Thanksgiving

   Our Thanksgiving commemorates a moment of peace and a feast between the settlers at Plymouth and the Wampanoag, and one treaty that was kept for 54 years. Squanto was a godsend to the Puritans in the year of 1621, after the first winter had killed nearly half the pilgrims. As William Bradford writes, Squanto was introduced to the pilgrims by Samoset, and…

…directed them how to set their corn, where to take fish, and to procure other commodities, and was also their pilot to bring them to unknown places for their profit, and never left them till he died. He was a native of this place, and scarce any left besides himself. He was carried away by one Hunt, a master of a ship, who thought to sell them for diverse slaves in Spain. But he got away for England and was entertained by a merchant in London, and employed to Newfoundland and other parts, and lastly brought hither into these parts by one Mr. Dermer…

   The pilgrims were quite lucky to find natives who spoke English. The whole tribe of Squanto, the “Patuxets,” had been killed by an illness, and Squanto himself soon died of a fever. Bradford continues…

All the summer there was no want ; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterwards decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion.

   The treaty itself is quite interesting, following the Mayflower Compact, one written example of the founding of a political community by consent and contract, looking to just and equal laws aiming at the common good. They agree not to harm one another, and to fight with the Wampanoag against their enemies if they are unjustly attacked. So Thanksgiving is our day of gratitude set when the Pilgrims were grateful for the divine assistance of their friend and the sharing the first harvest, after near starvation. Without Squanto and Bradford, the European settlement on the continent would have been much different.

William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, in The American Tradition in Literature, p. 25-27.

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