Were Dogs at the First Thanksgiving?

So I was asked recently if there were dogs present at the “First Thanksgiving” in 1621 or thereabouts during the times of the Pilgrims – and it threw me for a loop. Then I sort of remembered seeing a dog in a famous painting of the harvest celebration so I had to do a little digging.

Mourt’s Relation

Mourt's Relation, published in London, 1622Much of what we know about the Pilgrims’ earliest days comes from a publication called “Mourt’s Relation” written by Edward Winslow and William Bradford between November 1620 and November 1621 and later published in London in 1622. It gives an account of events from the landing of the Mayflower Pilgrims on Cape Cod in Provincetown Harbor through their exploring and eventual settling of Plymouth Colony. [source]

I won’t debate the veracity of either the Pilgrim’s relations with the natives nor the details of that first harvest gathering. A lot of what we now attribute as fact is often based on a romanticized version of the events. And when envisioning the historical figures or dramatic events from a time before photography or video, those images are usually influenced by creative works created years or even centuries later.

The First Thanksgiving (1621)

By the way, the painting that was in the back of my mind is called The first Thanksgiving (1621) and was created by American painter Jean Louis Gerome Ferris in 1915. He lived from 1863-1930 and is best known for his series of 78 scenes from American history, entitled The Pageant of a Nation. In “First Thanksgiving” we see an English Springer Spaniel in the middle lower part of the scene looking intently at the invited Wampanoag tribe who partake in both eating and smoking. Interestingly, this keen depiction of a dog is also an anachronism as the breed as we know and recognize today would not come into existence until the 20th century with its official recognition by The Kennel Club of England in 1902.


The First Thanksgiving by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

The First Thanksgiving” (1915), by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris (American painter, 1863-1930)


The Mayflower Dogs

In writings from “Mourt’s Relation” (full title: A Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plimoth in New England), two canines were mentioned as passengers aboard the Mayflower. A twenty-five year old Pilgrim named John Goodman brought his Mastiff and English Springer Spaniel along for the voyage. We do not know the names of these seafaring dogs, but they are described as being being very useful for purposes of protection and in hunting expeditions in the Cape Cod settlement.

According to one story…

“One January day Goodman and fellow pilgrim Peter Browne took a team of men into the wilderness to collect materials for thatch roofing. Around noon that day, Goodman and Browne took the dogs further out into the brush. Hours passed, and the team lost sight of Goodman and Browne. Alarmed, they went back to the village and gathered a search party, but it seemed the men were lost.

As it grew dark, Goodman, Browne, and the two dogs gathered close together for warmth. It was cold and snowy, and the men had wandered a full five miles off course. Throughout the night, they heard roaring in the distance that the men took to be lions. They held the dogs close to them to keep them from running towards the dangerous beasts.

The following morning, with the help of his dogs, Goodman and his companion tracked their way back towards their village. They reached the camp around nightfall, half-frozen and hungry. Without the Mastiff or Spaniel, the men likely would not have survived the night. Neither of the pilgrims had dressed for the weather, and Goodman’s toes were so frost-bitten that his boots had to be cut from his feet by a fellow villager.

Goodman did not survive that first winter in the New World, but his dogs were cared for by the remaining pilgrims.” [source]

Happy and Thankful

If you are in the mood for some sugary sweet videos of dogs loving Thanksgiving, here’s a couple I found from youtuber Rocky Kanaka as he invites a homeless dog and several canine friends for their first Thanksgiving feats….

And here are some cringe-inducing videos from around the web…

turkey bones present many problems


I have written previously about ways to keep your pets safe at Thanksgiving and what foods pose a danger. Please take a moment to read through these as well.


https://dogtime.com/dog-health/general/16719-the-story-of-the-mayflower-dogs [dogtime.com]
https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/609319/quiz-thanksgiving-food [mentalfloss.com]
https://www.history.com/news/thanksgiving-history-trivia-facts [history.com]
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJH1VRJToi0 [youtube.com]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Leon_Gerome_Ferris [wikipedia.org]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mourt%27s_Relation [wikipedia.org]
https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/were-there-dogs-on-the-mayflower/ [akc.org]


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