The Real Origins of Turkey Day
It is quite human to do things the way it was done previous. To accept what you have known as the way things are and as how they should be - and to not question the origins of things which seem self-evident. Thanksgiving is one of these things.
The Pilgrims and the Indians sitting down for dinner together is not the
real reason for Thanksgiving, as most people might think.
Thanksgiving is in fact not an old holiday, or connected to 17th century New England in any way. No "Thanksgiving" feast occurred in Plymouth. Only within the 20th century did people begin to associate this day with the Pilgrims and the Indians. This was promulgated mostly by a cheery whitewashing of the Pilgrim-Indian relationship, and the Christian slant given the day of observance created by Abraham Lincoln in 1863.
"The Pilgrims were Puritans, which is a very strict religion," Professor of Early American History Edward Gray said. "The way they gave thanks was through fasting. They would not have feasted to give thanks." Had the Pilgrims been giving thanks, the leader of the church would have announced a time of atonement throughout the town. This would have resulted in solemn prayer and fasting for a specified number of days.
The only reason that the myth itself of a 17th century Thanksgiving dinner exists is due to a letter found in England from Plymouth stating that there was a feast from the good harvest. He was writing his parents to say that the previous winter had been extremely rough and much of the colony had died. He stated that after the next harvest, the Pilgrims and the Native Americans ate a harvest feast.
Most of the food at modern tables for Thanksgiving doesn't really even
resemble the food at this first harvest festival in 17th century New
England. That feast might have included a wild turkey, but it would
certainly have included seafood and shellfish -- the primary food sources
for New England Native Americans. The meal also would have had nuts and
The true tale behind the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce dates lead back to before the end of the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln decided that Americans needed to have a day to give thanks to God. In the middle of the civil war, Lincoln was grappling for ways for people to come together, trying to hold the union from breaking apart. Lincoln stated in his Thanksgiving Proclamation of Oct. 3, 1863, "I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens." Lincoln also advised Americans to help each other and pray for one another on this day. It is widely recognized among historians that due to Lincoln's decision, Americans all around the country feast in thanks on the last Thursday in November.
And over time, starting from Lincoln's proclamation - this tradition evolved of specific dishes. This combined with white guilt over how the Indians were treated and got somehow transformed into this idea of Pilgrims and Indians coming together. This single feast linked through one letter sent back home turned into this bland, mindless gorging by a country who neither farms or harvests, nor does it hardly show the proper dignity and respect to the people who were here first, the Natives, who saved the first Pilgrims' asses in the first place.
"Tradition is the illusion of permanence" WOODY ALLEN
Reflections on the Pilgrims and Their Relations With The Natives
In mid-winter 1620 the English ship Mayflower landed on the North American
coast(at Plymouth Rock) delivering 102 Puritan exiles. The original Native
people "Indians") of this stretch of shoreline had already been killed off
in great numbers. In 1614 a British expedition had landed there. When they
left they took 24 Indians as slaves and left smallpox, syphilis and
gonorrhea behind. That plague swept the so called "tribes of New
England", destroyed some villages totally.
The Puritans landed and built their colony called "the Plymouth Plantation" near the desired ruins of the Indian village of Pawtuxet. They ate from abandoned cornfields grown wild. Historical accounts tell us that only one Pawtuxet named Squanto had survived. He had spent the last years as a slave to the English and Spanish in Europe. The Pilgrim crop failed miserably, but the agricultural expertise of Squanto produced 20 acres of corn, without which the Pilgrims would have surely perished. Squanto spoke the colonists' language and taught them how to plant corn and how to catch fish. Squanto also helped the colonists negotiate a peace treaty with the nearby Wampanoag tribe, led by the chief Massasoit.
These were very lucky breaks for the colonists. Thanks to the good will of the Wampanoag, the Puritans not only survived their first year but had an alliance with the Wampanoags that would give them almost two decades of peace. In celebration of their good fortune, the colony's governor, William Bradford, declared a three-day feast after the first harvest of 1621. It later became known as "Thanksgiving", but the Pilgrims never called it that.
The "Indians" who attended were not even invited. The pilgrims only
invited Chief Massasoit and it was Massasoit who then invited ninety or
more of his "Indian" brothers and sisters to the affair to the chagrin of
the indignant Europeans. No turkey, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie was
served, no prayers were offered and the "Indians" were not invited back
for any other such meals. The Pilgrims did however consume a good deal of
brew on that day. In fact, each Pilgrim drank at least a half gallon of
ale a day which they preferred even to water.
