Ten Shocking Facts About Thanksgiving

“How, indeed, could he have foretold…that the traders, who followed in his wake, and who were to barter for furs behind well-built stockades, would, in their turn, be succeeded by well-established settlers, who would gradually exterminate his people, lay low his mighty forests, and construct upon the wild earth, township and citadel, divorced entirely from the manner of living he knew and loved?”

Llewelyn Powys

Every American school child learns of the harvest feast where the friendly local Indians broke bread and shared turkey with the black-hatted, big-buckled European Pilgrims in a festival of interracial harmony and mutual respect. Yet there is almost nothing true about this idyllic scenario—not even the turkey. Here are a few facts that may have escaped your American history schoolbook:

• Of the 102 British passengers on the 1620 voyage of the Mayflower, those we now call the Pilgrims numbered only 35—the rest were an assortment of dregs, cutthroats, and criminals from England on a land development contract. The Pilgrims called themselves “SEPARATISTS,” not Pilgrims. 

• There actually never was a Plymouth Rock. It was made up and installed as a tourist attraction in 1769.

• Before the whites even saw their first Indian, they set about to pillage the neighborhood. They found an Indian food storehouse and ransacked it, stole the corn and a trap for hunting game.

• These “white Separatists” desecrated the gravesite of an Indian child, stealing the valuable contents and throwing the body back. They broke into two Indian homes when the families were gone and stole their belongings.

• Long before Donald Trump proposed it for America, the Separatists erected an 11-foot-high wall around their entire settlement for the purpose of keeping the Indians out. Just days before the “feast,” a gang of Pilgrims actively sought to murder a local Indian leader.HHMA.cover

• The Indian Squanto, who allegedly met the Pilgrims on the shore, had been kidnapped in an earlier British invasion and forcibly taken to Europe. Somehow he made his way back to America, and, having learned English, he was sent out to “greet” the newcomers.

• The Pilgrims held a feast (using the food Indians gave them—maybe the earliest example of food stamps) and invited the Indian leader Massasoit, and it was Massasoit—not the Pilgrims—who then invited ninety or more of his fellow Indians. In Indian culture, one does not eat without the whole community partaking—especially when they brought the food.

•  The “first” feast with the Pilgrims had no turkey, cranberry sauce, mac & cheese, or pumpkin pie; no prayers were offered and the Indians were not invited back.

• The Pilgrims consumed immense amounts of beer. In fact, each Pilgrim drank at least a half gallon of ale a day, which they preferred even to water.

• They eventually killed and beheaded an Indian, brought the head to their Plymouth compound, where they impaled it on a wooden spike, and displayed it for many years.

Bonus Fact!

• Not long after the Pilgrims set foot in “America,” one could reap about a $100 reward in Massachusetts for the scalp of an Indian. According to one scholar, “Hunting redskins became…a popular sport in New England…”

And when was the FIRST THANKSGIVING?

The first actual record of whites giving “thanks” for anything related to Indians was in 1636, when the Puritans trapped some 700 Pequot Indian men, women, and children near the mouth of the Mystic River and attacked and massacred them: “To see [the Indians] frying in the fire, and the streams of their blood quenching the same, and the stench was horrible; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave praise thereof to God.” 


[Much of this information with references can be found in the book The Hidden History of Massachusetts: A Guide for Black Folks (2003)]