The First Thanksgiving: What Really HappenedFeb 18, 2020
firstThanksgiving. American schools generally teach a conventional story about the meeting of pilgrims and Indians that ended with an incredible dinner. The end. But there is more to the story. This video will explain the events around the
firstThanksgiving and how the image is not rooted in tradition. In the early 17th century, southern New England was home to a variety of communities active within various confederations. These were the People of the First Light and they called their home the Land of Dawn. The political leaders were known as sachems and had been trading with the Europeans for over 100 years before the pilgrims.
Relations soured only after the deceitful Europeans kidnapped the locals to sell as slaves. Permanent European settlement was impossible due to the already high population of native occupants. But in 1616, traders brought a disease to Dawn Land, whose inhabitants died en masse for lack of immunity. Within three years, up to 90% were wiped out in various Confederations, including the Wampanoag. Their chief sachem, Massasoit, was aware of how close they were to being subjugated by their untouched enemy, the Narraganset. He was determined to save his people from that fate. This was the political world into which the pilgrims were about to enter.
The pilgrims were not called pilgrims by their contemporaries. They were known as Separatists, a branch of the English Puritans. King James hated the Puritans and began to persecute them in 1604, so the Separatists fled to Holland, where they were free to worship. But because they feared losing their national and communal identity, the congregation wanted a new place to plant their church. They decided on America and asked King James for a patent that would give them rights to build a colony. They planned to make a profit by fishing to pay off debts owed to their investors. The Mayflower sailed on September 6.
Two months later Cape Cod was sighted and sixteen men were sent ashore to survey the area. Unfortunately, the colonists did not know how to fish and food was running out. They resorted to robbing graves, houses, and storage pits to keep everyone alive. Then came his first hostile encounter with the natives, but no one was killed. on December 12 they arrive at New Plymouth. They did not land on any specific rock, but folklore insists that they did. Construction started in January. By winter's end, 44 settlers would be dead from the poor conditions. In March they were surprised when a man named Samoset walked into New Plymouth and greeted them in English.
He told them that they were building on top of a town called Patuxet, whose inhabitants had all died from the recent epidemic. He belonged to the Wampanoag, and his chief, Massasoit, was watching them. The colonists were eager to trade, so five days later Samoset returned with furs and companions, including Tisquantum. Known as Squanto, he had come to tell them in perfect English that Massasoit had arrived. After years of dealing with Englishmen, the sachem did not trust the newcomers. Edward Winslow was sent as a hostage and declared the peaceful intentions of the settlers. Satisfied, Massasoit entered New Plymouth and was regally greeted by the Governor.
A peace treaty was created, ensuring mutual protection in case of being attacked by enemies. With Squanto's help, the New Plymouth settlers fared better. He taught them how to farm and was absolutely vital as an interpreter. For the separatists, it was a godsend. But in fact, Squanto had been kidnapped from Patuxet in 1614 and sent to Spain to be sold into slavery. he ended up in London at the home of a merchant who taught him English and arranged for Squanto's return to the Land of Dawn in 1619. But Patuxet was gone; erased by the epidemic. Massasoit took him in with suspicion because of his years abroad, but he needed a translator to parley with the newcomers.
He eventually sent his warrior Hobamok to live among the colonists and watch over Squanto. By the fall, the settlers had a bountiful harvest, and a feast was held to celebrate. Massasoit appeared with 90 warriors and five deer for food. For three days the English and the Wampanoag ate and entertained. This was the famous first Thanksgiving that children learn in school. However, these colonists would not have used the word "
thanksgiving" to denote a harvest festival. For the Puritans, a Thanksgiving was a day of fasting while giving thanks to God in prayer. But the story of Pilgrims and Indians does not end here.
During his first year at New Plymouth, Squanto had been up to something. Realizing his substantial power as the only English speaker in his town, he devised a plan to overthrow Massasoit. He convinced the locals that he could order the English to make war or peace as he wished. Hobamok was suspicious of Squanto and warned Governor Bradford. Very soon they discovered Squanto's plot and informed Massasoit, who was furious. He demanded that Squanto be handed over for speedy execution. Bradford refused; the interpreter was too valuable to give up. But according to the treaty, Squanto's life was in the hands of his sachem.
Bradford finally conceded. He was about to hand over Squanto when an unidentified ship appeared. The alarm it caused delayed Bradford and worried Massasoit's envoys. Angry and impatient, they left. The ship was carrying 60 Englishmen who planned to build a colony near Boston. They abused the Massachusetts locals, starting a conspiracy to kill the settlers. Warned of the plot, the leaders of New Plymouth launched a pre-emptive strike to save their insolent countrymen. He bought peace, for a while. More Puritan settlers arrived at this time, soon outnumbering the natives. And although the Pilgrims' treaty with Massasoit lasted until the death of the sachem, other Puritans were unconcerned with such alliances.
His fanatical religious principles ensured that peace between the two cultures could not last. To the Puritans, Native Americans were the "others": savage, savage, unholy. With such an ideology, the result was inevitable. If they did not convert to Christianity and renounce their cultural identity, they must be eliminated. The first Thanksgiving was a brief moment of harmony between two worlds, but sadly it was short-lived. The capitalist opportunities that the Land of Dawn presented, combined with zealous Puritan beliefs, were incentives enough to wipe out the native inhabitants. There's nothing wrong with sharing a thank you party with loved ones, but remember the real events that got the party started, not the fairy tale.
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