Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving? At school, they taught us that in 1621, the pilgrims and indigenous peoples of North America became friends. They had a great dinner with Jennie-O Turkey, Stove Top stuffing, casserole of green beans, corn, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, followed by a generous serving of pumpkin pie from Marie Callender topped with whipped cream – oops, I think I was wrong.
Forgive me if you’ve heard this story before. I didn’t know the details until I researched this week’s edition.
In 1620, 120 British and Dutch religious separatists hoped to find religious freedom and new opportunities by sailing to the New World.
Along the way, they struggled with freezing temperatures, very strong winds, and seas so high that they had to turn the ship around to face the wind in order to slow the boat down.
Under the bridge were cramped quarters, each living in a space the size of a tennis court, eating only hard cookies, cured meat, and beer, which equates to around 400 calories per day. Pilgrims were treated like merchandise and were only allowed to climb occasionally to get some fresh air. At many points on the 3,000 mile journey, they thought they were going to die.
The trip lasted 66 days and they arrived in Massachusetts Bay.
Upon landing, they found an abandoned Native American village of the Patuxet tribe that was wiped out by smallpox spread by previous contact with Europeans. They decided to make this place their home because it was already built for human habitation.
During their first winter, they lost half of their workforce, including 30 women of childbearing age; there were only about fifty left.
Once the winter had passed, a young Native American entered their village and said, âWelcome! His name was Samoset and, remarkably, he spoke broken English. Samoset knew a Native American named Squanto who spoke English very well.
It turns out that Squanto was a Patuxet who spoke perfect English with a British accent. He was kidnapped by Captain Thomas Hunt in 1614 and sold as a slave to the Spaniards. He was brought to Spain and eventually to England, where he may have met Pocahontas. Eventually he returned to his homeland and, to his horror, discovered that the Patuxet people had been wiped out by smallpox.
The pilgrims did not know how to survive in their new environment. Without the kindness and generosity of Squanto, who taught pilgrims to live off the land, they would not have survived another winter. Imagine how grateful they were to Squanto; it was an answer to their prayers.
Squanto could easily have hated them and had them killed or let them die out of spite for being kidnapped by a British ship captain and sold as slaves, but instead he had compassion and helped them; what a great man he was.
Exactly 400 years ago, in 1621, settlers and Native Americans celebrated the first Thanksgiving.
Thanks to Squanto, the settlers had a good harvest; out of gratitude, they invited Squanto and a nearby tribe known as the Wampanoag to celebrate. For three days, Squanto, the Wampanoags, and the settlers ate a feast of deer, birds, corn, and more.
The real hero of Thanksgiving is Squanto, who taught us that when we forgive ourselves and help ourselves survive, racial division can disappear.
Even though there are still hardships, I guess very few of us endured what our early ancestors endured as they navigated to the New World, what African American ancestors endured in the days of l slavery, what Native American ancestors went through during the Native American wars with the American government and the many hardships that all of our ancestors faced of all races. Even the poorest of us live in abundance compared to them.
This Thanksgiving, I encourage all of us to be thankful for what we have and to recognize the Squantos in our own lives who have taught us how to live.
Toby Moore is a columnist, star of the Emmy nominated film “A Separate Peace” and CEO of CubeStream Inc. He resides in
Bourbonnais and accessible by the
Daily newspaper at [email protected]