This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.
The traditional pictures of Thanksgiving turn the Indians into bit players. The Pilgrims sit at a long table sharing their bounty with the Wampanoag, one member of the tribe maybe lugging a deer into the clearing.
Not so. Indians outnumbered Pilgrims by roughly two to one at the feast. Half of the Mayflower’s passengers had died within a few months of their arrival 10 months earlier, and the Wampanoag were the only reason the rest of them were alive.
Under their leader, Massasoit, they had nurtured the English, formed an alliance with them and offered them large expanses of real estate. They had taught the Pilgrims to live off the land; the fish, game and corn they were eating in the fall of 1661 came courtesy of Wampanoag generosity.
Massasoit was no useful idiot, though. His once-large tribe had been just been devastated by plague introduced by white fishermen; the Wampanoag were being subjugated by the powerful Narragansett tribe. If the Pilgrims were using him, he was shrewdly using the Pilgrims to rebuild his power and counter the Narragansetts.
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