanksgiving over here. Happy Christmas Genna!

    • Genna East profile imageAUTHOR

      Genna East 

      4 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Thank you. :-)

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      4 years ago

      Well you did an excellent job of giving a face to those settlers.

    • Genna East profile imageAUTHOR

      Genna East 

      4 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Hi Robert. Sorry I'm late in responding. I was hoping to give a face to those settlers, who they were, their hardships and their dreams. Thanks so much for the comment.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      4 years ago

      An interesting Hub about Thanksgiving. It gives a good historical background for the holiday. Your personal connection is a great addtition to the Hub.

    • Genna East profile imageAUTHOR

      Genna East 

      5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Thank you, Nell. I wish the very best for you and your family this holiday season -- and beyond. One of the things I'm thankful for is the support and encouragement I can share in with fellow hubbers like you.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      5 years ago from England

      Hi Genna, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving! we don't get it over here but I will be thinking of you all, once again a wonderful hub!

    • Genna East profile imageAUTHOR

      Genna East 

      5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA


      Hi Kim. I know what you mean about reading about people in history; they are more than statistics, faces in a portrait or names on a passenger list. I also experienced morning sickness which lasted for months. Having to experience this on the open sea with waves pounding and that roller coaster ride…I would have been deathly ill. Thanks so much for that wonderful comment, and for your support. I enjoyed writing this article.


      Hi Jo. Yes, it is a favorite holiday because it knows no barriers. I was lucky ‘The Jenney Book’ is chock full of interesting info on the Jenney’s from those first days of John and Sarah. Each generation is given a copy. My son has one and he plans on handing it down to his daughter. Thank you for that nice comment and encouragement, Jo.


      Hi there. My Dad’s roots were Canadian (Mom was a Jenney), which is interesting because Dad’s family used to be Colonists in this country, but were also Loyalists to the English crown until their homes were burned and they were “encouraged” to leave during the American Revolution. Hence, they fled to Canada. You are so lucky you don’t have “Black Friday.” I try not to think about it as is seems to turn Thanksgiving into a blur between Halloween and Christmas. Good to see you, and thanks for the comment.

    • CrisSp profile image


      5 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      We, Canadians do celebrate Thanksgiving too and like you, this is one of my favorite traditions next to Christmas. However, we celebrate it on the second Monday of October and we have no Black Friday. :)

      This is a wonderful article on Thanksgiving and the extra ordinary way that you have linked it to ancestry is superb and thus, came with nostalgia. I enjoyed it.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 

      5 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

      Beautifully written, a pleasure to read. Thanksgiving is a wonderful tradition, I love that it transcends class, race, cultural and religious barriers. How marvellous to be able to trace your family back to that first Thanksgiving. Have you written the book yet?


    • ocfireflies profile image


      5 years ago from North Carolina


      I read about Thanksgiving, but it is rare to read a piece where there is a direct ancestry connection.

      John Bridges, the master of the Little James, wrote in his report: "…for all he {John Jenney} could doe with more help was to lettel for and give tendance to his lazy wife…” Interestingly, Master Bridges neglected to mention that Sarah was seven months pregnant when she began this passage and gave birth to a daughter, Sarah Elizabeth, during the voyage.

      Having such terrible morning sickness, I can only imagine what Sarah went through. For her husband to say she was of [little] help speaks volumes as well about the status of women.

      What a gem you have here and not just because of the ancestral connection, but how well-written you present the hub.

      Awesome in every way and voted as such: V/H/P+++



    • Genna East profile imageAUTHOR

      Genna East 

      5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Thank you, Peg. The "Jenney Book" I mentioned in the source end notes is really quite remarkable in the stories and information it provides. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to write this article. The hardships many of them had to endure over the years are humbling. It’s lovely to see you, and I appreciate your kind thoughts and support. Happy Sunday. :-)

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      5 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      This wonderfully told story makes me nostalgic for the days of fall and the feasting holidays. Your family link to the early settlers was a bonus in reading this story and it was fascinating to learn about the real life difficulties that these people faced.

    • Genna East profile imageAUTHOR

      Genna East 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Thank you, Suzette, for that lovely comment. They desrve the credit for this hub; I can't imagine the courage and tenacity all of these early settlers must have had in order to just survive. My best wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving to you and our family.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 

      6 years ago from Taos, NM

      What a fascinating Thanksgiving story of your relatives arriving here in America. That is wonderful. I love this hub and I, too, have to admire your family and the others who toughed it out here in the wilderness of the New World. I am sure it was a hard and lonely life at first. I also like Thanksgiving and the getting together of the family to give thanks. This, to me, starts of a wonderful holiday time and celebration. Thanks for sharing your family's story with us! Voted up and shared.

