Saints & Strangers, a new National Geographic two-night miniseries this week is prompting a new look at how God may have had more of a role in U.S history and the tradition of Thanksgiving than once noticed through the individual of one particular Native American, Squanto. As a lone surviving Patuxet native, Squanto is credited with showing the starving Pilgrim newcomers how to find lobster and how to plant corn, as well as brokering 50 years of peace with the local tribes, essentially securing survival for people trying to escape religious persecution and hoping to found a colony based on Christian principles.
"So the question is: Can all of this have been sheer happenstance, as most versions of the story would have us believe? The Pilgrims hardly thought so. To them, Squanto was a living answer to their tearful prayers, an outrageous miracle of God," stated Christian author Eric Metaxas in a new Wall Street Journal article entitled: The Miracle of Squanto's Path to Plymouth.
One true question would be if the Pilgrims would have endured without Squanto's intervention.
Each Thanksgiving, Americans recall that Pilgrims from Europe arrive on U.S. shores on the Mayflower ship and that a feast commemorated the good fortune of surviving the new harsh environment. In Saints & Strangers, the scene is set on Cape Cod in December 1620. Vincent Kartheiser, who plays Gov. William Bradford, narrates. "They called us pilgrims, but today we are thieves," he says in a monolog that introduces the 102 passengers from the Mayflower in two distinct groups. The strangers, Kartheiser says, are merchants seeking fortune. The saints "came for God, to build a new life, to worship as we pleased free, from persecution."
The pilgrims, starved and desperate, arrived in the new world guided by the Lord, Kartheiser said. "But there were some things God neglected to mention."
The film's creators believe it is a story that goes beyond the familiar historical account of Thanksgiving and the founding of Plymouth Plantation, revealing the trials and tribulations of the settlers at Plymouth, half who were religious separatists who abandoned their prior lives for a single cause: religious freedom. The other half, the "merchant adventurers," had less spiritual and more material, real-world objectives. This clash of values created complex inner struggles for the group as they sought to establish a new colony, compounded by a complicated relationship with the local Native American tribes. The conflicting allegiances among these groups culminated in trials of assimilation, faith, and compromise that continued to define the United States to this day stated the National Geographic team who developed this accounting of Thanksgiving-related history.
Squanto's role in assisting the Pilgrims was prominently displayed in this new movie. The Wall Street Journal article emphasizes that Plymouth Colony Gov. William Bradford declared in his journal that Squanto "became a special instrument sent of God" who didn't leave them "till he died." Indeed, when Squanto died from a mysterious disease in 1622, Bradford wrote that he wanted "the Governor to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishmen's God in heaven." And Squanto bequeathed his possessions to the Pilgrims "as remembrances of his love."
The film's importance to religion also did not go unnoticed in a review from Movie Guide, which stated Saints& Strangers is beautifully produced with great authenticity. "Surprisingly, in an age of political correctness, the Christian faith of William Bradford and the Pilgrims is affirmed in a deep and satisfying way. That said, these are not all pristine characters. They are real people with real problems, but they have a real faith in Jesus Christ, the second person of the one Triune God, who called them to come to America. Others are motivated by greed and envy, but even the Pilgrims have their flaws, which makes them magnificent characters. Eventually, those around them come to respect their faith."