Tuesday, November 20, 2012

RICHARD GREENER: The True Story Of Thanksgiving

"The idea of the American Thanksgiving feast is a fairly recent fiction. The idyllic partnership of 17th Century European Pilgrims and New England Indians sharing a celebratory meal appears to be less than 120 years-old. And it was only after the First World War that a version of such a Puritan-Indian partnership took hold in elementary schools across the American landscape. We can thank the invention of textbooks and their mass purchase by public schools for embedding this "Thanksgiving" image in our modern minds. It was, of course, a complete invention, a cleverly created slice of cultural propaganda, just another in a long line of inspired nationalistic myths.
The first Thanksgiving Day did occur in the year 1637, but it was nothing like our Thanksgiving today. On that day the Massachusetts Colony Governor, John Winthrop, proclaimed such a "Thanksgiving" to celebrate the safe return of a band of heavily armed hunters, all colonial volunteers. They had just returned from their journey to what is now Mystic, Connecticut where they massacred 700 Pequot Indians. Seven hundred Indians - men, women and children - all murdered...
The Pilgrims in Plymouth had a hard time for the first couple of years. While nature was no friend, their troubles were mostly their own doing. Poor planning was their downfall. These mostly city dwelling Europeans failed to include among them persons with the skills needed in settling the North American wilderness. Having reached the forests and fields of Massachusetts they turned out to be pathetic hunters and incompetent butchers. With game everywhere, they went hungry. First, they couldn't catch and kill it. Then they couldn't cut it up, prepare it, preserve it and create a storehouse for those days when fresh supplies would run low. To compensate for their shortage of essential protein they turned to their European ways and their Christian culture. They instituted a series of religious observances. They could not hunt or farm well, but they seemed skilled at praying.
They developed a taste for something both religious and useful. They called it a Day of Fasting. Without food it seemed like a good idea. From necessity, that single Day became multiple Days. As food supplies dwindled the Days of Fasting came in bunches. Each of these episodes was eventually and thankfully followed by a meal. Appropriately enough, the Puritans credited God for this good fortune. They referred to the fact they were allowed to eat again as a "Thanksgiving." And they wrote it down. Thus, the first mention of the word - "Thanksgiving." Let there be no mistake here. On that first Thanksgiving there was no turkey, no corn, no cranberries, no stuffing. And no dessert. Those fortunate Pilgrims were lucky to get a piece of fish and a potato. All things considered, it was a Thanksgiving feast.
Did the Pilgrims share their Thanksgiving meal with the local Indians, the Wampanoag and Pequot? No. That never happened. That is, until its inclusion in the "Thanksgiving Story" in 1890.
Let the Wampanoag be a lesson to us especially in these troubled economic times. These particular Indians, with a bent for colorful jewelry, had their tribal name altered slightly by the Dutch, who then used it as a reference for all Indian payments. Hence, wampum. Contrary to what we've been shown in our Western movies, this word - wampum - and its economic meaning never made it out of New England.
Unlike wampum, Thanksgiving Day has indeed spread across the continent. It would serve us well to remember that it wasn't until the victorious colonial militia returned from their slaughter of the Pequot that the New Americans began their now time-honored and cherished Thanksgiving.
Enjoy your turkey."

Note: Where Greener writes about "Fasting," I expected him to say "Stealing."
"They discovered a buried cache of Indian corn and a kettle, which they took."

John Mason: “Thus we may see, How the Face of God is set against them that do Evil, to cut off the Remembrance of them from the Earth. Our Tongue shall talk of thy Righteousness all the Day long; for they are confounded, they are brought to Shame that sought our Hurt!
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who only doth wondrous Things; and blessed be his holy Name for ever: Let the whole Earth be filled with his Glory!
Thus the Lord was pleased to smite our Enemies in the hinder Parts, and to give us their Land for an Inheritance: Who remembred us in our low Estate, and redeemed us out of our Enemies Hands: Let us therefore praise the Lord for his Goodness and his wonderful Works to the Children of Men! (page 44, MASON’S NARRATIVE OF THE PEQUOTE WAR)”


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