Did you celebrate a traditional American Thanksgiving yesterday with your family and friends? Then you should thank early globalization, the horrors of slave trade, the inept abilities of a bunch of religious people called Pilgrims who couldn't get along with their own country and a young Native American man named Tisquantum (later shortened to Squanto).
Nine months after their arrival, roughly half of the 102 settlers who disembarked from the Mayflower had perished of hunger and disease.
The utterly unprepared and amateurish Pilgrims had arrived too late in the autumn of 1620 to plant crops and underestimated the severity of the New England winter. To their surprise, they found their initial landing spot—near the Cape Cod peninsula—unpopulated, so no local advice was available.
The Pilgrims reached Plymouth a month after their arrival and found that most of the local Native American population that had lived in the Cape Cod area had been wiped out in previous years by smallpox and other diseases introduced by English trading ships. One of these ships, back in 1608, proposed to the natives an exchange of English metal goods for beaver and other animal skins. Instead, they lied to and double-crossed the natives, capturing and transporting some of them back to Europe as slaves. First in a long list of the injustices paid to the only real Native citizens.
One of them was a young man named Tisquantum (later shortened to Squanto), who was sold as a slave to Spanish Catholic priests for £20 ($25). They freed him in 1612, and Squanto traveled to England and lived in London for six years, with what must have been a wild hope of returning to his native village.
By 1618, Squanto’s English language abilities, general intelligence and language acumen were noticed by an English ship captain who offered to take him back to New England in return for his translation and intermediary skills. Landing somewhere near Maine, Squanto was either freed or escaped. It took Squanto three years to walk his way south and find the colonists near his native village.
In the spring of 1621, as despair and death engulfed the weakened remaining English settlers, to their utter amazement, Squanto who spoke English as well as the area’s Wampanoag language stepped into their settlement, offering friendship and advice on what crops to plant and how to hunt and trap animals. That enabled the amateurish settlers to survive.
More importantly, Squanto served as an ambassador to the area’s Narragansett and Wampanoag Indians. And so later that year, after the first successful harvest, the Pilgrims organized a celebratory feast with some of the natives, something now remembered as America’s “first Thanksgiving.”
And for a remarkable half-century, there was an uneasy peace between the English and the natives. As a result, those 50 or so settlers who survived that first winter endured. New arrivals helped the English colony grow to a population of 180 by 1624 and eventually to more than 1,500 by 1650.
By 1675, the English population soared to more than 22,000, and the natives began to realize that they were a threat to their own lands. The natives launched an attack under Chief Metacom in what has sometimes been described as the First Indian War. The locals were no match for the English’s guns and growing numbers.
That, however, is another story.
Meanwhile, join me Denver Colorado Magician Connie Elstun who is also an entertaining Educator with great school party ideas in giving thanks to Squanto and to the Mexican birds called turkeys, to the Peruvians who originated the potato. For without them there would certainly not be an American Thanksgiving.