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Identify who the Pilgrims were and explain why they left Europe to seek religious freedom; describe their journey and their early years in the Plymouth Colony.

See resources for Teaching about Thanksgiving as a Holiday at the bottom of this page

Architect of the Capitol photograph, Signing of the Mayflower Compact
Architect of the Capitol photograph, Signing of the Mayflower Compact

massseal.gifFor more information on early Massachusetts history, see Grade 5.7.

timeline2_rus.svg.pngClick here for a timeline on the Pilgrims.

Who were the Pilgrims?
  • Radical Puritans from Plymouth, England
  • Left England in 1607 because they split from the Church of England, which was illegal.
  • Became known as Separatists because they separated from the Church of England.
  • First settled in the Netherlands
  • Lived in Amsterdam then Leiden
  • Resided in the Netherlands for 10 years
  • Decided to leave the Netherlands because they feared losing their English roots.
  • Planned to go to the Hudson River area
lessonplan.jpgClick here for a lesson plan on the Pilgrims.

The Journey
  • Financed by a London stock company, they left on the Mayflower and the Speedwell in 1620
    Drawing Depicting the Pilgrims Landing at Plymouth Rock
  • The Speedwell turned around because it was not suitable for the journey
  • Aboard the Mayflower were Myles Standish, who lead the military in the New World
  • William Bradford was also on aboard, he was the leader of the Separatists
  • Bradford also recorded details of the journey and the development of Plymouth
  • During the journey, 41 men signed the Mayflower Compact
  • The Mayflower Compact agreed for the form of government in the New World
Multimedia.pngClick here for a YouTube video on the Pilgrim's voyage to America.
Multimedia.pngClick here for an interactive look at the Pilgrims and their journey to Thanksgiving, including maps, videos, and facts

Plymouth Colony
  • The journey was rough
  • After 65 days, the Mayflower reached Cape Cod
  • During the winter, the Pilgrims lived on the ship while building shelter on land
  • During the 1st winter, over half of the Pilgrims died
  • They had poor diets and their housing was not strong enough for the winter
  • John Carver became the first governor of the colony
  • William Bradford took over when Carver died
  • Bradford then served 30 times
  • Squanto, a Native American, was taken by John Smith's team and brought to England
  • He was able to return to America
  • He was the first to make contact with the Pilgrims
  • He could speak English and acted as a mediator between the Native Americans and Pilgrims
  • He and the other Native Americans taught them to how to plant corn and hunt
    Squanto Teaching the Pilgrims How to Survive in the New World
  • In 1621, the Pilgrims and the Native Americans shared a meal, the first Thanksgiving
  • The good relations with the Native Americans did not last, as King Philip's War began in 1675
For more information on the Pilgrims, click here.

primary_sources.PNGClick here for the text of the Mayflower Compact

Multimedia.pngClick here for a YouTube video on the daily life of a Pilgrim

  • Click here on a lesson plan on the Pilgrims and their daily life.
  • Click here for a list of topics and articles for the students to research from Scholastic
  • Click here for a lesson plan on the Pilgrims leaving England

Teaching about Thanksgiving as a Holiday

Statue of Juan De Onate, First Governor of New Spain
Statue of Juan De Onate, First Governor of New Spain

Screen Shot 2016-10-28 at 1.00.01 PM.png
The First Thanksgiving? from Texas State Historical Association
  • This article discusses a day of thanksgiving celebrated by Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate and his expedition on April 30, 1598 near El Paso

If You Want to Be Historically Accurate This Holiday, Serve Alligator, Jacksonville Historical Society
  • Spanish explorer Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles came shore on the coast of Florida, September 8, 1565, celebrated a mass of thanksgiving and had a feast with native Indians.

rotating gif.gifFor information on Thanksgiving as proclaimed by George Washington, see United States History I.22.

game_icon.svg.pngmulticultural.pngInvestigating the First Thanksgiving: You Are The Historian is an interactive game from a multicultural perspective showing a Native and European youngster in 1621

"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe
"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe

Multimedia.pngYou are the Historian: Investigating the First Thanksgiving from Plimoth Plantation presents myths and facts, daily life for Pilgrims and Native Americans, and the lead-up to 1621.

Thanksgiving in North America: From Local Harvest to National Holiday from the Smithsonian provides the history of the holiday.

Sarah Josepha Hale, 1831
Sarah Josepha Hale, 1831

Female_Rose.pngThe Godmother of Thanksgiving: The Story of Sarah Josepha Hale, the author of the "Mary Had a Little Lamb" poem who spent 36 years writing letters and editorials (including correspondences sent to five Presidents) urging the adoption of Thanksgiving as a national holiday.

Lydia Maria Child (February 11, 1802–July 7, 1880)
Lydia Maria Child (February 11, 1802–July 7, 1880)

The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Maria Child (1829) emphasized the values of simple home-cooked meals as ways for Americans to be anti-aristocratic and truly democratic in their lifestyles. She was an American abolitionist, women's rights activist, opponent of American expansionism, Indian rights activist, novelist, and journalist.

Rotating_globe-small.gifFor teaching ideas about Thanksgiving, see Eve Bunting's picture book, How Many Days to America: A Thanksgiving Story.

Thanksgiving, or How to Eat American Politics from The Boston Globe, November 24, 2013 offers a culinary history of the foods we eat at Thanksgiving.

Click here for descriptions of games played by the Pilgrim and Wampanoag children. It would be a good idea to have the students play some of these games, such as hubbub, so they can understand what it was like to be a child in the New World.