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By Mark D. Hughes
«RM75»«FC»«MDBO»COL9MDH.MDH - Missouri a late guest to the Thanksgiving tradition«MDNM»
November is a special month for Americans as we pause to commemorate Thanksgiving, one of our nation's oldest holidays. This holiday was originally marked for celebration by a proclamation from Pres. George Washington in 1789 and it was made a federal holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 as a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise" to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November.
The first Thanksgiving, took place in the fall of 1621 to celebrate the first harvest of the Pilgrims who had settled Plymouth. Edward Winslow, a traveler on the Mayflower and leader of the Pilgrims wrote that the feast was attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims -- all the Europeans who survived of the 100 who had landed at Plymouth.
The first Thanksgiving would not have happened without the efforts of a Native American the Pilgrims called Squanto -- the anglicized version of his real name, Tisquantum.. He was of the Patuxet tribe and had been living with the Wampanoag confederation. He had been captured by a European expedition in 1614 and sold into slavery in Spain. He was purchased by Spanish friars who instructed him in Christianity and freed him. Having gained his freedom, he made his way to England, where he lived for several years and learned to speak English.
While the early expeditions took captives and goods back to Europe, they also left diseases against which the natives had no immunity. Tisquantum signed on as an interpreter to a British expedition to Newfoundland and made his way back to his original village, only to find the entire tribe of Patuxet had been wiped out by epidemic.
In 1620, the Pilgrims were greeted upon their arrival by a Samoset, a Permaquid leader, who in turn introduced them to Tisquantum. The Pilgrims established their settlement on the former site of his village. It was Tisquantum who taught the settlers how to capture eel and how to raise the maize, beans and squash that made survival possible.
Tisquantum also acted as an interpreter between the Pilgrims and Massasoit, the grand sachem of the Wampanoag confederation. This led to a treaty of friendship between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag and the celebration of the first successful harvest shared by both that today we celebrate as Thanksgiving. While Tisquantum helped the Pilgrims survive, he himself would not long endure. He caught what settlers called the "Indian fever" and died in 1622, the last member of the Patuxet tribe.
The trials and challenges of the first Thanksgiving were unlikely noted in the territory that would become Missouri. It would be another 52 years before Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet would set foot in what is now Missouri.
It is interesting to note that behind the dais of the Senate chamber in Missouri's Capitol is a magnificent painted glass window depicting Ferdinand DeSoto, who discovered the Mississippi River 80 years before the first Thanksgiving, History, however, has never found that DeSoto -- who was buried on the banks of the great river he discovered -- made it as far north as what is now Missouri.
During the first Thanksgiving celebration, Missouri was under the control of no European nation, and records show no evidence that the Osage, Shawnee, Kaw, Sauk or Cahokia nations were invited to join the Pilgrims and Wampanoag for the 1621 feast.
Rene Robert Cavelier would make his way down from Canada via the Illinois and Mississippi rivers in 1682 to claim "Louisiana" for France.
Spain would assume control of the Louisiana Territory in 1762, and the U.S. would purchase it 1803. Missouri would become a state in 1820, likely making Lincoln's 1863 designation Missouri's first formal celebration of the holiday. While late to the banquet -- and starting under martial law of the Civil War, -- Missouri had finally joined the nation in celebrating the harvest of its beginnings.
[After a career in journalism, Mark Hughes became a top, non-partisan policy analyst for Missouri government including the state Senate, state Treasurer's Office and the utility-regulating PSC. He has been an observer and analyst of state government since the administration of Gov. Kit Bond.]
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