When people think of the Pilgrims they naturally think of the first Thanksgiving. El Paso, Texas and Santa Fe, New Mexico dispute that it was the first time that Europeans and Indians celebrated such a ceremony together, but whether or not it was the first is not that important. From the Pilgrims’ perspective there were a number of miracles surrounding their first year in America.
The first evidence the Pilgrims saw of divine favor was Plymouth itself. Years earlier when the first map of the area was made by John Smith, what he named New Plymouth was originally the home of the Patuxet Indians. In the few years between Smith’s explorations and the Pilgrims settlement, a disease epidemic, most notably smallpox, wiped out the Patuxet and almost all of the Indian tribes along the Massachusetts coast. While catastrophic for the Indians, the Pilgrims found an area that had once been a village just waiting to be inhabited again. The Indians had already cleared the land and made fields for planting.
Then even more amazing things transpired. Two Indians, Samoset from Maine and Squanto the lone survivor of Patuxet, visited Plymouth in the Spring of 1621. Both had been captured by Europeans and sent to Europe as slaves, both had made their way back to New England, and most fortuitously for the Pilgrims both spoke English.
When Squanto returned from England as a guide for an English explorer he found that his people had died. The English exploration he was guiding was slaughtered by Massasoit chief of the Wampanoag, the dominant tribe in the area, and Squanto was taken in by the chief. The Pilgrims and Massasoit established a peace treaty, and pledged mutual defense against their common enemies. Squanto remained in Plymouth and taught the remaining fifty-three settlers how to survive, setting the stage for harvest festival we call Thanksgiving.
Editors Note: Travis Childs is a history instructor at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. He is a graduate of Midway High School and lives in Bluegrove. He is currently president of the Clay County Historical Society.