My brief take on the Pilgrims, Squanto and the first Thanksgiving is in Chapter 7 of A Little History of the United States. The chapter is currently up on this website beginning on the Home page, if you don't have a copy.
Or if you'd like an interesting Canadian perspective, an old friend and long-time correspondent of mine, Susan Felsberg of Happy Valley, Labrador, this morning pointed me to a post by Larry Dohey, archivist at the Provincial Museum and Archives in St. John's, Newfoundland. As I mention in Little History, Squanto's famous assistance given the Pilgrims—regarding fertilizing their crops with dead fish—was almost certainly not Indian lore but a European technique. Dohey provides more detail about Squanto's odyssey, which takes him from America to the slave markets in Spain, to England, and finally back to America by way of Newfoundland. Because of that journey, Dohey notes, Squanto was able to teach the Pilgrims "how to plant corn in hills, using fish as a fertilizer as he had seen in Newfoundland."
Note, too, that it was the Indian crop of corn which helped the Pilgrims pull through. Three-hundred years later, in 1917, the U.S. Department of Agriculture was promoting the use of corn over wheat (citing the Pilgrims' example) due to the devastation wrought in Europe during World War I, which the United States had just entered. "Wheatless Wednesdays" (complementing "Meatless Mondays") were meant to wean Americans still hooked on European grains at a time when wheat, oats and barley were hard to come by. Few in those days could have foreseen the degree to which corn would conquer the world's dietary habits, not only in products made directly from it but also as an omnipresent sweetener (corn fructose) and as a food given to livestock and farm-raised fish.
Happy Thanksgiving! And don't make your feast entirely corn-based.
James West Davidson
Occasional thoughts on history, teaching, paddling and the outdoors