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Old 05-02-2015
BarleySinger BarleySinger is offline
Fresh Meat!
Join Date: May 2015
Posts: 1
Default Re: Thanksgiving: The Truth

As with most of history, it gets written by the victors, often in ways that sanitize it. It is also true that in a lot of cases what we see is not a single event, but a whole lot of them rolled into a new tradition.

The Pilgrims and some of the other groups who came to North America from Europe, had religious traditions of holding days of thanksgiving. Some were feasts, but the main idea was to think about what you had and be thankful to god for it. This muddies the water a whole lot.

Even if you limit yourself to ONLY the "thanksgiving" tradition that came out of the stories from Massachusetts Bay at Plymouth, you still get a lot of different versions of the story...and none of them line up with the lovely variation taught to kids in school in the 20th and 21st century.

It is most definite that Miles Standish was not the nice guy and wonderful leader he is portrayed as being. It is also pretty definite that the pilgrims had ongoing problems with the various native tribes. Some peoples they got along with (a least some) but some other tribal groups actively raided their encampments, which is why they eventually put up a big wooden wall around the place.


A few years ago, I read a rather different version of the interactions between the local native people and the Pilgrims (with Squanto translating for them). It certainly was not one of cooperation, with local people teaching the Pilgrims how to survive (and them actually LISTENING) with a nice feast at then end.

*** PREQUEL - the sea voyage ***

It was my understanding that the Pilgrims started out with more than one ship, and far more supplies, than they had by the end of their trip. However several of the sailors had become discontent with the agreement to go on such a long voyage and wanted out of the 2 year contracts they had agreed to. To make this happen, these sailors took to sabotaging the ships, so that they leaked. Nobody could figure out why such good ships were springing so many leaks, and eventually sabotage was suspected. All that water getting into the ships caused serious trouble, and more and more supplies were ruined over time.

This eventually called for desperate actions. This group of people had put all they had on the line, and were about to lose it all without setting foot at their desired location. So they had to stop and get the help of professional shipwrights. However the damage had been already been done and only one ship (the Mayflower) was still seaworthy. Worse yet, so much water had leaked into the holds of the ships during the sabotage efforts, that most of what they had bought (to be able to survive in the new land) was gone. Much of their supplies were ruined. That included a lot of their food, and seeds for planting.

With only one ship left, they were packed in very tightly into the ships hold. This made conditions ripe for disease and they got it in spades. There was so much sickness on board that at one point every one of the pilgrims down in the hold, was being cared for by only ONE slightly less sick person. Eventually they managed to get to "Plymouth"... and from here on out there seems to be many different accounts.


This is what I recall having read a few years back. It is certainly not the only variation on the theme (some of which are far worse & involve Miles Standish going hunting for the head of a local Chief). The truth is that most of the information comes from multiple sources, all of which were written at least 2 decades later. That allows for faulty memory, and a story that changed from person to person (not first hand accounts), as well as a desire to clean up the downright nastiness that some of the other European authorities said the pilgrims had been up to.

---- onward ---

Regardless, when the pilgrims finally got to North America, they were in very bad shape. They were extremely hungry, desperate, and had run way too sort on supplies. Things did not look good. Many were still sick. A few people went out in a party to look around the area. They wandered around to investigate and they found a native village.

What they did not know is white people were not unknown to the local tribes. In fact various groups of Europeans had given the local peoples a number of "gifts" which included "Smallpox" and depending on the area you were in, the local tribal populations had dropped by up to 90% in about 5 years.

Many accounts exist of European people who came to North America to settle it, who were amazed that the entire area looked to them like a big park, with well manicured fields ready for planting. There was a reason for that. They used to have people living in them.

There are accounts of EARLY expeditions to the west coast of North America that said the coast was so well populated that the smoke from the fires in the villages drifted out over the water for several miles.

Anyway the local tribe had a number of problems with slavers. A European slave trader named Captain Hunt.. and his crew of slavers, had been their introduction to white people, and the only other ones they had ever seen.

