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Plymouth and the Wampanoag

RWC Tutor Jack Stewart explains the history of Plymouth and the Wampanoag tribe.

The Wampanoag tribe inhabited parts of what is now New England for 12,000 years before any settlers arrived from Europe. Even before the famous pilgrims of the Mayflower landed in modern-day Massachusetts, the Wampanoag had had contact with European settlers. The Wampanoag hunted, fished, and grew crops on the land for generations.

The Mayflower was a vessel that left Holland for North America in 1962. Despite traveling from Holland, the settlers aboard the Mayflower were English and were fleeing England because they felt their religion was unjustly persecuted. So it came to be that 101 men, women, and children disembarked from the Mayflower onto what is now Cape Cod. They called their colony Plymouth. Initially, the settlers struggled for survival in this new and foreign place. However, with the aid of elements of the Wampanoag tribe and other Native American tribes in the area, they were able to establish a foothold.

A Wampanoag man named Tisquantum was vital in helping the Mayflower settlers. Tisquantum had some experience with European colonists after being captured and sold as a slave to the Spanish by the English. After being freed from slavery, Tisquantum and other Wampanoags taught the settlers at Plymouth vital agricultural and hunting practices. This cooperation ultimately ended in a treaty in which the pilgrims of the Mayflower and the Native Americans of the area agreed to work together and protect one another from other potentially hostile tribes.

On or around the day thought of as the first Thanksgiving, a hunting party was sent out by the pilgrims of Plymouth. Musket shots were fired, and the nearby Wampanoag readied for some sort of attack by pilgrims or another tribe is not specified. In any case, the Wampanoag went to Plymouth and found the celebration there. This meeting of both parties is commonly regarded as the first Thanksgiving. It is important to note that in one way or another, the peace between Plymouth and the Wampanoag did not last.

Modern members of the Wampanoag tribe regard this first Thanksgiving as marking the beginning of a series of bloodshed and betrayal, whereby treaties were broken, and the pilgrims dispossessed their people. In celebrating modern Thanksgiving, examining both sides of the story, the events leading up to this fateful day, and the subsequent outcomes is crucial.

Nowadays, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is governed by a tribal council and a chairman. This year, the Wampanoag will host their 102 annual Powwow, celebrating their culture through dance, music, food, and crafts. It is essential to recognize that the Wampanoag and many other tribes are active in democratic government and host educational and cultural events. You can learn more about the government, judicial branch, and cultural aspects of the tribe at their website. The Tribal Elections will be on November 4th.

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