Published on: November 21, 2018 by Desirae Brooks
As Thanksgiving is right around the corner, many of us are likely making plans to gather with family and friends. Whether Thanksgiving, to you, means a day of feasting, a day of praise, or just another Thursday, historically it's story is a little more gruesome.
When tales of "The First Thanksgiving" are shared, pictures of Native Americans with feathers in their hair and pilgrims with buckles on their shoes likely comes to mind. We've painted an image of a large table where Native Americans supplied fish and corn and Pilgrims brought turkey and peace treaties. I will say this lovely image is a good way to make that particular November day seem like one of peace and love, however, this graphic isn't altogether true. Now is the time for a fair warning of gruesome details to come, so if that's not something that's not something that intrigues you or you are opting to keep the aforementioned image at the front of your mind, you may skip this section.
Once upon a time, in 1614 to be more exact, a group of English explorers brought a shipload of Patuxet Indians with them back to England with the intent of using these captives as slaves. The Natives that were left behind or who had escaped were primarily killed off by smallpox that the English men had left them.
Fast forward to ships of Pilgrims landing, ships of people looking for religious freedom, they only found one living Patuxet Indian. This man's name was Squanto and he had survived slavery in England and knew English. Squanto taught the pilgrims to fish and plant corn, he then negotiated a peace treaty between the Wampanoag Nation and the Pilgrims. At the end of their first year, there was a feast to honor Squanto and the Wampanoag Nation.
Soon, word began to spread back to England of these friendly Indians over in Massachusetts Bay. Puritans became sailing to America and when they arrived, as there were no fences, they assumed land was free for the taking. Because the Pequot Nation had not agreed to the Peace Treaty Squanto had negotiated, this became a problem for them. The Pequot gathered and fought back against the Puritans, however, the Pequot, unfortunately, were slaughtered. This marked beginning of the Pequot War, the bloodiest Indian war on record.
Come 1637, right near modern-day Gronot Massachusetts, on a day of celebration for the Pequots--the Green Corn Festival, or our Thanksgiving--Dutch and English Mercenaries surrounded the Pequots, demanding they come outside. Every Indian who came out, man, woman or child, was shot or beaten to death. Those who chose to stay inside were then burned alive.
Massacres continued, women and children over the age of 14 were sold into slavery and everyone else was killed. After every "successful battle," colonists feasted and gave thanks. Heads of fallen Indians were kicked in the streets like soccer balls.
George Washington later dictated only one feast day be celebrated instead of having one after every massacre, and later Abraham Lincoln announced Thanksgiving to be a National Holiday.
While the story behind this day of gathering isn't exactly a highlight of American History, today our causes aren't so gruesome. Today, many of us join together simply to be together. Food drives are held for those who can't provide for themselves and families and friends convene in one place. So this year, instead of thinking of Thanksgiving as a day of national peace between Native Americans and Pilgrims, think of it as a present-day day of thanks, friends, family, and food. While we should not forget our past, and we most certainly should never repeat it, it is still important to hold on to those important to us, and remember what we've been gifted with--maybe a roof over our heads as opposed to a mass murder.