THE REAL STORY
by Susan Bates
Most of us
associate the holiday with happy Pilgrims and Indians sitting down
to a big feast. And that did happen - once.
The 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
But as 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.
Cheered 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
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.
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.
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 blessings.
It is 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:
"Today 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.
Although 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."