The peace that produced the Thanksgiving Feast of 1621 meant that the Puritans would have fifteen years to establish a firm foothold on the coast. Until 1629 there were no more than 300 Puritans in New England, scattered in small and isolated settlements. But their survival inspired a wave of Puritan invasion that soon established growing Massachusetts towns north of Plymouth; Boston and Salem. For ten years, boat loads of new settlers came.
As the Europeans' numbers increased, they proved not nearly as generous as the Wampanoags. On arrival, the Puritans discussed "who legally owns all this land? "Massachusetts Governor Wintrop declared the "Indians" had not "subdued" the land, and therefore all uncultivated lands should, according to English Common Law, be considered "public domain." This meant they belonged to the king. In short, colonists decided they did not need to consult the "Indians". When they seized the new lands, they only had to consult the representative of the crown (meaning the local governor).
The Puritans embraced a line from Psalms 2:8, "Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heather for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of he earth for thy possession."
Contrary to popular mythology the Pilgrims were no friends to the local Indigenous People ("Indians"). A company of Pilgrims led by Miles Standish actively sought the head of a local chief. Standish eventually got his bloody prize. He beheaded an Indian named Wituwamat and brought the head to Plymouth where it was displayed on a wooden spike for many years.
In about 1636, a force of colonists trapped some seven hundred Pequot Indians near the mouth of the Mystic River. English Captain John Mason attacked the Indian camp with "fire, sword, blunderbuss, and tomahawk." Only a handful escaped and few prisoners were taken.
"To see them frying in the fire, and the streams of their blood quenching the same, and the stench was horrible, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice to the great delight of the Pilgrims, and they gave praise thereof to God."
The Puritan fathers believed they were the Chosen People of an Infinite God and that this justified anything they did. They were Calvinists who believed that the vast majority of humanity was predestined to damnation. During this period a day of thanksgiving was also proclaimed in the churches of Manhattan. The European colonists declared thanksgiving days to celebrate mass murder more often than they did for reverence, harvest or friendship.
In 1641 the Dutch governor Kieft of Manhattan offered the first "scalp bounty". His government paid money for the scalp of each "Indian" brought to him. A couple of years later, Kieft ordered the massacre of the Wappingers, a "friendly tribe". Eighty were killed and their severed heads were kicked like soccer balls down the streets of Manhattan. One captive was castrated, skinned alive and forced at points to eat his own flesh while the Dutch governor watched and laughed. Then Kieft hired the notorious Underhill who had commanded in the Pequot War to carry out a similar massacre near Stamford, Connecticut. The village was set on fire, and 500 "Indian" residents were put to the sword.
In their victory, the settlers launched an all out genocide plot against
the remaining Native people. The Massachusetts government, following what
appeared to be the order of the day, offered twenty shillings bounty for
every "Indian" scalp, and forty shillings for every prisoner who could be
sold into slavery. Soldiers were allowed to enslave and rape any "Indian"
woman or enslave any "Indian" child under 14 they could kidnap. The
"Praying Indians" who had converted to Christianity and fought on the side
of the European troops were accused of shooting into the treetops during
battles with "hostiles." They were enslaved or killed. Other "peaceful
Indians" of Dartmouth and Dover were invited to negotiate or seek refuge
at trading posts and were sold onto slave ships. Colonial law further gave
to "kill savages ("Indians") on sight at will."
Any goodwill that may have existed was certainly now gone and by 1675 Massachusetts and the surrounding colonies were in a full scale war with the great chief of the Wampanoags, Metacomet. Renamed "King Phillip" by the White man, Metacomet watched the steady erosion of the lifestyles and culture of his people as European laws and values engulfed them. The syphilis, gonorrhea, smallpox and all types of "white man" diseases took their toll. Forced ultimately into humiliating submission by the power of a distant king, Metacomet struck out with raids on several isolated frontier towns. The expedient use of the so-called "Praying Indians" (natives converted to their version of Christianity), ultimately defeated the great "Indian" nation, just half a century after the arrival of the European.
When Captain Benjamin Church tracked down and assassinated Metacomet, his body was quartered and parts were "left for the wolves." The great "Indian" chief's hands were cut off and sent to Boston and his head went to Plymouth where it was set upon a poke on Thanksgiving Day, 1767. Metacomet's nine-year-old son was destined for execution, the Puritan reasoning being that the offspring of the "Devil" must pay for the sins of their father. He was instead shipped to the Caribbean to serve his life in slavery.
In the midst of the Holocaust/Genocide of the Red Man and woman, Governor Dudley declared in 1704 a "General Thanksgiving" not to celebrate the brotherhood of man, but for:
[God's] infinite Goodness to extend His Favors... In defeating and disappointing.... the expeditions of the Enemy [Indians] against us, And the good Success given us against them, by delivering so many of them into our hands...
At least the Turkey is a good representative animal for this Holiday...
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