"Of the original 102 Mayflower passengers, four died before reaching Plymouth. By the summer of 1621 there were another 46 deaths among the passengers, and about 25 deaths among the crew. After the General Sickness, only 12 of 26 men with families and 4 of the 12 single men and boys survived. "All but a few" of the women survived"They had been headed for Virginia. They ended up in Massachusetts. Survival for any of them was in doubt and without the help of the native people, they would not have made it.
"At summer's end, when harvest was in, Governor John Carver called for a special celebration. The colonists began to gather food for a traditional English "harvest home." This festival was held throughout England at harvest's end to give thanks for the bounty and celebrate the end of the most intense period of work for farmers. The Pilgrims' celebration had a special poignancy, of course, as a counterpoint to years of terrible hardships and a testament to the creation of the kind of religious environment they desired.
The Native Americans traditionally celebrated a harvest festival similar to the harvest home. The Pilgrims invited Massasoit, who came with 90 of his people and whose hunters contributed five deer to the celebration. The Pilgrims gathered corn, wild turkey, ducks and other fowl, fish, and venison. The first Thanksgiving lasted about a week, with three days' straight of feasting with the Wampanoag. The time was filled with prayers, dances, shooting matches, wrestling, and other games.
There is no specific indication of when the first Thanksgiving was held; it is unlikely that it was held as late as November. It was held after the harvest was gotten in and before the arrival of the Fortune in November. It also was not a day specifically set aside for religious worship. The Pilgrims lived so that prayer, the Bible, and the church were part of their everyday lives. The first Thanksgiving included a blessing on the harvest and thanks to God, but it was also a party rather than a serious religious meditation, with five or six days of recreation. The invitation of the Wampanoag was not just about being neighborly; it was also to recognize the special role which the Native Americans played in ensuring the Pilgrims' survival."