Bravery and Forgiveness on Thanksgiving
(Posted November 24, 2021)
“We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.” —Friedrich Koenig
We are, indeed, a Pilgrim people, but I often wonder how many of us appreciate what it took to plant the seed of their quest for religious freedom, there in the sandy soil of New England. It’s fitting on this Thanksgiving which marks the 400th anniversary of the pilgrims’ arrival, that we pause and think and give thanks for these brave souls, and the people who rescued them from disaster.
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The Pilgrims' Brave Journey to America
Our religious forebears had already fled England to avoid being made to toe the line of the State-determined of Protestant theology that the Church of England demanded. They lived in the Netherlands for 11 years before hearing the opportunities that they might find, if only they were brave enough to sail across the Atlantic to a new continent. On September 6, 1620, the Mayflower, laden down with 102 passengers, departed Southampton, England. Actually, of those 102 people, only 37 were the religious separatists known to us as Pilgrims. The rest of them were fare-paying passengers whose interest was a brighter future for themselves, not necessarily on a spiritual but on a financial basis.
For 66 horrific days, they all endured the passage. Sickness and scurvy plagued the people below deck. Amazingly only one person- a young man – died on the voyage. But after stopping briefly in Provincetown, the crew and passengers disembarked in what is now Plymouth Harbor in November. That’s when the real hardship set in for the new arrivals. Between starvation, hazards and disease, 45 out of the 102 people died that first year.
An Unlikely Source of Salvation
However, the Pilgrim colony was saved by a very unlikely duo: Massasoit, the Chief of the local Wampanoag natives and his son Squanto, who spoke English.
How did he learn the language? Years before, Squanto was captured by other Englishmen exploring the Cape who took him to England and there they sold him into slavery. It seems odd that someone who was so poorly treated by white explorers would want to help the dying Pilgrims, but after escaping and making it back to Plymouth with another expedition, he did. Squanto translated for the Pilgrims and most importantly of all, he taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn and where to fish. The poor sandy soil of the area wouldn’t have grown corn if it were not for the trick of burying a fish along with the seed corn.
The First Thanksgiving
After the very first successful harvest of corn planted by the Pilgrims in 1621, the colonists and the natives engaged in an autumn feast that lasted four days. But be advised: There wasn’t a turkey on the menu. Instead, diners feasted on deer brought by the natives, on swans and lobsters.
Roasting and cooking was primarily done by the Wampanoag, since the Pilgrims didn’t have ovens or hearths yet in which to cook. (There was no Stovetop Stuffing in sight.) But there were profound thanks offered by all. The spirit of gratitude was always a cornerstone of the New England native tribes’ spiritual tradition.
Sadly, as we all know, some of the more mercenary Mayflower crowd were responsible for taking native land, devaluing their culture, and inadvertently bringing disease to indigenous people for which they had no immunity. But it’s fitting that the day after Thanksgiving this year is observed as Indigenous Peoples Day – in honor of those crucial friends of the bedraggled Pilgrims, without which there would have been no tomorrow for which to be grateful.
As you gather this year, take a moment and remember the bravery of the Pilgrims and the forgiveness by the natives who cared for them.