As I’m knee-deep in the frantic (and seemingly futile) house cleaning before family and friends come together for Thanksgiving—and rehearsing lines to best dodge the post-election landmines of differing worldviews and opinions, all teetering together at a dinner table—I started thinking about this country’s first cooperative effort that was successful and pure: the one between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans.
When the Pilgrims, who left England to escape religious persecution, landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620, they were basically helpless. They lacked food and lost about half of their population during the first brutal winter. The Wampanoag tribe that occupied the land kept the colonists under surveillance, but never attacked. Instead an Indian named Samoset walked into their settlement to welcome them, followed by Squanto, who spoke English, and the tribe’s leader, the Massasoit.
Since the Indians knew about farming and hunting and the gathering of berries, they taught the Pilgrims how to become self-sufficient. In the spring of 1621 a peace treaty was signed between the tribe and the colonists, and during the next few months they worked together to till the soil and plant the first successful crops. Then in October of 1621 the Plymouth colonists and the Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast of bipartisan effort—which has since become known as the First Thanksgiving.
The two cultures became friends, entertaining each other in their homes/tepees; their children played together; fair trade and collaborative bliss were at an all-time high; and there was a mutual respect among the leaders. This lasted for over 50 years—during the lifetimes of the Massasoit and the original members of Plymouth.
Even though that peace forever ended in 1675 with King Phillip’s War, what fills me today—as we head into a week of indulgence, travel, reunions, thanks and, hopefully, giving—is the extraordinary 50 years of cooperation and sharing that was kicked off on that First Thanksgiving. When people of different cultures, faiths and belief systems celebrated diversity and embraced each other. When an entire generation accepted the simple fact that in order to survive, they were going to have to get along and work together.
So today I’m grateful for those Pilgrims and Native Americans who lived almost 400 years ago, who sat together at a big table and and gave thanks for what each other had contributed, and for the blueprint of possibility and hope their history provides.
Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Category: Note From Lydia