Redskins, Pumpkins, Pilgrims, Wild Turkeys and does anybody have a beer?

Recent New Yorker Magazine Cover questions the reality of a pro football team in our nation's capitol that is named for the "redskins"
A recent New Yorker Magazine Cover questions the reality of a pro football team in our nation’s capitol that is named for the “redskins”

A Tumultuous Journey and Landing

To say that the pilgrims had a tough time of it in their early goings in the New World, might be a gross understatement. First, there was the oceanic crossing, which occurred in the autumn months, when the North Atlantic is at its stormiest. Although many were seasick for days on end, only two people perished during the tumultuous journey. But from here, things only got worst, as during the first winter at Plymouth, half of the 100 colonists died before the winter was out.

Does Anybody Have a Beer?

The first encounter with the Native population was even more surreal, as it occurred in the early spring after so many had died. In early March, an Indian by the name of Samoset, proudly walked into the Pilgrim settlement and promptly asked in understandable English, if anybody had any beer. To make things worst, Samoset and some of his Wampanoag friends had been living nearby for the course of the winter and so they must have been aware of the settlers severe decline.

So Maybe the New World Wasn’t So New After All

As it turned out, Samoset’s taste for alcohol and limited use of the English language came from his home on Monhegan Island, just off the coast of Maine. Here, English traders had been stopping by on this remote island for at least a decade and trading many items with the Natives for fresh supplies of food and water. A few unlucky souls had even been taken capture and transported across the Atlantic, where they were sold off as slaves. Squanto fell into this category, so maybe the New World wasn’t so new after all.

Divine Guidance Or Just Plain Lucky

In some ways the pilgrims were very lucky, for their new home occurred in a part of the America that had just  been ravaged by small pox. Actually, this could have turned out really bad, if the local inhabitants had viewed the new arrivals as harbingers of the dreaded disease. But as it turned out, this was not the case. Instead, the English transplants were seen as suitable replacements, for the nearby village, which had been wiped out by smallpox.

Not only did Samoset and his associates help the pilgrims survive, but also, the newcomers formed a mutual defense alliance with various Wampanoag villages that existed in what is now eastern Massachusetts. This became known as the Mayflower Pact and the agreement lasted, for as long as the Wampanoag sachem, Massasoit was alive. In fact, the Mayflower accord became a realistic model for the many treaties that were created between Indians and Whites in the following centuries.

Origin of the term “Redskin”

The main objection to using Redskin as a team mascot, in the NFL (or anywhere else), comes from its use as a term for a scalp, which is taken from an American Indian during warfare. Some scholars have pointed out the term originated among the American Indians to differentiate themselves from Whites and Blacks and so it is no more offensive than those terms.  This may be true, but would anybody suggest changing the name of the Washington Redskins to the Washington Caucasians or the Washington Blacks.

 

 

 

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Some Thoughts On Turkey Day

"Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor," by William Halsall
Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, oil painting by William Halsall, from Wikipedia

Thanksgiving Day

The other day I was sitting in a coffee shop in Santa Fe, NM, when I overheard two men discussing the upcoming holiday in Spanish. To them it was a secular “Anglo” holiday, which could be enjoyed by anybody, who appreciated a well-cooked turkey and a day off. In fact, a little research into the popular national day of rest revealed that Thanksgiving is only widely celebrated in the United States and Canada with the Canadian holiday coming in early October instead of late November. Fixings are about the  same for both nations, but in Canada, Thanksgiving is a three-day (Sat., Sun., Mon.) holiday instead of the normal four in the U.S. Furthermore, in Canada, the popular feast is not tied to any narrative history, like it is in the United States.

Thanksgiving grace in Pennsylvania
Thanksgiving prayer before the meal, Pennsylvania 1942, photo from Farm Security Administration

The Spanish Main
Some historians and cultural commentators are quick to point out that similar feasts or expressions of thanksgiving exist in other parts of North America that predate the 1621 celebration in Massachusetts. Harvest type celebration are cited as having occurred in Florida, Virginia and Texas, years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth. Despite these observations, the New England meeting of European colonists and Massachusetts Native still remains the common told tale of Thanksgiving and thus serves as the philosophical background for the holiday.

Roast Turkey
Roast turkey is the most common meat served at a Thanksgiving dinner, Photo by M. Rehemtulla, from Wikipedia

About the Food
Though the original feast is reportedly to have had many types of wild game (i.e. fish, lobster, eels, goose and deer), the turkey has become the dominant meat symbol for the November get-together. Although wild turkeys were found in many parts of North America, they were quite abundant in Colonial New England, and so became an important part of the diet for the new arrivals from the Old World. Also important to the American colonists were the Native grown foods of corn, squash, beans and pumpkins. Originally developed in Mexico and Central America over several thousand years ago, these agricultural staples were readily adopted by the early explorers and those who followed after them.

Squanto teaching
Squanto (Tisquantum in the Native tongue) was one of the local Indians, who taught the Pilgrims how to survive, from Wikipedia

The Mayflower and the Massachusetts Indians

The travelers aboard the Mayflower were headed for Virginia, but forced to land at Cape Cod because of bad weather. Many of those on board were enraged at having to spend the winter in snowy Massachusetts. Between the November landing and March, when the local Indians first visited the outpost about half of the Pilgrims died. However, because of contact with previous explorers some of the local Indians could understand English and were glad to teach the new colonists how to survive. This was an event that was always repeated in other parts of the New World.