Giving the wrong thanks

The first Thanksgiving was completely different than what most people think.

Lauren Komer
Lauren Komer

Everywhere this November, people will gather over a good meal and celebrate our ethnocentrism … oh, um, Thanksgiving. Everyone has heard the story: The Pilgrims came to Plymouth Rock aboard the Mayflower, and they struggled through a hard winter. In the spring, a Native American named Squanto helped the Pilgrims learn how to grow crops. Thankful for his help, the Pilgrims hosted a feast, invited the Native Americans, and put aside their differences to celebrate the harvest.

Too bad that’s not what really happened.
First of all, the Mayflower wasn’t even bound for Plymouth Rock in the beginning (which, by the way, is in Massachusetts). It originally set out for Virginia, so how did it end up so off course?
According to James Loewen, “Some historians believe the Dutch bribed the captain of the Mayflower to sail north so the Pilgrims would not settle near New Amsterdam (New York City).” Whoa. A little under the table action going on, huh?
Do you know why the Pilgrims picked Plymouth when they finally arrived there? They chose a warehouse-stocked, deserted Native American town. The Native Americans had either died or left because of the plague, leaving the town and the newly planted fields of corn.

The Pilgrims didn’t stop at just using the town. No, journal entries from the time period recount people digging up Native American graves and taking objects buried along with the bodies.

Let’s recap: So far, we have a bunch of squatters who dealt under the table and robbed graves. Aren’t you proud of our ancestors?
How about Squanto? Most of what you know about him is true. He returned from England after working on ships to find his entire village wiped out. After that, who could blame him for helping out the Pilgrims? He pretty much single-handedly kept the Pilgrims alive for the first two years.

As you can see, it was the Native Americans who kept the Pilgrims alive during all of this. And do you know who the Pilgrims thanked? God. They thanked him for bestowing the plague upon the Native Americans and for sending them Squanto to guide their way. They believed they were superior, so God took care of them.
So let’s put it all together: The original Pilgrims were ethnocentric grave robbers who squatted in Native American homes and bribed captains. These are the people we celebrate every November.

Someone want to pass the turkey?