Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Thanksgiving - 1621-31 Gov John Winthrop's Mixed Emotions

Governor Winthrop had a conflict of emotions about Thanksgiving. Even though the Thanksgiving that is celebrated on the last Thursday of November was proclaimed by Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637, to honor a massacre of Indigenous Peoples. The Governor, wrote that for “the next 100 years, every Thanksgiving Day ordained by a Governor was in honor of the bloody victory, thanking God that the battle had been won."

The 1st Pilgrim “Thanksgiving” meal in 1621 was an event celebrated between the immigrant Pilgrims & the Wampanoag, Pequot & Narragansett people. In fact, in October of 1621, survivors of their first winter in Turtle Island in North America, the Pilgrims who had a miserable crop that year invited a Native named Massaosit to their meal.  Massaosit followed the Indigenous tradition of equal sharing & invited many from his Nation. Much of the food brought to that meal was provided by the Natives, as they had much more of a bountiful harvest that year.

Ten years later, after often being separated from his wife by the Atlantic Ocean for 10 years, Margaret Winthrop (c. 1591-1647), the 3rd wife of John Winthrop, first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, celebrated a Thanksgiving full of love. 

During this long period of enforced separation that letters between them were written. Here both husband & wife put their love to God first, love of husband & wife second.  In Margaret Winthrop’s words “ I have many reasons to make me love thee, whereof I will name two, first because thou lovest God, & secondly because that thou lovest me.” Religious feeling exalted their mutual love & dignified it.

After her visiting husband had left England, Margaret Winthrop remained at Groton for more than a year, until he could make suitable preparation for her coming to North America. She arrived in Boston Nov. 4, 1631, in the ship Lyon, which brought a cargo of much-needed supplies for the winter. Her baby daughter, Anne, had died on the voyage.

“The like joy & manifestations of love had never been seen in New England,” John Winthrop wrote in his Journal. One week later, on Nov. 11, “We kept a day of thanksgiving at Boston.”


Notable American Women edited by Edward T James, Janet Wilson James, Paul S Boyer, The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1971

Some old Puritan love-letters: John and Margaret Winthrop, 1618-1638. Edited by Joseph Hopkins Twichell. Dodd, Mead and company, 1894.