The holiday season is approaching quickly with retailers spamming consumers from emails to loud annoying TV commercials. With Thanksgiving being on Thursday, I wanted to take the time to examine the history and reflect. Who made this day possible and what happened in history to begin this celebratory practice? Investigating can uncover “facts” that some would like to forget or rewrite.
According to History.com: “In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.” The Pilgrims weren’t the first visitors to the “new” world. In fact, European sailors had visited the coast many times for fishing and trading.
A short time after the Plymouth colonists arrived and settled on land, a Pawtuxet Native American named Squanto approached the camp. He could speak the English language masterfully. In 1608, Squanto was forced into being a slave as a young child in Spain. He was then bought by monks and moved to England to work as a stablehand in 1612. However, other historians argue that Squanto moved to England to be a interpreter for a ship captain (http://historyofmassachusetts.org/squanto-the-former-slave/). Eventually, he went back home on a ship in 1618 to discover that his community was wiped out by disease courtesy via the settlers.
When the new residents arrived, his ability to communicate and teach survival skills saved lives. History.com: “Squanto taught the Pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag, a local tribe, which would endure for more than 50 years and tragically remains one of the sole examples of harmony between European colonists and Native Americans.” In 1622, Squanto died either of disease or under mysterious circumstances.
Overall, my investigation on Squanto revealed different accounts of his life. Historians disagree on how many times he traveled across the Atlantic, how he arrived in England, and the cause behind his death. In fact, http://www.biography.com states that “Squanto’s unique knowledge of the English language and English ways gave him power. He abused his power by threatening his people, telling them that he would have the Pilgrims ‘release the plague’ if they did not do what he wanted.” While a CNN story of Squanto glorified him as a Saint sent from god to help the settlers:
To complicate Squanto’s history even more, Disney made a cheesy and disrespectful movie titled Squanto: A Warrior’s Tale in 1984. Here’s the unbearable mess of a trailer:
Undoubtedly, the Disney version of Squanto is a romanticized and poorly written version of his history. Life is complicated and difficult. “Heroes” are people with different layers of experiences. For me, it’s a challenge to completely believe a recorded history created by a group of individuals that participated in the deplorable treatment of Native Americans. As a result, I’m thankful for today’s world that through technology multiple perspectives can be sourced, edited, and summarized by reputable historians (hopefully). The real challenge will be defending history’s “truth” in the future by making sure that it’s protected and not squandered.