It is hard to celebrate Thanksgiving without giving some thought, in fact, deep thought, to what actually happened around that “mythical picture” of the “first” Thanksgiving.
I had been homeschooling my special needs child for the past two years and whenever Thanksgiving comes around I would borrow books from the library for us to learn what this special holiday of Thanksgiving is all about. At first we just learned about the Pilgrims or the Pilgrim Fathers and their historic crossing of the Atlantic Ocean from England on the iconic “Mayflower” ship – a group of about a hundred colonists including 35 Puritan Separatists seeking religious freedom in the New World. It is said that two friendly English-speaking Native Americans, Samoset and Squanto, especially the latter, helped them to cope with the harsh winter and the New England way of life, teaching them how to plant corn using fish as fertilizer, where to find herring, eels, lobsters and clams, how to hunt for beavers and how to plant the Three Sisters – pumpkin, corn and beans, even mediating a treaty between them and the Wampanoag natives and advising them which tribes are more friendly and which ones are war-like. Also, it was said that when the Wampanoag Grand Sachem, Massasoit fell ill a few years later, it was the Pilgrims who nursed him back to health. (1)
However, some people are saying that there were no friendly relations at all between the Wampanoag or other Native American peoples and the Plymouth settlers from Europe. The history textbooks are vague about Samoset’s and Squanto’s motivations in helping the colonists. However, one point of view we just read says Squanto was captured as a slave and purposely taught English to serve as the colonists’ interpreter and guide into the New England wilderness. An alternate reading on this supposedly history of Thanksgiving can be found here.
For many Americans, Thanksgiving is associated with football, overeating, family gatherings and bountiful celebrations. However, for many Native Americans, it is a time of mourning as they remember “the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their culture.” (3) Traditionally, it is associated to the Pilgrims or the Pilgrim Fathers who docked in New Plymouth, Massachussetts just days before the Christmas of 1620. For many, the “picture” of the First Thanksgiving dinner was that of a feast held by these Plymouth settlers in the Autumn of 1621 after they had a plentiful harvest after the long period of want, hardship, death and despair which they endured from the time they left their safe haven of Leiden, Holland until their circumstances turned around that Fall 1621. 90 Native Americans were said to have joined the 50 or so settlers in that First Thanksgiving meal. In fact, this is probably the most famous picture of that momentous event:
However, apparently, that feast or food sharing between the locals and the new settlers was more like a giant picnic party in the tradition of the English Harvest Home. (5) It is an English tradition practiced by the pre-industrial English in their villages. It was typically hosted by the lord of the manor – the local landowner – a celebration of feasting and gaiety, attended by everyone in the farming community – from the lowest farm hands and simplest folks to the noblest gentry. Singing, dancing and playing games were part of the celebrations which was supposed to mark the end of the harvest season and usually celebrated when all the crops have just been gathered in. This reminds me of the closing scenes in the tv movie “Emma” by the British Broadcasting Co., starring Kate Beckinsale and Mark Strong, based on the novel by Jane Austen.
That picture sounds more plausible to me. As Ozborne mentioned in his account, this is most likely what happened:
As they Pilgrims were shooting their guns in the air – likely with a mixture of the hefty amounts of alcohol they consumed – they were met by ninety or more Wampanoags. As the story goes, they invited the Indians to join them. However, it is more likely that the Indians rushed over to see what all the gunfire was about and then were asked to join. They had a three-day feast, in which the Indians provided the majority of the food. (3)
Personally, I do think that Squanto did have a good relationship with the Pilgrims. A narrative I found online by Chuck Larsen gives a pretty vivid picture of what could have happened. I am actually fascinated as to why Squanto took it upon himself to help the Pilgrims of Plymouth:
Squanto was originally from the village of Patuxet (Pa TUK et) and a member of the Pokanokit Wampanoag nation. Patuxet once stood on the exact site where the Pilgrims built Plymouth. In 1605, fifteen years before the Pilgrims came, Squanto went to England with a friendly English explorer named John Weymouth. He had many adventures and learned to speak English. Squanto came back to New England with Captain Weymouth. Later Squanto was captured by a British slaver who raided the village and sold Squanto to the Spanish in the Caribbean Islands. A Spanish Franciscan priest befriended Squanto and helped him to get to Spain and later on a ship to England. Squanto then found Captain Weymouth, who paid his way back to his homeland. In England Squanto met Samoset of the Wabanake (Wab NAH key) Tribe, who had also left his native home with an English explorer. They both returned together to Patuxet in 1620. When they arrived, the village was deserted and there were skeletons everywhere. Everyone in the village had died from an illness the English slavers had left behind. Squanto and Samoset went to stay with a neighboring village of Wampanoags.
