52 Ancestors: #48 William Bassett Missed Thanksgiving

William Bassett 1600-1667

What an anti-climax!

I started this series on my Pilgrim Bassett ancestors to lead up to Thanksgiving.

But the “first comer”, William Bassett, my 9th Great Grandfather, totally missed the event we call the first Thanksgiving.

Plimouth Plantation

Modern reproduction village: Plimouth Plantation. Photo by Nancy, licensed under GNU Free license, Wikimedia

We have piles of information about William Bassett, and the offices he held in the communities of Plymouth, Duxbury and Bridgewater, because the Pilgrims, being partly a religious colony and partly a business arrangement, kept meticulous records. Today I will concentrate on his arrival in America.

We know with certainty that William arrived on the Fortune on November 9, 1621, and with probability that he was twenty years old, having been born in Middlesex, England in Stepney Green. The Fortune was an even smaller ship than the Mayflower.

Merchant Ship

17th century merchantman by User Musphot on Wikimedia Commons

It is not William’s fault that he missed what we think of as the first Thanksgiving, which was held well before we hold Thanksgiving toward the end of November. Rather, their three-day Thanksgiving feast was in early October. Not only that, but it was called a Harvest Festival–not a Thanksgiving. The first Thanksgiving was in 1623.

Whatever the party was called, it was not his fault that he was late, because he had originally set sail on the companion ship to the Mayflower, the Speedwell , which turned back to England because of structural problems.  It took a year for the financiers of the expedition to decide to send more settlers.

When they did outfit the Fortune, thirty-five people were aboard, picked for their likelihood of survival and their fitness for hard labor.  William was a blacksmith, a skill that probably was much needed in the new colony. He must also have had a strong sense of adventure to hang around for a year waiting for this ship and then to set sail under difficult circumstances.

He may already have been married  to his first wife Elizabeth (whose maiden name we do not know) when he arrived. If so, their honeymoon was a bummer. The information is murky.  Did Elizabeth and William marry in Holland? Did they perhaps marry in England after his first ship was turned back there in 1620? Did Elizabeth travel on the ship as a single woman? If so, did they marry in the colony?

We know  they were married by 1623 when they each received land. And in 1627 when the Pilgrims divided cattle based on family members, Elizabeth and William had two children, their namesakes Elizabeth and William.

Book Cover

Book Cover: Of Plymouth Plantation

In Of Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford writes about the arrival of the Fortune.  The original settlers from the Mayflower had been reduced almost in half by illness and injury to 53 from 102 , so they were eager to have reinforcements–both people and supplies. Other ships had brought messages and some goods from time to time, but this was the first to arrive with more people to join their tiny band. Unfortunately, the supplies did not show up–just more mouths to feed.

In November, about that time twelvemonth that themselves came (Note: Bradford means the original Pilgrims, himself included) there came a small ship to them unexpected or looked for in which came Mr. Cushman and with him, 35 persons to remain and live in the plantation; which did not a little rejoice them. And they, when they came ashore and found all well and saw plenty of victuals in every house, wer no less glad, for most of them were lusty young men, and many of them wild enough, who little considered whither or about what they went till they came into harbor at Cape Cod and there saw nothing but a naked and barren place…

Perhaps, given his history in the Plymouth colony, William was not quite as “lusty” and “wild” as Bradford is labeling these newcomers.  But they must have been a sad sight–dressed in rags, and unlike the Mayflower Pilgrims, not carrying supplies of food, seeds, blankets, clothing and utensils.

Pilgrim kettle

Standish kettle, artifact from the Pilgrim Hall Museum.

So they all landed; but there was not so much as a biscuitcake or any other victuals for them, neither had they any bedding but some sorry things they had in their cabins; nor pot, or pan to dress any meat in; nor overmany clothes. But there was sent over some Birching Lane suits*

*Birching Lane was a street in London where cheap, ready-made clothes were sold.

You can almost hear William Bradford sigh, as he looks at this irresponsible, ragged bunch. Note to my relatives–Bradford says the new guys were lower class, which is what I have always suspected of William Bassett.

