Keeping current in wellness, in and out of the water
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The Thanksgiving story is told in November to commemorate the precarious situation in which the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony found themselves. By the good graces of the local tribe these English people managed to survive very far from home. They were not ready for the harsh winter and new surroundings. They were able to negotiate a treaty for mutual protection with Massasoit, the leader in the area. The meal shared to celebrate the treaty has been told for centuries, but there are a few written words from the time documenting this meeting. Most of us have an image from our school days of happy well dressed Pilgrims entertaining Native Americans at an extensive potluck supper. There is some mention that the Wampanoags supplied all the vittles, but we tend to gloss that over while we celebrate our highly revised impression of history and the Pilgrims.
These Pilgrim heroes soon broke down into all kinds of crazy religious infighting and banished each other for infractions. My own ancestors were banished to Sandwich and other little settlements on Cape Cod. Some had to leave because they had been secret Quakers, and one was banished to Barnstable for marrying a Native woman. We imagine Plymouth as some pure attempt at religious freedom because we have not looked very closely at what happened. Many of my ancestors went to Rhode Island to look for religious freedom and fair dealings with the Native Americans. I had several ancestors who fought on both sides of King Philip’s War, which I am sure we did not study in school. We just move on quickly to Boston and tea party and America without stopping to think what became of those people who gave the Pilgrims dinner and protection.
The big news that has been edited is all about that treaty. The pact worked for a while, but as time passed the English population grew and the agreements became strained. The English proved to be less than honorable when it came to keeping their word. The Wampanoags who survived King Philip’s War were shown no mercy. I have extra interest in the Native version of this event because I went to Cape Cod expecting to find traces of my Wampanoag family tree. I found that records do not exist to trace it although my Mayflower ancestors are very well documented. Intermarriage was very common so I am not the only one with a mystery branch in my tree. There is a very small group of people who are members of the Wampanoag tribe today, and their last names came from England. Survival for them meant adapting. This year, for a change, imagine the entire Thanksgiving story from the perspective of the original people.
Since last November I have visited my ancestral homeland at Plimouth Colony in Massachusetts. The museum and displays helped me to more vividly picture what those Pilgrims were doing in the 1600s. I have many ancestors who arrived on the Mayflower, and I am not overly impressed with that fact. I am, however, truly grateful to learn that I am Wampanoag. I study history by learning about my family tree. Thanksgiving, as taught in elementary school, has very little to do with the real events that took place at the time. There was a feast and celebration, and there was a great deal of unease about these English people who built a fort around their town and put cannons on the second story of their church. These Pilgrims, who are depicted to children as seeking religious freedom, only believed in religious freedom for themselves. They had been repressed in Holland for their beliefs and wanted a place where their somewhat radical thinking would not clash with any royal Euros. They did not propose to extend religious freedom and tolerance to the native people they encountered in America. They proposed to convert them to Christianity, their own style of Christianity.
Harvard was endowed and sustained in business by conversion of native people. The Indian College was used to educate and convert natives. If they had not come up with donations based on this premise, Harvard may never have become the institution it is today. My tenth great grandfather Thomas Dudley signed the charter for Harvard because he was the colonial governor when it opened. His daughter and my 9th great grandmother, Anne Bradstreet, was a poet and wife of Simon Bradstreet, also a colonial governor.
I am not as proud of them as I am of Quadequina. I have taken sides in the Thanksgiving story. I think the Pilgrims were rude to say the least. We build it up as a story about peace and religion, but it was a story of imperialism. When I learned that all the historic wampum belts have gone to England to be kept in museums I became angry. A very cool Wampanoag elder who worked at Plimouth gave me some very wise advise about that. She told me there was no point in being angry about the past. She is obviously correct, but my feelings have changed about history, Massachusetts Colony and all that it meant, and the fable of Thanksgiving. There is more bitterness that the peach pie reveals. It makes me wonder exactly how my tribe feels when they celebrate this holiday. It looks like the tribe may open a casino on Martha’s Vineyard. It is fair to give them access to the wealth and the weakness of the white people on that island. There is plenty for everyone. Turn about is fair play, even if it comes hundreds of years later.
My visit to Cape Cod and Plymouth to uncover the history of my ancestors was an adventure and a surprise. When I learned that the Wampanoag tribe had lost almost 200 years of the data, graves, and details of the history of their people I was confused and upset. Next I visited the museum complex at Plimouth Plantation where the culture and historical way of life of the Wampanoag tribe is demonstrated. It is an attempt to redress and correct some misinformation that has been passed down for a long time. The young people who work there enjoy their jobs teaching people about their ancestors.
If I learned one thing on my ancestry quest in Massachusetts it is that the record keeper is the author of history. I have realized this by finding census and other documents that conflict with each other while studying my ancestors. Never has it been so clear. I believed that the tribe would have the information on the tribe in Mashpee, so I went straight to the museum to inquire. Because they rely on records kept by the Europeans the family trees are reconstructed using English last names. They use what they have. The records looked like they started in the 1800’s.
I was unhappy about the state of affairs. The tiny tribal museum has little funding, and can open only a few hours, a couple of days a week. I then traveled to the big well funded museum at Plimouth Plantation. Wow, what a difference!!!
The museum at Plimouth Plantation is doing some revisionist history in order to correct many of the assumptions and erroneous stories that exist about the Mayflower and the native people. The Pilgrims play characters in period costume, expressing the beliefs of the time and place. The Pilgrims were religious prudes who considered themselves religiously superior to all other religions. They also felt entitled to take anything they wanted from the native people because they had permission from the King of England. Their church was fortified on top with cannons in all directions. I guess they felt that God and the King needed some back up. Although I had a few Pilgrims and only one ( I think) Wampanoag ancestor, I distinctly disliked the pretend Pilgrims when I met them. I am, however, glad they kept some records at the time.
I will soon have the opportunity to learn about the history of my ancestors in the museum at Plymouth, MA. This young man named Philip eloquently describes the first world war, which he believes happened on his homeland. I agree with him. The culture that introduced war rather than ball games for conflict resolution not only wiped out the Wampanoag population, but disrespected all aspects of the sovereignty of the nations who lived here. Forcing them from Eden is a pretty accurate way to describe what the Euro colonists did. They had everything (except yellow fever) before the colonists landed. Now a remnant of the culture is reenacted at Plymouth for tourists. There is also a small museum at Mashpee which I plan to visit. I am getting very excited about seeing it all in person.
I am proud to be a descendant, even though there are 10 generations between my tribe and me. Massasoit, my 11th great uncle, was the Sachem who made a treaty with the Pilgrims in 1621. His father, Wasanequin, is the last link I have found, but I hope when I go to Cape Cod my tribe will know more.
The Wampanoag/Pilgrim Treaty
About an hour after noon on a fair, warm day on March 22/April 1, 1621, Samoset and Squanto appeared in the village of Plymouth with some skins and newly caught and dried herrings to trade. They told the colonists that the great Sachem Massasoit was nearby with his brother Quadequina and all their men. About an hour later Massasoit came to the top of the hill with some sixty of his men. However, the Pilgrims were not willing to send their governor to meet them, and the Indians were unwilling to come to them. Squanto went again to Massasoit and brought back word that Massasoit wished to have trade and peace with them, asking the Pilgrims to send someone to parley with him.
Edward Winslow agreed to serve as diplomatic ambassador and went to Massasoit. The scene was described by Winslow in his Journal as follows:
“We sent to the King a payre of Knives, and a Copper Chayne, with a jewell at it. To Quadequina we sent likewise a Knife and a Jewell to hang in his eare, and withall a Pot of strong water, a good quantity of Bisket, and some butter, which were all accepted: our Messenger [Winslow] made a speech unto him, that King James saluted him with words of love and Peace, and did accept him as his Friend and Alie, and that our Governour desired to see him and to trucke with him, and to confirme a Peace with him, and his next neighbour: he liked well of the speech and heard it attentively, though the Interpreters did not well expresse it; after he had eaten and drunke himselfe, and given the rest to his company, he looked upon his messengers sword and armour which he had on, with intimation of his desire to buy it, but on the other side, our messenger shewed his unwillingness to part with it: In the end he left him in the custodie of Quadequina his brother, and came over the brooke, and some twentie men following him, leaving all their Bowes and Arrowes behind them. We kept six or seaven as hostages for our messenger.”
Captain Standish and William Brewster met the king at the brook with half a dozen musketeers, where they saluted him and he them. With Standish on one side of Massasoit and Brewster on the other, they escorted Massasoit to a house which was just being built. On the floor, the Pilgrims had placed a green rug and three or four cushions.
Winslow described Massasoit and his men as “…a very lustie [strong] man, in his best yeares, an able body, grave of countenance, and spare of speech: In his Attyre little or nothing differing from the rest of his followers, only a great Chaine of white bone Beades about his neck, and at it behind his necke, hangs a little bagg of Tobacco, which he dranke and gave us to drinke; his face was paynted with a sad [dark] red like murray, and oyled both head and face, that he looked greasily: All his followers were likewise, were in their faces, in part or in whole painted, some blacke, some red, some yellow, and some white, some with crosses and other Antick [antique] workes, some had skins on them, and some naked, all strong, tall, all men in appearance…”
Immediately, Governor Carver came to the house with drum and trumpet after him and a few musketeers. Governor Carver kissed the hand of Massasoit and Massasoit kissed Carver before they sat down.
Governor Carver called for some strong water, and made a toast to Massasoit. Massasoit drank deeply of the liquor which made him sweat. Then, Carver called for fresh meat, which Massasoit ate and shared with his followers. Later in the text, Winslow remembered additional details:“…one thing I forgot, the King had in his bosome hanging in a string, a great long knife, hee marvelled much at out Trumpet, and some of his men would sound it as well as they could…”
TERMS OF THE TREATY
Following the introductory ceremonies, Carver and Massaoit agreed upon the terms of a peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags. The treaty of mutual support they negotiated said in part:
1. That he nor any of his should do hurt to any of their people.
2. That if any of his did hurt any of theirs, he should send the offender, that they might punish him.
3. That if anything were taken away from any of theirs, he should cause it to be restored; and they should do the like to his.
4. If any did unjustly war against him, they would aid him; if any did war against them, he should aid them.
5. He should send to his neighbors confederates to certify them of this, that they might not wrong them, but might be likewise compromised in the conditions of peace.
6. That when their men came to them, they should leave their bows and arrows behind them.
7. That King James would esteem Massasoit as his friend and ally.
Winslow concluded his account of the treaty signing as follow: “Wee cannot yet conceive, but that he is willing to have peace with us, for they have seene our people sometimes alone two or three in the woods at worke and fowling, when as they offered them no harme as they might easily have done, and especially because hee hath a potent Adversary the Narowhiganseis [Narragansetts], that are at warre with him, against whom hee thinkes wee may be some strength to him…”
Pokanoket is a tribe of Native Americans who trace their their lineage back thousands of years beyond the colonial days of the United States of America. We trace our ancestry through the bloodlines and the written and oral history of our people. We are the people of Massasoit Ousamequin, Massasoit Wamsutta, and Massasoit Metacom. We are Philip’s people, the people of Metacom. We are the people who celebrated the First Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims in 1621. We are the people who have endured much and who have returned, after a long journey through history to the present day and continue to look forward to the future.
Pokanoket is also a Nation. The Nation of Tribes you may have heard of referred to as Wampanoag ( pronounced wahm – peh – noe – ahg ) was known to our ancestors as the Pokanoket Nation. The Pokanoket Nation, also known as the Pokanoket Confederacy or Pokanoket Country, was comprised of a multitude of Tribes.
Each Tribe was comprised of Bands and Villages and the Pokanoket Tribe was the Headship of the Pokanoket Nation.
Pokanoket is also our home. Prior to the time of the pilgrim’s arrival in Plymouth, which used to be Patuxet, the realm of the Pokanoket included portions of Rhode Island and much of southeastern Massachusetts, including the surrounding islands around Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard.
The Pokanoket social organization developed in a manner that differed from neighboring Native American Tribes, since Pokanoket was more socially structured and layered, as well as more politically complex.
Unique to the Pokanoket Tribe were the spirtual and military elite, know as the Pineese (Pineese Warrior), who protected and served the Massasoit (Great Leader). They are the spiritual guardians of Pokanoket Nation.
Pokanoket believed seven to be the perfect number of completeness, for we still believe in the Seven Spirits of the Creator.
The First Thanksgiving, 1620, was a time of warm feelings and friendly relations between the Plymouth Colonists and the Indians of America. On March 22, 1621, Samoset, an Indian who spoke English appeared on the scene. He once had been kidnapped and taken to London where he learned pigeon English. He helped the Colonists to sow seed and manure the land with fish for a bountiful harvest. He then arranged a meeting between Massasoit, the revered chief of the Wampanoags, a tribe of the Algonoquin Indians, and the leaders of the Plymouth Colony and a Peace Treaty was signed. The Colonists, as hosts at the First Thanksgiving, could speak no Algonguian, the language of the Indians, and the Indians, except Samoset, could speak no English. There must have been much smiling, nodding of heads, pats on the shoulders, and hearty grunting. Of course a three day party where the English shared their new supply of beer certainly was expected to engage many friendships. It is particularly significant that the peace treaty drawn during the feast was never broken during the remaining forty years of Massasoit’s life! From the writings of two of the settlers, Govenor William Bradford and Edward Winslow, as compiled for “The Pilgrim Reader” by George F. Willison: “Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sente four men out fowling that so we might, after a more special manner, rejoyce together after we had gathered the fruit of our labours. These four, in one day, killed as much fowl as, with a little help besides, served the company almost a week, at which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised out armes, many of the Indians coming amonst us. And amongst the rest, their greatest King, Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom, for three days, we entertained and feasted. And they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the Plantation, and bestowed on our Governor and upon the Captaine and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet, by the goodness of God, we are so farr from wante that we often wish you partakers of our plentie.” 2. Various chroniclers at the time of the First Thanksgiving described Massasoit as being very tall and slender, typical of the Wampanoags, “a very lusty man in his best years, an able body, grave of countenance, and spare of speech”. His clothing, or lack thereof, did not differ from that of his followers, “only in a great chain of white bone beads about his neck” and “Behind his neck hangs a little bag of tobacco, which he drank and gave us to drink; his face was painted with a sad, red like mulberry, he was oiled both head and face and looked greasy, a long knife hanging on a lace at his breast was his only weapon”
After such a warm welcome, things went sour for the tribe. Today they want to build a casino, so the legal battles continue for the People of the First Light.