The Pilgrims planted their crops in the spring of 1623, anticipating another bountiful harvest, but summer brought a severe drought, “which continued from ye 3 week in May till about ye middle of July without any rain and with great heat for ye most part insomuch as ye corn began to wither away.”22 With no rain in sight and their crops dying, Governor William Bradford “set apart a solemn day of humiliation to seek ye Lord by humble & fervent prayer in this great distress.”23
Everyone gathered in the meeting house early and spent that clear, hot day in repentance and prayer. When they opened the doors of the meeting house that evening, the skies were cloudy, and then it began to rain a gently soaking rain – on and off for the next two weeks, which gave them cause for “rejoicing & blessing God.” As Governor Bradford explained:
It came without either wind or thunder or any violence, and by degrees in abundance, as that ye earth was thoroughly wet and soaked therewith, which did so apparently revive and quicken ye decayed corn and other fruits as was wonderful to see, and made ye Indians astonished to behold; and afterwards the Lord sent them such seasonable showers, with interchange of fair warm weather as, through His blessing, caused a fruitful and liberal harvest, to their no small comfort and rejoicing.25
During that “lean year,” before the harvest came in, the ration was reportedly five kernels of corn per person. However, with the abundance of rain, Edward Winslow records that they had a great harvest that October.26 So they had another Thanksgiving festival with the Natives, inviting Chief Massasoit and the Wampanoags. This time they came with 120 braves and all their women and children, and they had another tremendous time of feasting and celebrating. But before they filled their plates with all that God had blessed them with, the Pilgrims reportedly placed five kernels of corn on each plate as a reminder of God’s goodness, lest they should forget.27
As you celebrate Thanksgiving this week, don’t forget to take time to genuinely and sincerely thank God for all His many blessings, material and spiritual, which has always been the spirit of this – the uniquely American holiday.