One year later, in the spring, Squanto and Samoset were hunting along the beach near Patuxet. They were startled to see people from England in their deserted village. For several days, they stayed nearby observing the newcomers. Finally they decided to approach them. Samoset walked into the village and said “welcome,” Squanto soon joined him. The Pilgrims were very surprised to meet two Indians who spoke English.
The Pilgrims were not in good condition. They were living in dirt-covered shelters, there was a shortage of food, and nearly half of them had died during the winter. They obviously needed help and the two men were a welcome sight. Squanto, who probably knew more English than any other Indian in North America at that time, decided to stay with the Pilgrims for the next few months and teach them how to survive in this new place. He brought them deer meat and beaver skins. He taught them how to cultivate corn and other new vegetables and how to build Indian-style houses. He pointed out poisonous plants and showed how other plants could be used as medicine. He explained how to dig and cook clams, how to get sap from the maple trees, use fish for fertilizer, and dozens of other skills needed for their survival.
By the time fall arrived things were going much better for the Pilgrims, thanks to the help they had received. The corn they planted had grown well. There was enough food to last the winter. They were living comfortably in their Indian-style wigwams and had also managed to build one European-style building out of squared logs. This was their church. They were now in better health, and they knew more about surviving in this new land. The Pilgrims decided to have a thanksgiving feast to celebrate their good fortune. They had observed thanksgiving feasts in November as religious obligations in England for many years before coming to the New World.
The Algonkian tribes held six thanksgiving festivals during the year. The beginning of the Algonkian year was marked by the Maple Dance which gave thanks to the Creator for the maple tree and its syrup. This ceremony occurred when the weather was warm enough for the sap to run in the maple trees, sometimes as early as February. Second was the planting feast, where the seeds were blessed. The strawberry festival was next, celebrating the first fruits of the season. Summer brought the green corn festival to give thanks for the ripening corn. In late fall, the harvest festival gave thanks for the food they had grown. Mid-winter was the last ceremony of the old year. When the Indians sat down to the “first Thanksgiving” with the Pilgrims, it was really the fifth thanksgiving of the year for them!
Captain Miles Standish, the leader of the Pilgrims, invited Squanto, Samoset, Massasoit (the leader of the Wampanoags), and their immediate families to join them for a celebration, but they had no idea how big Indian families could be. As the Thanksgiving feast began, the Pilgrims were overwhelmed at the large turnout of ninety relatives that Squanto and Samoset brought with them. The Pilgrims were not prepared to feed a gathering of people that large for three days. Seeing this, Massasoit gave orders to his men within the first hour of his arrival to go home and get more food. Thus it happened that the Indians supplied the majority of the food: Five deer, many wild turkeys, fish, beans, squash, corn soup, corn bread, and berries. Captain Standish sat at one end of a long table and the Clan Chief Massasoit sat at the other end. For the first time the Wampanoag people were sitting at a table to eat instead of on mats or furs spread on the ground. The Indian women sat together with the Indian men to eat. The Pilgrim women, however, stood quietly behind the table and waited until after their men had eaten, since that was their custom.
For three days the Wampanoags feasted with the Pilgrims. It was a special time of friendship between two very different groups of people. A peace and friendship agreement was made between Massasoit and Miles Standish giving the Pilgrims the clearing in the forest where the old Patuxet village once stood to build their new town of Plymouth.
It would be very good to say that this friendship lasted a long time; but, unfortunately, that was not to be. More English people came to America, and they were not in need of help from the Indians as were the original Pilgrims. Many of the newcomers forgot the help the Indians had given them. Mistrust started to grow and the friendship weakened. The Pilgrims started telling their Indian neighbors that their Indian religion and Indian customs were wrong. The Pilgrims displayed an intolerance toward the Indian religion similar to the intolerance displayed toward the less popular religions in Europe. The relationship deteriorated and within a few years the children of the people who ate together at the first Thanksgiving were killing one another in what came to be called King Phillip’s War.
It is sad to think that this happened, but it is important to understand all of the story and not just the happy part. Today the town of Plymouth Rock has a Thanksgiving ceremony each year in remembrance of the first Thanksgiving. There are still Wampanoag people living in Massachusetts. In 1970, they asked one of them to speak at the ceremony to mark the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrim’s arrival. Here is part of what was said:
“Today is a time of celebrating for you — a time of looking back to the first days of white people in America. But it is not a time of celebrating for me. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People. When the Pilgrims arrived, we, the Wampanoags, welcomed them with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end. That before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a tribe. That we and other Indians living near the settlers would be killed by their guns or dead from diseases that we caught from them. Let us always remember, the Indian is and was just as human as the white people.