The plantation was glad for this addition of strength but they could have wished that many of them had been of better class, and all of them better furnished with provisions. But that could not now be helped.

Perhaps Edward Winslow was thinking of the passengers on the Fortune, when he later wrote back to his fellow Leiden Pilgrims with a packing list for the trip.

As it turns out, as ragged and unprepared as he was (although I suspect he may have brought his blacksmith tools–the ones he willed to his younger son Joseph ( my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather), and as wild as some of his children were, William Bassett did very well in his life, building wealth in the new Colony to the point where he paid the 4th highest taxes by 1663.

In the long run, his contributions to Plymouth Colony and his hard work meant much more than missing one little celebration in his youth. Thanks, William. We’re glad you’re an ancestor.

How I Am Related

  •  My maternal grandmother, Vera Stout Anderson, was the daughter of
  • Hattie Stout Morgan, the daughter of
  • Mary Bassett Platt Morgan, the daughter of
  • William Bassett the son of
  • Samuel Bassett, the son of
  • William Bassett, Jr., the son of
  • William L. Bassett, the son of
  • William Bassett, the son of
  • Joseph Bassett, the son of, and Mary Lapham Bassett, the step-daughter of
  • William Bassett, the Pilgrim.

Notes on Research

You also should know that I am an Amazon affililiate. If you purchase anything by using my links to Amazon (like the link to the book cover above) I earn a few cents. Thanks for doing your shopping Amazon through my links.


Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving In Their Words

cornbread at First Thanksgiving

“The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe
Date 1914. This painting is in the public domain.

If you are worried about having a traditional Thanksgiving feast–fuggeddiboudit.  You really don’t want to have to prepare and eat what the Pilgrim fathers ate.

Although I have seen sources that say they did not have turkey, William Bradford specifically mentions turkey in the 2nd quote below. We know they had venison and  waterfowl  and no doubt plenty of fish and shellfish.

Edward Winslow wrote:

“our harvest being gotten in,our governour sent foure men on fowling, that so we might after a  peciall manner rejoyce together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labours ; they foure in one day killed as much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a weeke, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoyt, with some ninetie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine and others. And although it be not always so plentifull, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plentie.”

Hot rolls? Nope. No wheat. Maybe some Indian Bread made from their “Indian Corn”.

William Bradford wrote:

(After they harvested their crops) For as some were thus imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersised in fishing,aboute codd, bass, other fish, of which yey (they) tooke good store, of which every family had their portion. All ye somer ther was no want. And now begane to come in store of foule (fowl), as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besids water foule, ther was great store of wild Turkies, of which they tooke many, besids venison, etc. Besids, they had about a peck a meale a weeke to a person, or now since harvest, Indean corn to yt(that) proportion.

Mashed Potatoes? Nope. They had not made their way up form South America yet.

Cranberry sauce? Nope. It requires sugar. They had brought some with them, but their stock had not been replenished. Maybe their Wampanoag Indian guests showed them how to make and eat pemmican–which contained cranberries, and with meat it also would have been a stand in for mincemeat. But they would have a plenty of fruit.

Cabbage and wild spinach grew in the area, but the greens may have frozen out by then. They no doubt grew some garden vegetables from seeds brought from home such as carrots, parsnips, etc. They probably grew beans and kept them stored, so they could have had a pot of beans.

Pumpkin could well have been on the menu–just not a sweetened flour-crust pie.

William Hilton, who arrived on the Fortune shortly after that Thanksgiving feast [as did my ancestor William Bassett], gives us a picture of what foods were available, including wild grapes and berries.

…the country very pleasant and temperate, yielding naturally, of itself, great store of fruits, as vines of divers sorts in great abundance. There is likewise walnuts, chestnuts, small nuts and plums, with much variety of flowers, ro ots and herbs, no less pleasant than wholesome and profitable.
No place hath more gooseberrries and strawberries, nor better.
Timber of all sorts you have in England doth cover the land, that affords beasts of divers sorts, and great flocks of turkey, quails, pigeons and partridges;many great lakes abounding with fish, fowl, beavers, and otters.
The sea affords us great plenty of all excellent sorts of sea-fish, as the rivers and isles doth variety of wild fowl of most useful sorts
…Better grain cannot be than the Indian corn…

Research Notes

All these quotations were found at the Pilgrim Hall Museum site.

