Monday, December 21, 2015

Colonial Spain and the First Thanksgiving

 Colonial Spain had a vast influence in North America which is obvious in places like Florida, New Mexico, Texas and California, but it also had an impact in places where you would least suspect it.  One such instance is the United State'sThanksgiving Day, which might never have happened had it not been for a twist of fate involving Spain.

The First Thanksgiving

Every school-child in the United States knows the story of the First Thanksgiving, the harvest feast shared by the Pilgrims with their Indian neighbors. This feast would never have taken place, nor would the Pilgrims have survived in the new Plymouth colony had it not been for Tisquantum, more commonly known as Squanto,  a Patuxet living in what is present-day Plymouth MA.

Tisquantum (Squanto) as imagined by artist

Around 1614 Tisquantum along with 23 others had been abducted by an English profiteer named Thomas Hunt and transported overseas to Malaga, Spain where they were sold to Franciscan friars. Indians were no novelty to the Franciscans of Spain because their order had been working in Mexico since 1524. They accompanied the conquistadors as the "spiritual arm" of the conquest; their job was to convert the newly-discovered natives to Christianity.  They were also humanitarians who fought for the Indians' recognition as full human beings and protected them against the abuses of the Spanish.

Present-day Franciscan Friars in Antigua Guatemala

When the Malaga Franciscans learned that  Tisquantum and his fellow abductees were from American, they instructed them in Christianity and then sent them on their way. The friars were said to have been very irritated by the attempt of Thomas Hunt to make money from their enslavement.   Tisquantum made his way from Malaga to England where he worked for  one John Slaney and learned English.

 John Slaney was the treasurer of the Newfoundland Company and he sent Tisquantum to Newfoundland, to work as a translator with Captain John Mason, governor of the Newfoundland Colony. In 1619 Tisquantum was taken to New England to serve as a translator in an effort to make peace with and reestablish trade with the Indians there, who were his people. However when he arrived in his home territory, they learned that all of his people (the Patuxets), had been killed by a plague (likely small pox) caused by disease brought by the Europeans.

But, as it turned out, there was also a bright side to Tisquantum's 1619 return home.  It was just in time for the Mayflower Pilgrims, who pulled into Provincetown Harbor in November 1620.  The pivotal event occurred on March 22, 1619 when the Pilgrims met Tisquantum, the English-speaking Indian who would be their guide and mentor in this new world. Through him, the  Pilgrims were able to negotiate a peace treaty with the Indians of the area and  establish trading relations, as well as learning methods for cultivating the land. In early autumn of 1621 the 53 surviving Pilgrims, along with their Indian guests, celebrated their successful harvest in the feast that has come to be known as the First Thanksgiving.

The truth is, without the long chain of events involving the earlier Franciscan experience in Mexico and Tisquantum's lucky encounter with the men of this order in Spain, the history of our nation might have been very different.  


  1. Great sleuthing and necessary historical revisionism, Marina! Jaime

  2. Dr. Hayman: I just discovered your blog today, and it makes for wonderful reading!!! Keep it up!!! Neat layout! Good clear reporting! Come by my blog when you have time:

  3. Dr. Hayman: I just discovered your blog today, and it makes for wonderful reading!!! Keep it up!!! Neat layout! Good clear reporting! Come by my blog when you have time: