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

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.

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2 thoughts on “Susannah Fuller White Winslow Cooks for Thanksgiving

  1. Bro

    What a shame we don’t have more of “herstory” written in her own hand, for she surely would have been literate as part of the Pilgrim tribe. Re: That “first Thanksgiving” Ferris painting, I notice that Captain Standish is still bearing his sword. To carve the turkey? Or is it just a rule when you invite Indians to dinner always carry your sword? (It looks like one of the braves has a war club by his side also.) BTW, check out that print again. Shall we retitle this painting: “Who forgot to bring the turkey?”

    1. Vera Marie Badertscher Post author

      Actually, according to Plimouth Plantation and also the Pilgrim’s Museum, they probably did not eat turkey.[I have since learned that statement is incorrect. Speculation is that waterfowl would have been more in season, but William Bradford specifically says that they shot turkeys–just not specifically that they ate them at the Thanksgiving feast.] More likely waterfowl. There are several inaccuracies in the painting, but the turkey is not one. Nor is Standish wearing his sword a mistake. During the 3-day celebration, the Pilgrims put on a little military demonstration to impress their guests. Don’t know if the guests reciprocated.


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