It’s 1621, the year of the very first Thanksgiving festival. The Pilgrim Fathers have gathered to celebrate the first harvest in their newly settled lands of Plymouth Colony in what is now Massachusetts. In a magnanimous gesture, the settlers invite their Native American brethren to feast on turkey, pie and sweet potato. Sound familiar? Shockingly, much of the tale is actually fake history.
Let’s start with the famous Tisquantum, also known as Squanto, the English-speaking Patuxet Indian who was at the feast. It’s true he was there and it’s also true that his language skills made him an important interlocutor between the English newcomers and the original inhabitants of Plymouth Colony. It’s less well-known that Squanto spoke English because he’d been enslaved and that he lived in England before returning to his native land in 1619.