The first Thanksgiving in 1621 was celebrated with gratefulness for God’s provisions and survival, including a “special instrument sent of God…” ♦
In the days before America was founded, an American Indian named Tisquantum (Squanto for short) would travel across the Atlantic Ocean six times in his 42 years of life. This was quite unusual for one born into the American Patuxet tribe who lived on what is today Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
In 1605, at the age of 25, he was captured by Captain George Weymouth and taken to England, where over 9 years he was taught English and trained to be an interpreter and guide. In 1614 he secured passage on Captain John Smith’s vessel and traveled home to America. He wasn’t home with his family and tribe long before he was lured with 26 other unsuspecting Indians aboard the vessel of Captain Thomas Hunt, part of Smith’s expedition, under the pretext of trading with them. Once the Indians were onboard, Hunt’s crew clamped them into irons and took them to Spain, where they were sold into slavery.
Many never returned to their homeland. Squanto was rescued by Spanish priests who introduced him to the Christian faith.
Squanto found his way back to England and became a hired servant to a wealthy merchant named John Slaney. Eventually he managed to get passage on another American-bound ship in 1619. However, when he arrived back on Cape Cod, he learned that every single person in his tribe had died. In 1617 smallpox had ravaged his people, and no one had survived.
It would be hard for him, or anyone, to imagine that his personal tragic life thus far would be a unique equipping for a profound impact on a future American nation.
In November of 1620 the Pilgrims reached the shores of Cape Cod. They were part of a Christian Protestant congregation in England that refused to conform to the Church of England. These “separatists” did not want to pledge allegiance any longer to the Church of England, which they believed was nearly as corrupt and idolatrous as the Catholic Church it had replaced. They originally had fled to Holland, but after 12 years they set sail for America to build a new life, fearing their children would lose their English identity. They settled in a place they called Plymouth, named after the town in England where they started their voyage on a ship called the Mayflower.
The Pilgrims were but 40 of the 102 total passengers seeking a new life on the other side of the Atlantic.
The settlers soon discovered that Indians had cleared the land at Plymouth but had not farmed it for some time. The following March, after a devastating first winter of hardship, sickness and death, an English-speaking Indian named Samoset, a friend of Squanto, walked into the Plymouth settlement. From Samoset the Pilgrims learned that they had settled on the homeland of the Patuxets, the tribe that disease had wiped out 4 years earlier. Samoset informed the Pilgrims that the Patuxets had been a large, hostile tribe that viciously murdered any white man who encroached upon their shores. After the death of the Patuxets, no other Indians had inhabited the land for fear of the death curse that might fall on any who settled there.
So it came about that God led the Pilgrims to perhaps the one plot of unsettled land on the East Coast, the very land where Squanto had grown up.
Squanto and the Pilgrims
Samoset introduced the Pilgrims to Squanto that March of 1621. Squanto helped the Pilgrims negotiate a peace treaty with the great Massosoit, chief of the Wampanoag and leader of most of the surrounding tribes. This treaty would last for decades and protect the early settlers.
But the Pilgrims were in dire straits and living in great hardship. Nearly half had died during the previous winter, lacking the skills for survival in their new land. Squanto showed the Pilgrims how to fertilize and protect the corn they planted, how to catch fish from the streams, and how to harvest the food the land provided.
In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims and Wampanoags celebrated the first Thanksgiving after reaping a successful crop.
If God had not intersected this uniquely qualified individual with the Pilgrims, they would never have survived. One of the Pilgrims called him “a special instrument sent of God for our good, beyond our expectation.”
Do you believe God uses people and circumstances to achieve His greater purposes?
In that day you will say: “Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted.” – Psalm 12:4