The Thanksgiving Myth
The Thanksgiving Myth
Let me begin by stating that thousands of years before the “official’ Thanksgiving Day was proclaimed by Governor Winthrop of the Massachussetts Bay Colony in 1637, North American Indigenous people across the continent had celebrated seasons of Thanksgiving. ‘Thanksgiving’ is a very ancient concept to American Indian nations.
While it is true that some Indians were also known to celebrate at the end of the harvest seasons, but only the ones who depended upon agriculture for their substance, For example, the Wampanoag, the Indian allies of the Pilgrims, held six thanksgiving festivals during the year. However, the tribes that hunted for their substance had no end of harvest celebration. This is not to say that they did not celebrate and give thanks for a good hunt, for I am sure that they did. Not having a written history before the Euporinees arrived on their shores it is just not possible to know who did and who did not.
The big problem with the American Thanksgiving holiday is its false association with American Indian people. The infamous ‘Indians and pilgrims’ myth. It is good to celebrate Thanksgiving, to be thankful for your blessings. It is not good to distort history, to falsely portray the origin of this holiday and lie about the truth of its actual inception.
I agree completely with this sentiment, however, this does not bestow the right to make up another myth to take its place. “The first recorded Christian thanksgiving in America occurred in Texas on May 23, 1541 when Spanish explorer, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, and his men held a service of thanksgiving after finding food, water, and pasture for their animals in the Panhandle. Another thanksgiving service occurred on June 30, 1564 when French Huguenot colonists celebrated in solemn praise and thanksgiving in a settlement near what is now Jacksonville, Florida. On August 9, 1607 English settlers led by Captain George Popham joined Abnaki Indians along Maine’s Kennebec River for a harvest feast and prayer meeting. The colonists, living under the Plymouth Company charter, established Fort St. George around the same time as the founding of Virginia’s Jamestown colony. Unlike Jamestown, however, this site was abandoned a year later. Two years before the Pilgrims on December 4, 1619, a group of 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Plantation in what is now Charles City, Virginia. The group’s charter required that the day of arrival be observed yearly as a day of thanksgiving to God. Captain John Woodleaf held the service of thanksgiving. Here is the section of the Charter of Berkley Plantation which specifies the thanksgiving service: “Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty god.” In addition to 1619, the colonists perhaps held service in 1620 and 1621. The colony was wiped out in 1622. It was a private event, limited to the Berkeley settlement. Thus Spanish, French and British colonists held several Thanksgiving services in America before the Pilgrim’s celebration in 1621. Most of these early thanksgivings did not involve feasting. They were religious in nature, i.e. worship services of thankfulness to God.” Source
Here are some accurate historical facts about the true origin of this American holiday that may interest you…………………………………..
‘Thanksgiving’ did not begin as a great loving relationship between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag, Pequot and Narragansett people. In fact, in October of 1621 when the ‘pilgrim‘ survivors of their first winter in Turtle Island sat down to share the first unofficial ‘Thanksgiving’ meal, theIndians who were there were not even invited! There was no turkey, squash, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie. A few days before this alleged feast took place, a company of ‘pilgrims’ led by Miles Standish actively sought the head of a local Indian leader, and an 11 foot high wall was erectedaround the entire Plymouth settlement for the very purpose of keeping the Indians out!
As the Puritans prepared for winter, they gathered anything they could find, including Wampanoag supplies. One day, Samoset, a leader of the Abenaki, and Tisquantum (better known as Squanto) visited the settlers. Squanto was a Wampanoag who had experience with other settlers and knew English. Squanto helped the settlers grow corn and use fish to fertilize their fields. After several meetings, a formal agreement was made between the settlers and the native people and they joined together to protect each other from other tribes in March of 1621. One autumn day, four settlers were sent to hunt for food for a harvest celebration. The Wampanoag heard gunshots and alerted their leader, Massasoit, who thought the English might be preparing for war. Massasoit visited the 53 strong English settlement with 90 of his men to see if the war rumour was true. Soon after their visit, the Native Americans realized that the English were only hunting for the harvest celebration. Massasoit sent some of his own men to hunt deer for the feast, and for three days, the English and native men, women, and children ate together. They also played ball games, sang, and danced. Source
Officially, the holiday we know as ‘Thanksgiving’ actually came into existence in the year 1637. Governor Winthrop of the Massachussetts Bay Colony proclaimed this first official day of Thanksgiving and feasting to celebrate the return of the colony’s men who had arrived safely from what is now Mystic, Connecticut. They had gone there to participate in the massacre of over 700 Pequot men, women and children, and Mr. Winthrop decided to dedicate an official day of thanksgiving complete with a feast to ‘give thanks’ for their great ‘victory’….