Although our way of life is almost gone, we, the Wampanoags, still walk the lands of Massachusetts. What has happened cannot be changed. But today we work toward a better America, a more Indian America where people and nature once again are important.” (6)
Even William Bradford, one of the leaders of the Pilgrims, mentioned Squanto in his memoirs. Thus, I am inclined to believe that Squanto, Samoset, and of course, Massasoit, were real (not fabricated, as some people say) and that their kindness and friendliness to the Plymouth settlers of 1621 were crucial in the survival and success of that group, who were soon followed by other boat-loads of Puritans from England, said to be escaping the worsening persecution by the British monarchy. Squanto must have been an adventurous and smart guy to have befriended and travelled with the English explorer John Weymouth. That he learned English, was captured as a slave but escaped and was helped by a Spanish friar and he was able to get to England from Spain and find Weymouth there – these are all feats not commonly seen among most people. He must have been devastated to have found all his own people gone, the Patuxet, because of an epidemic that swept his village. Now that village he grew up in is gone and in its place were these helpless English people with whom he can easily relate with and whom he probably saw as “family” because of his close friendship with John Weymouth and also the kindness he received from the Catholic Spanish priests. I wouldn’t be surprised if that affinity with the Europeans was the only motivation he had in helping them settle down in his “village.” However, it is really sad that things deteriorated soon after that because more colonists came from England, people who did not know about Squanto, Samoset, Massasoit and their gentleness and kindness to the Pilgrims who blazed the trail for them.
I found an article in Wikipedia that says Squanto died of Indian Fever in November 1622, just one year after he befriended the Pilgrims. (7) So, it looks like this talented, friendly and adventurous young man was hand-picked by God to learn the English language, travel to Europe, come back to discover he lost “everything and everyone” of his, mourn for his totally obliterated family and community, accept the misfortune of his enormous loss caused by the coming of the “white men” (who brought the illness that wiped out his whole village) and choose to show hospitality and kindness to the Europeans who took over the habitation of his village and take them as his own people, close to a replacement of his own totally-gone people. And when he had successfully helped this fledgling bunch of settlers to make good in the land, God takes him away, as if his mission in life was done! Whoa, wasn’t that an incredible working of the hand of God?
Eventually, things would turn ugly. They all must have had a foreboding it eventually will. As more colonists came, they needed more land to settle in and the Native Americans were soon pushed out of their own lands, brutally or otherwise. It sounds like an all-too-familiar story. The Maoris of New Zealand and the aborigines of Australia would have a similar story to tell as England was expanding its territories throughout the world at about that same time. I wonder how many Samosets, Squantos and Massasoits and their peoples must have suffered atrocities in return for their kindness and hospitality. But at this time of American Thanksgiving, I do remember the Native American peoples and appreciate them for all they are worth. If not for Samoset, Squanto and Massasoit and their gentle peoples, this American nation would not have taken root and flourished here on American soil. In turn, my family and I wouldn’t have been able to come here and share God’s blessings for this fair land – blessings of relative peace, safety, community, provision, opportunity and hope for our children.
It is indeed with much thought that this year I celebrate Thanksgiving with family and loved ones. My family and I are new here in America and we thank God that we have come to a country that are welcoming to immigrants. We also thank God that we can still celebrate Thanksgiving peacefully, albeit the worldwide travel alert for Americans issued by Pres. Obama just days prior.
Recently, in the light of the Paris bombings, people are torn between welcoming Syrian refugees into their countries, or not. Some people cite the picture of Thanksgiving above, using guilt to pressure people to be once again welcoming to migrants, just as the Native Americans had been welcoming to the English Puritan settlers.
This is the main reason why I once again surveyed the history books and this time, I also looked at the differing opinions on these historical accounts on Samoset, Squanto, Massasoit and the Pilgrims. I then realized it is naive for anyone to make such a comparison, or even use the above image for emotional blackmail. In fact, we probably should use this picture as a warning to ourselves that history may repeat itself. The Puritans were said to be escaping from persecution in England by the then King James I, and subsequent sovereigns, who didn’t take kindly to the “extreme” Christian practice of the Puritans. Some even called them dissenters. In a similar way, we now have Syrian refugees who are escaping the atrocities of war and “religious persecution” in their native home country. Some of you may think it is atrocious of me to make this suggestion. I am a Christian and a follower of Christ and the word of God, the Bible. It is true that Christianity teaches charity and mercy towards people in need, especially those whose lives are in danger. However, the Bible also teaches that Christians should see to the needs of their own brethren, their own people, first, even as they help others. I do think that it is with much wisdom and discernment that we should approach this delicate matter.
