What was the First Thanksgiving?
Nearly all of what historians have learned about the first Thanksgiving comes from a single eyewitness report: a letter written on 12 December 1621 by Edward Winslow, and brought back to England on the Fortune: “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”
William Bradford passes over the celebration almost completely; he wrote over twenty years after the fact, and does not mention any specific celebration, but does give thanks for the bounty they enjoyed.
And that is about all we know from anyone who was there. It appears that this was a harvest festival, with thanksgiving to God in part for their survival and in part for the bounty of the harvest. There does not seem to be any intention to make this an annual commemoration, or any sign that this was, in fact, repeated later (for example, neither records this as the “first” time, suggesting that it happened again).