The Real Thanksgiving Day

From the Archive: On Thanksgiving Day, the United States celebrates the tradition of Pilgrims and Native Americans sitting down together in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621 to celebrate each other as friendly neighbors. But the reality was not so pleasant, as historian William Loren Katz recalled.

By William Loren Katz (Originally published on Nov. 12, 2009)

Thanksgiving Day remains a most treasured holiday in the United States. Work comes to a halt, families gather, eat turkey, and count their blessings. A presidential proclamation blesses the day. But we must never forget that the holiday pre-eminently serves political ends.

Remember in 2003 when President George W. Bush flew into Bagdad on Thanksgiving Day to visit and celebrate with U.S. troops. He stayed a few hours and brought in a host of media photographers to snap his picture bearing a glazed turkey. No one ate the turkey, of course. It was cardboard, a stage prop.

Original Thanksgiving as depicted by Jennie A. Brownscombe

Original Thanksgiving as depicted by Jennie A. Brownscombe

However, this exploitation of joyous thanksgiving began almost four centuries ago, with a mythology that dates back to the first Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Day memorializes the Pilgrims’ survival of their first winter in New England. One hundred and forty-nine people had arrived in November 1620 aboard the Mayflower and were saved from starvation and disaster because the Wampanoug nation brought them corn and meat and taught them wilderness survival skills.

This truly was an effort worthy of gratitude. And in 1621, Governor William Bradford of Plymouth proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving not to the Wampanougs but to his fellow Pilgrims and their omnipotent God. In Bradford’s view, the Christians had staved off hunger through their devotion, courage and resourcefulness. And to this day American politicians, ministers and most educators would have the people see it this way.

Bradford’s fable is an early example of “Eurothink” a grotesque lie encased in arrogance. To Europeans, native people and other humans who were neither Christian nor white no matter how much they helped were considered undeserving of recognition. The heroic scenario of determined and righteous European settlers overcoming hardships and travails had no room for the others.

Bradford’s tale has his Pilgrims inviting the Native Americans as guests to celebrate the Europeans’ victory over famine, an act of Pilgrim generosity as the settlers and their Wampanoug friends sat down to dine on bread, turkey and other treats. Since the colonists classified their dark-skinned, “infidel” neighbors as inferiors, they were asked to bring and serve not share the food.

As the English pursued their economic goals in the 1620s, they increasingly turned to outright aggression against their Native American neighbors and hosts. Matters came to a head one night in 1637 when Governor Bradford, without provocation, dispatched his militia against his Pequot neighbors. With the Pilgrims seeing themselves as devout Christians locked in mortal combat with infidels, the officers and soldiers made a systematic assault on a sleeping Pequot Indian village.

Bradford described the night of fire, pain and death: “It was a fearful sight to see them frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same and horrible was the stink and stench thereof. But the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice and they [the militiamen] gave praise thereof to God.”

The colony’s famous minister, Reverend Increase Mather, rejoiced and called on his congregation to give thanks to God “that on this day we have sent six hundred heathen souls to hell.” Mather and Bradford are still celebrated in school texts as colonial heroes.

The 1993 edition of the authoritative Columbia Encyclopedia states of Bradford, “He maintained friendly relations with the Native Americans.” [p. 351] The authoritative Dictionary of American History states of his rule: “He was a firm, determined man and an excellent leader; kept relations with the Indians on friendly terms; tolerant toward newcomers and new religions.” [p. 77]

The views of Native Americans were not recorded, but can be imagined.

The Mayflower, renamed the Meijbloom (Dutch for Mayflower), continued to make notable voyages. In May 1657, it carried a crucial message to Amsterdam that the new Dutch colony of South Africa needed supplies as Europeans sought to gain control of another piece of the world. Along costal Africa, the renamed Mayflower also became one of the first ships to carry enslaved Africans to the West Indies.

For these and other reasons, those opposed to oppression and favoring democratic values in the Americas have little to celebrate on Thanksgiving Day. It stands as an affirmation of barbaric racial beliefs and actions that soon shaped the world’s most unrelenting genocide. What is worth giving thanks to is the alliance between Native Americans and Africans that sprang forth to resist the English, Spanish and other foreign invaders.

In 1619, a year before the Pilgrims’ arrival in Massachusetts, 20 Africans were unloaded in Jamestown, Virginia, and traded for food and water. They were sent out to work in the colony’s tobacco fields as unpaid laborers.

Enslaved and persecuted together, people of color fought back together, and often united in armed maroon colonies beyond the white settlements that dotted the coastline. But above all, this alliance initiated an American tradition of resistance to tyranny, a demand for self-rule and equality. Those ideas would appear centuries later written on a parchment celebrated on July 4, 1776.

