REAL STORY OF THANKSGIVING
us associate the holiday with happy Pilgrims and Indians sitting down
to a big feast. And that did happen - once.
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
left behind smallpox which virtually wiped out those who had escaped.
By the time the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts Bay they found only
one living Patuxet Indian, a man named Squanto 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, the Pilgrims
held a great feast honoring Squanto and the Wampanoags.
word spread in England about the paradise to be found in the new
world, religious zealots called Puritans began arriving by the boat
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. But
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.
In 1637 near present day Groton, Connecticut, over 700 men, women and
children of the Pequot Tribe had gathered for their annual Green Corn
Festival which is our Thanksgiving celebration. In the predawn hours
the sleeping Indians were surrounded by English and Dutch mercenaries
who ordered them to come outside. Those who came out were shot or
clubbed to death while 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.
by their "victory", the brave 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 a
many as 500 slaves regularly left the ports of New England. Bounties
were paid for Indian scalps to encourage as many deaths as possible.
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, and his head impaled on a pole in Plymouth,
Massachusetts -- where it remained on display for 24 years.
killings became more and more frenzied, with days of thanksgiving
feasts being held after each successful massacre. George Washington
finally suggested that only one day of Thanksgiving per year be set
aside instead of celebrating each and every massacre. Later Abraham
Lincoln decreed Thanksgiving Day to be a legal national holiday during
the Civil War -- on the same day he ordered troops to march against
the starving Sioux in Minnesota.
story doesn't have quite the same fuzzy feelings associated with it as
the one where the Indians and Pilgrims are all sitting down together
at the big feast. But we need to learn our true history so it won't
ever be repeated. Next Thanksgiving, when you gather with your loved
ones to Thank God for all your blessings, think about those people who
only wanted to live their lives and raise their families. They, also
took time out to say "thank you" to Creator for all their
sad to think that this happened, but it is important to understand all
of the story and not just the happy part. Today the town of Plymouth
Rock has a Thanksgiving ceremony each year in remembrance of the first
Thanksgiving. There are still Wampanoag people living in
Massachusetts. In 1970, they asked one of them to speak at the
ceremony to mark the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrim's arrival. Here
is part of what was said:
is a time of celebrating for you -- a time of looking back to the
first days of white people in America. But it is not a time of
celebrating for me. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon
what happened to my People. When the Pilgrims arrived, we, the
Wampanoags, welcomed them 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 tribe. That we and other Indians living
near the settlers would be killed by their guns or dead from diseases
that we caught from them. Let us always remember, the Indian is and
was just as human as the white people.
our way of life is almost gone, we, the Wampanoags, still walk the
lands of Massachusetts. What has happened cannot be changed. But today
we work toward a better America, a more Indian America where people
and nature once again are important."