New England’s first Thanksgiving celebrated by European colonists (the American Indians had harvest celebrations of their own long before) came in 1607 in Popham, Maine.
The Popham Colony – a year-long effort to establish a British colony in Phippsburg, Maine at the mouth of the Kennebec River – began in the summer of 1607 and ended a year later in 1608. For one harsh winter a group of English settlers tried to stick it out at a small fortification they constructed.
During that winter the group suffered a fire at its storehouse and its president, George Popham, died (along with several others in the group).
The colony also struggled because its leadership did not establish strong enough relations with the local Native Americans, who might have been helpful to the settlers as later colonists learned. Nevertheless, there is a record of a 1607 feast with the local Indians, found in The historie of travaile into Virginia by William Strachey.
The colonists had reached out to Nahaniida, a local Indian, and invited him to come with friends to visit the fort. In the entry for October4, he records:
There came two canoes to the fort, in which were Nahaniida and his wife, and Skidwares, and the Casshabaes brother, and one other called Amenquin, a Sagamo; all whom the president feasted and entertained with all kindness, both that day and the next, which being Sunday, the President carried them with him to the place of public prayers, which they were at both morning and evening, attending with great reverence and silence.
The Native Americans were presented with gifts and they returned up the river following the feast, where they had more shelter from the elements. The Popham colonists, however, stayed in their small fort near the ocean, which left them exposed to a harsh winter.
By spring, the colonists were ready to call it quits. Though the records indicate they had procured furs and other goods, as well as identifying valuable natural resources, there was no will to remain as George Popham had died.
When a supply ship arrived, the remaining colonists – now leaderless – chose to return to England.
Thanks to: The Holiday Book by Martin Greif.