Local politics, the county, and the world, as viewed by Tammy Maygra

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The Truth about the Pilgrims


100 people, many of them seeking religious freedom in the New World, set sail from England on the Mayflower in September 1620. That November, the ship landed on the shores of Cape Cod, in present-day Massachusetts. A scouting party was sent out, and in late December the group landed at Plymouth Harbor, where they would form the first permanent settlement of Europeans in New England. These original settlers of Plymouth Colony are known as the Pilgrim.

The group that set out from Plymouth, in southwestern England, in September 1620 included 35 members of a radical Puritan faction known as the English Separatist Church. In 1607, after illegally breaking from the Church of England, after years of living in the Netherlands and not achieving their goal of staying as a pure community, they set off for the new World. In 1620, the would-be settlers joined a London stock company that would finance their trip aboard the Mayflower, a three-masted merchant ship, in 1620.

Rough seas and storms prevented the Mayflower from reaching their initial destination in Virginia, and after a voyage of 65 days the ship reached the shores of Cape Cod, anchoring on the site of Provincetown Harbor in mid-November. Discord ensued before the would-be colonists even left the ship. The passengers who were not separatists–-referred to as “strangers” by their more doctrinaire peers—argued the Virginia Company contract was void since the Mayflower had landed outside of Virginia Company territory.

The Pilgrims knew if something wasn’t done quickly it could be every man, woman and family for themselves. While still on board the ship, a group of 41 men signed the so-called Mayflower Compact, in which they agreed to join together in a “civil body politic.” This document would become the foundation of the new colony’s government. Signed on November 11, 1620, the Mayflower Compact was the first document to establish self-government in the New World.

Settling at Plymouth

After sending an exploring party ashore, the Mayflower landed at what they would call Plymouth Harbor, on the western side of Cape Cod Bay, in mid-December. During the next several months, the settlers lived mostly on the Mayflower and ferried back and forth from shore to build their new storage and living quarters.

More than half of the English settlers died during that first winter, as a result of poor nutrition and housing that proved inadequate in the harsh weather. Leaders such as Bradford, Standish, John Carver, William Brewster and Edward Winslow played important roles in keeping the remaining settlers together. In April 1621, after the death of the settlement’s first governor, John Carver, Bradford was unanimously chosen to hold that position; he would be reelected 30 times and served as governor of Plymouth for all but five years until 1656.

The First Thanksgiving

The native’s of the region around Plymouth Colony were the various tribes of the Wampanoag people, who had lived there for some 10,000 years before the Europeans arrived. Soon after the Pilgrims built their settlement, they came into contact with Tisquantum, or Squanto, an English-speaking Native American. Squanto was a member of the Pawtuxet tribe (from present-day Massachusetts and Rhode Island) who had been seized by the explorer John Smith’s men in 1614-15. Meant for slavery, he somehow managed to escape to England, and returned to his native land to find most of his tribe had died of plague. In addition to interpreting and mediating between the colonial leaders and Native American chiefs (including Massasoit, chief of the Pokanoket), Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn, which became an important crop, as well as where to fish and hunt beaver. In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims famously shared a harvest feast with the Pokanokets; the meal is now considered the basis for the first Thanksgiving holiday.

The first Thanksgiving did not include turkey or mashed potatoes, there were no potatoes period. But the friendly Wampanoag brought deer and there would have been lots of local seafood plus the fruits of the first pilgrim harvest, including pumpkin.

Relations with Native Americans

Squanto died in 1622, while serving as Bradford’s guide on an expedition around Cape Cod. Other tribes, such as the Massachusetts and Narragansetts, were not so well disposed towards European settlers, and Massasoit’s alliance with the Pilgrims disrupted relations among Native American peoples in the region. Over the next decades, relations between settlers and Native Americans deteriorated as the former group occupied more and more land. By the time William Bradford died in 1657, he had already expressed anxiety that New England would soon be torn apart by violence. In 1675, Bradford’s predictions came true, in the form of King Philip’s War. (Philip was the English name of Metacomet, the son of Massasoit and leader of the Pokanokets since the early 1660s.) That conflict left some 5,000 inhabitants of New England dead, three quarters of those Native Americans. In terms of percentage of population killed, King Philip’s War was more than twice as costly as the American Civil War and seven times more so than the American Revolution.

The Pilgrim Legacy in New England

Repressive policies toward religious nonconformists in England under King James I and his successor, Charles I, had driven many men and women to follow the Pilgrims’ path to the New World. Three more ships traveled to Plymouth after the Mayflower, including the Fortune (1621), the Anne and the Little James (both 1623). In 1630, a group of some 1,000 Puritan refugees under Governor John Winthrop settled in Massachusetts according to a charter obtained from King Charles I by the Massachusetts Bay Company. Winthrop soon established Boston as the capital of Massachusetts Bay Colony, which would become the most populous and prosperous colony in the region.

Compared with later groups who founded colonies in New England, such as the Puritans, the Pilgrims of Plymouth failed to achieve lasting economic success. After the early 1630s, some prominent members of the original group, including Brewster, Winslow and Standish, left the colony to found their own communities. The cost of fighting King Philip’s War further damaged the colony’s struggling economy. Less than a decade after the war King James II appointed a colonial governor to rule over New England, and in 1692, Plymouth was absorbed into the larger entity of Massachusetts.

The first Thanksgiving likely did not include turkey or mashed potatoes (potatoes were just making their way from South America to Europe), but the Wampanoag brought deer and there would have been lots of local seafood plus the fruits of the first pilgrim harvest, including pumpkin.


For the Native Americans this was the beginning of the end.

It is about time for the Indians to make their role in the Thanksgiving feast known. They`re the people who taught the Pilgrims to fertilize their corn with fish, taught the settlers how to catch the fish and other game and to plant corn. And then were rewarded with an invitation to the harvest feast.

Why the natives even helped the settlers is a good question. The Pilgrims robbed Indians` graves, stole their food and generally regarded them as satanic heathens. It is cruelly sarcastic that the holiday most people associate with Indians was, for them, the beginning of the end. For many Native Americans, Thanksgiving is a day of mourning.

Long before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, there were unhappy contacts between Indians and European explorers and fishermen. One result was that Indians died by the droves from diseases such as smallpox and measles brought by the newcomers-diseases to which the Indians had no immunities. The illnesses so decimated the Indians that in some villages there were not enough of the living to bury the dead. So many leaders and elders died that social and political structures were thrown into chaos. Consequently, the Indians the Pilgrims found were a frail, tattered remnant of their former culture. Yet the native people still tried to treat the white people with respect and good will.

Soon after their arrival the Pilgrims concluded a peace treaty with Massasoit, sachem (or chief) of the Wampanoag tribe, that lasted until after his death. Then his son, called King Philip by the colonists, seeing all too clearly what lay ahead for his people, tried to unite the tribes to drive out the newcomers in 1675. He came close to a bloody victory, destroying a dozen New England towns and killing 1,000 colonists. But in the end Philip was defeated and killed. The victorious Pilgrims displayed Philip`s head in Plymouth for the next 20 years. The Indian leader`s widow and child were sold into slavery.

While we still teach our children that the Pilgrims were kind to the Native Americans and they all lived in peace, nothing is further from the truth. The white mans greed, hostility, and religious beliefs all combined in the ill treatment of the Native Americans from the very first day the Whiteman came in contact with the Native Americans and until this very day.

Americans still treat the Native Americans as scum, we lock these people on reservations without electricity, running water, less than adequate schools little education possibilities and little acceptance in our society. With these hurdles its almost impossible for native people to achieve the same prosperity as Whiteman counter parts.  Whitemen stuck them on the poorest lands and then when they discovered the lands had valuable minerals, the government decided to take charge of the resources and the money it brings. They said the Indians were not able to run their own affairs, and then screwed them out of the money and are keeping them in poverty. Shameful to say the least.

Back in 1620, when the native people helped the white man little did they know that this attempt to show goodwill would  cause the native people ill. An ill that has plagued them for centuries.






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