Thanksgiving: an immigration cautionary tale?


“The Puritans nobly fled from a land of despotism to a land of freedom, where they could not only enjoy their own religion, but could prevent everybody else from enjoying his.” -Artemus Ward, Revolutionary War general and social satirist

This week my students were winding down for the holiday and the vocabulary list got shorter. Pilgrims=peregrinos. Indians=indios. Thanksgiving=dia de dar gracias. Students were showing off their command of American slang by discussing who was a turkey.

As I wrote on the board, “In 1620, the Pilgrims came to America from England… The Indians helped them ….” I started thinking about the Indians’ immigration policy. That first Thanksgiving, it was turkey all around, but I seem to recollect the Indians didn’t do so well after that. Pulling out that authoritative source of travel wisdom, the Insight Guide to New England that I once carried to read on a flight out east, I dredged up the chapter about the Puritans and the Indians.

Sure enough, the Puritans took it on themselves to convert the Algonquin from their heathen ways, but first they quarreled with their non-Puritan fellow Europeans. After several Quakers were hanged, Rev. Roger Williams declared from the pulpit that “forced worship stinks in God’s nostrils,” and was exiled from the colony for his sentiments. He founded a colony in Rhode Island, which welcomed Quakers, Jews, and French Huguenots. And yes, the Bill of Rights was inserted into the Constitution at the insistence of Rhode island.

At first there was enough room for everyone. There had been about 16,000 Indians in New England at the time of the Mayflower. A third of the Indians had died in a plague in the 1600s. By 1660s a fifth of New England Indians lived in “praying towns” along the Connecticut River and near Cape Cod–where Indians had their own “preachers, teachers and magistrates”–.and were expected to give up their language, religion, and all cultural customs. The Puritans, however, were unable to make all the Indians into neo-Europeans, and increased population pressures led to the outbreak of war in 1636, ending with the demise of the Indians in King Philip’s War by 1676.

Contrast this with the welcome given several centuries earlier to the Viking settlers at Vinland.  The Vikings came on a people they named ’skraellings’.  At first the Vikings traded with the skraellings, but when the trade goods ran out, things got ugly and several vikings were killed by skraellings.  Although the vikings had a settlement in Newfoundland complete with boat houses and an iron smelt, after that unfortunate brush with the skraellings, the Vikings  left the new world altogether.  Now, here’s something to ponder as you carve up that turkey. Who had the most effective immigration policy: the Algonquins or the Skraelings?

Posted in Curiosities, English as a Foreign Language, English as a Second Language, ESL, Government, Immigration. Comments Off on Thanksgiving: an immigration cautionary tale?