The citations for the letters are as follow:

  • Narrative of William Bradford
    Writing in Of Plymouth Plantation
  • The letter of William Hilton, passenger on the Fortune
    (November of 1621)
    From Alexander Young’s Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers
    Boston:Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1841
  • Letter of Edward Winslow
    Writing in Mourt’s Relations


Susannah Fuller White Winslow Cooks for Thanksgiving

First Thanksgiving

Jean Leon Gerome Ferris – United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division. It is in the public domain

Leaving her Native Land

Susannah Fuller was born in England, but she left all that was familiar to move to Leiden Holland* with a group of people who disapproved of the Church of England. They were in danger of being jailed for their dissidence in England, and it was illegal for them to leave the country, but finally decided leaving was the better opportunity. There the little English-speaking community lived in the midst of the Dutch for eleven years.  William Bradford wrote of the difficult decision to emigrate:

But to go into a country they knew not but by hearsay, where they must learn a new language and get their livings they knew not how, it being a dear [expensive] place and subject to the miseries of war, it was thought by many an adventure almost desperate; a case intolerable and a misery worse than death. Especially seeing they were not acquainted with trades nor traffic (by which that country doth subsist) but had only been used to a plain country life and the innocent trade of husbandry.”
William Bradford

Sailing to Virginia

Since they could not return to their own country, the idea surfaced that they might sail across the Atlantic to an English Colony, so Susannah, several months pregnant and with a four-year-old in tow, joined her husband on the dangerous voyage.

*NOTE:  One family history on line suggests that The Whites may have joined the group when they sailed back to England before departing for America, rather than having been in Holland.

Here was Susannah, pregnant and trying to keep track of 4-year-old Resolve on the rolling decks of the little wooden ship would have been a challenge, too.

Pioneering in New England

Although they had headed for Virginia, they wound up having to land at Cape Cod.
The Women and children lived on board the ship for two more months, no doubt thoroughly sick of that ship by now.  But on land they faced a horrible winter during which half of their number, including Susannah’s husband, died.

Shortly after William White died, Edward Winslow’s wife also died and Edward and Susannah married–the first wedding in Plymouth Colony.

Those that survived the winter, the “Starving Time” managed to plant and gather and feel blessed by the following fall. So they held a three-day feast. Rather, the men decided to invite the indigenous people to join them in a feast. The women’s role would be to prepare the food.

The First Thanksgiving

Of the 102 Pilgrims who had arrived on the Mayflower, only 63 remained by fall of 1621.  Susannah was one of only four women, plus five teenage girls.  So we can be absolutely certain that Peregrine’s mother was one of the cooks for the Thanksgiving feast. And those women and girls cooked for 91 Indians and 22 Pilgrim men (minus a few children like Resolve and Peregrine and nine adolescent males). I’ll never complain again about cooking Thanksgiving for ten people.

What stories Susannah had to tell her grandchildren–the children of Sarah Bassett and Peregrine White!

Leaving her own country, living abroad, sailing across the Atlantic when she was pregnant, giving birth to the first child in the colony, losing one husband and marrying a 2nd in the first marriage on the continent, being a key figure in the first Thanksgiving feast, and living to raise a family and a community in the new land.

I have great admiration for Susannah and the women like her who settled this country.  Although she is not a blood relation, I will definitely be giving thanks for her along with my family members this Thanksgiving.

Research Notes

http://www.millsgen.com/gen/hist/pilstor1.htm has a comprehensive history of Pilgrims including the Whites and Winslows.

The Sun Journal (Lewiston Maine), November 23, 1994, found in Google News, analyses Who Cooked at the first Thanksgiving.

Complete list of survivors at Pilgrim Hall Museum web site.