Massasoit: A Story of the Indians of New England - Alma H. Burton


When autumn came, a stout fortress crowned the hill at Plymouth, from which a broad street led down to the harbor.

Seven log houses had been built, and more were going up; but some stood unfinished, because death had stayed the hands of the builders.

The Pilgrims were sore at heart for the loss of over half of their colony; but they would not murmur. They said it was the will of heaven, and they would submit.

They were so grateful for an abundant harvest, which promised food for those who were living, that they resolved to offer thanks to God. So, when the corn was gathered, and the fuel laid in for the winter, Governor Bradford appointed a day of thanksgiving.

Four men killed fowl enough to last a week. There was a great store of wild turkeys, and from that day to this, the turkey has been an honored, though silent, guest of every New England thanksgiving.

Massasoit and Standish


Then the governor invited King Massasoit to join in this first thanksgiving dinner. The great chief came in his red coat and best paint, oiled to a turn, and with him came seventy warriors in feathers and fine skins, decorated with quills and wampum. They brought five deer from the forest to add to the feast, and roasted them on spits over the fire built out in the open. There was little ceremony needed in serving a dinner to Indians, who were accustomed to eat with their fingers, and drink from dried gourds; but for all that, the women were kept very busy preparing food for a hundred and twenty people. There were only four of these noble women left who had sailed in the Mayflower, and they were pale and thin with long months of nursing the sick, and their faces were lined with care.

Yet all the Pilgrims tried to remember that it was a day of thanksgiving, and there were feats with firearms and bows and arrows, and there were quoits and many other games in which the Indians joined. Taking it altogether, the first thanksgiving day in New England was a great success.

Soon after this, the ship Fortune  sailed into port with thirty Pilgrims from Leyden. There was mingled joy and sorrow in the reunion. Some of the bravest and best of the Plymouth friends were gone, and tears would come as the sad story was told.

Then when the Fortune  set sail to return home, her seamen had to be supplied with food, and that reduced the supplies still more. So the corn just gathered had to be carefully distributed, or it would not hold out till the next harvest. It had taken the scant store in Leyden to pay for the voyage across the sea, and the newcomers had no provisions with them.

Now, patient in tribulation and reverent in worship, as these Pilgrims were, there were some among them who were not Christians, and these caused a great deal of trouble.

Even while the Mayflower still lay at anchor in Cape Cod Bay, a willful boy got at the gunpowder, made squibs and shot off fowling-pieces between decks where there was a half barrel of powder, and kept the timid women and children in constant terror by his lawless conduct.

Then a few of those who came over in the Fortune  were not in harmony with the little community.

The Pilgrims did not believe in celebrating Christmas as a holiday, and when Christmas day came Governor Bradford marshaled his men into line, as was his custom, to go to the forest to fell down trees. Some from the Fortune  said that it was against their consciences to work on Christmas, and refused to go with the rest. But when the tired men returned from their labor for dinner, these over-scrupulous fellows were pitching bars and playing at other games in great glee.

The governor told them it was against his conscience that some should play while others toiled to supply them comforts; and ordered them to quit their games, and, either sit in the house at worship, or go out in the field to work.

But, after all is said, these troublesome members were easily managed, for the Pilgrims made their own laws, and the doughty Captain Miles Standish enforced them with his musketeers. The "black sheep" preferred to remain in the fold at Plymouth, rather than risk their lives in the howling wilderness.

There were constant rumors of plotting among the Narragansetts, and all were united in common defense from the threatened attack.

Canonicus, the chief of the Narragansetts, had seemed friendly to the Pilgrims at first; but when he saw the alliance between them and his old enemies, the Wampanoags, he fell into a great rage.

The plague had left his own tribe untouched, while it had reduced the warriors of his rival to a handful.

Had he not been sharpening his tomahawk for two years to exterminate the few who were left? Had not the powwows been certain of victory? And now these white men had come with their fire-belching muskets to strengthen the feeble arm of Massasoit. What was to be done? "It was easy enough," said Canonicus. He would march his thousands against the white men. He would wipe the handful of palefaces off the face of the earth. Their hair was short, but corslets and helmets and firearms would more than make up for bad scalps.

So one day, as Governor Bradford was busy with his papers, the door of his room swung noiselessly open, and an Indian messenger laid upon the table a bundle of arrows tied with a snake skin.

Squanto said that this was a declaration of war, and that the Narragansetts could muster about five thousand warriors.

Now the best that could be done at Plymouth was to arm fifty men; but it would never do to show fear, and so the governor filled the snake skin with powder and bullets and sent it back. This frightened the Narragansetts. They thought the spirit of the thunderbolts, which rent the mighty oaks of the forest, dwelt in the strange mixture that went into a gun; and they handled the snake skin, gorged to the fangs with the deadly stuff, as a dynamite bomb would be handled to-day.

It passed from chief to chief, and, at last, came back to Plymouth with a pledge of peace.

The Pilgrims now prepared for future attacks from the Indians, and built a stronger log fort on the brow of the nearest hill, which also served for a meeting-house; and they enclosed the whole settlement with a high fence or stockade, and shut the gates every evening at sunset.