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The Real Thanksgiving

First, let me wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving.

This one is my favorite holiday. It's really the only one where the empasis is on friends and family and does not bring with it a host of obligations. You can simply get together with those you love and have a good time.

So, we owe a thanks to the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth back in the 1600's and the Wampanoag native american indian tribe that helped them survive and celebrate their first thanksgiving in Massachusets.

So, if you care to know about how all this happened and its aftermath, read on. Then, if you are really interested, follow this link to find out what separates myth from reality about the Thanksgiving story.


by: Chuck Larsen, Tacoma Public Schools - September, 1986

          When the Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1620,
     they landed on the rocky shores of a territory that was
     inhabited by the Wampanoag (Wam pa NO ag) Indians. The
     Wampanoags were part of the Algonkian-speaking peoples, a
     large group that was part of the Woodland Culture area.
     These Indians lived in villages along the coast of what is
     now Massachusetts and Rhode Island. They lived in round-
     roofed houses called wigwams. These were made of poles
     covered with flat sheets of elm or birch bark. Wigwams
     differ in construction from tipis that were used by Indians
     of the Great Plains.

          The Wampanoags moved several times during each year in
     order to get food. In the spring they would fish in the
     rivers for salmon and herring. In the planting season they
     moved to the forest to hunt deer and other animals. After
     the end of the hunting season people moved inland where
     there was greater protection from the weather. From
     December to April they lived on food that they stored
     during the earlier months.

          The basic dress for men was the breech clout, a length
     of deerskin looped over a belt in back and in front. Women
     wore deerskin wrap-around skirts. Deerskin leggings and fur
     capes made from deer, beaver, otter, and bear skins gave
     protection during the colder seasons, and deerskin
     moccasins were worn on the feet. Both men and women usually
     braided their hair and a single feather was often worn in
     the back of the hair by men. They did not have the large
     feathered headdresses worn by people in the Plains Culture

          There were two language groups of Indians in New
     England at this time. The Iroquois were neighbors to the
     Algonkian-speaking people. Leaders of the Algonquin and
     Iroquois people were called "sachems" (SAY chems). Each
     village had its own sachem and tribal council. Political
     power flowed upward from the people. Any individual, man or
     woman, could participate, but among the Algonquins more
     political power was held by men. Among the Iroquois,
     however, women held the deciding vote in the final
     selection of who would represent the group. Both men and
     women enforced the laws of the village and helped solve
     problems. The details of their democratic system were so
     impressive that about 150 years later Benjamin Franklin
     invited the Iroquois to Albany, New York, to explain their
     system to a delegation who then developed the "Albany Plan
     of Union." This document later served as a model for the
     Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the
     United States.

          These Indians of the Eastern Woodlands called the
     turtle, the deer and the fish their brothers. They
     respected the forest and everything in it as equals.
     Whenever a hunter made a kill, he was careful to leave
     behind some bones or meat as a spiritual offering, to help
     other animals survive. Not to do so would be considered
     greedy. The Wampanoags also treated each other with
     respect. Any visitor to a Wampanoag home was provided with
     a share of whatever food the family had, even if the supply
     was low. This same courtesy was extended to the Pilgrims
     when they met.

          We can only guess what the Wampanoags must have
     thought when they first saw the strange ships of the
     Pilgrims arriving on their shores. But their custom was to
     help visitors, and they treated the newcomers with
     courtesy. It was mainly because of their kindness that the
     Pilgrims survived at all. The wheat the Pilgrims had
     brought with them to plant would not grow in the rocky
     soil. They needed to learn new ways for a new world, and
     the man who came to help them was called "Tisquantum" (Tis
     SKWAN tum) or "Squanto" (SKWAN toe).

          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

          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

          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

          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."


George Laszlo

Flash, thanks for the information on this book. For those who are interested, you can find out more about it here: http://www.bauuinstitute.com/Publishing/NewEnglandNative.html


Very interesting story, I've always been fascinated by our past and recently stumbled upon "A Cultural History of the Native Peoples of Southern New England." It is written by two Native Americans, and had a lot of interesting information from their perspective on the original Thanksgiving. It might also be of interest to readers.

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