Ella George

Most people do not question Thanksgiving. It is a widely accepted holiday that Americans have been celebrating forever. Despite the seemingly innocent backstory of the first Thanksgiving dinner, the much darker history of it has been forgotten.  The average person does not know how the Wampanoags desired to be kind and help pilgrims who were dying of disease and famine. Ultimately, the Wampanoags’ kindness was their demise. 

Credible sources are hard to come by as this occurred hundreds of years ago and most of the records come from the diaries of the pilgrims. This lack of records is how this country has been able to sweep the plights of indigenous people under the rug. The push for the truth will hopefully share and educate the people who live on stolen land. 

When the Mayflower first landed on the shores of what would become the settlement of Plymouth, the pilgrims were riddled with disease. They were low on provisions and people. The Wampanoags were unsure of who the settlers were, as they were highly unfamiliar. They decided to hang back and watch them to see if they posed a threat. 

Wamsutta Frank James, organizer for the National Day of Mourning, wrote in his speech about suppressed speech  “The Pilgrims had hardly explored the shores of Cape Cod for four days before they had robbed the graves of my ancestors and stolen their corn and beans.” While this is egregious, the Wampanoags did not, in the end, deem them a threat.

Brian Smith, who has researched the initial settlements and teaches AP US History, explained why they were deemed  unthreatful. “In the end they deemed them not a threat, for a couple of reasons. One that they had women and children with them… they quickly determined this was not a war party or anything like that. Also, just how sickly they were” 

Throughout the first winter, the pilgrims buried about half of their people. They were unprepared for the harsh winter of North America and did not have enough food to sustain themselves. During the first spring, the Wampanoags came into play. 

“They made a decision. Do we wipe these 50 men, women or children out, or do we forge an alliance with them?” Mr Smith explained that the surrounding tribes were a factor in making an alliance with the Europeans. They thought having these people as allies might be helpful.

Massasoit sent a group of his men to the new colony and demanded a hostage in order to have their chief meet their leader. They send over a man whose wife died during the winter, viewing him as having nothing to lose. Luckily, the Wampanoag had a translator who facilitated the meeting, where it was agreed that they would live in harmony, and exchange goods. 

The Wampanoag were not equipped for the disease the Europeans brought to America. What is assumed to be smallpox took out the majority of the Wampanoag, leaving them at a disadvantage compared to the Europeans. The Europeans gained their footing and were producing their own crops. This was theoretically when the first Thanksgiving happened. 

Every aspect of the first Thanksgiving is debated. Some experts think the Wampanoags were not even invited, but instead heard gunshots and Massasoit sent a group to investigate what the Europeans were doing. All that was documented with no debate is that 90 Native American people were there. If they were invited however, is undocumented. 

What is documented with certainty, is the pilgrims pillaging a fellow tribe and returning with the head of a Native American. It was placed on a stake and left to rot in the center of the English encampment. This act of brutality sparks unrest with the Wampanoags, but they continue relations for self preservation. 

The tradition of Thanksgiving is wholesome. Still, the background of massacres of Indigenous peoples, the brutal truth of the New England Indigenous diseases, and the lack of education on the truth of our country has turned this day into a day of mourning. The United American Indians of New England host a national day of mourning on coles hill, which is located above Plymouth Rock. They host a march through Plymouth, with a speak-out. Many fast from sunup to sundown for this day. 

During  Thanksgiving, please take the time to educate yourself on the Indigenous people sold into slavery, and murdered, as well as the land that was taken from them.