Thursday, November 25, 2010

The First Thanksgiving Part 3 (re-posted for 2010)

(This post was originally sent as an email to family and friends in 2008.)

You all remember Squanto from grade school, don't you? He was the English-speaking Indian who helped the Pilgrims by teaching them to put a dead fish in every hill of corn they planted. He and Samoset, another English-speaking Indian, were both at the three-day harvest feast in the fall of 1621 and acted as interpreters so that all the communication between the Pilgrims and Massasoit's tribe didn't have to be confined to sign language.
Samoset was actually the first Indian to help the Pilgrims. In March of 1621 he walked into their compound and asked if they had any beer. He was an Abneki from Maine who had learned some pidgin English from some fishermen (and had learned to like beer). It was Samoset who talked Squanto into coming to Plymouth to help the Pilgrims. Squanto was fluent in English and had been Christianized.
Squanto, whose real name was Tisquantum, was a member of the Patuxet sub-group of the Wampanoag tribe who had been captured in 1605 and taken to England as sort of exotic curiosity to prove that his captors actually had been to the New World. He got back to his native land in 1612 only to be captured again in 1614 for the purpose of being sold into slavery in Spain. He was saved by some religious types who converted him to Christianity (I'm sure he preferred that to slavery in Spain). He was able to get back home again in 1619 only to find that his tribe had been decimated by a plague, probably smallpox. So it was that he was in the neighborhood and able to join up with the Pilgrims in 1621 at Samoset's behest.
I am now going to indulge in some more speculation about what went on during that three-day FirstThanksgiving fest. Winslow said "..whom for three dayes we entertained.." and "...amongst other recreations..." Thus it is plain that there was more going on than eating and sleeping.
How about the Indians playing a demonstration game of Lacrosse? The game was more than fun. It was also important to the Indians for conflict resolution, the training of young warriors and as a religious ritual. Certainly the Pilgrims would have been interested, probably fascinated.
And foot racing, I can imagine white girls vs Indian girls and white boys vs Indian boys. My Mother, who could outrun any of the three of us, said young girls loved to run and race despite long skirts. Maybe Joseph Rogers raced.
And how about the Wampanoag braves demonstrating their archery prowess with their bows and arrows? The Pilgims had probably already "...exercised their Armes..."
And Captain Miles Standish surely put his small troop through some close-order drill to demonstrate their marching and manual-of-arms proficiency.
I can also imagine a race between the Indians in their canoes and the Pilgrims in their long boat. Plymouth was located right on the water.
I can even imagine a wrestling match between two muscular Pilgrim youths. I think I read one time that wrestling was popular in those days. Improbably, one of the Pilgrim boys was named Wrestling Brewster.
Can you visualize ceremonial groups of Indians doing their shuffling tribal dances around campfires? And super-devout Pilgrims hym-singing? And a long-winded Pastor intoning    seemingly endless invocations, benedictions and prayers of Thanksgiving? I can.
Well, there's my story of the First Thanksgiving. I hope it adds to yours.
Elaine and I wish you all a happy Pratt-Woodruff Thanksgiving
The Patriarch

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