    • Genna East profile imageAUTHOR

      Genna East 

      8 years ago from Massachusetts, USA


      Thank you! My grandmother deserves most of the credit; she and others researched the Jenney name for years.

      My best wishes for a Happy New Year to you and your family!

    • thelyricwriter profile image

      Richard Ricky Hale 

      8 years ago from West Virginia

      Voted up, awesome, and interesting. Such a great article Genna. I can appreciate all the research and info on this hub. A job well done. Knowing so much about your own history line puts a unique perspective on it. Hope you have a great New Year and best wishes.

    • Genna East profile imageAUTHOR

      Genna East 

      8 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      @Hi Peggy

      I have to give credit to my grandmother and other researchers. There is information about other settlers as well that I find fascinating. Thanks so much for stopping by and for the lovely comments! :-)

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      It is wonderful that you know so much about your ancestors that you could give this much personal history mixed in with historical events leading up to this Thanksgiving celebration. Not that many people can give an account going that far back. Voted up, awesome, interesting and beautiful. Hope your Thanksgiving this year was wonderful.

    • Genna East profile imageAUTHOR

      Genna East 

      8 years ago from Massachusetts, USA


      Thank you; I have always been fascinated by history, and what it teaches us about our forefathers; but just as importantly, about ourselves. I can only imagine what stories all of these early settlers could tell us. Happy holidays to you as well…good to see you!

    • Genna East profile imageAUTHOR

      Genna East 

      8 years ago from Massachusetts, USA


      Hello and Happy Thanksgiving. Sorry I’m a bit late, but have been on the road now for almost two weeks. Norway is such a wonderful country. Oddly enough, my Dad’s side of the family were loyalists. We used to tease Mom and Dad about this as the only thing they would ever argue about was politics.

      My grandmother (on my mother’s side; Mom was a Jenney), gave me “The Jenney Book,” which is a treasure trove of information about this family. This is the first time I have ever written anything about them.

      Thanks so much for the lovely comments!


      Hey there, dear friend. You always make this writer feel special, and I thank you for your gracious comments. I had a nice holiday visiting my son and his new bride. (His only bride, I should add. :-)

      We missed the Ravens game, but understand it was something to watch! You are indeed lucky to still have your mom with you, and be able to enjoy such times together. Hugs.

    • Genna East profile imageAUTHOR

      Genna East 

      8 years ago from Massachusetts, USA


      Hi there, Mck, and thank you. My apologies for not responding sooner but I’ve been on the road traveling since Thanksgiving. And I agree; this is something for which we can all agree. :-) I hope you enjoyed the holiday! Good to see you.


      Hey there! Thank you for your comments. Yes, there is a writer or two. I appreciate your visit, and for taking the time to read this article. Hope you had a wonderful holiday.

    • cat on a soapbox profile image

      Catherine Tally 

      8 years ago from Los Angeles


      What a wonderful hub! I concur with the other commentors and will add that you are blessed to have such a rich family history. Happy holidays!

    • Erin LeFey profile image

      Erin LeFey 

      8 years ago from Maryland

      Genna, what a beautiful hub, my friend! Your research and writing are top-notch as always, I'm always thrilled to stop by your pages. I love to research history although my family history brings me to a dead end, after my great-grandparents, I can't trace them. And I've only known my mom and dad. I hope you had a beautiful holiday; ours was quiet - up until the Ravens game at 8, then mom and I spent all night hooting and hollering for the Team

      Wishing you many wonderful blessing through this most festive season, whatever and however you celebrate. No matter how commercial it is on the outside - what we keep in our hearts and family is what really matters. love and hugs, Erin

    • Storytellersrus profile image


      8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Genna, I have been thinking this holiday that I might make Thanksgiving the gift-giving holiday in our family. As you mention, there is so much less hype. This holiday has continued to focus on gratitude. (Is that cynical? Would it be difficult for my family to adjust? Perhaps.) In the end, I suppose this shift would dilute another beautiful annual event.

      Your family history reads like a book. We all have our proud heritages, but yours feeds into the story of this great nation directly. (Mine were in Norway, while my husband's side fought in the Revolutionary War). I would like to hear more. Perhaps you have written about them elsewhere?

      Suffice to say, Thanksgiving is and I hope remains a time for family and friends to truly step back and appreciate the amazing country we share.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Dear Lady…

      I’m late here with this new addition of yours. I only wish you could write more often. This is a wonderful story about an interesting chunk of our history.

      ‘Regardless of where we are from, our families provide us with the beauty of a living tapestry, created over time, and interwoven with stories of hardship and joy; discovery and innovation; and protest and social change. They are the genesis of who we are today.’