Copyright 2009 by William Loren Katz and adapted from his Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage. His website is: www.williamlkatz.com

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7 comments for “The Real Thanksgiving Day

  1. November 27, 2015 at 1:50 am

    Sorry folks …The First Thanksgiving Dinner occurred in 1565 between the Expedition of, Spaniard, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, Alonso de la Campa, and members of the Timucua Tribe of St. Augustine, Florida. See: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/us-oldest-city-st-augustine-florida-180956434/?no-ist Blog: https://jrmenendezdeaviles.wordpress.com/

  2. Renfro
    November 27, 2015 at 3:32 pm

    Another Jewish writer writing about the evil white Europeans.
    And for some reason–stupidity or propaganda ?–they all think the colonies and America began with the Puritans.
    The evil Spaniards were the first to bring black slaves and oppress the Indians.
    Guess he never heard of St Augustine or Roanoke Island, NC.
    Enough of these faux historians.

  3. Dosamuno
    November 27, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    –For John Dillinger
    In hope he is still alive
    “Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1986”

    A Thanksgiving Prayer by William Burroughs

    Thanks for the wild turkey and the Passenger Pigeons, destined to be shit out through wholesome American guts
    thanks for a Continent to despoil and poison
    thanks for Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger
    thanks for vast herds of bison to kill and skin, leaving the carcass to rot
    thanks for bounties on wolves and coyotes
    thanks for the American Dream to vulgarize and falsify until the bare lies shine through
    thanks for the KKK, for nigger-killing lawmen feeling their notches, for decent church-going women with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces
    thanks for Kill a Queer for Christ stickers
    thanks for laboratory AIDS
    thanks for Prohibition and the War Against Drugs
    thanks for a country where nobody is allowed to mind his own business
    thanks for a nation of finks—yes,
    thanks for all the memories all right, lets see your arms you always were a headache and you always were a bore
    thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.

  4. November 28, 2015 at 10:46 pm

    hes anti- white christian.

    Well Christians throughout history have not been blameless!

    Many Christians have judged all Jews as being “Christ-killers”, and supposedly responsible for the death of Christ. (I think it was not so much Jews as such who had wanted Christ put to death but rather the religious leaders who happened to be Jewish, living in a Jewish society (along with Christ himself). Religious leaders that I would strongly suppose were very much like those in today’s Religious Right in America who loudly profess to be Christian and “true” followers of Christ, and who want to impose Christian law on the rest of society.)

    Christians have been responsible for, among other things, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the persecution of Galileo, and the Salem witch trials.

    And many Christians justified slavery from the Bible.

    And many people who went along with Hitler were “good” and devout Christians.

    And many of the staunchest supporters of Israel are fundamentalist Christians, actually Zionist Christians. I don’t think they really care much about the Jews themselves. They see Israel as fitting into God’s plan regarding the End Times which they think they have figured out, and are eagerly waiting for the supposed Rapture.

    And remember that we white people (and especially we white males) have had, through no merit of our own, a very privileged position in our society.

  5. November 28, 2015 at 10:51 pm

    you’ll never hear him say how it was jews who were the virtual exclusive owners of all the slave trading ships nor will you hear him say how it was the jews who were the captains of virtually all the slave trading ships.

    Do you have documentation for this?

    And do you believe that ALL Jews are inherently bad people, just because they are Jews? Or that people who are Jews are generally worse than other people?

  6. Dosamuno
    November 29, 2015 at 11:53 am

    Good for you Mike H. and Incontinent Reader.

    I was going to compose my own rebuttal, but will abbreviate it to a supporting statement for your posts.

    I don’t like any religion–Judaism, Christianity, or Islam–they’re all outdated systems of mythology. However, I defend the right to practice one’s religion. And I do not hate anyone who is a practicing Jew, Christian, or Muslim. Most of my friends are religious and this makes for some interesting and impassioned discussions, but not expressions of hatred like those of “Dave” and “Renfro”.

  7. Jan van Mourik
    November 29, 2015 at 6:08 pm

    Are there any sources for the part about the “Meijbloom”? “… Meijbloom (Dutch for Mayflower), continued to make notable voyages.”
    BTW, It would be Meijbloem in Dutch. I can only find this page:
    http://www.vocsite.nl/schepen/detail.html?id=12186
    which mentions a VOC ship under that name around the 1690s. Seem way too long after the Mayflower’s voyages around 1620. Wikipedia mentions this: “By 1624, the Mayflower was no longer useful as a ship and although her subsequent fate is unknown, she was probably broken up about that time.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayflower

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