Monday, November 19, 2012

Creation Myths: Thanksgiving

There are two sides to history, and it is the winning side whose story is remembered. Such is the case with Thanksgiving.

The Black Commentator suggests that "the Thanksgiving story is an absolution of the Pilgrims, whose brutal quest for absolute power in the New World is made to seem both religiously motivated and eminently human. Most importantly, the Pilgrims are depicted as victims – of harsh weather and their own naïve yet wholesome visions of a new beginning."

There is much debate regarding the very first Thanksgiving. Indeed, there were many ‘days of thanksgiving’ proclaimed after settlers first landed, or survived harsh winters, or experienced plentiful harvests. The earliest Thanksgiving was not celebrated by British immigrants, but rather by Spanish conqueror Pedro Menéndez de Avilé, in Saint Augustine, Florida on September 8, 1565.

Over the subsequent century, many other Thanksgivings took place as new invaders and immigrants arrived. One of which, one was held under truly despicable auspices. Thousands of Indians had been killed or sold into slavery during the Pequot War (which began after the British-led nighttime massacre of  Mystic village). Heartened by their 'victory' and the death of thousands of men, women, and children, Connecticut Puritans declared October 12, 1637 a holy day of thanksgiving.

William Bradford, the governor of the Plymouth Colony gave the following account:
Those that scraped the fire were slaine with the sword; some hewed to peeces, others rune throw with their rapiers, so as they were quickly dispatchte, and very few escapted...It was a fearful sight to see them thus frying in the fyer, and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stincke and sente there of... [The pilgrims] gave the prayers thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them, thus to inclose their enemise in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enimie.”
The TRUE origin
 of Thanksgiving
The most famous Thanksgiving meal was indeed held by British immigrants in partnership with (and thanks to charity from) members of the Wampanoag Nation in 1621. However, that alliance was only forged subsequent to the enslavement and mass death of the Patuxet Indians, an occurrence which necessitated more acquiescent relationships with the British immigrants in the region thereafter.

However, it was over 150 years later that the familiar story of the 1621 Mayflower Thanksgiving was actually established, in large part due to Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879). Her enchantment with the Pilgrim narrative compelled her to campaign aggressively for the adoption of the national holiday. Her bucolic editorials and petitions shaped the modern conception of Thanksgiving, which became a national holiday in 1863.

This year on Thanksgiving, take time to learn the stories that aren't being told in school. Become familiar with the National Day of Mourning and the Indigenous Peoples Alcatraz Sunrise Gathering, which commemorate the true history of Thanksgiving and honor the many voices that have been silenced.

Wamsutta (Frank B.) James
Read the suppressed speech of Wamsutta (Frank B.) James, which was supposed to be delivered in Plymouth in 1970 as part of a celebration of the Pilgrim landing. The event's public relations personnel edited his speech because they didn't approve of the history he told in it, but Wamsutta refused to deliver the revised version. Read the words he would have said that day.

The fact that such a sordid history is associated with the day we set aside to ‘thank God’ for his providence should give us pause. In reality, the United States celebrates Thanksgiving because the majority of its population benefits from the fruits of genocide and slavery. Let us indeed set aside time to count our blessings, but let us also be honest with ourselves about the legacy from which those blessings are derived.


See Also: Adam Ericksen's great article discussing similar issues on Sojourners

3 comments:

  1. It is worth mentioning that in preparation for this post, I encountered a convoluted quagmire of misconception and misinformation. The stories portraying white settlers in a favorable light predominated, but accounts of the same events from the perspective of the conquered also percolated. Because of the dearth of primary documentation, it was extremely difficult to form a clear picture of the reality of these events. Yet we know that the story of the conqueror will always be taken more seriously than the counter-narrative of the oppressed (See post: Christopher Columbus http://bytheirstrangefruit.blogspot.com/2012/10/foundation-myths-christopher-columbus.html)

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  2. Excellent, as always. Appreciate your hard work and the stories you chose to highlight. Here's another blog, similar perspective, that I also found helpful: http://sojo.net/blogs/2012/11/19/truth-about-thanksgiving-why-you-should-celebrate/ From an author at The Raven Foundation (highlighting Rene Girard).

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