Edward Winslow is the only one of the Mayflower passengers to have a verified portrait, which was painted in 1651 in London and now hangs in the Pilgrim Museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts, but he is heralded as the correspondent who shared with future generations a story of the First Thanksgiving.
Winslow joined a small band of Christian devotees, persecuted in their homeland, who sought refuge in a forbidden wilderness across the vast ocean aboard a leaky ship in the autumn of 1620, missing their intended destination in the northern parts of Virginia, by some 600 miles or more.
Almost everything we know about the Pilgrim settler’s first year in the New World comes from a contemporary, account that comes from Winslow, who had the foresight to write down their story and share it with others.
What is now called Mourt’s Relation, was written primarily by Edward Winslow, between November 1620 and November 1621, it describes in detail what happened from the landing of the Pilgrims at Cape Cod, though their exploring and eventual settling at Plymouth, to their relations with the surrounding Indians, including the famous harvest celebration and the arrival of the ship Fortune.
After a rough trans-Atlantic voyage and a bitter winter that would claim more than half of the Pilgrim population, Winslow married widow Susanna White in a civil ceremony held by Governor William Bradford, becoming the first to marry in the new land. The couple had three sons – Edward, John and Josiah, one daughter – Elizabeth, and one unknown child who died young.
Winslow formed a good relationship with Massasoit, the leader of the Wampanoag tribe whose land the Pilgrims had settled upon.
It’s thought that his natural ability as a diplomat meant an alliance formed between the colonists and the Native Americans. His interest in the Wampanoag people was crucial and the Pilgrims received crucial help in learning how to survive in the new land.
When Massasoit first visited the Pilgrim colony, a haphazard settlement at best, Winslow was among the first to greet him. It’s believed he would also help nurse the chief back to health when he fell ill, reportedly using his renowned chicken soup to do it!
The two groups—Pilgrims and Wampanoag—celebrated the first Thanksgiving together in December 1621 – a feast shared in the bountiful harvest.
Winslow would later write: “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 fruits 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 amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some 90 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.”