Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, hot rolls and, of course, last but certainly not least, pumpkin pie covered with gobs of whipped cream; these are a few of my favorite things, thanksgiving meal things that is. I guess for me Thanksgiving Day has always been all about the meal enjoyed with friends and family. The real story behind the holiday seemed unimportant.
After having said all that, I have come to a decision regarding the creation of this story. Typically I would have recalled some specific holiday from years past and related the events of that Thanksgiving to you. There are those of you who might consider that sufficient, however, I can't count myself as one of those who may be pacified.
Therefore, I have decided to tell the story of the first Thanksgiving. I guess the only story I was ever told and came to believe was nowhere near to the actual truth. The Pilgrims invited some of the local folks, you know the Native Americans who were as a point of fact indigenous to the new land, over for dinner. At least that's the way the story was told to me.
Let us start with what is, without question, known versus what may be called educated suppositions. The year was 1621 and the place was called the Plymouth Colony in the new world, America. One hundred, two colonists sailed to America on a vessel called the Mayflower but after the first winter, only 53 remained alive.
One of the 53 remaining hearty souls, Edward Winslow, documented a celebration which took place between September and November in 1621. The celebration was one intended to celebrate a successful harvest and one which would be repeated in the following years. Ninety Native Americans of the Wampanoag tribe, including their leader Massasoit, were also in attendance. Winslow's written record of that first fall celebration is as follows:
"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the company almost a week, at which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."
Now to the next point, that being Squanto. I have been led to believe that Squanto was an interpreter and liaison between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans, but how could he have become fluent in the English language. There is no doubt that Squanto, true name Tisquantum, was a Native American and member of the Patuxet tribe. Squanto was born in the year 1580 and it is reported that in 1605 he and four other Native Americans were captured by English explorer Captain George Weymouth.
Weymouth had been commissioned by the Plymouth Company to explore the coast of Maine and Massachusetts. He captured the group of five because he thought those in England might enjoy getting a firsthand look at the heathens.
Squanto spent nine years living as a slave but, in 1614 explorer John Smith saw the value in Squanto as that of a guide and brought the Patuxet back to the new world. In that same year, 1614, Tisquantum was once again kidnapped. This time English explorer Thomas Hunt took Squanto to Spain where he was sold into slavery.
Somehow, and this matter is open to conjecture, in 1619 he escaped captivity and made his way back to the new world. Upon his return, Squanto discovered that all members of his tribe had contracted the disease brought by the Europeans, smallpox, and died. He then became a guest of and continued to live with a neighboring tribe, the Wampanoags.
So it came to be that when the stories of that first Thanksgiving were told, Tisquantum was depicted as an amicable one who just happened to speak and understand the language of the Pilgrims. As is often the case, there is much more to the story of Squanto. Tisquantum died a free man in the land of his birth in 1621.
The documented accounts of that first celebration indicate that the Native Americans were not actually invited to the feast. It appears that some of the Wampanoag tribe heard the gunfire and, after investigating the matter, learned that a post-harvest celebration was taking place. It does appear that they then gathered venison and other edible items and joined the festivities.
It is thought that the yearly autumn gatherings to celebrate the successful harvests didn't become a New England tradition until the late 1600s. In the 1850s, magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale believed that an official national Thanksgiving Day holiday was needed. Her efforts to create such a holiday were rewarded in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that the last Thursday in November of each year would in fact be known as Thanksgiving Day. So it came to be that in each year's 11th month one Thursday was deemed to be a national holiday.
It was my belief that the Pilgrims came to this country, the new land across the great sea, from England, but that isn't true. Not that it matters, but just to set the record straight, they left England, traveled to Holland then sailed on that most famous of ships, the Mayflower to the shores of America.
The land was clean and free. The soil, trees, grass and water weren't owned by anyone or any group of people. The Wampanoag Indians lived there but they didn't own the earth. They hunted and built structures but they were merely guests just as were the newly arriving Europeans. It was during that late summer or autumn three days that the Pilgrims rejoiced in the blessings of food, the rich new land and, yes, life itself.
OK, so the 1621 autumn meeting between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Native Americans wasn't really the idyllic gathering which I had been led to believe it was but, as I think about the facts, it doesn't matter. I believe that Thanksgiving Day should be a time to gather with family and friends and remember all the blessings that have been bestowed upon each of us during the year.
When I'm feeling sorry for myself, and those moments are far too common, I think about the sadness that has come into my life these past few years. That brings me to the reason for writing this story. There were actually two reasons, not just one.
I wanted to give you the truth behind the November holiday, Thanksgiving. It seemed to me that the reason behind the day's recognition seemed obscure and I don't like things to remain obscure. The second reason and, to me, the best reason was to let you know that I have lately reconsidered my life. Therefore I have decided to dwell less on the sad times but rather be thankful for all the blessings in my life, the good times in this current year.
I know full well that bad things can happen and sad moments can come into our lives but there are also many good times. I find that it is easy to let the tragedies of the year cloud the gifts we have received but they are there. I am guilty of letting the good times go unnoticed and sometimes I have to look hard for those moments, but they are there.
And there you have it, the real story of Thanksgiving. I guess I have in many ways tarnished the version many came to know, including me, but I always find it somewhat refreshing when I learn the truth behind the legend. Anyway, I hope all of you enjoy your Thanksgiving Day meal and the time spent with family and friends. I, on the other hand, find the cold turkey sandwiches laced with oodles of mayonnaise I have on the days following the holiday far better than the meal itself.
Stan Fine is a retired police officer and Verizon Security Department investigator who, after retiring in 2006, moved from Tampa, Fla., to Noel. Stan's connection to Noel can be traced back to his grandparents who lived most of their lives there. Stan began writing after the passing of his wife Robin in 2013. Opinions expressed are those of the author.