The First Words of Thanksgiving

When the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth rock in 1620 they were cold, hungry and frightened. Imagine their surprise when on March 16 as they unloaded cannon from the Mayflower in preparation for battle an Indian walked into their encampment and asked, “Anyone got a beer?” Seriously, that’s what happened. Samoset, the thirsty Indian, had learned English from occasional fishermen.

Even more fortunate for the Pilgrims was that Somoset was accompanied by Squanto. Squanto had been enslaved 7 years earlier and transported to Spain where he was sold.  He then somehow made his way to England and then, amazingly, back to his village in New England around 1619. It’s a horrific story, however, because during his absence Squanto’s entire village and much of the region had been wiped out by disease, almost certainly brought by the Europeans. Nevertheless, in 1621 Squanto was there when the Pilgrims landed and he hammered out an early peace deal and most importantly instructed the settlers how to fertilize their land with fish in order to grow corn.

Squanto instructed them in survival skills and acquainted them with their environment: “He directed them how to set their corn, where to take fish, and to procure other commodities, and was also their pilot to bring them to unknown places for their profit, and never left them till he died.”

Anyone got a beer?



"instructed the settlers how to fertilize their land with fish in order to grow corn": I've seen it argued that that is wrong.

Anyway, shouldn't y'all be celebrating the survival of Jamestown rather than those rather horrible Puritans? The Virginians were there first, after all. Well, first of the English permanent settlers.

And it was the Virginians that took a leading role in creating what became the U.S., and they were instrumental in writing both the Declaration of Indpendence and the Bill of Rights.

The Jamestowners weren't really the Virginians though.

fertilize their land with fish

Why would you waste a high-nutrient item like fish to fertilize a low-nutrient crop like maize?

Fish waste?

I could see the point of feeding fish waste to the pigs and then using pig dung as fertiliser. But I suspect that's not what they meant. You might even suspect that people who invent foundation myths don't know much about reality.

North east US coast bays and inland waters annually produce large numbers of Menhaden, which are smaller fish not suitable for eating. Often large schools of Menhaden are pursued by schools of ravenous (larger) bluefish into enclosed, small waters and the fish die in large numbers as they exhaust the oxygen.

"Why would you waste a high-nutrient item like fish to fertilize a low-nutrient crop like maize?"

Because corn can be stored for the very long and very cold little ice age New England winters.

That said, some say this is a myth, that in fact the Indians didn't fertilize fields with fish but rather practiced slash and burn. The Pilgrims were astonished to find vast, empty, cleared fields they thought gifted to them by Providence. In reality, the Indians were practicing large scale agriculture and had already experienced fertility loss due to intensive agriculture. They were headed into the Malthusian trap until their numbers were reduced by 90-95% by plague, probably introduced by cod fishermen or whale hunters. Eventually, the Indian tribes would have clashed over land as the land available for clearing diminished.

Up until King Phillip's War, the Indians were content to hunt and trap game to trade with the undocumented immigrants from overcrowded, rat infested cities ruled by thugs (like Central America).

Indian chiefs had no problem selling off land to the illegal aliens - they got cloth, iron pots, knives, axes, firearms, pork - which they loved - and most of all rum. Once the game and fur animals were depleted they chose war, but as California knows, once you haul in the Trojan Horse it's too late.

As if alcohol, plague, and real estate profiteering weren't enough, the final death blow for the Indians weren't enough, they made the fatal mistake of choosing sides - though the Iroquois feigned neutrality but engaged in transparent double dealing - in a intra-familial Royal spat, the Seven Years War. The Brits won, the French lost, and the Indian allies of both sides lost. By this time, the English (the colonists) were fed up with the Indian style of warfare, which not only rejected the European notions of the honorable surrender and the ritual goodwill of the victor's, but included kidnapping of women (to be enslaved) and children and the slow ritual torture of male captives.

Some of us love the Manichean meme, and truly want to believe that somewhere there was once a now lost noble civilization living in harmony with nature and each other. It's called Utopia, the land that never was and can never be.

Thanks. Broad strokes but accurate.

Can you, or anyone for that matter, recommend a couple of books on native-pilgrim relations?

Anyway, shouldn't y'all be celebrating the survival of Jamestown rather than those rather horrible Puritans?

The Puritans founded Massachusetts Bay in 1629. The Plymouth Colony was founded by Separatists. Neither one were horrible.

Someone bothered by the fact that he didn't introduce his pronouns, but not a bad story.

... all of this must be viewed in the context of the Reformation... or... protestants escaping persecution by the Catholic church. Our sense of machismo forms our image as white "conquerors" ... but really? These were not advantaged people...

"protestants escaping persecution by the Catholic church. "
Wrong. England had broken with Rome nearly a century before Plymouth Rock. The Puritans' main issue was the Church of England retained too many trappings of the Catholic Church.

The Puritans' main issue was that they had failed to bully the rest of the English to worship in their preferred way. They had more success later on.

Even though King James tried to mollify the Puritans with a new version of the Bible geared more to their tastes, the Puritans wanted to escape to a place where they could hang witches without opposition.

It is not that simple. The Church of England was somewhat corrupt and under popery's influence.

