Both the Pilgrims and members of the Wampanoag tribe ate pumpkins and other squashes indigenous to New England—possibly even during the harvest festival—but the fledgling colony lacked the butter and wheat flour necessary for making pie crust.
In 1620, the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth, and Tisquantum and other Wampanoag taught them how to cultivate the varieties of corn, squash, and beans (the Three Sisters) that flourished in New England, as well as how to catch and process fish and collect seafood.
In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies.
Fruits indigenous to the region included blueberries, plums, grapes, gooseberries, raspberries and, of course cranberries, which Native Americans ate and used as a natural dye.
The Wampanoag are one of many Nations of people all over North America who were here long before any Europeans arrived, and have survived until today. Our name, Wampanoag, means People of the First Light. In the 1600s, we had as many as 40,000 people in the 67 villages that made up the Wampanoag Nation.
The native inhabitants of the region around Plymouth Colony were the various tribes of the Wampanoag people, who had lived there for some 10,000 years before the Europeans arrived. Soon after the Pilgrims built their settlement, they came into contact with Tisquantum, or Squanto, an English-speaking Native American.
Massasoit was the grand sachem (intertribal chief) of all the Wampanoag Indians, who inhabited parts of present Massachusetts and Rhode Island, particularly the coastal regions.
The Wampanoag suggested a mutually beneficial relationship, in which the Pilgrims would exchange European weaponry for Wampanoag for food. The feast of indigenous foods that took place in October 1621, after the harvest, was one of thanks, but it more notably symbolized the rare, peaceful coexistence of the two groups.
The English colonists we call Pilgrims celebrated days of thanksgiving as part of their religion. Our national holiday really stems from the feast held in the autumn of 1621 by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag to celebrate the colony’s first successful harvest.
The decision to help the Pilgrims, whose ilk had been raiding Native villages and enslaving their people for nearly a century, came after they stole Native food and seed stores and dug up Native graves, pocketing funerary offerings, as described by Pilgrim leader Edward Winslow in “Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the
Historians long considered the first Thanksgiving to have taken place in 1621, when the Mayflower pilgrims who founded the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts sat down for a three-day meal with the Wampanoag.
Farmed foods such as corn and beans made up about 70% of the Wampanoag diet. Although the Wampanoag favored meat, meat made up less than 20% of their diet. Roots, berries and other gathered plant materials, as well as eggs, fish, and shellfish (both fresh and dried) made up the rest.
The Wampanoag tribe was known for their beadwork, wood carvings, and baskets. Here are some pictures of a Wampanoag basket being woven. Wampanoag artists were especially famous for crafting wampum out of white and purple shell beads.
Wampanoag tribe members wore clothing made from the skins of deer and rabbit. The women and girls usually wore long dresses and sometimes leggings. In warm weather, and when hunting or fighting, men wore only a strip of leather, called a breechcloth, and a pair of moccasins.