It is true that the Pilgrim killed most of the 700 Pequot in the stockade, it is also true that most of those burnt alive, otherwise killed, or taken captive were mostly old men, women, and children, but what John Two-Hawksis not telling you is what led up to that massacre, it was called The Pequot War and was brought into an armed conflict over who was to control the fur trade, political divisions between the Pequot and Mohegan widened as they aligned with different buyers of the fur, the Mohegan with the English, and the Pequot with the Dutch. Thisresulted in a series of escalating incidents and attacks that increased tensions on both sides.
On July 20, 1636, a trader, John Oldham, was attacked on a trading voyage to Block Island. He and several of his crew were killed and his ship looted by Narragansett-allied Indians who sought to discourage English settlers from trading with their Pequot rivals. In the weeks that followed, colonial officials from Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, assumed the Narragansett were the likely culprits. Knowing that the Indians of Block Island were allies of the Eastern Niantic, who were allied with the Narragansett, Puritan officials became suspicious of the Narragansett. However, Narragansett leaders were able to convince the English that the perpetrators were being sheltered by the Pequots. Governor Vane sent JohnEndecott to exact revenge on the Indians of Block Island.Endecott’s party of roughly 90 men sailed to Block Island and attacked two apparently abandoned Niantic villages. Most of the Niantic escaped, while two of Endecott’s men were injured. This led the Pequot attempted to get their allies, some 36 tributary villages, to join their cause but were only partly effective. The Western Niantic joined them but the Eastern Niantic remained neutral. The traditional enemies of the Pequot, the Mohegan and the Narragansett, openly sided with the English. The Narragansett had warred with and lost territory to the Pequot in 1622. Now their friend Roger Williams urged the Narragansett to side with the English against the Pequot.
In May, leaders of Connecticut river towns met in Hartford, raised a militia, and placed Captain John Mason in command. Mason set out with 90 militia and 70 Mohegan warriors under Uncas to punish the Pequot. At Fort Saybrook, Captain Mason was joined by John Underhill and another 20 men. Underhill and Mason sailed from Fort Saybrook to Narragansett Bay, a tactic intended to mislead Pequot spies along the shoreline into thinking the English were not intending an attack. After landing the troops on shore, Mason and Underhill marched their forces approximately twenty miles towards Fort Mystic (present-day Mystic) and led a surprise attack before dawn. However, the Pequot believing that the English had returned to Boston, the Pequot sachem Sassacus (chef) took several hundred of his warriors to make another raid on Hartford. Mason had visited and recruited the Narragansett, who joined him with several hundred warriors. Several allied Niantic warriors also joined Mason’s group. On May 26, 1637, with a force up to about 400 fighting men, Mason attacked Misistuck by surprise. He estimated that “six or seven Hundred” Pequot were there when his forces assaulted the palisade. As some 150 warriors had accompanied Sassacus to Hartford, so the inhabitants remaining were largely Pequot women and children, and older men. Mason ordered that the enclosure be set on fire. This is why there were so few warriors in the stockade when the Puritan struck. Go here to read the complete story of the Pequot War
As hard as it may be to conceive, this is the actual origin of our current Thanksgiving Day holiday. Many American Indian people these days do not observe this holiday, for obvious reasons. I see nothing wrong with gathering with family to give thanks to our Creator for our blessings and sharing a meal. I do, however, hope that Americans as a whole will one day acknowledge the true origin of this holiday, and remember the pain, loss, and agony of the Indigenous people who suffered at the hands of the so-called ‘pilgrims’. It is my hope that children’s plays about ‘the first Thanksgiving’, complete with Indians and pilgrims chumming at the dinner table, will someday be a thing of the past. Why perpetuate a lie? Let us face the truths of the past, and give thanks that we are learning to love one another for the rich human diversity we share.
(Written by John Two-Hawks)
While it is true that John Winthrop the governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony declared in 1637, “This day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanksgiving for subduing the Pequots.” This is not the origin of our current Thanksgiving Day holiday celebration, our Thanksgiving date from George Washington’s 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation:
Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to “recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:” Go here to read the complete Proclamation
And even more so upon Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation Declared Thanksgiving a National Holiday: