Across the United States, many families will celebrate Thanksgiving this week. School children learn the G-rated version of the first Thanksgiving that occurred in 1621, in Plymouth, Massachusetts. In truth, there was a lot of bloodshed before and after that first three-day celebration.
The Puritans came to America seeking religious freedom. Commendable for sure, and we benefit from their sacrifice of leaving their homeland and establishing new lives in the untamed wilderness of Massachusetts. Long story short, the part we are most familiar with is the actual Thanksgiving celebration, not the rest of the story.
The Puritans set up housekeeping in their new homeland occupied by Native Americans. As one can imagine, a great deal of animosity developed between the two groups of people, the original land dwellers, and the new interlopers. Language barriers were problematic, as were definitions of ownership. Native Americans could not conceive of anyone owning the land. The Puritans had a much different view. When cultures clash, bloodshed ensues.
In 1620, a Native American chieftain of the Wampanoag tribe named Massasoit negotiated a peace treaty between the Native Americans and the Puritans. No weapons while trading goods for land, no killing either Native or Puritan peoples. The stage was set for the first Thanksgiving. The Native Americans and Puritans each brought food to the celebration, the Natives sat on the ground to eat, which was their custom, and the Puritans dined at tables, as was theirs. Until Massasoit’s death in 1661, and his son’s in 1662, occurring under mysterious circumstances while visiting the Puritans, the two cultures maintained a tenuous peace. Metacomet succeeded Massosoit’s son. Tensions flared and blood saturated the land once again.
Neither culture could broker a peace treaty that would satisfy both groups. The Native American tribes losing control of their lands, and the Puritans believing the land was theirs for the taking led to a battle the Puritans waged on the Narragansett tribe that ended in the deaths of 6,000 Native Americans and about 150 settlers. Other battles and bloodshed ensued and hundreds, if not thousands of lives were lost on American soil. As for Metacomet, he was beheaded and dismembered and his allies executed or sold into slavery. If a ‘winner’ could be declared it would be considered a victory for the colonists. The Native American tribes have never recovered under the devastating losses. Since 1970, Native Americans and their supporters congregate on Thanksgiving Day at Cole’s Hill in Plymouth for a National Day of Mourning and remembrance to honor ancestors and protest oppression and racism associated with Native Americans that continues today.
Racism and oppression is alive and well in modern-day America just as it was in 1621 at the first Thanksgiving. Native Americans, African-Americans, women, gays, and any others in our nation that have endured any form of oppression, inequality, or racism still fight for their right to live in one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
This Thankgiving take a moment and pray that all people regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation will one day sit together and celebrate as an indivisible people, living in one nation, under God, truly liberated with justice for all…..
Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours