The History of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving—a time to celebrate having friends, family, and opportunities. Every year, according to farmsanctuary.org, about 46 million turkeys are killed each year in honoring this national holiday. Unfortunately, slaughter is no stranger to Thanksgiving.

In fourth-grade history class, we were taught that Christopher Columbus and his people sailed away from Spain and supposedly “found” America. In addition, he and the Natives already inhabiting the land became great allies and friends! Then in the early 17th century, an English ship called the Mayflower arrived in North America and brought pilgrims who also became great friends with the Natives…it is hoped to be common knowledge that this is not how Thanksgiving or the founding of America went down.  

It is true that in 1620, the Mayflower brought pilgrims from Plymouth, England to North America what is known today as Plymouth, Massachusetts. The grand harvest that is often referred to as the setting of the first Thanksgiving occurred in 1621 among the Mayflower pilgrims and members of the Wampanoag tribe. The sachem of the Wampanoag tribe named Massasoit acted as an essential ally to the colonizers, helping them fight the French and other local tribes.

                                                                         Image provided by Pixabay

The story of the 1621 three-day harvest is now depicted in almost all elementary-school history books as the first Thanksgiving. Yet, the pilgrims did not consider it a thanksgiving as they did their murdering 700 Pequot people in 1637. It was after this “victory” that English governor John Winthrop declared a day of thanksgiving.  

After the harvest of 1621, an influx of Englishmen came to North America for the rest of the 17th century. Already, the Dutch and Pequot tribe were inhabiting what is now southeastern Connecticut, and with the coming of more people from England, people became increasingly protective of their land. The tensions specifically between the Pequot and English increased with individual murders committed by both sides. In addition to the territorial tensions, the English brought with them disease and illness that was especially detrimental to the Natives, the disease contributing to their decreasing population insensitively dubbed “Indian fever”. After the death of Wampanoag’s sachem Massasoit, his son Metacomet became the tribe’s leader, engaging in bloody, brutal wars with the English, as well.

Despite the consistent long-term and short-term wars occurring throughout North America, the Pequot massacre was exceptionally murderous and cruel. Captain John Mason was responsible for committing the first act of “total war” against the Pequot natives—that is, every and all Pequot members were to be killed without thought, whether they be a man, woman, or child. John Mason and his soldiers attacked the Pequot fort with murder as the goal. After Mason and his men finished the massacre, the captain referred to it as “an act of God.”

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The motive for massacre of innocent people? Fear. The Englishmen did not want land or materials. They were simply afraid that the Pequot people were already planning a mass attack on the colonies.

Alongside the slavery and rape that came with the colonization of North America, was also war and massacre. It is unjust to teach the history of Thanksgiving as though thousands of innocent lives were not lost due to greed and oppression. Elementary schools and even high schools neglecting to teach the truth about the violent colonization of America puts America’s citizens in disillusion, ignoring the fact that the Natives were oppressed and mistreated, and continue to be today. I am in full support of a day dedicated to being grateful for all that we have. But if the holiday’s history is consistently being falsified at the expense of people’s lives, everyone should be reminded that history ultimately repeats itself. Many people in America today live in fear that their race will be wiped out by another. The rise of white supremacy is dangerous and real and reminiscent of sentiments of the Englishmen afraid that they would no longer be the “superior” race.

We must learn from our mistakes and pay the consequences of our actions. We as American citizens owe it to the Natives of this country to teach the country’s true history. To give credit to Christopher Columbus, a rapist, slave-owner and seller, and man who had never even step foot in North America, for having discovered this country is firstly a lie and a testament to this country's values. It is the Natives who deserve more credit, and we must show remorse through not only our words, but also through our actions for the murders they and their ancestors had to endure. 

                                                                         Image provided by Pixabay