What were the Native warriors doing at the First Thanksgiving?
Visits from natives, even native warriors and sachems, to Plymouth were not unusual -- in fact, there were so many of them that the Pilgrims last spring had to devise a way to limit them (by demanding a copper chain as a sign that this visitor had been approved by Massasoit). The Indians also brought their wives and children, so there was clearly a relationship of trust. But something was different about Massasoit’s visit now.
First, there were 90 Pokanoket men, far larger than a usual social call. They clearly outnumbered the Pilgrims (all of them, including women and children, and not just the men) by about two-to-one. As I mentioned yesterday, it does not appear that this visit was expected, or that there was a special invitation to Massasoit.
Second, they were all warriors, so this has something of a hostile tinge to it. Once they showed up, they had to be fed, although, to be fair, they did go out and kill five deer and bring them back, which is quite a substantial hostess gift.
Third, this occurred soon after the Pilgrims had established contact with the Massachusetts Indians in Boston Harbour. This tribe was outside of Massasoit’s sphere of influence, and he may have been trying to assure himself that the Pilgrims were going to stay on his side of the fence. The Pilgrims were trying to connect and unite the Indians, in the interests of trade -- the more the tribes worked together, the more pelts that was for the English -- but this was very, very threatening to Massasoit and his plans to dominate the area.
Fourth, this may be related to a customary circuit which sachems would take of dependent and subordinate tribes while they readied themselves to withdraw inland for the winter. In a sense this was a show of force, and an attempt to put the Pilgrims in their place.