November 2008

Thanksgiving, 1621

Author: Paul deVere

“History is written by the victors.”—Winston Churchill
“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”—Mark Twain

(Author’s note: I’d like to thank the research department at the Pilgrims’ Progressive, a slick tabloid, rarely published in Plymouth, MA, for their almost unbelievable efforts, on my behalf, for finding the only known Wampanoag [the Native Americans at Plymouth] account of the 1621 Thanksgiving feast. While it was written several years after the fact and there is no record of the author’s name, his observations and insights provide a look at the Pilgrims, from the moment they landed in 1620, to the last day of the feast, that has never really been seen before.

While the original was written in the pictographic language of the Wampanoag, and some might say, therefore, it is “open to interpretation,” I think my research team at Pilgrims Progressive did a bang-up job. Time is told in “white man” years.

In 1600, there were about 12,000 Wampanoag people. When the Pilgrims first landed at or near Plymouth Rock in 1620, there were about 2,000 left because of the pox. By the 1675-76 “King Phillips War,” only 400 remained.

A further note. Due to the fact the manuscript was “discovered” during a recent renovation of the Plymouth Country Club’s Donald Ross course [originally built in 1908], large backhoe teeth marks on some of the leather pages made the pictographs illegible. If there are seeming historical “inaccuracies,” see Churchill, Twain quotes above.)

I Was There!
“Our people had met their kind before. Having lived on this land for over 10,000 years, you’re bound to run into all types. Quite a while ago there was this really big guy with red hair all over his head and face. He had the silliest name: “Leaf,” his friends called him. But that had to be 1,500 years ago. Still, the stories have been handed down.

“We learned we didn’t much like the people coming in the large boats along our coast. On occasion they would come ashore and try to trade with us. We would get a shovel. They would get animal skins. They also offered a few of our young men the chance to ‘see the world.’ Unfortunately, while our young men may have ‘seen the world,’ we never saw them again, which was a bit suspicious.

“I was there the day a few of them first piled out of their boat, the Mayflower. They were a sorry lot. My brother coined the term ‘ignorant savages,’ to describe them. They didn’t know our language and smelled to high heaven. We did not engage them immediately, but simply watched. Even the head of our Chamber of Commerce said he had his doubts. And that’s saying something! He never turned down potential members.

“In terms of farming, their timing couldn’t have been worse. Try growing maize in November! They did pray a great deal. Many of the men shouted to the heavens something about God and a dam, which everyone knew you built for fish weirs. Then they would hurl stones… (Unreadable.)

“That winter was difficult for them. They seemed to have little food. As has been our custom for centuries, we always bury our dead with enough food for them to make it to the next stage. We think that is rather sensible. We made sure the newcomers ‘discovered’ these burial mounds where there was plenty of maize and beans and acorns and dried squash. If you’ve never had a nice hot bowl of venison squash stew on a cold winter night, you haven’t lived.

“As for hunting, they did not show promise. They used something called a ‘matchlock,’ that, when fired, scared every living creature for miles around, including my brother and me. We did see them hit a turkey once, but when they went to retrieve their prize it was mostly feathers. And speaking of miles, we did meet a fellow called Myles Standish. He was rather off-putting. Seemed to always be looking for a fight, and in fact… (Unreadable.)

“Spring came early in 1621, and we watched these people start to plant. They had eaten most of the seeds for the new crop and didn’t know which end of the hoe to use. It was pretty pitiful. So we got our local agronomist to give some basic classes in raising maize, beans and squash. We also had the local representative of the NBAA (National Bow & Arrow Association) to go over the fundamentals of bow hunting.

“As to fishing, they were rather clumsy. They kept diving into the water trying to catch the fish in their hands. We showed them how to catch fish with weirs, spears and dip nets. We also showed them the proper method of drying their catch for the winter months.

“Our ladies showed their ladies where to find herbs for cooking and medicine. They kept referring to us as ‘savages,’ but our sachmen, Massasoit, told them, ‘We are all savages in the eyes of the Creator.’ Of course, their ladies didn’t understand Wampanoag.

“But we actually started to get along pretty well. Since about half their group had gone to the Happy Hunting Grounds over the winter, I guess they figured being good neighbors couldn’t hurt. They really got a kick out of the pumpkins that just kept growing and growing.

“What really got most of the guys excited was the tobacco. We actually sat around the campfire with a few of the younger guys, took a couple hits off the pipe we passed around and just got silly.

“I also have to mention this fellow, Squanto. He was a Patuxet, a tribe that had been entirely wiped out by disease. Squanto could actually speak their tongue (he’d been a slave, like three times), and acted as kind of an envoy between Massasoit and the newcomers. First there was John Carver, but he keeled over from heat stroke in the spring. Nice enough fellow. His replacement was Bill Bradford. So Bradford, Massasoit and Squanto, looking at the fantastic harvest that fall, decided it was time to throw a party. It was fabulous. Not surprisingly, everyone had seconds of the New England clam chowder. It was that good.

“And let me tell you, we ate like there was no tomorrow!… (Unreadable.)

  1. The first Thanksgiving feast was held at Berkley Plantation. Charles City County virginia, on the banks of the James River. where the king of England had Previousley had surveyed back in the 1500s. I believe 6 years before, the religeous group pulled together and hired a captian to bring the group to the new world and landed at plymouth.


    — linda saxon    Nov 3, 12:40 pm   

  2. sorry guys it was 1 year before and there were 38 settlers


    — linda saxon    Nov 3, 12:52 pm   

Let Us Know what You Think ...

commenting closed for this article