The History of Thanksgiving You Weren't Taught in School

November 24th 2015

The story of Thanksgiving that we're taught in school is a heartwarming account of English settlers and Native Americans joining together for a three-day feast in 1621, celebrating the first harvest since the small group of Puritan separatists docked in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

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Yes, parts of that story certainly hold true. But the real origin of Thanksgiving is not a heartwarming tale. A group of pilgrims did celebrate a harvest festival with members of the local Wampanoag tribe in 1621—but Thanksgiving was officially deemed a holiday 16 years later by Massachusetts Governor William Bradford, who wanted to create "a day of thanksgiving kept in all the churches for our victories against the Pequots."

PequotWikimedia - wikimedia.org

The first officiated Thanksgiving in 1637 marked the end of a bloody campaign against a Native American tribe known as the Pequot Nation.

The only Native Americans who attended the Pilgrim's Thanksgiving in 1637 were those Pequots taken captive during the violent raid that preceded it, Philly Mag reported. On May 26, 1637, at least 700 of the tribes's estimated 8,000 members were slaughtered by English settlers from four colonies and their native allies. It became known as the Pequot Massacre.

Bloodshed was the most consistent theme of the first Thanksgivings in the New World. An English privateer named John Stone was killed by allies of the Pequot in retaliation for an attack that killed the Pequot chief, Tatobem; and in a misguided counterattack, two colonial officers led several hundred men to a Pequot settlement in modern day Connecticut and ordered them to burn 80 huts housing some 800 Pequot, shooting or stabbing those who fled the fires.

PequotWikimedia - wikimedia.org

Those who survived the attacks were sold into slavery. And with hundreds of Pequot effectively slaughtered, Gov. Bradford deemed it appropriate to call for Thanksgiving, to celebrate their victory.

In essence, the Thanksgiving that we known today has its origins in an ethnic cleansing of the Pequot Nation. The English, following the siege, even called for the name "Pequot" to be outlawed, and today there are only about 1,500 surviving members of the tribe.

"For decades after the Pequot Massacre, annual religious ceremonies and thanksgiving fast days were dedicated to its memory," Philly Mag reported. "Since 1970, Native Americans have gathered every Thanksgiving around Cole’s Hill at Plymouth Rock for a National Day of Mourning to remember the Pequot and what happened to them in 1637."

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