History of Thanksgiving Indian: Why Squanto already knew English


We’ve all heard the story of how the Pilgrims, landing in Massachusetts on the Mayflower in 1620, were ill-equipped to survive the harsh winters of the New World. We’ve also heard how they met a Native American Indian of the Pawtuxet tribe named Squanto who befriended them. He taught them how to survive in their new wilderness home, showed them how to plant and fertilize their crops, fish, and acted as an interpreter with the Wampanoag tribe and its chief, Massasoit (pictured above from Plymouth, MA).

The fact that he already knew English before the Pilgrims landed is what is remarkable.


The man Tisquantum, better known as Squanto probably was present at the first Thanksgiving celebration held by the Pilgrims. He was certainly there by 1621 — after the winter when the Pilgrims lost half of their population to starvation and diseases — when another Indian, Samoset, introduced Squanto to the Pilgrim settlers, and he became a member of their colony. Because Squanto could speak English well, Governor William Bradford asked him to serve as his ambassador to the Indian tribes.

It was over a decade before the Pilgrims landed that Squanto was captured from Massachusetts and taken, along with other Indians, by an English ship captain and sold into slavery in Málaga, Spain.

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History of Thanksgiving: the Secular and the Sacred

History of Thanksgiving: Mayflower IIHISTORY OF THANKSGIVING

The origin of Thanksgiving Day has been attributed to a harvest feast held by the Plymouth Colony. In 1621, Governor William Bradford of the Plymouth Colony proclaimed a day of “thanksgiving” and prayer to celebrate the Pilgrims’ first harvest in America the year after their arrival on the merchant ship Mayflower. The picture you usually see of a few Native American men joining the Pilgrims at the feast is a bit inaccurate, however. From original settler Edward Winslow in a letter to a friend in 1621, we know that some 90 men accompanied the Wampanoag Chief, Massasoit, to visit at Plymouth for three days of fish, fowl, and venison. But of the roughly 100 English settlers who had spent their first year on the Massachusetts coast, about half had died by this time. This would have left about half the 52 survivors as English men. So the Native men outnumbered the Pilgrim men by over three to one!


The idea of the Pilgrims fleeing England due to persecution to come to America is not quite historically accurate, at least as the starting point. Rather, over a decade earlier they had already left England for Holland as Dissenters of the Church of England. They were not willing to comply with obligatory Church of England worship practices and were therefore subject to fines if they stayed in England. These Pilgrims were Puritan Calvinists in their theology and found the Dutch Calvinism more tolerant to their religious practice. However, they found that in Holland their children were forgetting how to speak English and were adopting Dutch customs too liberal for their sensibilities.
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Veterans Day: How it differs from Memorial Day

John Petro

SSgt John Petro


As we celebrate Veterans Day, we express gratitude for those who have served in the Armed Services. Its roots go back to World War I and Remembrance Day or Armistice Day, commemorating the signing of the Armistice following the War on 11:11:11, the 11th hour of 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. I write about its origin in WWI in more detail here.


It differs from Memorial Day which goes back to the American Civil War and the original observance of Decoration Day, wherein people honored those who died in service to their country.


HarryTrumanToday, I thank those who serve and have served in our Armed Service. A grateful nation honors you. In particular, I am grateful to my father Staff Sergeant John Petro who served in the US Army Infantry during World War II. He twice crossed paths with the notable “Band of Brothers” Easy Company first at the Battle of the Bulge and later toward the end of the war in Munich at the liberation of the Dachau Concentration Camp. Those were the only two stories he told me about his service; I wish he had told me more. I captured it on a tribute page on my blog. He came home from the War, married and started a family. He worked as a tinsmith, a bar owner, and a commercial realtor.

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History of Election Day: Why we vote on a Tuesday in November


Why do we vote on a Tuesday in November in the US?

Historically, the United States was an agrarian society where much of the calendar revolved around farming. In 1840, Congress set voting day on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November. This time provided a convenient month for farmers, who needed to travel perhaps overnight to the county seat’s polling places, following the Autumn harvest season. The weather would not yet have turned bad enough to make rural roads impassable.


Rural Americans would begin their trip on Monday, rather than on Sunday lest their travel interfere with Sunday worship services. It had to be on a Tuesday following the first Monday so as not to fall on November 1st, a holiday known as All Saints Day. Additionally, the first day of the month was when accounting books were brought up to date. While Election Day is a federal holiday, it is observed only by government holidays in the capital of Washington D.C. and those counties that border it in the states of Virginia and Maryland. [click to continue…]

History of Guy Fawkes Day: How gunpowder mixed with Parliament


For our friends across the Pond

November 5th is known as “Bonfire Night” or “Guy Fawkes Night,” and all over Britain people fire off fireworks, light bonfires, and burn effigies of Guy Fawkes. Guido Fawkes was an Englishman who, in popular legend, tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament with barrels of gunpowder. He was caught, imprisoned, tortured on the rack, and finally executed, as we’ll see.


Over 400 years ago, Guy Fawkes was a co-conspirator in the “Gunpowder Plot” of 1605 in England. He and his cohorts decided to blow up both of the Houses of Parliament in London and kill King James I (of the King James Bible fame) upon the inaugural opening of the Parliament and succeeded in smuggling several barrels of gunpowder into the basement of the Parliament.


PlotThis “Gunpowder Plot” occurred two years after King James I ascended to the throne. A group of English Catholics, of which Guido Fawkes was a member, decided to kill the King because it was felt he had reneged on his promises to stop the persecution of Catholics. To this day, it is the law in Britain that a Roman Catholic cannot hold the office of monarch. And the Queen is still Supreme Head of the Church of England.

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