THANKSGIVING DAY IN HISTORY
Cold and sick, fighting snow and sleet, a motley band of English men and women struggled through their first winter in the New World. Fewer than 50 of the 110 pilgrims and crew that had stepped off the Mayflower survived until spring. On their own, the Pilgrims would have likely all perished their first year on the coast of New England. However, God had better plans for them. In March of 1621, a loincloth covered native stepped out of the woods and said, "Welcome" in clear English. Samoset, the chief of the Algonquins, had learned English from the fishing ships that occasionally put into the coast of Maine. A few days later he returned to the little Pilgrim village with another English speaking native named Tisquantum, also called Squanto.
Having been taken as a slave in 1605, Squanto had lived 9 years in England and spoke English well. After returning to his native homeland with Captain John Smith in 1614 , Squanto was again kidnapped and taken to Spain, where he was bought by local friars and introduced to Christianity. During his absence, Squanto's entire tribe was wiped out by a mysterious disease, so he sailed home to find himself alone in the world. He wandered until he found the Wampanoags who lived about 50 miles to the southwest. The land that had belonged to his tribe was shunned by other tribes. And so, when the Pilgrims arrived in late 1620, they settled on cleared land that belonged to nobody.
Squanto proved to be a literal God-send for the Pilgrims. He stayed with them and taught them how to stalk deer and catch eels and plant corn the Indian way. He showed them how to refine maple syrup and to discern which wild plants were edible and which were poisonous. He introduced them to trapping beavers, the pelts of which were in high demand in Europe. Without his help, few of the Pilgrims would have survived.
By the autumn of 1621, the Pilgrims were well-prepared for the coming winter and extremely grateful to God, to the Wampanoags, and to Squanto. Governor Bradford declared a day of public thanksgiving to be held in October. They invited Massasoit, the Wapanoags' chief, to a feast to celebrate their bounty. To their surprise and concern, Massasoit brought with him 90 other warriors. These men did not come empty-handed however. They added five deer and over a dozen wild turkeys to the Pilgrims' fresh garden vegetables. There were days of feasting and games and competitions. The Wapanoags taught the Pilgrims the art of making popcorn and the Pilgrims introduced the Indians to fruit pies. God had shown He cared for this little band of persecuted Englishmen in search of religious and civil freedom.
That first year was not the end, however. The next year the Pilgrims, still unused to growing corn - and helping feed newcomers - ran short on food. The year after, a drought threatened to decimate all their crops. Governor Bradford ordered a day of fasting and prayer, and God sent the rain. To celebrate, they proclaimed November 29th to be a day of thanksgiving. The practice of celebrating a Thanksgiving Day is believed to actually have stemmed from this day of gratefulness God's goodness and provision..
Through the years, Americans have had many things to be grateful for. Founded on the rule of Law, the nation has prospered and provided a home for many tired, poor, huddled masses "yearning to breathe free."
There have been several days of thanksgiving since the Pilgrims' days. In 1777, Samuel Adams made a thanksgiving day proclamation that was adopted by all 13 states; "It is therefore recommended... to set apart Thursday the eighteenth day of December next, for solemn Thanksgiving and praise, that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor..."
In October of 1789, President George Washington proclaimed Thursday the Twenty-sixth day of November to be a day of national thanksgiving to Almighty God. In October of 1863, President Abraham Lincoln announced that the last Thursday of November would be dedicated "as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens." Finally, an act of Congress in 1941 dedicated the fourth Thursday of November for the purpose of thanking our Creator.
Even as our forefathers acknowledged the provision and goodness of God, let us also make this national holiday a very special time to thank Him for our own provision - our families, our sustenance, and, above all, our redemption in His Son!
The First Thanksgiving - Koinonia House
The early settlers of America, who braved the privations of those incredibly difficult years, were a fabulous lot, indeed. We can hardly imagine the burdens they endured to make a new life for themselves in a new land. Their turning point began one Friday in the middle of March,1621.
An Indian, wearing nothing but a leather loincloth, strode up their main street to the common house, and to their startled faces boomed in flawless English, "Welcome."
His name was Samoset, a sagamore (or chief) of the Algonquins. He had been visiting the area for the previous eight months, having learned his English from various fishing captains who had put in to the Maine shore over the years.
He returned the following Thursday with another Indian who also spoke English, and who was to prove "a special instrument of God for their good, beyond their expectation." His story was to prove no less extraordinary than the saga of Joseph being sold into slavery to Egypt. His name was Tisquantum, also called Squanto.
His story began in 1605 when Squanto and four other Indians were taken captive, sent to England,and taught English to provide intelligence background on the most favorable places to establish colonies. After nine years in England, Squanto was able to return to Plymouth on Capt. John Smith's voyage in 1614.
