By Vicki A. Brady
In November of 1621, as the Pilgrims sat down to what we now refer to as The First Thanksgiving Dinner, sitting among them was a Patuxet Indian, known as Squanto. Four months after the Pilgrims had landed in Plymouth, Squanto walked out of the forest and greeted the weary and hungry, but determined strangers, speaking perfect English. Squanto spent the next eight months teaching the Pilgrims how to grow corn, hunt, and fish in his own back yard. Historians agree, had it not been for Squanto, the Pilgrims would have perished and the dinner would never have taken place. But what was remarkable about that first Thanksgiving Day, actually took place over 15 years earlier.
While exact dates are disputed among historians, Squanto was born just before 1600. He lived in what is now known as Massachusetts and was a member of the Native American tribe called Patuxets. When he was about twelve-years old, Squanto and several friends, were captured by an English ship captain and taken to Malaga, Spain where they were to be sold into slavery. Moved by compassion, a Spanish monk offered all that he had; a small bag of coins to purchase Squanto. Squanto was taken to the monastery where he was treated very well. He learned the Spanish language and he learned about a benevolent God. Squanto embraced Christianity and learned the habits and customs of his rescuers.
Although the monks were good to him, Squanto missed his family terribly. He longed to go home and be among his own people. The monks were sensitive to Squanto’s feelings so they set aside a penny here and a penny there, to pay for Squanto’s return home. Finally, the day came when Squanto was able to leave Spain and sail for England. He was given a letter of introduction to John Slanie, a local merchant, with the hope that John would be able to help Squanto secure passage back to his homeland. John offered to help Squanto, but the passage to the Americas was costly and would take time to raise money needed. Meanwhile, Squanto spent the next few years working as a stable hand and learned to speak English.
Finally, around 1619, the day came for Squanto to sail for America. It had been about ten years since he saw his family and the shores of his native land. One can only speculate how intensely Squanto searched the ocean, waiting for the first glimpse of the familiar shore. Finally, the day came; land was spotted.
Once Squanto landed, his joy and anticipation was crushed as he visited the ruins of his once thriving village. During his absence, an epidemic had swept the land, killing everyone. As far as he knew, he was the only remaining member of his tribe. Devastated, Squanto lived with a neighboring tribe and made the best of his heartbreak. Eventually, he left the tribe and lived alone in the woods, nursing his sorrow.
Beauty From Ashes
One day, Squanto was visited by a tribesman from another village named Samoset, who told Squanto about some settlers that were now living among the ruins of Squanto’s old village. As Squanto approached the pilgrims, he immediately recognized their familial dress and language. As he spoke to the leaders of the colony, in perfect English, Squanto’s story unfolded and he was embraced by the pilgrims. Over the following months, Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to farm the land that had once been his boyhood home. He interceded on their behalf as an interpreter and negotiated peace treaties.
The first Thanksgiving dinner was celebrated in 1621 and lasted for three days. According to historians, Squanto and 90 of his tribesmen contributed five deer to the feast which complimented the fowl, grains, berries, and assorted vegetables and squash provided by the Pilgrims.
In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national holiday in November which is now celebrated on the fourth Thursday of the month. Although recent textbooks and political movements have attempted to paint the first Thanksgiving as a celebration of oppression and greed, history reveals that it was a celebration of God’s provision, redemption, cooperation, and mutual respect.
Happy Thanksgiving Day!