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The Millbrook Independent

May 29th
Early settlers discovered vast Indian bounty
Written by News Desk   
Sunday, 01 December 2013 09:57

11-28johnvanPictured: Dr. John Van Valkenberg often gives presentations about people and events in histroy to civic, school and church groups. Here he is pictured as Squanto and demonstrating a Native American baby carrier.

Photo: Brian Hodge

By Dr. John VanValkenburg

The "Mayflower" was loaded with 102 passengers. They were crammed on board with goods and supplies. The first-Pilgrims were not a homogeneous group. Some were from Holland, restless to establish the Dutch Reform Church in the new world.

The others, the great majority were strangers, members of the Church of England, they were not seeking in the new world a new base for religious' faith, but an opportunity for economic advancement. There was not a blue blood among them, they were all passengers with one common bond, they came from the lower class of society.

Captain Myles Standish and William Bradford were recorded in history as being the leaders that emerged to represent this group on many occasions, There would be unrest, almost mutiny on board as the "Mayflower" crossed the Atlantic.

They were surprised, when they were put ashore in the new world to find a few yards inland open fields, filled with planted corn. This grain they cooked for the first time and found it to be delicious.

Near the fields were small sand mounds, digging into these mounds they found storage areas of corn (maize) in woven baskets. They raided these taking the stores to the ship for later use.

Up a small bay and then river (later they named it "The James River") was a clearing or maize field and an ideal place to establish a town. A large boulder here would assist the first permanent landing to be known as Plymouth Rock and the town to be known as Plymouth.

What puzzled the Pilgrims of Plymouth the most was "where were the savage Indians?" They would see them on distant islands and shorelines and see the smoke of fires among the hills, but very little close contact. The painted faces and the stories they had heard before leaving London were enough to create strong anxieties.

They knew they were being watched from the edges of forests and this prompted them to travel in pairs no matter where they went and to always have a musket at hand. The Pilgrims were sitting down to a council meeting one afternoon, when to their surprise and fear a young, tall, handsome Indian walked into the village. He strode toward the council house, bow and arrow in hand and entirely nude except for a hide string around his waist and bid the words with a hand gesture "welcome."

He had a smiling face and his name was "Samoset." The Pilgrims plied him with questions to learn how he had learned English and he responded that he had learned English from association with the English along the Maine shoreline.

He was Chief of a small sub tribe called Abnaki. He told them the areas dominant tribe was called Wampanoag.

They gave him a long red riding coat, to keep him warm, and to cover his nakedness. Samoset said the tribe surrounding the village was a band ofWampanoags called "Patuxet."

The Patuxet were almost entirely wiped out four years ago by disease (probably smallpox). Patuxet meant, "Little Bay" or "Little Falls."

The one surviving Indian from the tribe was named "Squanto" and he had been taken captive as a slave and transported to Europe, but returned.

Samoset said the chief overlord of the area tribe's was called "Yellow Feather" or "Massasoit." Samoset said he would return the next day with Wampanoag warriors to visit with them.

Several days later Samoset returned with his friend "Squanto" and several other braves and announced that in the forest nearby was Massasoit himself and that he wanted to powwow with the governor. There appeared on a nearby hill sixty painted warriors, with faces painted black and yellow, red and blue and blends of white with other colors. All of this with streaks of different colors across the cheek and brow. The great leader Massasoit stood proud and solemn among them.

He asked that he might meet with the white chief (Governor Carter). They agreed after an exchange of gifts that neither group, Indian or Pilgrim would "do the other no hurts." Yellow Feather agreed that all weapons would be left behind when visiting and the Pilgrims the same. Squanto had become famous in Europe in 1605. He returned to Europe in one of the ships and enjoyed meeting both royalty and wealth. Squanto was not a scholar, but he was a survivor who learned enough English to get by and developed enough polish to be accepted in the royal court.

Squanto returned to America in 1614 with Capt. John Smith only to find that the Patuxet tribe had been wiped out by disease. At this time he and Samoset became friends with the Pilgrims. (There also was a period of time that he was taken as a slave with others to Europe and escaped to return.)

From the day he met the Pilgrims, Squanto became their friend and voice among the Indian nations.

Squanto with skills and know how of farming showed the Pilgrims how to plant and care for the new world food plants and seeds. He showed them how to store it, in order to have a mininimum of rodent and parasite loss and how to prepare it for the table. Squanto instructed the Pilgrims how to plant com (maize), to fertilize it with fish by placing the fish head first around the hill of com in spoke wheel fashion.

For weeks the corn hills were to be guarded day and night so that wolves, who could smell the fish below ground would not dig up the fertilizer. He instructed them to make noise makers to keep the birds away from the underground seeds and to watch the fields from a platform high enough to see the rows to scare off deer that might want to browse on the corn plants. He instructed the Pilgrims in what to say and how to negotiate in trading with Indians, and how to maximize their purchases. Squanto was killed before he could celebrate the first harvest with the Pilgrims. He was visiting a neighboring tribe and through a skirmish or jealous plan he was slain. The Pilgrims wrote "we lost our trusted voice in a new land."

Indian summer came to the Pilgrims new town. Squanto's advice had shown wisdom in planting and harvesting. Fall rations of food were increased for the people. The twenty acres of com had been a success, the wheat, the barley and the peas so-so. A day of harvest was planned, men were sent out to shoot additional waterfowl. Massasoit (Yellow Feather) was invited to the feast. He brought ninety hungry warriors with him. The bogs were full of cranberries, but it took several years for the colonists to develop a cranberry dish from the bitter sweet berry. Also, there is no mention of the traditional "pumpkin pie." The harvest festival was a success. The year of survival and bounty had come and gone and the Pilgrims gave Thanks. A similar event was held the next year, the next and the next as the crops increased.

In time, the tradition of harvest celebration was taken westward and south with each family and area celebrating at the close of the growing season in their own way.

In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving holiday. The last Thursday in November would be set aside to give thanks for God's gift to this nation and for the bounty of our national wealth.

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