I set out to write the story of what I could find about the real first Thanksgiving. I came across stories that were more like Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving, to stories that made the pilgrims look like massacring demons. I am starting to realize these days with so much information out there, to find “the truth” is difficult. It is like trying to find out who killed Kennedy. There are theories galore for something that happened 400 years ago……
So I found something I could validate and live with. On the Mayflower there were 35 Puritans. They got their names from separating from Church of England and deciding they wanted to live a more simple life. More true the life Christ lived. They first went to The Netherlands to escape persecution from England. They lived in there is peace as the Dutch had lenient rules, but were afraid they would lose their language and culture. So they saw the new world as open where they could live ‘pure’ in the way they pleased.
I read one post that stated they were the criminals that tried to over throw the government. The author said the pilgrims went to the new world and massacred the natives. I think people forget what it took to be a criminal at this point in history. In England they beheaded petty criminals. Remember the character in Les Miserable, Jean Val jean who got 19 years for stealing bread to feed his sister? Criminals at this time could be a subjective term. There was something called the Halifax Gibbet Law, that allowed land owners to decapitate people for the equivalent theft of $5.40 pounds today.
I also know that the white man has not been good to the Native Americans. I know they were given diseases that wiped out their tribes. That we took their land killed them and put the remainder on reservations. In fact the native Squanto (real name Tisquantum) who was there for the first Thanksgiving was previously captured and taken to England to be sold. His tribe was wiped out by diseases spread by the white man. If it weren’t for noble friars that helped him get back to the new world, he would have lived in Europe.
That being said these early pilgrims were religious people who traveled thousands of miles across the sea in rickety ships. When they came to the new world they were alone, with a very tenuous line to England. The land was inhospitable, with cold difficult winters. The first year ½ of the settlers died of disease and starvation. The pilgrims didn’t really know much about farming this world, and if were not for the Squanto, they would have perished.
Massasoit, the chief of the Pokanoket tribe, didn’t trust Tisquantum. So the chief gave Squanto to the pilgrims to help forge an alliance and to get him out of his tribe. That way the Pokanokets would get trading rights to the Englishman’s goods and weapons. There was a neighboring tribe called the Narragansett, so getting the trading privileges would keep the Narragansett natives out of the loop. Well Massasoit was right about not being able to trust Squanto. Squanto soon tried to pit the pilgrims against the Pokanoket tribe.
So Squanto lived with the pilgrims, he made him self-useful and stayed out of being imprisoned in the Pokanoket camp. By fall the settlers’ situation stabilized enough that they had a ‘feast of thanksgiving’. Massasoit showed up with 90 men, with weapons. Winslow later recalled the pilgrims responded by marching around and firing their guns in the air in a manner to convey menace. Satisfied both sat down, shared the feast and complained about Narragansett. This was the first Thanksgiving holiday. Our culture has demonized by today’s standards choices made 400 years ago. These were brave and strong people to give up everything for a chance to live how they wanted. Monday night quarterbacking is always easy to do. What came later, they had no part in it. So don’t be afraid to celebrate this American holiday, honoring the brave pilgrims.
I have many relatives that came from England to Virginia; John Bennett, William Thomas all came in the 1600’s. My 10th great grandfather George Haile sailed from Bristol England in 1620, at only 13 years old. He was a drummer and sailed on the ‘Good Ship Supply’ to James City, Virginia. He is not the only one, but maybe the earliest. I celebrate them!
*all genealogical information found on the Thomas Family Tree at Ancestry.com
- History.com-staff, The Pilgrims, History.com, November 25, 2015, http://www.history.com/topics/pilgrims
- Baumann, Nick, Here’s the Crazy Story About Thanksgiving You’ve Never Heard, TheHuffingtonPost, November 25, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/thanksgiving-squanto-tisquantum-true-history_565471e1e4b0d4093a5917bb
- Plimoth Plantation staff, Who Were the Pilgrims?, PlimothPlantation.com, https://www.plimoth.org/learn/just-kids/homework-help/who-were-pilgrims
- Sabo, Michael, ‘Saints and Strangers’ Gives the Real Story Behind Thanksgiving, Thedailysignal.com, November 25, 2015, http://dailysignal.com/2015/11/25/saints-and-strangers-gives-the-real-story-behind-thanksgiving/