The First Thanksgiving Letters

    “The First Thanksgiving Letters,” Friend, Nov. 1983, 29


    The First Thanksgiving Letters

    When the Pilgrims landed on the continent of North America, they had to adjust to living in a rugged and unsettled land. They did not have food, shelter, or any of the up-to-date conveniences of their mother country, England. Shops and markets had not yet been built in their new homeland. While they could send for supplies from England by boat, the ships took a very long time, and they had little money. So the Pilgrims made everything that they could.

    Often these people wanted to send letters to their loved ones still in England or to settlers in nearby towns. There were no post offices and no stamps, so people passed the letters on from person to person. If a letter was sent by a post-rider, the person receiving the letter often had to pay for it, rather than the sender.

    The Pilgrims had to make their own writing tools. Turkey feathers were made into quill pens by cutting off the thick ends at an angle and dipping them into ink made from berry juices. Such pens are still used today for ornamental writing. Modern quill pens, however, are made of metals and plastics.

    You can make your own quill pen, just like the early colonists did, using a straw instead of a turkey feather.

    First, make a diagonal scissor-cut through straw (see Figure 1). Next, make a second, smaller, diagonal cut (see Figure 2). Finally, make a 1/2″ (1.25 cm) slit lengthwise (see Figure 3) and another diagonal cut at the tip (see Figure 4).


    Fill the bottom of a small paper cup with several drops of food coloring. Gently scoop some of this “ink” into the pointed end of your quill pen and write a letter by gently pressing the pen point onto a clean sheet of paper. Hold the pen as you would a pencil.

    The first American colonists generally did not use envelopes. Most mail consisted of a single sheet of paper that was folded over twice and sealed with a blob of hot wax. You can fold your completed letter over twice, then seal it with a colorful sticker or a piece of tape.

    Objects courtesy Church Historical Department. (Photo by Eldon Linschoten.)