Thursday, November 20, 2014

Squanto welcomes the Immigrants

The 400th anniversary of the feast at the Plymouth Plantation is just around the corner, chronologically speaking. 

It's not the first thanksgiving celebrated in the colonies, that would be 1607 in Jamestown. In fact, the 1621 feast was actually a harvest celebration, not a solemn day of thanksgiving to God and prayer. That happened in 1623. Presidents Washington, J. Adams, Madison and Lincoln issued proclamations of Thanksgiving, but it didn't become a national holiday until 1942.

Despite our inaccurate idea of the holiday's origin, we've latched onto the Pilgrim's event because the colonists had so much to be thankful for. Fifty of the original one hundred were still alive after a brutal first winter for which they were underprepared. They had a good crop to celebrate, thanks to the help of Squanto who taught them the best method for planting corn. 

He's one of the people I'd like to invite to one of those imaginary dinner parties!

He was captured to sell into slavery. He may have ended up in Spain, and one version of his story says Catholic monks bought him, and gave him a home with them. I try to imagine that. He was a young teen, absconded by evil Englishmen, stuck on a ship to cross an ocean so large he couldn't fathom it.  He learned Spanish, and about the Christian faith, and convinced the monks to help him get home. 

He went through England, where he worked for a shipbuilder, and learned English. When he finally got back his village was vacant and in ruins, but he stayed in the region and met the Pilgrims. 

Despite the limited original source material about Squanto, and conflicting stories, we know he lived. He did go to Europe and learn English. He did return to the very spot that desperate English men and women needed a guide to survive in their new home. 

He was able to communicate with them, and they must have been astounded. What could have been less likely? No wonder the Pilgrims saw Squanto as a miracle from God. 

Squanto, a children's version of the events,  emphasizes God's role in Squanto's life.
Through the friars, God protected Squanto from slavery. Eventually Squanto returned home. Although he must have been gravely disappointed to discover his family and village were extinguished by disease, he didn't retaliate against the Englishmen he found in their place. He was an agent of hope for them,  teaching essential lessons. He lived with the Pilgrims until his death. 

What a wonderful part of our national heritage. Where would the immigrant Pilgrims have been without him? 

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