Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The First Thanksgiving...

...didn't look like this.

Not even close.

But let's take a step back and look at America's true Founding Father. A Pequot Mohigan member of the Wampanoag Confederacy named Tisquantum, but more commonly known as Squanto.

In 1600 the Wampanoag lived in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, as well as within a territory that encompassed current day Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. Their population numbered about 12,000.

From his Wikipedia biography:

"On his way back to the Patuxet in 1614 Tisquantum was kidnapped by Englishman Thomas Hunt. Hunt was one of John Smith's lieutenants. Hunt was planning to sell fish, corn and captured natives in M├ílaga, Spain. There Hunt attempted to sell Tisquantum and a number of other Native Americans into slavery in Spain for £20 apiece.

Some local friars discovered what Hunt was attempting and took the remaining Native Americans — Tisquantum included — in order to instruct them in the Christian faith.

Tisquantum convinced the friars to let him try to return home. He managed to get to London, where he lived with and worked for a few years with John Slany, a shipbuilder who apparently taught Tisquantum more English. Slany took Tisquantum with him when he sailed to Cuper's Cove, Newfoundland.

To get to New England, Tisquantum tried to take part in an expedition to that part of the North American east coast. When that plan fell through, he returned to New England in 1618.

At last in 1619 Tisquantum returned to his homeland, having joined an exploratory expedition along the New England coast. He soon discovered that the Patuxet, as well as a majority of coastal New England tribes (mostly Wampanoag and Massachusett), had been decimated the year before by an epidemic plague, possibly smallpox; it has recently been postulated as being due to leptospirosis. Native Americans had no natural immunity to European infectious diseases.

Tisquantum finally settled with Pilgrims at the site of his former village, which the English named Plymouth. He helped them recover from an extremely hard first winter by teaching them techniques to increase food production by fertilizing crops. He also showed them the best places to catch fish and eels. He was critical to their survival."

Of the 102 Mayflower passengers who landed at Plymouth in November of 1620, only 52 were left alive when Tisquantum settled with them in the fall of 1621.

There was indeed a feast that year where the famished, malnourished Pilgrims shared what meager food they had available and the Native Americans who, led by Tisquantum, added to the feast by hunting deer and returning to their villages to bring additional food to help feed the starving Pilgrims. This went on for 3 days with Tisquantum translating.

Without the generosity of the Native Americans, and Tisquantum in particular, despite his being previously kidnapped and mistreated by the Europeans, the Pilgrims would not have survived another winter.

But this feast was not an annual event and it was not referred to as Thanksgiving.

In fact there are exactly 2 historical references to this event.

This from Elizabeth Armstrong's 2002 Christian Science Monitor story:

"In a letter to a friend, dated December 1621, Edward Winslow wrote: 'Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruit of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week, at which time, among other Recreations, we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some 90 men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others.'

Twenty years later, William Bradford wrote a book that provides a few more hints as to what might have been on that first Thanksgiving table. But his book was stolen by British looters during the Revolutionary War and therefore didn't have much influence on how Thanksgiving was celebrated until it turned up many years later."

The idea of "Thanksgiving" as a recurring national observance has nothing to do with what I've just described.

The first "Thanksgiving" commemorated the Pequot Massacre a mere 15 years later.

From The WEYANOKE Association:

""In 1636 ninety armed settlers went to raid Block Island, off the coast, because a white man had been found killed on his boat nearby Whet the armed party landed, they found that the Indians of Block Island had gone into hiding; they burned the villages and crops and returned to the mainland, where for good measure they burned down some Pequot villages. The English went after these Pequots and told them that they were held responsible for the murder. The Pequots had to hand over 'the remaining murderers' and provide assurances about future behavior. The Pequots 'obstinately' refused (in the words of an English eyewitness) and in the resulting fight several Pequots were killed and wounded, and their belongings destroyed or carried off. Thus started the Pequot War...

"The outcome of such a war was of course never in doubt. It ended with an attack by John Mason and his men on the last Pequot stronghold, their settlement on the Mystic River. 'We must burn them!' Mason is reported as having shouted, running around with a firebrand and lighting the wigwams. 'Such a dreadful terror let the Almighty fall upon their spirits that they would flee from us and run into the very flames. Thus did the Lord judge the heathen, filling the place with dead bodies, ' he reported afterward:

"The surviving Pequots were hunted but could make little haste because of their children, Mason wrote, They were literally-run to ground...tramped into the mud and buried in the swamp. ' The last of them were shipped to the West Indies as slaves...John Winthrop.. .governor once more, ...[offered] ...forty pounds sterling for the scalp of an Indian man, twenty for the scalps of women and children. The name 'Pequot' was officially erased from the map. The Pequot River became the Thames and their town became New London."2"

From The People's Path:

"William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth, wrote: "Those that escaped the fire were slain with the sword; some hewed to pieces, others run through with their rapiers, so that they were quickly dispatched and very few escaped. It was conceived they thus destroyed about 400 at this time. It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fire...horrible was the stink and scent thereof, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them."

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."

As one of the leading theologians of his day, Dr. Cotton Mather put it: "It was supposed that no less than 600 Pequot souls were brought down to hell that day."

That massacre was the true origin of the recurring, annual holiday known as Thanksgiving.

It wasn't until the early 1800's that Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of the popular Godey's Lady's Book, stumbled upon Edward Winslow's original passage of the 1621 feast and refused to let the historic day fade from the minds - or tables - of Americans.

About this same time in 1854, William Bradford's history book of Plymouth Plantation resurfaced. The book increased interest in the Pilgrims.

Again, from the Christian Science Monitor:

"In her magazine Hale wrote appealing articles about roasted turkeys, savory stuffing, and pumpkin pies - all the foods that today's holiday meals are likely to contain.

In the process, she created holiday "traditions" that share few similarities with the original feast in 1621.

In 1858, Hale petitioned the president of the United States to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday. She wrote: "Let this day, from this time forth, as long as our Banner of Stars floats on the breeze, be the grand Thanksgiving holiday of our nation, when the noise and tumult of worldliness may be exchanged for the length of the laugh of happy children, the glad greetings of family reunion, and the humble gratitude of the Christian heart."

Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving to be an national, annual holiday in 1863.

These two polar opposite events, the life saving salvation of Illegal European Immigrants in the Plymouth Colony by Tisquantum and the members of the native Wampanoag Confederacy, and the subsequent, horrific massacre of those same Pequots a scant 16 years later, brutally slaughtered by those same ungrateful Illegal European Immigrants, got mashed together, white washed, papered over and turned into a myth where Noble Savages and Humble Christians began an annual tradition of sharing the harvest and giving thanks.

I think it's important to have at least one day a year where everyone can focus on being thankful and grateful for the people in their lives and the simple things like having a place to live and if you're lucky, a job.

But it's also important to know the facts of history and be able to seperate them from the warm and fuzzy American Mythology. The truth is important. And the truth is, we Americans aren't a very nice people. Never have been. Aren't today. The rest of the world sees it all too clearly, while we choose to remain blissfully blind and ignorant.

Happy Thanksgiving.


I Travel for JOOLS said...

And the rest of the world is benevolent, nice people? The Germans who exterminated millions, the Russians and Chinese who did the same, the Persians and Arabs (they're a great bunch even today). Oh yeah and those peaceful Norwegians have some violent vikings in their past, the Native Americans who scalped settlers including children, the Incas who skinned people alive and the Africans who sold their own people into slavery, the Mexican drug cartels who delight in beheading. I need not go on, do I.

Man's inhumanity to man is incredible all over the world.

Your history lesson was interesting though. However, just yesterday I read another blog by a Mexican American who claimed the Spanish and the Indians had the first thanksgiving in Florida in 1565.

I think I'll give a shout out to Jesus while I'm at it..the Jews weren't to kind to him..lol

Happy Thanksgiving you old grouch !

Dan said...

As is often the case, I'm a little better-informed after visiting Hip Suburban White Guy than I was before I visited. Thanks for a great post.

Jools - technically, it was the Romans who killed Jesus, by allowing their government to get mixed up in a religious squabble. Several of the atrocities you mention are tied up in confusing government with religion.

I wish more of today's Republicans would read HSWG more carefully.

I Travel for JOOLS said...

Dan, Dan, Dan, I read XO's blog on a regular basis and very carefully..every word is like poetry to me. His rants could be the lyrics for Bob Dylan songs and his recipes drive me in a frenzy to the grocery to pick up the ingredients for his mouth watering cuisine.

I read him Dan, I hang on every word like an obsessed goupie. I'm there with him, really there.

I Travel for JOOLS said...

I think I'll have a cigarette after that.

Xavier Onassis said...

Jools - You're a doll!

Anonymous said...

Off topic...any thoughts on how our Atheist President has extended our stay in Afghanistan until 2014?

I predicted the lying schmuck would do that.

Raytown Hack Lawyer and Mold Expert

Dan said...

Jools - I know your love of HSWG runs deep. I just think he deserves more right-leaning fans like you. If all republicans were as engaged and awesome as you are, the world would be a better place. And HSWG would be as popular as Drudge.

emawkc said...

Just a point of clarification (since, as you say, facts are important), the not-very-nice people in question on this post were actually English, not Americans.

Xavier Onassis said...

emawkc - That's a valid point. Fucking Limeys!