Did the Indians Gatecrash Thanksgiving?

But the friendly relations between the Indians and the settlers were doomed. The handful of Pilgrims who settled at Plymouth were a drop in the bucket compared to the Puritans, who immigrated by the thousands in the 17th century.

"There's much more pressure on the land," said Conforti.

To make matters worse, the Indians didn't have the same concept of private property as the English did.

Among the Native Americans, said Conforti, land belonged to a tribe and would be distributed among families by the sachem. Each family could use that land as long they wanted, but if they moved, it would revert back to the tribe. They applied this same concept to land sold to the settlers.

"The English would get upset when they acquired a piece of land, legally or by deceit, and the Native Americans might come and still hunt on that land," Conforti said.

The Indians were also pressured by a currency crisis. They valued wampum — beads made from quahog shells. But the settlers began to produce their own wampum, and they also brought over more coins from Europe. At the same time, the fur trade was diminishing due to over-hunting.

"Beaver skins are gone, wampum collapses — the only asset they have left is land," said Conforti.

The Indians did not appreciate having English laws imposed upon them. "Indians were brought to court and were fined and punished and sometimes executed," said Conforti.

And the English settlers' overall attitude toward the indigenous Americans didn't help any.

"I think one could say the Pilgrims and Puritans share the same kind of cultural prejudice or racist view of the Native Americans as being uncivilized," said Conforti. "They're un-English, tawny-skinned, nonwhite."

King Philip’s War

The first major war between the New England colonists and the natives came in 1637. After a number of disputes and minor skirmishes, a group of colonists — aided by Indians from some rival tribes — attacked a Pequot village at Mystic in what is now Connecticut. Some 700 Pequots — men, women and children — were massacred.

The Pilgrims' Indian ally, Massasoit, had maintained the Wampanoag pact with the colonists, and his successors at first sought to do the same. Massasoit was succeeded by his son or grandson (scholars differ as to the exact relationship), Wamsutta, also known as Alexander.

In 1662, Wamsutta was summoned to Plymouth. "The English had heard a rumor of war, they wanted to question him," said Coombs. At Plymouth, Wamsutta became ill and quickly died. "The Wampanoag people thought he had been poisoned."

Wamsutta was succeeded as sachem by his younger brother, Metacom — known to the English as King Philip.

It wasn't long between the escalating tensions between the Wampanoag and the English got out of hand. King Philip decided he had had enough. The war that ensued lasted only a year, 1675-76, but it was one of the bloodiest in American history.

Philip "tried to rally all the tribes in New England in a great effort to push the English back across the water," said Coombs, but he didn't succeed. Some tribes did join him; others opted to fight on the English side; and some tried to remain neutral.

The Narragansett had mostly stayed out of the war, but they went over to Philip's side in droves after the Great Swamp Massacre, when between 500 and 1,000 Narragansett — many of them elderly people, women and children — were slaughtered in what is now South Kingstown, R.I.

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