The Pilgrims and the Indians

The first Pilgrims to arrive in New Plymouth concluded a mutual peace treaty with Massasoit, the paramount chief of the local Wampanoag Indian tribe. In the treaty the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag promised not to harm one another, and they vowed mutual protection in case of war with outsiders. Without Massasoit's friendship, it is unlikely that any of the Pilgrims would have survived. These Indians gave the settlers native corn to eat and to plant, and the alliance with them helped to prevent the Pilgrims' perishing at the hands of other tribes.

In the early days, the colonists received much help from the Indians. In the words of Governor William Bradford, an Indian named Tisquantum taught the colonists "how to set their corne, wher to take fish, and to procure other comodities, and was also their pilott to bring them to unknowne places for their profitt." (Spelling as in original document.) The first harvest of Indian corn was good, and the Pilgrims had success in hunting fowl. They were grateful to God and decided to hold a three-day harvest festival. Massasoit and 90 of his braves came, bringing along five deer to add to the banquet.

Like the colony itself, the celebration had strong religious overtones. Although the Pilgrims did not hold the festival the next year because of poor crops, Thanksgiving Day later became an annual national and religious holiday in the United States, Canada, and a few other countries. Today, Thanksgiving Day in North America is typically an occasion for a family banquet of turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie--but in principle, it remains "a time for serious religious thinking, church services, and prayer."--The World Book Encyclopedia, 1994.*

Later Developments

In 1622 more Pilgrims came from Leiden and England. Later, additional ships arrived with fellow believers from Europe. In 1630 the last group of Pilgrims from Leiden joined the colony, bringing their number to about 300. The colony eventually merged with the much larger Massachusetts Bay Colony, not far to the north. These colonists also held Puritan beliefs. In the meantime, however, tensions were growing between the colonists and their Indian neighbors. The Puritans, who believed that God had predestined them to dominate the new land, grew increasingly arrogant. Seeing this, the Indians became ever more resentful of them. Sadly, only 55 years after the treaty with the Wampanoag, the colony at Plymouth, in league with three other English colonies and some other Indians, went to war against Massasoit's son. He and some three thousand Indian men, women, and children were killed, and the Puritans sold hundreds more into slavery. The Wampanoag became extinct.

*True Christians do not require a specific holiday in order to give thanks to God.

For more information on the Thanksgiving holiday, including text of official documents from the Mayflower Compact on, see:

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