Myths about the pilgrims and religious freedom have obscured some surprising truths about this great American holiday.
...“Thanks,” says G.K. Chesterton, “is the highest form of thought.” And he mentions the fact that the worst moment for an atheist is when he is thankful and suddenly realizes he has no one to thank.
But what is the origin of this holiday?
What most people believe is a variation on what I was taught in public school in the 1960s. The Pilgrims came to Plymouth on a ship called the Mayflower. They were the first English settlers in America. They came for religious freedom. And they had a big feast with Indians, and that was the first Thanksgiving. That about sums it up. And that is what Chesterton calls “The Myth of the Mayflower.”
First of all, they were not known as “pilgrims” till about 200 years afterwards. They were Puritans, a radical Anglican “low church” sect that loathed the “high church” Anglicans that happened to include the King of England. In fact, about 30 years after the Puritans arrived in America, some of their fellow Puritans back in England arranged for King Charles I to have his head chopped off.
Secondly, there were at least nine other British settlements before the Plymouth colony. In fact, one of them was at Plymouth. All but one of them failed, including the first settlement at Plymouth. The Puritans who came to Plymouth in 1620 almost didn’t survive. Half the settlers died the first winter. They were saved by a Native American named Squanto, who taught them how to hunt and fish and grow corn.
But here’s what is really interesting: Squanto was a Roman Catholic.
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