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Pass the cranberry

Posted by Jim Concannon  November 22, 2006 03:53 PM

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Thanksgiving is a time of gathering, eating, and watching the Detroit Lions lose their televised football game. It's also when the nation pauses to praise or berate the Pilgrims who settled in Plymouth in 1620 and are the primary reason I'm typing this entry in English.

For a better understanding of how we got here, pick up a copy of the recent book "Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War" by Nathaniel Philbrick. The first third of the book, in particular, provides a chilling, claustrophobic narrative of early Pilgrim life, including the fabled feast, most details of which have been lost in time. It's true that the Indians helped the bedraggled Pilgrims to survive. What I hadn't known was that the settlers were lucky in other ways: Disease, likely spread by European fishermen, had killed most of the natives just a couple of years earlier, leaving their cleared and tilled fields vacant and ready for Pilgrim cultivation. It was God's bounty for them, indeed.

Of course, the second half of the book shows how the Pilgrims of the next generation, along with their hardened Puritan cousins from Boston, eventually destroyed, enslaved, or corraled southern New England's Indians while pushing settlement westward, in a pattern that continued through the Sioux wars two centuries later. Still, as Philbrick points out, initial Pilgrim-Indian ties were remarkably warm for several decades, a reminder that other choices and relationships were possible.

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