Some Scripture that come to mind that may shed light on this issue are the following:
1 Timothy 5:8
If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Furthermore, the Golden Rule simply put says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31; Matthew 19:19; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14, etc.)
That statement actually implies that we love ourselves first before we are able to love our neighbor. Even in instances of emergency or crisis, a person has to take care of himself first before he can take care of another. For instance, whenever you travel on the plane, one of the pre-take-off instructions is for you to learn how to put on the oxygen mask at any time a sudden drop in cabin pressure occurs. The instruction explicitly says that if you are a parent, you need to put on your own mask first before you help your child to put on his/her mask. It is the same with running a nation. First, you put the safety measures in place for your citizens before you think of helping those who are refugees, visitors, aliens or noncitizens. In a crisis, if helping the non-citizens would jeopardize the safety of your citizens, it only makes sense that you act to safeguard your citizens first. It is sad when we are forced to make tough choices like that but sometimes circumstances warrant us to make them. Such is the job of our public servants. Thus, I do not blame those US state governors who opt to keep their constituents’ safety top priority, over and above the needs of the refugees in crisis. On the other hand, I also thank God and pray for countries, like Germany for instance, who have taken the bold decision of receiving as many refugees as they can, in the hopes that they do not encounter security problems in the future, stemming from such a bold move. I would say, they are the ones taking the “extra mile” for their neighbor in need. They are practicing one of the “hard teachings” of Christ.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’
39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.’
41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
I also pray that the war in Syria will be over soon and that there will be true peace in the Middle East. Wherever we are, we all know, there is always no place like home, if home had not become a treacherous place.
I also take this time to reflect and pray for the healing of the Native Americans who are still hurting; not only for them but for the colored population here in America, in general. Something has to be done, I believe, by the government, or at least, a collective group of people from the general public, to recognize these crimes of the past so healing can begin somewhere. If such is not made possible in our generation, at least we can pray that there will be more consciousness and sensitivity by our generation, in recognizing these issues and problems stemming from mistakes made by our forebears / elders. In fact, it could be that faced with the same difficult circumstances, we too may not do any better than they did. Who knows? As for now, with God, nothing is impossible. I believe healing begins with consciousness, desiring for change, reaching out, and it all starts in prayer. Mountains don’t move until there is a move of the Spirit of God, so, everything has to start in our hearts and in our prayer closets.
Now, my family and I have eaten our turkey, had our jovial gatherings, had our rich desserts, had our mashed potatoes and casseroles. We are not rich, nor are we poor. We are content and happy. We thank God for His goodness in all things, for His abundant provision always, for the relative peace we are enjoying, for our good health that comes from Above, for friends and for family. We remember those who may not have some of these things, especially those who have been driven from their homes in war-torn places. I believe God is more than able to provide, to make way, to make changes, to bring comfort, cheer and hope to everyone in need. The world is far from perfect, in fact, there has been more suffering these recent days, but we have the God of Hope and the God of Love, Joy and Peace to whom we can call on for help. He is always near and His love never fails. I am thankful for God and His infinitely good heart. It’s been a thoughtful Thanksgiving for me and my family. I would say we have been blessed in a profound way. Hence, I would like to wish a happy and thankful Thanksgiving weekend to all who celebrate, and a restful and happy weekend to all!
(1) Santella, Andrew. The Plymouth Colony. Minneapolis: Compass Point Books, 2001.
(2) History.com Staff. (2009). The Pilgrims [Article]. Retrieved from http://www.history.com/topics/pilgrims Access Date Nov 28, 2015.
(3) Ozborne, Irwin. (2015, Nov 26). Celebrating Genocide – The Real Story of Thanksgiving [Article]. Retrieved from http://www.wakingtimes.com/2015/11/26/celebrating-genocide-the-real-story-of-thanksgiving/ Access date Nov 28, 2015
(4) Schiffman, Richard. (2011, Nov 21). The Truth About Thanksgiving: What They Never Taught You in School [Blog Post]. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-schiffman/the-thanksgiving-truth_b_1105181.html Access Date Nov 28, 2015.
(5) Tracy, Kathleen. Plymouth Colony: The Pilgrims Settle in New England. Hockessin, DE: Mitchell Lane Publishers, 2007.
(6) Larsen, Chuck. The Plymouth Thanksgiving Story [Article]. Retrieved from http://www.manataka.org/page269.html Access Date Nov 28, 2015.
(7) Wikipedia. (2015, Nov 19). Patuxet Tribe [Article]. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patuxet_tribe Access Date Nov 27, 2015.
If you wish to cite this blog, citation is as follows: PureJoyLand. (2015, Nov 28). [Blog Post]. Retrieved from http://purejoyland.com/2015/11/thankful-at-thanksgiving/