Things I should have doubted: The Thanksgiving story

(A key part of starting from doubt is changing your mind when confronted with new evidence. I find having this happen to be both frustrating and exciting: frustrating that I was wrong, exciting that I’ve learned something new.)

The USA Today network published an article today on the history of Thanksgiving. I saw it in the Register Guard but there is also a copy in the Cape Cod Times. A good read on this topic can also be found in The Smithsonian Magazine. I’m not going to recap everything, but here are a few highlights.

Although I’ve known for a while that the story I was taught was a myth, this article debunks virtually every aspect of what I was taught. Until a couple of days ago I was still clinging to the idea that, if nothing else, the Pilgrims and Native Americans peacefully sat down to eat together. According to the article, the Wampanoag were not even invited – although they showed up after dinner to remind the Pilgrims who owned the land. Another main point is that religious freedom had nothing to do with the Pilgrims move to the Americas. Like most colonization efforts, it was more of a business venture than anything else.

Looking at the decades before and after the Thanksgiving event at Plymouth, I think it is important to remember that the universally Christian colonizers slaughtered and enslaved (as in, made slaves of) Native Americans.  They even put the head of a Native American on a pike as a warning a few decades after the supposed feast.

I just spent about 10 minutes researching this history online. Even though I found several articles talking about Thanksgiving myths, many of the websites I found still promote most of the myths. But this USA Today article goes much further than anything else I found in telling a different story than what I was taught. I also did not find independent confirmation for some of the statements in the article (which doesn’t mean there isn’t.) I think we have yet to see the end of the research into what actually happened.

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