In 1607 pilgrims from England settled the first English colony in America. Jamestown, Virginia was the site of a colony that suffered many hardships. The first years were very difficult because of disease, poor water, food shortages, dissension, disillusionment, and Indian hostility. So many people died in those early years that, in April of 1609, the settlement in Jamestown was temporarily abandoned. Other settlements were begun, one being in Plymouth; but here too, there were serious problems.
At Plymouth they entered “their own starving time that winter of 1621-22 (with all the extra people to feed and shelter), and were ultimately reduced to a daily ration of five kernels of corn a piece. (Five kernels of corn – it is almost inconceivable how life could be supported on this.) But as always, they had a choice: either to give in to bitterness and despair or to go deeper into Christ. They chose Christ. And in contrast to what happened at Jamestown, not one of them died of starvation.”
After that year, the pilgrims, at their Thanksgiving feast, would place 5 kernels of corn by their plates as a reminder of that winter.
(We do this as well, and during dinner, each person tells the 5 things they are most thankful for that God has done for them that year. Quote taken from: The Light and the Glory, p. 139, Peter Marshall and David Manuel).