The Real Thanksgiving
Quoted from: The Hidden History of Massachusetts
Much of America's understanding of the early relationship between the
Indian and the European is conveyed through the story of Thanksgiving.
Proclaimed a holiday in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln, this fairy tale of a
feast was allowed to exist in the American imagination pretty much
untouched until 1970, the 350th anniversary of the landing of the
Pilgrims. That is when Frank B. James, president of the Federated
Eastern Indian League, prepared a speech for a Plymouth banquet that
exposed the Pilgrims for having committed, among other crimes, the
robbery of the graves of the Wampanoags. He wrote:
"We welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it
was the beginning of the end; that before 50 years were to pass, the
Wampanoag would no longer be a free people."
But white Massachusetts officials told him he could not deliver such a
speech and offered to write him another. Instead, James declined to
speak, and on Thanksgiving Day hundreds of Indians from around the
country came to protest. It was the first National Day of Mourning, a
day to mark the losses Native Americans suffered as the early settlers
prospered. This true story of "Thanksgiving" is what whites did not want
Mr. James to tell.
What Really Happened in
Plymouth in 1621?
According to a single-paragraph account in the writings of one Pilgrim, a
harvest feast did take place in Plymouth in 1621, probably in mid-October,
but the Indians who attended were not even invited. Though it later became
known as "Thanksgiving, " the Pilgrims never called it that. And amidst the
imagery of a picnic of interracial harmony is some of the most terrifying
bloodshed in New World history.
The Pilgrim crop had failed miserably that year, but the agricultural
expertise of the Indians had produced twenty acres of corn, without which
the Pilgrims would have surely perished. The Indians often brought food to
the Pilgrims, who came from England ridiculously unprepared to survive and
hence relied almost exclusively on handouts from the overly generous
Indians-thus making the Pilgrims the western hemisphere's first class of
welfare recipients. The Pilgrims invited the Indian sachem Massasoit to
their feast, and it was Massasoit, engaging in the tribal tradition of equal
sharing, who then invited ninety or more of his Indian brothers and
sisters-to the annoyance of the 50 or so ungrateful Europeans. No turkey,
cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie was served; they likely ate duck or geese and
the venison from the 5 deer brought by Massasoit. In fact, most, if not all,
of the food was most likely brought and prepared by the Indians, whose
10,000-year familiarity with the cuisine of the region had kept the whites
alive up to that point.
The Pilgrims wore no black hats or buckled shoes-these were the silly
inventions of artists hundreds of years since that time. These lower-class
Englishmen wore brightly colored clothing, with one of their church leaders
recording among his possessions "1 paire of greene drawers." Contrary to the
fabricated lore of storytellers generations since, no Pilgrims prayed at the
meal, and the supposed good cheer and fellowship must have dissipated
quickly once the Pilgrims brandished their weaponry in a primitive display
of intimidation. What's more, the Pilgrims consumed a good deal of home
brew. In fact, each Pilgrim drank at least a half gallon of beer a day,
which they preferred even to water. This daily inebriation led their
governor, William Bradford, to comment on his people's "notorious sin,"
which included their "drunkenness and uncleanliness" and rampant "sodomy"...
The Pilgrims of Plymouth, The Original Scalpers
Contrary to popular mythology the Pilgrims were no friends to the local
Indians. They were engaged in a ruthless war of extermination against their
hosts, even as they falsely posed as friends. Just days before the alleged
Thanksgiving love-fest, a company of Pilgrims led by Myles Standish actively
sought to chop off the head of a local chief. They deliberately caused a
rivalry between two friendly Indians, pitting one against the other in an
attempt to obtain "better intelligence and make them both more diligent." An
11-foot-high wall was erected around the entire settlement for the purpose
of keeping the Indians out.
Any Indian who came within the vicinity of the Pilgrim settlement was
subject to robbery, enslavement, or even murder. The Pilgrims further
advertised their evil intentions and white racial hostility, when they
mounted five cannons on a hill around their settlement, constructed a
platform for artillery, and then organized their soldiers into four
companies-all in preparation for the military destruction of their friends
Pilgrim Myles Standish eventually got his bloody prize. He went to the
Indians, pretended to be a trader, then beheaded an Indian man named
Wituwamat. He brought the head to Plymouth, where it was displayed on a
wooden spike for many years, according to Gary B. Nash, "as a symbol of
white power." Standish had the Indian man's young brother hanged from the
rafters for good measure. From that time on, the whites were known to the
Indians of Massachusetts by the name "Wotowquenange, " which in their tongue
meant cutthroats and stabbers.
Who Were the "Savages"?
The myth of the fierce, ruthless Indian savage lusting after the blood of
innocent Europeans must be vigorously dispelled at this point. In actuality,
the historical record shows that the very opposite was true.
Once the European settlements stabilized, the whites turned on their hosts
in a brutal way. The once amicable relationship was breeched again and again
by the whites, who lusted over the riches of Indian land. A combination of
the Pilgrims' demonization of the Indians, the concocted mythology of
Eurocentric historians, and standard Hollywood propaganda has served to
paint the gentle Indian as a tomahawk-swinging savage endlessly on the
warpath, lusting for the blood of the God-fearing whites.
