The History Of American Thankfulness

Leaves with sign Give Thanks

By: Brad Huddleston

In 1605, English explorer Captain George Weymouth sailed to North America, captured many Indians, and took them back to England. The Earl of Southampton, the expedition’s sponsor, adopted the Indians. They lived with the Earl for nine years, where they learned the English language and customs. One of those Indians was a native called “Squanto.” After nine years, he wanted to return home. In 1614, Captain John Smith obliged and brought Squanto back to North America.

As fate would have it, another Captain, the nefarious Thomas Hunt, captured twenty-seven Indians, including Squanto, and sold them into slavery in Spain. This terrible act caught the attention of some Spanish friars, who decided to raise the money to purchase the Indians who had not yet been sold. So, the friars freed the Indians, taught them about Christianity, and treated them very well.

Squanto wanted to return to England. After slowly working his way back to England, he spent an additional five years there before deciding to return home to North America in 1619. Upon returning home, Squanto learned that his entire tribe had been wiped out by disease. He then decided to befriend and live with the Wampanoag tribe.

In December, a ship arrived, which was uncommon as it was winter. The Wampanoag Indians watched the Pilgrims get off the ship and observed them throughout the winter. Winter was hard on these new arrivals, and when spring came, one of the Indians, named Samoset, approached the Pilgrims to speak with them. After establishing mutual trust, Samoset introduced the Pilgrims to Squanto, who spoke better English. The chief and Squanto formed a peace treaty with the Pilgrims. Squanto, who knew the ways of the Indians and the English, was pivotal in establishing the treaty.

It’s easy to see the providence of God in this story. God had gone ahead of the Pilgrims to make sure they had a way, through the English-speaking Squanto, to form a peace treaty with hostile neighbors.

After the peace treaty was signed, Squanto decided to live with the Pilgrims and help them learn how to survive the harsh conditions in the New World. He taught them how to fish, trap, hunt, and raise crops (particularly corn). God used Squanto to help the Pilgrims survive. Not only did they survive, but they began to experience abundance, which was quite a contrast from the year before when half of the Pilgrims died, mainly from starvation.

With this new abundance and fall approaching, the Pilgrims decided to have a three-day festival of Thanksgiving to God. So, fifty-one Pilgrims and ninety Indian braves feasted together, thanked God, and had athletic events.

Although the preceding event is remembered as America’s first Thanksgiving, it wasn’t until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln established a national Thanksgiving day that we still celebrate.

Most Americans have no idea that Governor William Bradford called for the three-day festival to thank God for His provision. Many Americans, including pastors, believe Christians should “stay out of politics.” As a result, most Christians have steered clear of civic service in modern times, and we’re paying a heavy price.

This month, I encourage all people privileged to be called “American” to commit to being intentional about expressing thankfulness, not for football, a day off of work, and way too much food, but for God’s blessings and provision.

Our American history teaches us to be thankful. But unfortunately, we have failed to pass our God-given heritage on to the next generation. Change needs to happen, and it begins with thankfulness. An excellent place to start restoring thankfulness to our hearts is by heeding the exhortation of the old hymn “Count Your Blessings” by naming them one by one.

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