The first Thanksgiving was held in early autumn of 1621 at Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts. The 53 colonists who had survived harsh conditions celebrated with what they called a harvest festival. Over 90 Indians were invited to join the feast of turkey, duck, fish, venison and cornbread.
The feast lasted for several days, and the tradition was repeated at harvest time in the following years. The event was not originally called Thanksgiving because to the Pilgrims, thanksgiving was purely religious. The first recorded day of thanksgiving was held in 1623 in response to a much-needed rainfall. It was much later that the two events were combined to what is now known as Thanksgiving Day, which President Abraham Lincoln made an official holiday in 1863.
The Plymouth colonists built successful relationships with the neighboring Indians who taught them farming techniques. This success was due in part to Squanto, a local Indian who had been kidnapped and taken to England a decade before. Squanto was able to act as an interpreter between the colonists and the local Indians.
Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoags, signed a treaty of alliance with the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims would provide assistance with defense against a neighboring tribe, and the Wampanoags would provide food and teach the Pilgrims how to farm. It was this successful partnership, along with the leadership of colony governor William Bradford, that led to the first harvest festival, or thanksgiving.