Thanksgiving is easily my favorite, uniquely American holiday. In prior years, I have written of the miraculous events that planted the seeds of liberty on this rich soil (see Thanksgiving Story here). Over time, the chronicles of the English Separatists describes the maize that rescued them and eventually became the hectares of corn that now feed the world.
While the Pilgrims were elated to finally arrive to the shores of North America, the Mayflower was an unwelcome site to the local tribes. The presence of a European ship sometimes meant profitable trading. But just as often, it meant betrayal, murder, disease, and enslavement.
This occasional outside element complicated the persistent ebb and flow of territorial squabbles among the coastal tribes. And the Puritans had little appreciation for how their permanent relocation to the deserted Patuxet village site would disturb the regional balance. Seemingly inconsequential actions, such as eating from an abandoned store of corn were noted by the natives as aggressive theft.
The English-speaking Squanto, whom William Bradford referred to as “a special instrument sent of God,” facilitated an agreement for coexistence between the Pilgrims and the local Wampanoags. The treaty was an enterprising move by the sachem (chief) Massasoit. While the Pilgrims were few in number, the pact gave the Wampanoags a leg up on neighboring tribes toward future dealings with the unpredictable English traders.
The treaty consisted of six terms; “(1) That neither he nor any of his, should injure or do hurt to any of their people, (2) That if any of his did any hurt to any of theirs, he should send the offender that they might punish him, (3) That if any thing were taken away from any of theirs, he should cause it to be restored; and they should do the like to his, (4) That if any did unjustly war against him, they would aid him; and if any did war against them, he should aid them, (5) That he should send to his neighbours confederates to certify them of this, that they might not wrong them, but might be likewise comprised in the conditions of peace (6) That when their men came to them, they should leave their bows and arrows behind them.”
The treaty became large news among the local Indian nations. And that fourth clause gave William Bradford a new measure of confidence in traveling about the region. But it did not eliminate risk for the new frontiersmen.