For those of us here in Massachusetts, the place where this celebration has its origin, this time is especially poignant. Many may be surprised to learn that the actual Thanksgiving holiday we celebrate has its roots in more than one event, but the most famous portion of it of it occurred right here in Massachusetts, just a short drive from where I now live. This place is Plymouth, MA. The fabled story goes that in the late summer of 1621, (the exact date is not known), about a year after the Pilgrims arrived from England on the fabled ship, The Mayflower, a feast of Thanksgiving was celebrated in this very place.
|Plymouth Rock, landing place of the Pilgrims in 1620|
|Wampanoag woman demonstrating cooking methods in the Wampanoag village|
During the years between 1617 - 1619, there were plagues that swept through many of these nations in New England. Many died and left entire villages completely wiped out. One of these Wampanoag villages was Pawtuxet. In December of 1620, after 66 days at sea and 5 weeks at Cape Cod, the newly arrived Pilgrims sent a party of men to explore this area. They came upon the village of Pawtuxet and found human bones, houses in ruins, and in addition, cleared fields on high ground with a view of the harbor. They believed that God had provided this place for them. The Wampanoag, at the urging of their sachem, Massasoit, watched the Pilgrims. They saw women and children who were sickly and starving and the Wampanoag did not see them for the threat they would later become. From the 102 Pilgrims who made the original journey, more than half would be dead by the end of the first winter, including 13 of the 18 women. Miraculously, all of the children survived. They were a weak group in the eyes of the natives who watched.
|Wampanoag dugout canoe.|
The leader of the Wampanoag, Massasoit, was a chief who had the great respect of his people. He led by example and his people had faith in his leadership. The Wampanoag were badly hurt by disease and were fearful of the neighboring Narraganset who had not lost large numbers in the plagues. They needed allies, and judging by the delicate state of the Pilgrims, Massasoit felt he could control the situation. He knew that the Pilgrims came from a country of military might and they had weapons. In early spring of 1621, he sent a party of 60 men and waited until they sent a man for talks. This man was Edward Winslow, a 25 year old with no family. He invited Massasoit to talk with the Governor in Plimoth.
|Plimoth Plantation looking over the harbor|
There are some wonderful resources on Plimouth Plantation. They have a great website which may be found at www.plimoth.org/learn/just-kids/thanksgiving-virtual-field-trip This particular link is a virtual field trip that includes both the Pilgrims and Wampanoag and is suitable for young people.
In addition to the Plimoth Plantation site, there is a video that is a part of The American Experience series called We Shall Remain. A more complete story of the Wampanoag and their relationship with early settlers may be found in Episode 1, After The Mayflower.
Information for this post comes from the film, We Shall Remain Episode 1, The Atlas of the American Indian and my own visit to Plimoth Plantation.
Note: (added 3/ 7/12)
Since writing this post in November, I have learned more information that the "Thanksgiving Feast" that was celebrated, may have in fact been "talks" and not an intended feast at all. Also, Squanto's real name was "Tisquantum" which I have fixed above. That's the great thing about writing this blog. I keep learning, which is the point after all.