Lured and captured by a notorious Capt. Thomas Hunt, he, with 27 others, were taken to Málaga, Spain, a major slave-trading port. Squanto, with a few others, were bought and rescued by local friars and introduced to the Christian faith. Thus, it appears that God was preparing him for the role he would ultimately play at Plymouth.
He was able to attach himself to an Englishman bound for London, then he joined the family of a wealthy merchant, and ultimately embarked for New England in 1619. He stepped ashore six months before the Pilgrims landed in 1620.1
When he stepped ashore he received the most tragic blow of his life. Not a man, woman, or child of his own tribe was left alive! During the previous four years, a mysterious plague had broken out among them, killing every last one.2 So complete was the devastation that the neighboring tribes had shunned the area ever since. The Pilgrims had settled in a cleared area that belonged to no one. Their nearest neighbors, the Wampanoags, were about 50 miles to the southwest.
Stripped of his identity and his reason for living, Squanto wandered aimlessly until he joined the Wampanoags, having nowhere else to go. But God had other plans.
Massasoit, the sachem (or chief) of the Wapanoags, entered into a peace treaty of mutual aid with the Plymouth colony that was to last as a model for forty years. When Massasoit and his entourage left, Squanto stayed. He had found his reason for living: these English were helpless in the ways of the wilderness. Squanto taught them how to catch eels, stalk deer, plant pumpkins, refine maple syrup, discern both edible herbs and those good for medicine, etc.
Perhaps the most important thing he taught them was the Indian way to plant corn. They hoed six-foot squares in toward the center, putting down four or five kernels, and then fertilizing the corn with fish: three fish in each square, pointing to the center, spokelike. Guarding the field against the wolves (who would try to steal the fish), by summer they had 20 full acres of corn that would save every one of their lives.
Squanto also taught them to exploit the pelts of the beaver, which was in plentiful supply and in great demand throughout Europe. He even guided the trading to insure they got full prices for top-quality pelts. The corn was their physical deliverance; the beaver pelts would be their economic deliverance.
The First Thanksgiving
The Pilgrims were a grateful people-grateful to God, grateful to the Wamp-anoags, and grateful also to Squanto. Governor Bradford declared a day of public Thanksgiving, to be held in October.
Massasoit was invited and unexpectedly arrived a day early-with an additional ninety Indians! To feed such a crowd would cut deeply into their stores for the winter, but they had learned through all their travails that God could be trusted implicitly.
And it turned out that the Indians did not come empty handed: they brought five dressed deer and more than a dozen fat wild turkeys. They helped with the preparations, teaching the Pilgrim women how to make hoecakes and a tasty pudding out of cornmeal and maple syrup. In fact, they also showed them how to make one of their Indian favorites: white, fluffy popcorn! (Each time you go to a movie theatre, you should remember the source of this popular treat!)
The Pilgrims, in turn, provided many vegetables from their gardens: carrots, onions, turnips, parsnips, cucumbers, radishes, beets, and cabbages. Also, using some of their precious flour with some of the summer fruits which the Indians had dried, the Pilgrims introduced them to blueberry, apple, and cherry pie. Along with sweet wine made from wild grapes, it was, indeed, a joyous occasion for all concerned.
The Pilgrims and Indians happily competed in shooting contests, foot races, and wrestling. Things went so well (and Massasoit showed no inclination to leave) that this first Thanksgiving was extended for three days.
The moment that stood out the most in the Pilgrims' memories was William Brewster's prayer as they began the festival. They had so much for which to thank God: for providing all their needs-and His provision of Squanto, their teacher, guide, and friend that was to see them through those critical early winters.
A National Institution
By the end of the 19th century, Thanksgiving Day had become an institution throughout New England. It was officially proclaimed as a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Traditionally celebrated on the last Thursday in November, it was changed by an act of Congress in 1941 to the fourth Thursday of that month.3
Originally observed to acknowledge the provision of God, let us also make this national holiday a very special time to thank Him for our own provision-our families, our sustenance, and, above all, our redemption in His Son!
Let's also pray that He might restore the religious freedom that those early Pilgrims cherished so dearly-and that the current enforced paganism that has invaded our land be curtailed. This country is now becoming what the Pilgrims had risked their very lives to flee from.
Much of this article was excerpted from The Light and the Glory, Peter Marshall and David Manuel, Fleming H. Revell Co., Old Tappan, NJ, 1977. For a thrilling and inspiring account of the incredible measures God provided for in the founding of our once-great country, this book is a "must read."
This article was originally published in the
The Pilgrims lived that first winter aboard ship and
suffered the loss of 47 colonists.
The Pilgrims and America's First Thanksgiving - Holidays on the Net
The Federalist Thanksgiving Edition #01-47 - The Federalist
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml]