Sunday, November 04, 2007


Thanksgiving—for the winners...

Thanks, Andre, for this reminder of how history is written by the victors and isn’t necessarily closely involved with truth.

Date: Sun, 4 Nov 2007 03:02:09 +0000
Subject: How It Got Started (holidaze)

How it all got started.

The year was 1637. 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe,
gathered for their "Annual Green Corn Dance" in the area that is now
known as Groton, Conn.

While they were gathered in this place of meeting, they were surrounded
and attacked by mercenaries of the English and Dutch. The Indians were
ordered from the building and as they came forth, they were shot down.
The rest were burned alive in the building.

The next day, the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared: "A
day of Thanksgiving, thanking God that they had eliminated over 700 men,
women and children. For the next 100 years, every "Thanksgiving Day"
ordained by a Governor or President was to honor that victory, thanking
God that the "battle" had been won.

Source: Documents of Holland, 13 Volume Colonial Documentary History,
letters and reports form colonial officials to their superiors and the
King in England and the private papers of Sir William Johnson, British
Indian agent for the New York colony for 30 years.

Researched by William B. Newell (Penobscot Tribe) Former Chairman of the
University of Connecticut Anthropology Department.

A lecture presented at the Smithsonian in 1993, called "The First
Thanksgiving: Myths and Legends" by Dr. James Loewen of the University
of Vermont. (Another opinion regarding Thanksgiving traditions and
myths, thoughtfully provided by the renowned Jeremy Bangs, can be found
at Here are some of the nuggets from
the 1993 Smithsonian lecture:

Myth: The 1620 Plymouth Pilgrim's Thanksgiving was the first in America

Fact: In 1620, the Indians had been in North America for some 40,000
years, no doubt celebrating harvest before 1620.

Fact: There were Europeans in North America well before 1526 - there was
an established Spanish settlement in SC in 1526, which included African
slaves. The Spanish left, and the Africans remained. So the longest
continuous settlement in North America after the Indians is the African

The Spanish had lasting settlements in FL by 1565, and in NM by 1598.
The English were in Jamestown VA in 1607, and Dutch were settled in
Albany NY in 1614. So the 1620 "Pilgrims" (who called themselves
"Separatists" - the name "Pilgrim" was tacked on by historians) were
hardly the hosts of the "First Thanksgiving".

The Indians there did not roam and wander and live in tepees. The New
England tribes were settled farmers, with fields of crops. The foods
they brought to the "First Thanksgiving" had been staples of their
farming for years - and they taught the colonists how to plant and use

Myth: Mysterious Error in American History Books

Fact: Little or nothing appears in school texts about a monumental event
that happened in New England from 1616-1619 when a "plague" (probably
carried by European visitors) killed 90% of the Indian population. When
the Plymouth Colony was founded in 1620/21, then, the Indians were
decimated and could offer no resistance. It took 50 years for their
numbers to regenerate - and King Philip's War of 1676 was the first
massive resistance - but by then the English were well established and

I bet if we asked 100 otherwise educated people what the biggest crisis
was in the New England native community in the years immediately
preceding the arrival of the English Plymouth colony - I wonder how many
would know it was this terrible disease.

The speaker asked the audience to go home and check their kids' American
history textbooks and see if it was featured.

Samuel Eliot Morison's "Builders of the Bay Colony" (1930) describes it
briefly - and the Pilgrim's less-than-"friendly" attitude towards it
(p.13), citing contemporary writings: "It was fortunate for the Pilgrims
that a pestilence among the Indians of Massachusetts Bay - a special
dispensation of Providence in the opinion of Captain John Smith and
Thomas Morton - had decimated the tribes along our coast 1617-18....The
few Indians who had any spirit left had it knocked out of them by Miles
Standish and his army of eight. This advantage became all the more
palpable when in 1622 an uprising of the Indians in Virginia set that
colony back a decade...."

Our "myth" of the "friendship" between Indians and Plymouth colonists
may have been overdone in our schoolbooks .....

Myth: The word "Thanksgiving" didn't apply to harvest feasts

Fact: There were autumnal "harvest" festivals and feasts in Europe for
centuries, and since the first settled European colony was in Virginia
in 1607 - not Massachusetts in 1620/1 - we can expect that the Jamestown
Colony might have well celebrated their survival with such a group
feast. Stephen Hopkins, of the Plymouth Colony, had been in Virginia
years earlier.

One of the Plymouth colonists described such a meal in New England in a
contemporary "advertisement" .... Edward Winslow. Quoting from Eugene
Aubrey Stratton's "Plymouth Colony: Its History and People 1620-1691" .
Ancestry Pub. Co. (Salt Lake City:1986), pp. 24-25.

"Our harvest being gotten in, our Governour sent foure men on fowling,
that so we might after a more speciall manner rejoyce together, after we
had gathered the fruit of our labours; they foure in one day killed as
much fowle, as with a little helpe beside, served the Company almost a
weeke, at which time among other Recreations, we exercised our Armes,
many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest
King Massasoyt, with some nintie men, whom for three days we entertained
and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought
to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governour, and upon the Captaine,
and others. And although it be not always so plentifull, as it was at
this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so farre from
want, that we often wish you partakers of our plentie..."

Stratton points out that Winslow wrote this to be sent to England to
attract new settlers, and that he no doubt greatly overstated the
settlers being "farre from want" - as they all suffered greatly from
hunger for many years in the new colony.

Besides deer and game birds, they might well have eaten the new food
introduced to them by the Indians - corn, plus peas and barley. In 1621,
Winslow reported "we set... some twentie acres of Indian Corn and sowed
some six Acres of Barly and Pease." The main beverages were water and
beer. In a letter of 1623 describing another celebration for a wedding,
records mentioned eating "the best grapes .. divers sorts of plums and
nuts..." And they had fish and lobster - Winslow also wrote: "God fedd
them out of the sea for the most parte."

So the foods we often use today - turkey, peas, corn, fruits and nuts -
would have been available to the Pilgrims. No word about cranberries
although the major source of them today is still Plymouth County!

The word "Thanksgiving" was not applied to any feasts like this. A 1636
law recorded in Plymouth County Records mentioned "..solemn days of
humiliation by fastings, etc., and also for thanksgiving as occasion
shall be offered." Stratton presents that a "thanksgiving" was a
religious end to a fasting period, and refers to another book, W.D.D.
Love's "Fast and Thanksgiving Days In New England" (1896) for other

As previously noted, the above discussion of the myths of
Thanksgiving come from a fascinating lecture presented at the
Smithsonian in 1993, called "The First Thanksgiving: Myths and Legends"
by Dr. James Loewen of the University of Vermont. An alternating opinion
regarding Thanksgiving traditions and myths associated with them,
provided by the renowned Jeremy Bangs, can be found at

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