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Thanksgiving: The Pilgrims' First Year in America

by Glenn Alan Cheney

Thanksgiving is not a book about a holiday. It’s about something that a few dozen survivors did after a year of suffering, death, struggle, and courage.

They bowed their heads to give thanks.

The Pilgrims’ journey began as a joint venture of business and religion, but soon it became a matter of survival.

With 102 men, women, and children packed into a dim, wet space below the main deck, the Mayflower set out on a terrifying 66-day crossing of the Atlantic. They dropped anchor well north of where they’d intended, and just as the New England winter was setting in.

With no choice but to spend the winter in the dank, frigid ship, they took ill. One by one, almost half of them died. The few individuals well enough to work rowed the dead into shore and buried them in graves left unmarked so the Indians wouldn’t know how weak they were.

Spring promised only a year of toil and difficulties as they attempted to settle new land in a place they called Plymouth.

But then a miracle walked out of the woods...an Indian who had already crossed the Atlantic four times. He spoke English very well. He showed them how to catch the local fish and grow the local crops. He introduced them to the local people, and in an experience unique in colonial history, Europeans and Indians became friends and allies.

And that autumn, the new and native Americans came together for a feast that lasted three days. Thanksgiving is a book of fact that all but breathes with the human drama of life, death, birth, hope, prayer, work, desperation, and thanks.

Though these few dozen people were hardly the first Europeans to settle in North America, their values and beliefs grew into the American culture. We are what they were.

Every American should read this book before bowing for grace on Thanksgiving Day.

Reader Reviews of Thanksgiving

"I've been a fan of Glenn Cheney’s writing for years, with Journey on the Estrada Real being my favorite thus far as he transported me along an ancient, mystical road through the mountains of Brazil. However he’s now outdone himself with his newest book Thanksgiving. I read it over the course of a few days, not because it was excessively long or ponderous as some historical tomes are, but because I was enjoying the depth and flow of this remarkable work. It is one of the most informative, most interesting, most accessible books about the Pilgrims, the Mayflower, the New World, the Indians and the trials and tribulations at Plymouth Plantation that I've ever read. The way Cheney melds historic fact with read-between-the-lines plausible borders on brilliant because he’s not ramming untruths or revisionist history down our throats, but gives intelligent thought and insight into what most likely occurred during the Mayflower’s voyage and the Pilgrim’s settling in Plymouth. Every schoolchild, and adult for that matter, in America should read Thanksgiving and every public library and school library should own a copy. It should be read aloud by kids and parents around Thanksgiving to illustrate what we’re really giving thanks for. "

Peter Saracena, Wilton, Connecticut

"The book was very informative offering perspectives of both the English settlers and the native people. My husband and I went to Plymouth recently and I felt that, as a result of reading Thanksgiving, I had a much better understanding and appreciation of the lives of both peoples . We were surprised that Mr. Cheney's book was not sold there."

Eva Dykas, Higganum, CT

"Best book ever! I couldn't put it down. How could you write something so wonderful? need two more in case I lose one or the house burns up. "

Harriet E., Atlanta, GA

"The book is very well done and insightful. I learned many things, and I certainly got a feel for the travails the pilgrims experienced. What a courageous bunch of people. It is a book that needed to be written and Glenn Cheney should be applauded for the research and work he's done. I think it could be something important for others to read – and especially around the Thanksgiving holiday season. I've just bought a few extra copies to give as holiday gifts this year! "

Ellen Heffes, Florham Park, New Jersey, Executive Editor

"Q. True or False? “Our Pilgrims ventured to a land new and unknown for their religious freedom,” or “The only ‘venture’ involved with the Plymouth colony was a business venture.” Nothing is as elusive as Truth. In his 2007 book Thanksgiving, Glen Alan Cheney uncovers many contradictions, discovers new facts, shares fresh insights. He explores that seminal year including the famous first feast that Americans everywhere commemorate. Historical research challenges cherished myth, leaving not a diminished truth, but a larger reality even more profound and enriching. A fascinating read. A. When offered apple or pumpkin pie, the only right answer is “All of the above!” "

Karen the Librarian Stevens, Scotland, CT

"Cheney's brilliant writing style makes this book an instant classic. Growing up in New England, I thought I had a good idea of what life was like for the Pilgrims. Come to find out, I knew nothing. Reading "Thanksgiving," I felt like I was right there, from preparing for the voyage to getting established in America. This story is amazing, and I plan to share this book with as many people as I can. This a history book for the masses, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. "

Chris Campbell, Denver, Colorado, Author, Social Worker

"This book is very easy reading, full of interesting Pilgrim facts, and is a very interesting account of their daily trials. Glenn Cheney has poured hours of research into a highly detailed accounting of the entire adventure. Cheney has not left anything out. He has described one detailed scene after another in a way that the reader is drawn from one page to the next. This is not boring reading by any means…. If you want the entire Pilgrim story, this is the book for you. "

Mayflower Newsletter Winter 2007-2008, Society of Mayflower Descendants in Michigan

"Do you think you "know" the story of the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving? Read Cheney's version and you'll be pleasantly surprised and what you didn't know or never thought of. It is a well written, well researched, historically correct story of what these brave people went through to begin anew. The hardships, sorrow, loss, and starvation must have been almost unbearable. Yet they persisted. Cheney presents a rather believable view from the Native American side also. A must read for anyone interested in our history. "

Donna Benoit, Massachusetts, Regent, Lynn Cobb Quequechan Chapter, D.A.R.

"This was a very unique book. I have never really read anything like it before. I thought it was going to be a history book, and it was, but after getting to know the author a little bit I realized it was going to be an entertaining history book at the least... And it was! I've never really been into history. I had very boring history teachers in school (with one exception) so I didn't really pay much attention to what I was learning. But I've found as an adult that there are so many people that are enthusiastic about history that they have a way of explaining what happened in a way that I actually care to hear what they are saying. That's not to say that I don't know any history, just that when I start reading a historical book I'm learning something for the first time. It's funny how things get "skewed" when we learn them (well when everyone else learned them and I was doodling in my notebooks). And not that things get skewed in a bad way, but with the passing of time so passes many of the details and particulars of the events that have transpired. I knew about the Mayflower, and I knew the story of the first Thanksgiving, but I was very enlightened by reading this book. We meet the Pilgrims before they set sail to America, we get to follow them on their miserable (I think that's putting it nicely) boat ride, and their first year in America. There are so many things that happened that I didn't know about, and so many things that I remember learning differently. You can tell that Cheney has done his research and written a book that is a true to what occurred aboard the Mayflower and what happened when the Pilgrims arrived in America. I think my favorite part of this book was that it felt like I was reading fiction, to an extent. Sure there are some sections that do come across like a history book, but for the most part I felt like I was just reading a story. The ability to write history in a way that holds my interest is a true feat! Kudos to Glen Cheney! I really liked just about everything about this book. The cover is so simple, which really fits the book. I happened to receive a hard cover copy, so there was also a ribbon bookmark (I didn't know they still made books with ribbon bookmarks in them) and I LOVED it! The book also felt like it was an "old" book. To me reading old books (like ones that haven't been opened in 50 years) is a great experience I feel as if the book has it's own story, in addition to the one written in its pages, which makes reading it that much more of an experience for me. That was the feeling I had reading this book. I think I've grew very fond of this book because of that "old" feeling it has. Kind of like a kid with an old soul, you just feel something different than you do from any other kid. I usually donate my books to the library, as I will promote literacy in any way possible, but given my connection with the "old soul" of this book I think I'm going to have to hang on to it!"

Jennifer DeFoy, Warren, MI

"Please pass this message along to Glenn Cheney. I bought your book a few weeks ago at the Garlick Fair (never thought I would admit to something like that) in Mystic. My mother and I stopped by your table to see what you were selling. You were right - the book is a very easy read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and found myself not wanting to put it down. I have a better understanding now of the native American tribal politics during that time - of which Nathanial Philbrick didn't help me at all in "Mayflower" (the last section on the native American tribes was a touch confusing and hard to read). I'm also glad you explained the "rock". Tony Horwitz wrote a very funny book about what happened in N. America between 1492 and 1620, "A Voyage Long and Strange". In it he describes his shock in finding such a small and puny rock. I don't think he knows everything that poor rock went through, it being moved/split, split, etc. Thanks for all of your in-depth research. I learned alot as a result of it. I look forward to picking up another of your books soon. Susan E. Conant"

Susan Conant, Newport, RI

"We bought this hardcover book at Mr. Cheney's table at Foodfest 2011 on the Plymouth Waterfront. We are a homeschooling family, and chatted with Mr. Cheney for several minutes. I wanted to buy the book, but was hesitant that day to spend the $21.95 for it. However, Mr. Cheney convinced us it was worth it, saying reading it painted pictures in one's mind so clear, it was like watching a movie. That excited my kids, as they are all true book lovers. Unfortunately, my kids were not impressed with it any more than any other book they have read on this subject. Neither was I. But what had the greatest impression on my kids about the book, was the unbelievable number of errors throughout it! Even on the inside book flap: instroduced. Typos, mispellings, wrong words, all throughout the story. It's astounding. Clearly, the book was never properly edited. For my money, I was really disappointed in that. But I was impressed with my kids picking up on them all. Sadly, that was the only entertainment for them, while reading Thanksgiving."

L Richard, Plymouth, MA, Disappointed.

"An entertaining and informative read ; more accessible for amateurs than, I would think, Philbrick's 'Mayflower' Unfortunately, I agree with the review from L Richard in that there are far too many errors throughout the text - proofreading and editing not done to a professional standard ; starting at the inside flap ('The Pilgrims' journey bean as a join venture....)"

Tom Bartlett, Newton Longville, England, Careers Adviser, Mayflower Descendant

"Dear Mr. Cheney: Last night we had book club and reviewed your book, Thanksgiving. It was a hit! All the ladies in the group were amazed at how much we learned reading your book. What we learned in elementary school about the Pilgrims just didn't give us enough information, but your book was rich with important details. Here are some of the things the ladies in my book club enjoyed about your book. A few things they mentioned were where you pointed out that the American Dream was first an English dream. (I'm just doing this by memory I hope I have it right.) Also we had a good laugh about all the steps it took to shoot a gun. Another fact that we didn't know but thought was interesting was how long they stayed on the boat after they reached America. We were also fascinated by the Indian relationships with the Pilgrims, and that they brought over honey bees. One woman thought you did an exceptional job of describing the kings in England and their wives and politics in a very straight forward and succinct manner when sometimes it is so confusing. Thanks for a great book that provided for a great book discussion. Lisa G Frame "

Lisa Frame, Ephraim, UT, Book club Member

Praise for Thanksgiving

Glenn Cheney draws from the few available resources to give us Thanksgiving with intelligence, a sense of place, and a story woven by connecting the details we've heard but not put together previously. This is a must read for everyone.

Judith Haddock Swan
Governor General, General Society of Mayflower Descendants

From the September 2008 edition of The Green Mountain Pilgrim, Vermont Society of Mayflower Descendants:

Reading Glenn Alan Cheney's book THANKSGIVING gives one a whole new perspective about the lives of our ancestors before and after they arrived in the New World.

This is the type of book that every person, no matter their age, will enjoy reading. The author uses descriptive prose to bring the Pilgrims' experiences alive. This is an exciting book that is difficult to put aside.

Whether you are a descendant of a Mayflower Passenger or an appreciator of American History this is the kind of book that begs being read aloud. It is the story of our shared heritage and should concern every immigrant to the United States.

The description of the time in which the Mayflower pilgrims lived is vividly brought to life which helps the reader understand exactly why they left their native land. The Pilgrims gave up much to seek religious and economic freedom in a new place. They were persecuted and had few choices but to leave their homes. The author also spends time to acquaint the reader about the differences between the Puritans and the Pilgrim Separatists. This is a subject where many students of history are not clear.

For all those who want a deeper understanding of the various groups that came to the New World seeking religious freedom during this time period, reading THANKSGIVING will help you.

This book is much more than just about Thanksgiving. What a struggle the Pilgrims endured. The description of the ship during the ocean crossing brought the experience alive. The author is clear about what is fact and what is supposition. The author decided not to include foot notes but listed the sources he used to research this book.

Many of the famous Pilgrim names are brought to life giving details of their occupations and family structure. Their struggles and every day needs are given in detail helping us understand them better in that time and place.

THANKSGIVING is highly recommended to readers of all ages and is a must for your library containing American history. Glenn Alan Cheney writes simply but clearly and with authority. All the facts are here written in an easy to understand sequence.

Frances Ridgway Roecker, Membership Chair
General Society of Mayflower Descendants

I am one who likes nitty-gritty details as I feel they give me a better understanding of the people, their character, the events and what actually happened. It’s as if I’m sharing their experience. I recently read Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims’ First year in America by Glenn Alan Cheney, and found the book fascinating. The book briefly deals with the history of the Pilgrims in England and Holland, then goes into the voyage, their problems on the voyage, problems after they arrived, both the helpfulness and the hostility of the Indians, and the first Thanksgiving.

When I get a book that purports to be about true events, one of the first things I do is go to the back and check the Bibliography. I was extremely pleased to see that this book was well referenced. The details that I like to see were pulled together into a well- and logically organized text, and it filled in many details of previous books I’ve read. I actually felt as if I was looking through someone’s eyes as the events unfolded, or at least looking over his shoulder.

If you have previously read even one book about the Mayflower and the Pilgrims then you need to read this book to get a full understanding and develop a better appreciation. If you’ve yet to read a book about the Pilgrims, you should make this book your first one.

Jerry Hubbard
Counselor General
Virginia Society of the Founders and Patriots of America

"If you are looking for a book that engagingly conveys the story of the Pilgrims in a neat well told chronology, Glenn Alan Cheney’s Thanksgiving: The Pilgrims’ First Year in America fits that bill perfectly.