Executing witches was common in the German states, rare in the rest of Europe. The trials in Salem in 1692 are about the only example from the Colonial period.

Are you losing it Chuck? You are attributing only the worst motives to the Puritans — that they set sail to find the freedom to murder witches. The other day you explained the Hiroshima bomb in terms of a desire to murder school girls, when it was a matter of bringing a terrifying enemy to its knees, fast, before more lives were lost. (Including GI lives but also Japanese and Chinese etc lives.)

In both instances your usual rewarding insights are not present, but cynicism is.

it was a matter of bringing a terrifying enemy to its knees, fast, before more lives were lost.

The Japanese fleet had sailed away without enough fuel to return. As a practical matter the war was already over. The aged and the immature that remained in Japan were no threat to anyone and it was hardly necessary to invade the islands. MacArthur could have declared the war over through a big loudspeaker on the bridge of the Missouri. But, as usual, the US military had to exact the maximum damage to the enemy, in this case a supine civilian population getting the deserts of their maniacal leaders.

Well, I’ll be sure to hoist a beer and toast Squanto at the Thanksgiving dinner table. After grace, of course.

I intend to crack one open when the turkey goes into the smoker. #traditionalist that I am.

Weren't the Puritans strictly against alcohol?

Or not, apparently according to wikipedia - they were just against enjoying it too much, or if it involved toasting. They even apparently approved of selling it to Indians, as part of God's comforting gifts.

Weren't the Puritans strictly against alcohol?

You've confounded Puritans with Methodists.

Or not.

@dearieme: "I've seen it argued that that is wrong."


yeah, it's amusing how confidently Alex details these alleged events from 400 years ago.
Musta been a swarm of journalists accompanying those Pilgrims.

How does a learned PhD 'know' this stuff to be true ?

Future generations will remember Squanto as the non-binary ally who brought the first tofurkey to the savage christian (with a small 'c') bigots.

> Anyone got a beer

This is a brilliant. In a situation that could escalate to violence in seconds, these four words immediately send important diplomatic messages: "I am peaceful", "I might be open to trade" , and also "I want a beer"

Or "I am thirsty". Early settlers drank "grog", a weak beer/water mixture because the water was not safe to drink.

Of course, as we all know, the Indians were very susceptible to alcohol and loved drinking beer and rum until they puked and passed out.

Not much has changed.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative.

Praise God From Whom All Good Things Come.

We in the UK are going to soon celebrate our own Thanksgiving once PM Johnson Gets Brexit DONE!

Hopefully we will end up like the settlers not the native Americans!

'We in the UK are going to soon celebrate our own Thanksgiving once PM Johnson Gets Brexit DONE!'

And it will likely pale in comparison to the French celebration of finally driving Albion from the continent.

"Praise God From Whom All Good Things Come." And all bad things too, since he is omnipotent.

Patience and fortitude are virtues. Think of the heavy cross so willingly carried by Our Lord, and ask his help in carrying our crosses without complaining.

Agronomic question. Why grow corn? The pilgrims must have known how to grow wheat and came from a wheat producing and wheat using culture. They probably had a bunch of wheat growing implements such as scythes. People are often reluctant to accept strange foods. What are the advantages of maize over wheat, barley, oats, and other familiar grains using 17th century technology in New England?

This is not a decision being optimized at the planning stage. This is a decision being made with available time and materials. Due to delays and misfortunes earlier in the journey, they landed late in the year and dangerously low on provisions, faced the dilemma about eating one's seed for winter subsistence, and one of the supplies they traded for and gleaned from empty native settlements was seed. Naturally, the seed the natives had was for not wheat and oats, but corn and beans.

...Then Squanto became head of the environmentalist union and declared a strike against the Pilgrims for using fossil fuel (wood) recklessly and taught them how to make corn and gasohol to run environmentally friendly camp fires. Everyone was so thankful they had a big feast and made Squanto head of the of the Committee to save the Planet. He then set about selling the Pilgrims Indian land at twice the market price and the Democratic Party was born. ....

Paraguayan Senator Señor Colomes is demanding that Brazilians living in Paraguay be ethically cleansed. Will we stay silent while a crime against Mankind are being commited? I thought we cared about human rights.

Let's Make the New World Great Again!

My favorite part of the Squanto fish story (according to Charles Mann in 1491) is that fertilizing with fish was not actually an Indian practice. The best guess is that it was something Squanto observed being done when he was in Europe.

I still want to know why you wouldn't run your fish waste through pigs first. Surely I can't be the only commenter here who grew up as a country boy? Pigs will eat fish; hell, if he should take a tumble pigs will eat a farmer - or so we were always warned.

Weird picture. What could the weather have been that day? if Squanto is comfortable the overdressed Pilgrims must be sweating rivers. If they're comfortable Squanto is shivering in his loincloth. The artist probably wasn't an eye witness. The picture casts doubt on the whole tale.

Weird thought. Beer is made from dead yeast bacteria. Studies suggest a benefit of nutritional yeast (a tsp a day) is in stimulating the immune system. Did Squanto survive European diseases in part because he liked beer?

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