"As the story goes, Squanto — a Patuxet Indian who had learned English — took pity on the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony who had managed to survive that first brutal winter, and showed them how to plant corn, putting a dead fish in each hole where a seed was planted. But before that, before the ground had even fully thawed, he taught them a perhaps more valuable skill: how to catch a fatty, nutritious fish that would sustain them in the worst of winters. And this food item, likely on the table of that first Thanksgiving, would have carried special significance to those remaining colonists. Eels — a forgotten staple of our forefathers.
Indeed, eel was the dinner that Pilgrims were given on the very day after they made peace with Massasoit, the sachem, or leader, of the region. The following account is from “Mourt’s Relation,” mostly written by a Plymouth resident, Edward Winslow: “Squanto went at noon to fish for eels. At night he came home with as many as he could well lift in one hand, which our people were glad of. They were fat and sweet. He trod them out with his feet, and so caught them with his hands without any other instrument.”
Eels don’t like cold water, and spend the winter balled up, bodies twisted together in the mud. In the frigid months they were usually caught with fork-like spears, the eels pinned between the tines. The fish proved essential to the endurance of the Pilgrims, and it is fitting that a river near Plymouth Colony was named Eel River."
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