Getting Along, Then and Now

Thanks to LinkedIn, I met the Rev. Kathleen Panning who has a radio show called, “Aflame Ministry.” She interviewed me recently about getting along then and now, based on my historical novel, Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures. It was a wonderful conversation and I’m happy to make our conversation  available to you. We discussed how the encounters between the Pilgrims and the native population 400 years ago have connections to today’s cross-cultural issues and our currently conflicted country.

An Old Story with New Significance

The 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower has come and gone, with a lot less fanfare than we all anticipated, because of the outbreak of the pandemic. Ironically, a pandemic was part of what impacted how the indigenous people and the pilgrims would react to one another. The Pokanoket people had suffered a massive pandemic without benefit of masks or vaccines. Nearly 70% of their population died. However, they still outnumbered the new English settlers, and could have easily overcome them, or simply left them to starve to death.

The Pokanoket had enemies. They observed the settles for several months, and then decided the best defense was a strong pro-active response. When they observed the settlers building homes and planting a garden, they approached them and negotiated a treaty.

How Tragedies Led to New Hope

The Pokanoket leader, Massasoit Ousa Mequin, communicated with the Pilgrim leader, Governor Carver,  through a couple of interpreters. One of them, Sagamore Samoset, learned English trading with earlier Englishmen who came to the North American shores to trade. Another one, Tisquantum, more commonly known as Squanto, learned English while living in London. An English shipmaster kidnapped him and a couple dozen other young natives, planning to sell them into slavery in Spain.  A group of Catholic friars secured the freedom of a few of them. One of them, Tisquantum, ended up in London where he lived with an English family. When he was proficient in English, he returned to North America and convinced the Massasoit to let him accompany him as an interpreter.

The Other Side of the Thanksgiving Story

I love Thanksgiving. It is my favorite holiday. I grew up believing the English graciously invited the Natives to join them for a thanksgiving feast to celebrate a first successful harvest. That is not quite how it happened. The Pilgrims did have a successful harvest in the fall of 1621, probably earlier than our November holiday. They had frequently hosted members of the native community as people visited back and forth working out details of the treaty and getting more familiar with each other’s cultures. When the Englishmen fired their muskets as part of their giving thanks for surviving the winter, the indigenous people heard the noise. In honor of the newly negotiated treaty, they came rushing in to render aid. Upon discovering they were not under attack, they went out to round up food. They returned and stayed for three days, sharing food, teaching one another games, and having a bi-cultural festival.

Renewing Old Friendships

In the course of looking for someone in the native community to fact check my book, I met a remarkable family. Sagamore William Guy, his daughter, Tracey Brown, and Tracey’s son Donald Brown. These three are direct descendants of Massasoit Ousa Mequin. I am descended from William and Mary Brewster. Given the positions our respective ancestors held in their communities, they certainly knew and befriended one another.

It was with great excitement and gratitude that I got to meet Sagamore and Tracey while in Rhode Island in August. They spent a couple of hours showing me around their ancient lands, pointing out where significant historical events took place. Sagamore Guy, now retired, is an advocate for the Pokanoket Nation he leads, working with local municipalities and universities to preserve their sacred places and tell their side of our early American history. I felt like I was renewing the  friendship our ancestors forged four hundred years ago.

First There Was a Treaty

We have choices to make. We can continue to clash with each other, or we can learn from the example of Massasoit Ousa Mequin and the leaders of Plimoth Plantation. First there was a treaty. That treaty enabled two cultures to live in relative peace and security until people decided to revert to violence. The consequences of that decision led to deadly results for English and Pokanoket alike.

Ultimately, the English thrived while the Pokanoket barely survived. But survive they did, in spite of centuries of efforts to eliminate their name, culture, language, and traditions. I am hopeful as I see more books, articles and documentaries about the parts of our history we’ve not told. I am optimistic as Sagamore Guy and his people actively work to tell the whole story and work for peace and understanding. Roger Williams University has granted the Sagamore an honorary degree for his work. RWU students are researching Pokanoket history. Next month (October 2021), the university, located on Pokanoket land, will start offering walking tours to point out places that are significant to the Pokanoket people.

We won’t solve todays challenging issues unless we find more ways to work together. First there was a treaty.  As the Pokanoket would say  – Aquene – Peace.

Thank you for stopping by. Why not share this with a friend or sign up for your own free subscription at HowWiseThen. I have a variety of free downloads waiting for you there. (Supporting local Indie Bookshops)
Autographed copies available from
Available wherever books are sold in paperback, eB00k, and audio.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *