Dr. Rachell N. Anderson
Thanksgiving is one of our warm and fuzzy holidays that we set aside to give thanks to our Maker and spend time with our families. Indeed, it is the most celebrated holiday in my family. We have turkeys and all the fixings. We cook them up with love, serve and eat them together with prayer. According to (Vygotsky, 1986) “Celebrating holidays helps children see the rich cultural heritage of their past and the continuity of life.” I agree and add that the truth about them is what will set us free.
In elementary schools across America we were taught the first Thanksgiving holiday of 17th Century included Pilgrims and Indians sitting down together to a big feast of celebration. This image is firmly embedded in the American Culture, it is according to Susan Bates@webty.net,“completely fiction. Our modern, festive Thanksgiving began with misunderstandings and a clash of cultural values and fundamental principles.”
The story began in 1614 when a band of English explorers sailed home to England with a ship full of Patuxet Indians bound for slavery. They told their countrymen that they had found a new world full of plenty. They left behind them in the America smallpox and other infectious diseases which virtually wiped out Indians who had escaped their capture. Back home though, the explorers spread the word.
The Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts Bay tired, hungry and had very few survival shills. It was winter in Massachusetts making it very difficult for them to find food and build shelter. Already weakened by their two-month voyage, most of the passengers died during the first few months in their new home. Fortunately, native people called Wampanoag lived in the Massachusetts Bay area. They shared their knowledge of local crops and navigation with the "coat-men," as they called the English, and helped the colonists survive. They found Squanto, a Patuxet Indian man, who had survived slavery in England and knew their language. He taught them to grow corn and to fish, and negotiated a peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Nation.
At the end of their first year, there was no turkey, no corn, no cranberries, no stuffing, and no dessert. Those fortunate Pilgrims were lucky to get a piece of fish and a potato. Did the Pilgrims share their Thanksgiving meal with the local Indians, the Wampanoag and Pequot? “No.” says Bates, “That never happened.” But in 1890, the feast was written into the American Thanksgiving Story.
As word spread in Europe about the paradise to be found in the new world and Puritans began arriving by the boats load. Finding no fences around the land, they considered it to be in the public domain. Joined by other British settlers, they seized land, capturing strong young Natives for slaves and killing the rest. The Pequot Nation had not agreed to the peace treaty Squanto had negotiated and they fought back. The Pequot War was one of the bloodiest Indian wars ever fought.
According to Hill & Holler, in 1637 near present day Groton, Connecticut, over 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe had gathered for the Annual Green Corn Festival, their Thanksgiving celebration. In the predawn hours the sleeping Indians were surrounded by English and Dutch mercenaries who ordered them to come outside. Those who did were shot or clubbed to death and the terrified women and children who huddled inside the longhouse were burned alive. The next day the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared "A Day of Thanksgiving" because 700 unarmed men, women and children had been murdered.
Cheered by their victory, the colonists and their Indian allies attacked village after village. Women and children over 14 were sold into slavery while the rest were murdered. Boats loaded with as many as 500 slaves regularly left the New England ports to be sold in Europe. Bounties were paid for Indian scalps to assure as many deaths as possible. Following an especially successful raid against the Pequot in what is now Stamford, Connecticut, the churches announced a second day of "thanksgiving" to celebrate victory over the heathen savages. During the feasting, the hacked off heads of Natives were kicked through the streets like soccer balls. Even the friendly Wampanoag did not escape the madness. Their chief was beheaded. His head impaled on a pole in Plymouth, Massachusetts and remained on display 24 years.
The killings became more frenzied. Feasts, often church sponsored, were held after each successful massacre. George Washington finally encouraged that only one day of Thanksgiving per year be set aside rather than after each and every massacre. Later Abraham Lincoln decreed Thanksgiving Day to be a legal National holiday during the Civil War but he did it on the same day he ordered troops to march against the starving Sioux in Minnesota.
This story doesn't have the warm fuzzy feelings associated with the Thanksgiving we were taught about in elementary school but it’s the truth. We need to know our true history so we won't repeat its perils. About 120 years ago, after the first world war, that version of such a Puritan-Indian partnership was penned for text books of elementary schools children across American. A complete invention, a cleverly created image of America designed to help people get-along better together.
Native Wampanoags people still live in New England states. Because they have traditions for honoring their ancestors, the day is still remembered, 373 years later. A group,(according to Susan Bates) calling themselves the United American Indians of New England meet each year at Plymouth Rock on Cole's Hill for what they say is a Day of Mourning. They gather at the feet of a stature of Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag to remember the long gone Pequot. They also take time to say "thank you" to the Creator for all their blessings, for being here, for living on this land, for surviving and prospering.
On Thanksgiving, when you gather with your loved ones to Thank God for all your blessings, I hope you pray for all people who want to live their lives, raise their families, prosper and, have peace while living on our earth home.
(C)Rachell N. Anderson, Psy. D. November 5, 2013
Dr. Rachell Anderson is a licensed Clinical Psychologist, a Professor Emeritus and author. She taught at the University of Illinois and ran a private Clinical Practice in Springfield, Illinois for more than 40 years. She lives and writes in Tunica, Mississippi. Check out her website at www.drrachellanderson.com for more articles and books.