The Pilgrims never had winter easy. In fact, they never had anything easy when they came to America. Yet, they set aside a day to be grateful for all they had, and shared the day with neighboring Native American tribes. They began the tradition of Thanksgiving.
Having set out in September, from England with an accompanying ship, the Speedwell, the travelers were bound for the Virginia colony, but were blown off course. The Speedwell had remained behind due to being proven unseaworthy. The Mayflower pressed on alone.
Many of those aboard the Mayflower were known as the Separatists, a Puritan movement that illegally broke with the Church of England and sailed to the New World to escape religious persecution. They sought a new beginning where they might worship freely.
Upon arriving in Plymouth Harbor, the men aboard the Mayflower signed the Mayflower Compact, establishing a basis for the new colony's government. They spent the next few months living aboard ship, and ferrying people over to build the new fort and colony. During that winter, more than half the people died from malnutrition and terrible living conditions inadequate for the harsh New England winter.
In the spring and summer of 1621, a Native American named Squanto, who spoke English, worked as a bridge between the Natives and the Pilgrims. He taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn, how to hunt and fish in this land so new to them. Through his diplomatic efforts and practical instruction, the Pilgrims were in a much better position come the following winter. In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims and the natives of the Wampanoag tribes shared a harvest feast of plenty. It serves as the first Thanksgiving.