Thanksgiving: 400 Years Ago

In 1620 the Mayflower set sail from Holland carrying a human cargo of 102. These people, whom we today call “the Pilgrims,” had left England to escape religious oppression under the iron fist of King James I and his Anglican bishops. They had found religious freedom, at least relatively, in Holland. But something started to go wrong during their stay: despite their desperate desire to remain English, their children were, slowly but surely, becoming Dutch. This didn’t sit well with William Bradford and his companions. So they chartered two ships, the Mayflower and the less well known Speedwell, and set sail for America.

According to American historian Nathaniel Philbrick, the pilgrims’ target was actually Virginia, the area they had actually secured a colonial charter for. But in the end, the Mayflower dropped anchor in what came to be New England. Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as “Plymouth Rock.” The real landing place for the Pilgrims was Long Point.

Another long-held myth is the relationship between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags, the Native American tribe with whom they celebrated the first Thanksgiving. They didn’t live in constant harmony. In point of fact, Philip, the son of Massassiot, the Wampanoag sachem with whom the Pilgrims had celebrated the first Thanksgiving, initiated one of the bloodiest wars in American history: King Philip’s War, which lasted for only fourteen months, but, amazingly, was one of the bloodiest wars in American history, dwarfing even the American Civil War in lethality. This occurred just a generation after the first Thanksgiving.

This war was the first war to be fought between the English and the Indians. Interestingly, as the years passed and conflict with the Indians started to combine with Anglo-French conflict, the British government got more and more involved, sending troops to aid the colonists against the French and the Indians. This would lead in the long-run to the American Revolution, and in 1783 America would be a free country. So as you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, take some time to remember the heroes, (and some villains,) of the story of our great nation.

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