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Rhonda J. Ferree

Rhonda J. Ferree
Former Extension Educator, Horticulture

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Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort

Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog

The First Thanksgiving

During the fourth week of November, families across the United States will be celebrating the festival of Thanksgiving. Did you ever wonder why and how this celebration was begun? According to Bob Frazee, retired University of Illinois Natural Resources Educator, the roots of Thanksgiving are directly related to agriculture and go back to the fall of 1620, with the landing of the Pilgrims on Plymouth Rock. The Pilgrims experienced a terrible winter with over half of their colony dying from disease and starvation.

As spring finally arrived in the new colony and everything was going wrong, the Pilgrims were very fortunate to meet an English-speaking Indian called Squanto. Squanto became a great friend to the Pilgrim Colony. According to Frazee, Squanto instructed the Pilgrims in agriculture, taught them how to prepare the soil, and helped them conquer starvation by showing them edible plants, animals, and shellfish.

When planting time arrived, the Colonists gathered at one of the fields to receive instruction in the growing of a new crop called maize. Squanto showed them how to place three fish in a hole with their heads pointing in and their tails out with a seed of maize planted in the center. This was the first method demonstration and the first Agricultural Extension work ever recorded in American history.

With autumn came the Pilgrim's first harvest. When the bountiful harvest of crops and produce was stored for the winter, the Pilgrims had a great feast and shared it with the Indians. They all gave thanks to God for his Divine Providence, and the celebration of Thanksgiving was begun.

Today, Agricultural Extension Educators throughout the United States recognize Squanto as the first County Agricultural Agent and hold membership in the Fraternal Order of Squanto. The work of Squanto continues today through demonstrations, tours, newsletters, and meetings that are sponsored by the Unit Extension offices across the United States.

To find out more about the educational programs and services available to you, get in touch with your local Unit office of the University of Illinois Extension. Hopefully, you can attend some programs and learn some new ideas as taught by the "Squantos" of today. Find your local Extension office by visiting

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