      Very true in more ways than one. You have a history that is intriguing -- I’m guessing there was a writer or two in your family tree as well.

      Thanks for this excellent piece, Genna, and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

    • mckbirdbks profile image


      8 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Genna. Thank you for this presentation. Thanksgiving means different things to different people, but it is something as Americans we can all agree on.

      Have a wonderful holiday.

    • Genna East profile imageAUTHOR

      Genna East 

      8 years ago from Massachusetts, USA


      I kow what you mean; when I lost my mother, the holidays were so takes time to heal, and I miss my Mom much. Hugs to you, and all of my sincere best wishes for a happy holiday. :-) And thank you!

    • Genna East profile imageAUTHOR

      Genna East 

      8 years ago from Massachusetts, USA


      Thank you! I don't talk much about the Jenney's but the family history is quite many stories. And I so agree with you...we have so much to be thankful for. I am pleased you liked the story. :-)

    • Genna East profile imageAUTHOR

      Genna East 

      8 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      My apologies for not responding sooner, but I’ve been traveling, and will continue to be on the road for the next week.


      Thank you, Tina. Sweden is such a beautiful country; and so is your traditional Midsummer Eve! Thanks for stopping by, for the thoughtful comments and for your vote. :-)

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 

      8 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Dear Genna,

      Like you I prefer Thanksgiving. I must admit the last couple have/ will be rougher without my Mom around. She is still the constant memory of all I am thankful for.

      This is a comprehensive and thoughtful piece of writing. I love the picture as well. May you have a beautiful holiday and thanks for sharing this, mar

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      8 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I really enjoyed this Genna. The history about the early settlers is fascinating. I have never heard about the Jenney's. To give birth in route to America is remarkable. We have much to be thankful for. Thank you for an enjoyable story...Cheers

    • thougtforce profile image

      Christina Lornemark 

      8 years ago from Sweden

      This was very interesting Genna! We do not celebrate Thanksgiving here in Sweden so I love to read about the history behind this big holiday in America. It is a special and wonderful feeling to celebrate holidays with long tradition. I have a special feeling for Christmas and our traditional Midsummer Eve! Thanks for a lovely read! Voted up and interesting,


    • Genna East profile imageAUTHOR

      Genna East 

      8 years ago from Massachusetts, USA


      Hi there...good to see you. My grandmother and a group of researchers have to share in this credit. The Jenney Book I mentioned above is a treasure trove of information. I’m so pleased you liked this piece; I appreciate your supportive comments. Thank you!


      Hi Maya…how are you? Thank you for the comments. Yes, Mom was a Jenney; Grandpa was William Jenney. There are so many things to write about from all of The Jenny Book’s documentation, I wouldn't know where to begin. But you have given me an idea for a short story. I know you will enjoy Thanksgiving with your family. Hugs.

    • Genna East profile imageAUTHOR

      Genna East 

      8 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      @Will Starr

      Hi Will;

      Yes, I too think our version of Thanksgiving truly reflects the American spirit from the days of the early settlers, onward. Our great Canadian friends and neighbors celebrate this holiday too, in October, and the meaning and history of their celebration is similar to ours. Thank you for your wonderful comments!

      @R Talloni

      Hi. My grandmother gave me “The Jenney Book” years ago; it meticulously traces and documents the Jenney family tree in America from John and Sarah. There are excerpts from shipmaster Bridges’ report on the voyage in the book with a couple of items about John and Sarah. John Bridges and John Jenney did not get along, it seems. (I’m sure Mr. Bridges was a good man; yet on the whole, his reporting reminds me a little of our modern-day media. Mr. Jenney probably had a few things to say about Bridges as well.)

      I would be honored to have my article link with yours; thank you! I will do the same, if that is okay with you. :-)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Well my friend – is there anything you can’t write well? I like how this talks about real people. I really liked the writings about the Jenneys’ mixed reviews. I thought that was very clever – very human – and the way they wrote makes that era come alive a little. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday too. This was a special read Genna – as I now miss my family and look forward to this holiday. Your grandfather was on your mom’s side – yes? Will you be writing more stories about them?

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 

      8 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      Your research and information is amazing. This could become a lesson for children to study. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday after Easter although I cannot bear the commercialism of these spiritual holidays. Thank you for a lovely and inspiring read today.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Such a neat, well-researched hub. You have a great history!

      Because John Jenny took care of his wife, she did very well. This makes me wonder about John Bridges' family history...!

      Voted up and interesting. I would like to like this hub to mine on autumn's reflections, if you have no objection. Thanks!

    • WillStarr profile image


      8 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thanksgiving is uniquely American, and it speaks to our heritage. It's who we are.

      Excellent Genna!


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