The native people in that village saw the Pilgrims first, and given their issues with Hunt, they promptly fled their homes. They had learned about "guns" and the violence of the slavers the hard way. That sort of thing did not leave them in a trusting mood...and not being idiots they hid in the woods.

The pilgrims arrived in an empty village. The homes were empty, and the Pilgrims came in and poked about, looking for people. It was obvious to them the place was normally occupied. Everything looked as if the people had been there one moment, and all just left in the middle of their tasks. They had left.

Due to their extreme hunger, and the fact that they saw food in the village, the pilgrims took food from some of the dwellings and brought it back to the ship. They (supposedly) were not happy about just stealing, and wanted to do something later to pay them back.

*** SQUANTO ***

A while after this they had an amazing stroke of luck. Squanto found them. After so many years spent working his way back to a home in a village that no longer existed (due to all those lovely new plagues from European sailors and slavers) Squanto had nothing left to show for his troubles in Europe... except for an understanding that many whites were bad people. He also had a command of the English language. This let him speak to the Pilgrims, who were very surprised that there was a native person who could speak their language.

Now here we have a guy who had every reason ton not trust white people. He had been taken back to Europe as a "ambassador" (more of a curiosity) and then sold into slavery...and he still tried to help these people out.

This was amazing luck. The only English speaking native person on the entire continent, was where THEY were...and was willing to try and help them so they would not all die. He helped them talk to the local people. That is how they were told what types of houses to build to keep out the extreme cold of winter, and how to plant crops so hat they would thrive in the area. After all, most of the people (about 90% of them) had died of European diseases. It wasn't as if there was no room in the area.

So how did the Pilgrims react to that help from Squanto and the local peoples? They ignored it all.

Being "white European Christians" the knew inside that everything they did would work out far better than the people who managed to live in the place for so long. So (the idiots) went about doing everything their own way (because they 'knew better' - ha). They tried to build in the "English Fashion" in a place where the winters were too cold for that (and they had been warned not to do that). They planted their crops the way they did in England (where the soil was very different - and they had been told that would not work).

So their homes were too cold and they had almost no food (because of course their crops did poorly) and a large number of the remaining Pilgrims died that winter (of exposure and starvation... which was caused by being too stubborn to listen).

The next spring there were a lot less Pilgrims left. They went to the local tribe (who still did not completely trust them) but the tribes people looked at them all starving and they took pity on them and gave them grain out of their "safety supplies"... the grain they kept aside in case of very bad years, and to have something to plant next time if the crops did poorly.

As they did this they explained (whit the help of Squanto) that that this was a one time offer. They could not do this again without causing all their own people to starve. They told the Pilgrims that they MUST take the advice they had been given and change their methods if they wanted not to die. They had to plant and build in the ways that would keep them alive. This is as close to an actual "feast of thanksgiving" that the actual first wave of Pilgrims had. They did sit down with the local people and eat, and they were grateful not to be dead and gave thanks to their god.

So as spring moved in and the land warmed and it was time to plant...the pilgrims utterly ignored (again) all the advice they had and did EXACTLY the same things they had done the spring before - things which had doomed them to starvation and freezing and dying. They would not take the advice of the local people (but would take their food). So of course there was a second winter of freezing to death, and disease and starvation.

The few remaining Pilgrims who survived this, went to the native people and asked for help again. However the local people could not give them any more help. They said they were sorry, but there was nothing to give, and they had warned them not to do things that way. After all they had already given them all the could possibly spare the year before and had not had time to replace it. They had given them strong warning and instruction, and that coupled with the winter of starvation and freezing OUGHT to have been enough to convince anybody.

So the Puritans went back home, and then came back later and raided the local village and stole their food (leaving the survivors of the raid to have their OWN starvation issues the next year).

After the successful raid they then held a feast of thanksgiving to God - like the ones that were a normal part of their society - but without any native people there as happy guests.
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