|Re-Discovering Pilgrim America - Part II|
Treaties, Turkeys and Treachery
What The Pilgrims Were REALLY Thankful For.
- by Wren Walker (Sunday, November 25, 1998)
When last we left our "Pilgrim forefathers", they were resting their booted feet after driving away or hanging some "outsiders" and feeling pretty righteous about the entire affair. They were feeling so good in fact that they decided to throw a party.
The First Thanksgiving, right?
Well no, not exactly.
That had happened years before in 1621. Good old Squanto-the last Pawtuxet survivor of a 1614 British-borne epidemic of smallpox and former slave-had taught the newcomers how to catch fish and plant corn. He also negotiated a treaty between the colonists and the only remaining large tribe in the area-the Wampanoag. In appreciation-and, of course, to give thanks to God that old Squanto had come along when he did-a three-day harvest celebration was then enjoyed by all.
Thanks to the good will of Squanto and the Wampanoag, the Puritan colony not only survived, it began to inspire other explorers to come to the Plymouth Plantation. As boatloads of new immigrants disembarked on the shore, one of the first questions that they asked was, "Wow! Who owns all this land?"
Now to their credit, some Puritans did reply, "The Wampanoag own this land."
Hmmmph! These Puritans were promptly excommunicated and sent packing.
Massachusetts Governor Winthrop, in all his wisdom and as the representative of the crown, had declared that since the Indians had not "subdued the land" in proper Anglo-Saxon style, that it was up for grabs.
They began to grab.
By 1633, the British had spread out into the Connecticut Valley, where they "grabbed" the land of the Pequot, too. Somewhere in all the mess, two British slave traders got themselves killed. The British demanded that the Indians responsible be turned over by the Pequot. They refused.
In retaliation, the surrounding colonies got together a force of 240 men under the command of John Mason. They were aided by the Narragansett tribe.
And then they planned a REAL party.
The rag-tag army surrounded a Pequot village. At sunrise, the colonists set the village on fire.
As William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth, wrote in his journal: "Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword; some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so that they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire...horrible was the stink and scent thereof, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them."
Of the approximately 200 Pequots that had escaped the Puritan party, most were later killed or enslaved. The entire Pequot nation-whose people had lived on that land for thousands of years- was virtually eliminated.
But the profit to be made by our God-fearing fathers was just being realized. Slaves were a great export.
So began a campaign of slash and burn attacks against the native tribes. The lucky perished quickly. The others faced torture and enslavement. New England capitalism flourished on the backs of the slave trade.
And finally, the Puritans turned on their old Thanksgiving Day friends-the Wampanoag. The Wampanoag fought back.
When it was over, over 600 colonists had been killed and several entire towns wiped out. But the settlers had won.
Whole Indian settlements were wiped out and the people sold into slavery. Over 6,000 Indians were dead. White men were allowed to kill any Indian male that they came across and take the women and children for their own property.
The Massachusetts colonists declared another "day of public thanksgiving" in 1676, to thank God because "there now scarce remains a name or family of them [the Indians] but are either slain, captivated or fled."
Fifty-five years after the original Thanksgiving Day, the Puritans had destroyed the generous Wampanoag and all other neighboring tribes as well.
Thanksgiving Day today is more a matter of football games and turkey dinners than a day devoted to praising the "divine providence" that sustained our historically challenged "forefathers."
Yet, I think it would be a very nice gesture to raise a glass in memory of that very first Thanksgiving Day which held so much promise of true brotherhood and cooperation...
And to recall we have many promises that we have made to Native Americans still to keep.
Next time, We get back on track with: The Beginning of the End For A "Christian America."
Click Here for part II