But the Pilgrims' own testimony obliterates that fallacy. The Indians
engaged each other in military contests from time to time, but the causes of
"war," the methods, and the resulting damage differed profoundly from the
o Indian "wars" were largely symbolic and were about honor, not about
territory or extermination.
o "Wars" were fought as domestic correction for a specific act and were
ended when correction was achieved. Such action might better be described as
internal policing. The conquest or destruction of whole territories was a
o Indian "wars" were often engaged in by family groups, not by whole tribal
groups, and would involve only the family members.
o A lengthy negotiation was engaged in between the aggrieved parties before
escalation to physical confrontation would be sanctioned. Surprise attacks
were unknown to the Indians.
o It was regarded as evidence of bravery for a man to go into "battle"
carrying no weapon that would do any harm at a distance-not even bows and
arrows. The bravest act in war in some Indian cultures was to touch their
adversary and escape before he could do physical harm.
o The targeting of non-combatants like women, children, and the elderly was
never contemplated. Indians expressed shock and repugnance when the
Europeans told, and then showed, them that they considered women and
children fair game in their style of warfare.
o A major Indian "war" might end with less than a dozen casualties on both
sides. Often, when the arrows had been expended the "war" would be halted.
The European practice of wiping out whole nations in bloody massacres was
incomprehensible to the Indian.
According to one scholar, "The most notable feature of Indian warfare was
its relative innocuity." European observers of Indian wars often expressed
surprise at how little harm they actually inflicted. "Their wars are far
less bloody and devouring than the cruel wars of Europe," commented settler
Roger Williams in 1643. Even Puritan warmonger and professional soldier
Capt. John Mason scoffed at Indian warfare: "[Their] feeble manner...did
hardly deserve the name of fighting." Fellow warmonger John Underhill spoke
of the Narragansetts, after having spent a day "burning and spoiling" their
country: "no Indians would come near us, but run from us, as the deer from
the dogs." He concluded that the Indians might fight seven years and not
kill seven men. Their fighting style, he wrote, "is more for pastime, than
to conquer and subdue enemies."
All this describes a people for whom war is a deeply regrettable last
resort. An agrarian people, the American Indians had devised a civilization
that provided dozens of options all designed to avoid conflict--the very
opposite of Europeans, for whom all-out war, a ferocious bloodlust, and
systematic genocide are their apparent life force. Thomas Jefferson--who
himself advocated the physical extermination of the American Indian--said of
Europe, "They [Europeans] are nations of eternal war. All their energies are
expended in the destruction of labor, property and lives of their people."
By the mid 1630s, a new group of 700 even holier Europeans calling
themselves Puritans had arrived on 11 ships and settled in Boston-which only
served to accelerate the brutality against the Indians.
In one incident around 1637, a force of whites trapped some seven hundred
Pequot Indians, mostly women, children, and the elderly, near the mouth of
the Mystic River. Englishman John Mason attacked the Indian camp with "fire,
sword, blunderbuss, and tomahawk." Only a handful escaped and few prisoners
were taken-to the apparent delight of the Europeans:
To see them frying in the fire, and the streams of their blood quenching the
same, and the stench was horrible; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice,
and they gave praise thereof to God.
This event marked the first actual Thanksgiving. In just 10 years 12,000
whites had invaded New England, and as their numbers grew they pressed for
all-out extermination of the Indian. Euro-diseases had reduced the
population of the Massachusett nation from over 24,000 to less than 750;
meanwhile, the number of European settlers in Massachusetts rose to more
than 20,000 by 1646.
By 1675, the Massachusetts Englishmen were in a full-scale war with the
great Indian chief of the Wampanoags, Metacomet. Renamed "King Philip" by
the white man, Metacomet watched the steady erosion of the lifestyle and
culture of his people as European-imposed laws and values engulfed them.
In 1671, the white man had ordered Metacomet to come to Plymouth to enforce
upon him a new treaty, which included the humiliating rule that he could no
longer sell his own land without prior approval from whites. They also
demanded that he turn in his community's firearms. Marked for extermination
by the merciless power of a distant king and his ruthless subjects,
Metacomet retaliated in 1675 with raids on several isolated frontier towns.
Eventually, the Indians attacked 52 of the 90 New England towns, destroying
13 of them. The Englishmen ultimately regrouped, and after much bloodletting
defeated the great Indian nation, just half a century after their arrival on
Massachusetts soil. Historian Douglas Edward Leach describes the bitter end:
The ruthless executions, the cruel sentences... were all aimed at the same
goal-unchallengeable white supremacy in southern New England. That the
program succeeded is convincingly demonstrated by the almost complete
docility of the local native ever since.
When Captain Benjamin Church tracked down and murdered Metacomet in 1676,
his body was quartered and parts were "left for the wolves." The great
Indian chief's hands were cut off and sent to Boston and his head went to
Plymouth, where it was set upon a pole on the real first "day of public
Thanksgiving for the beginning of revenge upon the enemy." Metacomet's
nine-year-old son was destined for execution because, the whites reasoned,
the offspring of the devil must pay for the sins of their father. The child
was instead shipped to the Caribbean to spend his life in slavery.
As the Holocaust continued, several official Thanksgiving Days were
proclaimed. Governor Joseph Dudley declared in 1704 a "General Thanksgiving"
-not in celebration of the brotherhood of man-but for [God's] infinite
Goodness to extend His Favors...In defeating and disappointing. .. the
Expeditions of the Enemy [Indians] against us, And the good Success given us
against them, by delivering so many of them into our hands...
Just two years later one could reap a آ£آ£50 reward in Massachusetts for the
scalp of an Indian-demonstrating that the practice of scalping was a
European tradition. According to one scholar, "Hunting redskins became...a
popular sport in New England, especially since prisoners were worth good