The First Thanksgiving

By John Christian Hopkins (Blue Hand Books author*)

Just think of the long odds the Pilgrim’s faced in their fight for survival.

First off, there was bad planning. The Mayflower arrived off the coast of New England just as a bitter New England winter was coming.

The Pilgrims were not prepared, lacking winter clothing, adequate food supplies and the skills necessary to survive in the wild.

Most of the immigrants were tradesmen or shopkeepers and knew little of hunting, farming or existing in a hostile land.

Even if they knew what crops could grow in the new land, they landed much too late to plant crops.

So how did they survive?

There was luck and fate, slavery … and a little grave robbing.

The Pilgrim’s string of unbelievable luck began as soon as they landed near Plimouth Rock. Lo and behold, they found themselves next to an abandoned Indian village. With winter coming they found empty dwellings waiting for them!

How did that happen?

The village had been home to the small Pawtuxet tribe but had been abruptly abandoned following an outbreak of smallpox. The Indians had no immunity to smallpox and didn’t know what was happening.

After European traders had left, people in the tribe began dying suddenly. The tribe thought it was due to evil spirits and fled the area.

The Pilgrims had shelter, but still were low on food. But explorers soon discovered that local tribes buried their dead with items they would need in the next life – including food.

Still the Pilgrim’s survival was far from certain. That’s when Squanto walked into their village – and greeted them in English!

Turns out Squanto was a member of the now scattered Pawtuxet tribe. He had avoided the smallpox epidemic because he had been kidnapped by the traders and sold as a slave in Spain. The resilient Squanto escaped and made his way to England.

He learned English and then presented himself to a trading company. The company owners were delighted to have a native who could translate for them and aid their business ventures. But Squanto’s real goal was simply to get back home. He fled the English ship at first chance.

So it was that an English-speaking Indian walked into the Pilgrim village.

Squanto would prove a strong ally for the Pilgrims, teaching them to hunt and plant crops – and, most importantly, introducing them to Wampanoag sachem Massasoit.

The Wampanoag was facing pressure from the neighboring Narragansett tribe and Massasoit looked favorably on having new allies to keep the Narragansetts at bay.

Securing the friendship of Massasoit gave the Pilgrims their chance to survive. But it wasn’t easy. In that first year half of the Pilgrims died.

That brings us to the first Thanksgiving.

Massasoit and other Wampanoag headmen were invited to the feast. Massasoit’s brother, Quadrequina*, brought two deerskins filled with popped corn – the first time the Pilgrims ever saw it!

Ironically, this year – marking the 400th since the Pilgrims landed – the Wampanoag found themselves in court, fighting to keep the remaining few acres of their reservation.


*(The author is a member of the Narragansett Tribe, but the lineage on his father’s side goes back to Quadrequina.) (look at John's author page for all his book titles)


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