Without pretension, Cheney’s rendering of this familiar tale easily reveals the saga of a simple but determined, mostly godly people within the context of the unsteady European politics of the times, and the rampant religious intolerance and persecution from which they fled. It’s all there, their struggles in Holland, the hair-raising journey by sea in a fetid, reeking ship, and the incredible difficulty they faced, including death, sickness, and misery, as they went about building a life for themselves in a harsh wilderness. Of course all this sacrifice ultimately paid off as this little settlement not only succeeded, but indeed laid the seeds for a new nation. And certainly not over-looked by any means in this account is the critical role played by area native Americans.

Cheney presents the Pilgrims in a sometimes breezy narrative that often risks contemplating what might have been in the minds of these humble, sometimes naïve souls as they encountered challenges that to this day seem so extraordinary. No matter how often told, however, their story is an incomparable testimony to the truth that common people can do uncommon things, if given a mind to, and if they have the faith. This book belongs in your library beside Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower, and of course that venerable classic, George Willison’s Saints and Strangers."

Dean Dexter
The Shallop – Spring 2008
New Hampshire Society of Mayflower Descendants

"Glenn Alan Cheney's Thanksgiving is a concise and historically correct account of the Pilgrim's establishment of Plymouth Colony in North America. For those who are familiar with the accounts of William Bradford and Edward Winslow (Of Plymouth Plantation and Mourt's Relation), they will enjoy the possibilities introduced by the author. For those not familiar with Bradford and Winslow, this is a very interesting telling of the Pilgrim experience."

Judith Renker
Central Texas Colony
Society of Mayflower Descendants in the State of Texas

"Glenn Cheney vividly depicts the courage and faith of the Pilgrim settlers and the generosity and friendship offered by the Native Americans who welcomed them and helped them survive. The American culture of independence, hard work, and cooperation grew from the seeds planted at Plymouth. Every American should appreciate what happened there."

U.S. Representative Joe Courtney

"Glenn Cheney's Thanksgiving brings together numerous aspects of the Mayflower story into a comfortable and logically organized text, faithfully retelling the story of the Pilgrims’ first year at Plymouth, the history behind their voyage, and their interactions with Native Americans."

Caleb Johnson
Historian & Author
The Mayflower and Her Passengers

"Thanksgiving should be read by people who are familiar with the Pilgrim story and those who are not because it fills in many of the little episodes that people hear but don’t connect together. We will never know exactly what happened back then, but this book brings those episodes together in a scenario of how they may well have happened."

Edward Delano Sullivan
Former Governor General - General Society of Mayflower Descendants

"Glenn Cheney has given us fresh insights into the plight of those men and women who left their homes and families to travel to an unknown wilderness in search of their dreams and new freedoms. Thanksgiving will be more meaningful to those who read this book."

The Rev. Ron Lake
First Congregational Church
Stonington, Conn.

As advertised, the book Thanksgiving is not a book about a holiday. It's about something that a few dozen survivors did after a year of suffering, death, struggle, and courage....Perhaps after reading this book your Thanksgiving celebration will not be about the bountiful laden table but about the individuals who made it possible.

Lynne Orvis
The Hoosier Mayflower - April 2008
Indiana Society of Mayflower Descendants

In his book, Thanksgiving, Glenn Alan Cheney begins the story of the Mayflower Pilgrims in the year 1488. Starting with that year gives him a chance to explain the religious background in England that leads up to 1620. This includes the beginning of the Church of England, and the eventful break away groups such as the Puritans and the Separatists.

Mr. Cheney gives a good account of many of the people involved in the eventual crossing of the Mayflower. His description of life on board the ship brings the reader into the cramped quarters, the smells and sounds of the ship. He describes the eventual landing and the problems of finding food and the wet conditions the people had to endure. He describes the events of meeting with Samoset, Squanto and Massasoit and how the Indians helped the Pilgrims and how the Indians benefited from the exchange with the Europeans.

The major problem of death among the 102 passengers and eventual marriages of the few surviving women are described. The book concludes with the end of the first year in Plymouth and a description of what the first Thanksgiving may have been like.

I recommend the book for any one interested in early American history and especially those descendants of the Mayflower passengers. Not all passengers are mentioned but the reader will get the feeling of how they must have felt about crossing the Ocean to begin a new life. The book is easy to read and the short chapters let you read it at your leisure.

From The Kentucky Pilgrim — Spring, 2008
The Society of Mayflower Descendants of the Commonwealth of Kentucky

Order here for this title only. If you would like to order titles other than Thanksgiving, order them separately. This title is signed by the author unless otherwise requested. To request no signature or an special inscription, click “Contact Author” above. The book will be shipped directly from the author.

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