Weather on the First Thanksgiving

Nov 19, 2018
Campbell House Museum


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Thanksgiving travel always makes weather a big concern, so I thought it might be fun to write about weather on the very first Thanksgiving. Ironically, we know more about the weather than the date itself!

We believe that first Thanksgiving feast held by the pilgrims of Plymouth colony in 1621 was probably in September or October, not the last Thursday in November. No exact date was every recorded, however, we know it was a harvest festival.

Celebrating a fall harvest was an English tradition at the time—usually lasting several days. The Plymouth area would be harvesting from September through mid-October.

As new arrivals, the Pilgrims frequently described the harsh local climate; weather conditions and weather survival were common topics for the colonists.

So, the fact that they only wrote about the harvest festival and not the weather indicates it was probably relatively normal. For New England in mid-autumn, that meant mostly sunny weather in the mid-to-low 60˚s.

(Interestingly, it looks like 2018 Thanksgiving weather will also be milder than average in most of the country. See our 2018 Thanksgiving Forecast.)

Most history books record how difficult the previous year had been for the Pilgrims. After a much delayed, stormy sea voyage the colonists landed on December 21, the first day of winter. The harsh winter (45 of the 102 setters died) was followed by a rough spring, but the autumn brought a bountiful harvest. The arrival of Tisquantum (Squanto) had brought peaceable relations with Ousamequin, the Massasoit Sachem (great chief)  and his tribal confederation, including life-saving farming information, a trade treaty, and a military alliance.

Ignore the Plains Indian clothing and other inaccuracies. (Records show there were more Indians than Pilgrims.) We still commemorate a moment of harmony and abundance, when two peoples celebrated in peace. Jennie A. Brownscombe (1914)

What most books don’t record is how difficult times had been for the Wampanoag people. From 1616 to 1619, the confederation had endured an epidemic (smallpox or maybe leptospirosis, 7-day fever) that had wiped out an estimated 40% of the tribe. The remaining survivors found themselves militarily weakened and facing uneasy relations with their stronger neighbors. When the Pilgrims settled the decimated lands of the confederation’s Patuxet tribe and befriended the last Patuxet survivor Squanto, it seemed as if a new ally had arrived to strengthen the confederation. For the Wampanoag, 1621 was a time of healing, good hunting, good harvests and renewed strength.

History would disrupt the amity but for a moment, there was peace and plenty. For three days, the remaining 53 Pilgrims and over 90 Wampanoag feasted, had games and competitions, prayed and ate some more. It was a time of sunny weather and celebration.

May this holiday weekend give you, our readers, sunshine, peace and a reason to celebrate.

About This Blog

Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to "Weather Whispers" by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather—from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!

With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these blog posts. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.

Reader Comments

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Like Randi and Debbie, I

Like Randi and Debbie, I think the warm weather coming up is going to dampen the post-Thanksgiving Holiday spirit. I was looking foward to this for a very long time. Even last summer I was dreaming of December. I live in Virginia so some snow would be good (it's terribly dry here) When's the snow coming? Pretty Pretty Please we all want a winter this year!! On December 21 I expect to see winter, not a spring. The frigid air up north is going to have to make it down here eventually. It's intensifying and adding alot of weight. The barrier has to break sometime right? I just hope winter isn't being cancelled..

Food was delicious and my

Food was delicious and my family from Texas came up here to see me. They were complementing our weather here but I wish we could have weather like it was in the 1600s. Winters were guaranteed back in the day. Now that Thanksgiving is over, people are looking foward to the snow but here in Ohio its going to be unusually warm this weekend into next week. Last "winter" if one can call it that, is coming back to haunt us :(

I agree 100%. How could we be

I agree 100%. How could we be tricked into thinking we may actually have a winter this year? 65-70 degrees in December? No, thats just crazy. The thing that really irks me is the fact that I wasted $215 on this heater that I've been dreaming of having!!
ughhh, I guess we can just kiss the white Christmas wishes goodbye here in the middle atlantic right?

I have actually researched

I have actually researched extra information about the pilgrims. Im very interested in history. I've learned alot just by the 13 colonies and the Jamestown settlement. The settlers faced many many hardships. Even the pilgrims did when they sailed the Mayflower. America was "The Land of Opportunity" to many Europeans. I love US history, thanks Evelyn for your blog! I loved it!

Thank you. Like you, I love

Thank you. Like you, I love history.

I had a wonderful

I had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I feel as Thankful as the Pilgrims because there are people in a lot worse shape than all of us. One thing's changed since 1621 and that's the fact that nobody takes time to appreciate the little things in our lives. Of course Black Friday comes around and us Americans fight, push, and go crazy over shopping. People even camp outside the stores just to get in first. I wouldn't think the pilgrims had Black Friday deals though. I love the holidays but I get stressed at times, because it all revolves around the money it seems like but in the end its a true gift. This Christmas, lets just hope we can get that winter! A warm December would make me very upset so I hope the cold weather sticks for good. NOAA's 6-10 and 8-14 day forecasts doesent look to good! I see red, reds not a good color for the midwest & east. I want to see some blue. Will this December be unusually warm once again? thats the look of it. Lets all be thankful for colder weather. A winter is my present in Illinois but you cant get too greedy. Mother nature may have spring in mind this winter. Happy Holidays Evelyn!

Happy Holidays! I drove two

Happy Holidays!

I drove two elderly friends with limited budgets to Black Friday and they were thankful for the savings. Despite all the news stories of rude behavior, people were nice to them. It can be stressful, but the holidays do provide some lovely warm moments in the coldest part of the year.

1621 to this day,

1621 to this day, Thanksgiving is one of the most famous holidays. We're talking almost 400 years ago and the tradition grew. America's adopted this from that one October evening when the pilgrims celebrated and fiested. If you ask me they sounded like great people. Say thank you to the pilgrims! Its the day before Thanksgiving and I'm cooking the delicious ham and turkey. Oh dear, I have alot to cook tomorrow morning. Anyone want a plate? There's no telling what my relatives are bringing, plenty of food I assume haha! Have a Great Thanksgiving Folks!
The weather is looking delightful for Thanksgiving, 60 degrees and sunshine in central Virginia. Couldn't ask for much more in late November, when we're fortunate to be in the 50s. Especially when I hear its going to get DOWNRIGHT COLD come December

It sounds like a delightful

It sounds like a delightful day and very much in the spirit of the original celebration.

I join you, "Have a Great Thanksgiving Folks!"

13 years after the settlement

13 years after the settlement in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 the Pilgrims first landed in Cape Cod, Massachusetts in 1620. Winters have always been quite harsh, even to this day. The fortunate thing was, it was October. Winter hasent settled in with them yet. The weather had to be quite mild and beautiful. Sometimes I wonder, how was the November of 1621? (modern-day Thanksgiving) I live in PA, we're on track to be in the 60s this Thanksgiving! That's good timing because a reality check is underway. I'm not dreading it though, we have Christmas coming around, it needs to cool down! Everyone, have a great Thanksgiving and take time to be thankful for all you have. That turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, fruit salad and the pies that my sister makes sounds GREAT right about now!!

It does sound really great!

It does sound really great!

Back in 1621, it was in the "Little Ice Age" and winters were longer and harder. It was probably colder than today, but not really that different from the temperatures the Native Americans and Pilgrims were used to.

For more on on "Mayflower"

For more on on "Mayflower" times including the great difficulties suffered by both the Native people and the Pilgrims, see Nathaniel Philbrick: "Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War", Penguin Books, 2007


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